Isaiah 44:14
He hews him down cedars, and takes the cypress and the oak, which he strengthens for himself among the trees of the forest: he plants an ash, and the rain does nourish it.
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(14) He heweth him down cedars.—The manufacture is traced further back, possibly by way of protest against the belief current in all nations that some archaic image had fallen from heaven (Acts 19:35). The “cypress” is probably the Quercus ilex, and the “ash” a fig tree; but the identification of trees in the language of a remote time and language is always somewhat uncertain.

Which he strengtheneth for himself.—Better, fixeth his choice among. The eye travels, it will be noted, backward from the workshop.

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?He heweth him down cedars - In the previous verses, the prophet had described the formation of an axe with which the work was to be done Isaiah 44:12, and the laying out, and carving of the idol Isaiah 44:13. In this verse he proceeds to describe the material of which the idol was made, and the different purposes Isaiah 44:15-17 to which that material was applied. The object is to show the amazing stupidity of those who should worship a god made of the same material from which they made a fire to warm themselves, or to cook their food. For a description of cedars, see the notes at Isaiah 9:10.

And taketh - Takes to himself; that is, makes use of.

The cypress - (תרזה tı̂rzâh). This word occurs nowhere else in the Bible. It is probably derived from a root (תרז târaz) signifying to be hard, or firm. Hence, it probably means some species of wood that derived its name from its hardness or firmness. Jerome translates it, Ilex (a species of oak) - 'the holm-oak.' It was an evergreen. This species of evergreen, Gesenius says, was abundant in Palestine.

And the oak - The oak was commonly used for this purpose on account of its hardness and durability.

Which he strengtheneth for himself - Margin, 'Taketh courage.' The word אמץ 'ı̂mmēts means properly "to strenthen," to make strong, to repair, to replace, to harden. Rosenmuller and Gesenius suppose that it means here to choose, that is, to set fast, or appoint; and they appeal to Psalm 80:15, Psalm 80:17, 'thou madest strong for thyself.' Kimchi supposes that it means, that he gave himself with the utmost diligence and care to select the best kinds of wood for the purpose. Vitringa, that he was intent on his work, and did not leave the place, but refreshed himself with food in the woods without returning home, in order that be might accomplish his design. Others interpret it to mean that he girded himself with strength, and made use of his most intense efforts in felling the trees of the forest. Lowth renders it, 'Layeth in good store of the trees of the forest.' It may mean that he gave himself with great diligence to the work; or may it not mean that he planted such trees, and took great pains in watering and cultivating them for this purpose?

He planteth an ash - (ארן 'oren). The Septuagint renders it, Πίτυν Pitun - 'Pine.' Jerome also renders it, Pinum. Gesenius supposes the name was given from the fact that the tree had a tall and slender top, which, when it vibrated, gave forth a tremulous, creaking sound (from רנן rânan). This derivation is, however, somewhat fanciful. Most interpreters regard it as the ash - a well-known tree. In idolatrous countries, where it is common to have idols in almost every family, the business of idol-making is a very important manufacture. Of course, large quantities of wood would be needed; and it would be an object to procure that which was most pure, or as we say, 'clear stuff,' and which would work easily, and to advantage. It became important, therefore, to cultivate that wood, as we do for shipbuilding, or for cabinet-work, and doubtless groves were planted for this purpose.

And the rain doth nourish it - These circumstances are mentioned to show the folly of worshipping a god that was formed in this manner. Perhaps also the prophet means to intimate that though the man planted the tree, yet that be could not make it grow. He was dependent on the rains of heaven; and even in making an idol-god he was indebted to the providential care of the true God. Men, even in their schemes of wickedness, are dependent on God. Even in forming and executing plans to oppose and resist him, they can do nothing without his aid. He preserves them, feeds them, clothes them; and the instruments which they use against him are those which he has nurtured. On the rain of heaven; on the sunbeam and the dew; on the teeming earth, and on the elements which he has made, and which he controls, they are dependent; and they can do nothing in their wicked plans without abusing the bounties of his Providence, and the expressions of his tender mercy.

14. Description of the material out of which the idol is formed.

cypress—rather, from Hebrew root, "to be hard," the holm oak," an evergreen abundant in Palestine [Gesenius].

strengtheneth—literally, "and he getteth strength to himself in the trees of the forest;" that is, he layeth in a great store of timber [Lowth]. Or, "chooseth," as "madest strong for thyself," that is, hast chosen (Ps 80:15, 17) [Gesenius]. But English Version gives a good sense: "strengtheneth"; that is, rears to maturity; a meaning suitable also to the context of Ps 80:15, 17, where Israel is compared to a vine planted by Jehovah [Maurer].

rain doth nourish it—Though the man planted the tree, yet he could not make it grow. In preparing to make an idol, he has to depend on the true God for rain from heaven (Jer 14:22).

The cypress and the oak, which afford the best and most durable timber.

Which he strengtheneth for himself among the tress of the forest: the sense of the words thus rendered is, that he planteth, and with care and diligence improveth, those trees among and above all the trees of the forest, that he or his posterity may thence have materials for their images, and those things which belong to them. And this sense seems to be favoured by the following clause, wherein it is said, he planteth an ash, for this very reason. Or the sense may be this, which he suffers to grow to greater strength and largeness than other trees of the forest, that they may be better and fitter for his use. Heb. and he strengtheneth himself, &c.; and he useth all his strength among the trees of the forest, in planting such as are proper for this end, in walking hither and thither to survey which is the best of them; in hewing them down, and in other things relating to them. He heweth him down cedars, and taketh the cypress and the oak,.... To make gods of, trees both pleasant and durable, but all unfruitful:

which he strengtheneth for himself among the trees of the forest; taking a great deal of pains in seeking out such trees as were most fit for his use, and a great deal of care in the growth of them, that they might answer his end, as well as exerting his strength in cutting of them down:

he planteth an ash, and the rain doth nourish it; a tree that soon grows up, and which he plants for the purpose to make a god of; and this being watered and nourished with rain, which God vouchsafes, though designed for an idolatrous use, grows, and is fit for what it was intended; and being so, he cuts it down, and, makes an image of it; which shows his folly and madness, that a tree of his own planting, which he has seen the growth of, and yet be so sottish as to imagine that a god may be may be made of it. The word for "rain" signifies a body in the Syriac (g) language, as Kimchi observes, and for which he produces Daniel 4:33, and so Aben Ezra says it signifies in the Arabic language (h); and the sense is, "the body" of the tree "grew up", and being grown up, was cut down, and used as follows.

(g) "corpus", Luke 3.22. 2Cor. x. 10. Castel. Lex. Polyglott. col. 627. So in the Chaldee language. (h) So, according to Schindler, signifies a body, Lex. Pentaglott. col. 347, 348.

He heweth him down cedars, and taketh the cypress and the oak, which he strengtheneth for himself among the trees of the forest: he planteth an ash, and the rain doth nourish it.
14–17. The writer now goes back to the material of which this second kind of idol is made.

He heweth him down] The Heb. text, which reads “to hew down,” probably contains a mistake in the first letter.

strengtheneth for himself] must mean “allows to grow strong” in its native forest. Nay, in some cases the future deity has been actually planted by his worshipper, and nourished by the rain from heaven! The words tirzâh (“cypress”) and ’ôren (“ash”) occur only here in the O.T. The former, according to the Vulg. and the Greek Versions of Aquila and Theodotion, is the “holm-oak” (ilex); the latter may be translated “pine” (Vulg.); the corresponding word in Assyrian denotes the cedar.Verse 14. - Cedars... cypress... oak. The second of the trees mentioned is more probably the ilex than the cypress, which does not grow either in Palestine or in Babylonia. Idols would be made of cedar on account of its fragrance, of flex and oak on account of their hardness and durability. Cedar was used as a material for carved figures in Egypt (Birch, 'Contents of British Museum,' p. 21). Which he strengtheneth for himself among the trees of the forest. The meaning is obscure. Dr. Kay translates, "and he encourages himself in the trees of the forest," which conveys no very distinct idea; Delitzsch, "and he chooses for himself among the trees," etc., which is sufficiently clear, but scarcely obtainable from the Hebrew text; Knobel, "he makes himself secure among the trees" (by putting a mark on those which he intends to have), which imparts an idea certainly not contained in the original. He planteth an ash. It is uncertain, and it does not greatly matter, what tree is intended. The point is that, before trees can grow up, they have to be planted, and that, for them to grow when planted, God's gift of rain is necessary (see the comment on ver. 13). Of course, none of the heathen gods could in any way answer to the challenge. So much the more confident might Israel be, seeing that it had quite another God. "Despair ye not, neither tremble: have not I told thee long ago, and made known, and ye are my witnesses: is there a God beside me? And nowhere a rock; I know of none." The Jewish lexicographers derive תּרהוּ (with the first syllable closed) from רהה (רה); whereas modern lexicographers prefer some of them to read תּרהוּ, tı̄rehū, from ירהּ (Ges., Knobel), and others תּיראוּ (Ewald). But the possibility of there being a verb רהה, to tremble or fear, cannot for a moment be doubted when we think of such words as ירא, ירע, compare also Arab. r'h (applied to water moving to and fro). It was not of the heathen deities that they were directed not to be afraid, as in Jeremiah 10:5, but rather the great catastrophe coming upon the nations, of which Cyrus was the instrument. In the midst of this, when one nation after another would be overthrown, and its tutelar gods would prove to be worthless, Israel would have nothing to fear, since its God, who was no dumb idol, had foretold all this, and that indeed long ago (מאז, cf., מראשׁ, Isaiah 41:26), as they themselves must bear witness. Prophecies before the captivity had foretold the conquest of Babylon by Medes and Elamites, and the deliverance of Israel from the Babylonian bondage; and even these prophecies themselves were like a spirit's voice from the far distant past, consoling the people of the captivity beforehand, and serving to support their faith. On the ground of such well-known self-manifestations, Jehovah could well ask, "Is there a God beside me?" - a virtual denial in the form of an interrogation, to which the categorical denial, "There is no rock (i.e., no ground of trust, Isaiah 26:4; Isaiah 17:10), I know of none (beside me)," is attached.
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