Isaiah 51:23
But I will put it into the hand of them that afflict you; which have said to your soul, Bow down, that we may go over: and you have laid your body as the ground, and as the street, to them that went over.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(23) Thou hast laid thy body . . .—The image is startlingly bold; but our word “prostration,” as applied to the condition of a people, embodies precisely the same thought. (Comp. Psalm 129:3.) The previous words paint the last humiliation of Eastern conquest (Joshua 10:24).

51:17-23 God calls upon his people to mind the things that belong to their everlasting peace. Jerusalem had provoked God, and was made to taste the bitter fruits. Those who should have been her comforters, were their own tormentors. They have no patience by which to keep possesion of their own souls, nor any confidence in God's promise, by which to keep possession of its comfort. Thou art drunken, not as formerly, with the intoxicating cup of Babylon's idolatries, but with the cup of affliction. Know, then, the cause of God's people may for a time seem as lost, but God will protect it, by convincing the conscience, or confounding the projects, of those that strive against it. The oppressors required souls to be subjected to them, that every man should believe and worship as they would have them. But all they could gain by violence was, that people were brought to outward hypocritical conformity, for consciences cannot be forced.But I will put it into the hand of them that afflict thee - The nations that have made war upon thee, and that have reduced thee to bondage, particularly the Babylonians. The calamities which the Jews had suffered, God would transfer to their foes.

Which have said to thy soul, Bow down, that we may go over - This is a striking description of the pride of eastern conquerors. It was not uncommon for conquerors actually to put their feet on the necks of conquered kings, and tread them in the dust. Thus in Joshua 10:24, 'Joshua called for all the men of Israel, and said unto the captains of the men of war that went with them, Come near, put your feet upon the necks of these kings.' So David says, 'Thou has given me the necks of mine enemies' Psalm 18:40. 'The emperor Valerianus being through treachery taken prisoner by Sapor king of Persia, was treated by him as the basest and most abject slave, for the Persian monarch commanded the unhappy Roman to bow himself down and offer him his back, on which he set his foot in order to mount his chariot, or his horse, whenever he had occasion.' (Lactantius, as quoted by Lowth) Mr. Lane (Modern Egyptians, vol. i. p. 199) describes an annual ceremony which may serve to illustrate this passage: 'A considerable number of Durweeshes, says he (I am sure there were not less than sixty, but I could not count their number), laid themselves down upon the ground, side by side, as close as possible to each other, having their backs upward, having their legs extended, and their arms placed together beneath their foreheads.

When the Sheikh approached, his horse hesitated several minutes to step upon the back of the first prostrate man; but being pulled and urged on behind, he at length stepped upon them: and then without apparent fear, ambled with a high pace over them all, led by two persons, who ran over the prostrate men, one sometimes treading on the feet, and the other on the heads. Not one of the men thus trampled on by the horse seemed to be hurt; but each the moment that the animal had passed over him, jumped up and followed the Sheikh. Each of them received two treads from the horse, one from one of his fore-legs, and a second from a hind-leg.' It seems probable that this is a relic of an ancient usage alluded to in the Bible, in which captives were made to lie down on the ground, and the conqueror rode insultingly over them.

Thou hast laid thy body as the ground - That is, you were utterly humbled and prostrated (compare Psalm 66:11-12). From all this, however, the promise is, that they should be rescued and delivered. The account of their deliverance is contained in the following chapter Isaiah 52:1-12; and the assurance of rescue is there made more cheering and glorious by directing the eye forward to the coming of the Messiah Isaiah 52:13-15; Isaiah 53:1-12, and to the glorious results which would follow from his advent (Isaiah 54:1). These chapters are all connected, and they should be read continuously. Material injury is done to the sense by the manner in which the division is made, if indeed any division should have been made at all.

23. (Isa 49:26; Jer 25:15-29; Zec 12:2).

Bow down that … go over—Conquerors often literally trod on the necks of conquered kings, as Sapor of Persia did to the Roman emperor Valerian (Jos 10:24; Ps 18:40; 66:11, 12).

Bow down, that we may go over; lie down upon the ground, that we may trample upon thee, as conquerors. used to do upon their conquered enemies. See Joshua 10:24 Psalm 110:1. And I will put it into the hand of them that afflict me,.... As the Lord did to literal Babylon, Jeremiah 25:15, so will he do to mystical Babylon; he will retaliate upon her all the evils she has done to others, and destroy them that destroyed the earth; see Revelation 11:18,

which have said to thy soul, bow down, that we may go over; who not only afflicted the bodies, but tyrannized over the souls and consciences of men; obliging them to a compliance with their idolatrous practices, to bow down and worship the beast, and his image; and thereby acknowledge subjection to the see of Rome, and its authority over them: the allusion seems to be the custom of the eastern kings trampling upon the necks of their conquered enemies, Joshua 10:24, and the pope of Rome has, in a literal sense, trampled upon the necks even of kings and emperors.

And thou hast laid thy body as the ground, and as the street, to them that went over; which expresses the low estate of the church of Christ, or holy city, while trodden under foot by the Gentiles during the reign of antichrist, Revelation 11:2, and may also denote the sneaking outward compliance of some through the force of persecution, when they did not cordially embrace, nor with conscience, and from their heart, submit to the authority of the church of Rome; but though the people of God are represented in such a low and grovelling condition, yet they shall arise out of it, and come into a very flourishing one, as the next chapter shows.

But I will put it into the hand of them that afflict thee; which have said to thy soul, Bow down, that we may go over: and thou hast laid thy body as the ground, and as the street, to them that went over.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
23. them that afflict thee] thy tormentors. The word occurs three times in the Lamentations (Lamentations 1:5; Lamentations 1:12, Lamentations 3:32).

to thy soul] i.e. “to thyself,” although without special emphasis (cf. Psalm 3:2; Psalm 11:1).

Bow down, that we may go over] The figure is taken from the Eastern custom of treading or even riding on the backs of conquered enemies. Comp. Lane’s account of the Mohammedan ceremony of the Dooseh or “Treading,” as he witnessed it at Cairo in 1834; when the Sheikh of the Saadîyeh dervishes, mounted on horseback, rode over the prostrate bodies of a large number of dervishes. (See Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, pp. 417 f., 432 f. [Ed. 1890].)

and thou hast laid &c.] so that thou madest thy back as the earth. Gesenius cites in illustration an Arabic proverb: “To him who pleases me, I will be earth.”Verse 23. - I will put it into the hand of them that afflict thee. Babylon, the oppressor of Judah, shall in her turn be made to drink of the cup of which Judah had so long drunk, and shall suffer nearly the same woes which she had inflicted. Meanwhile, Judah should cease to drink of the cup, and have "a time of refreshing." Bow down, that we may go over; i.e. "submit yourselves to the uttermost, that we may put upon you the most extreme indignity." The metaphor is drawn from the actual practise of conquerors, who made captive kings prostrate themselves, and placed their feet upon their necks, or otherwise trampled upon them (see Joshua 10:24; and comp. 'Ancient hierarchies,' vol. 3:p. 7).



Just as we found above, that the exclamation "awake" (‛ūrı̄), which the church addresses to the arm of Jehovah, grew out of the preceding great promises; so here there grows out of the same another "awake" (hith‛ōrerı̄), which the prophet addresses to Jerusalem in the name of his God, and the reason for which is given in the form of new promises. "Wake thyself up, wake thyself up, stand up, O Jerusalem, thou that hast drunk out of the hand of Jehovah the goblet of His fury: the goblet cup of reeling hast thou drunk, sipped out. There was none who guided her of all the children that she had brought forth; and none who took her by the hand of all the children that she had brought up. There were two things that happened to thee; who should console thee? Devastation, and ruin, and famine, and the sword: how should I comfort thee? Thy children were benighted, lay at the corners of all the streets like a snared antelope: as those who were full of the fury of Jehovah, the rebuke of thy God. Therefore hearken to this, O wretched and drunken, but not with wine: Thus saith thy Lord, Jehovah, and thy God that defendeth His people, Behold, I take out of thine hand the goblet of reeling, the goblet cup of my fury: thou shalt not continue to drink it any more. And I put it into the hand of thy tormentors; who said to thy soul, Bow down, that we may go over; and thou madest thy back like the ground, and like a public way for those who go over it." In Isaiah 51:17, Jerusalem is regarded as a woman lying on the ground in the sleep of faintness and stupefaction. She has been obliged to drink, for her punishment, the goblet filled with the fury of the wrath of God, the goblet which throws those who drink it into unconscious reeling; and this goblet, which is called qubba‛ath kōs (κύπελλον ποτηιρίου, a genitive construction, though appositional in sense), for the purpose of giving greater prominence to its swelling sides, she has not only had to drink, but to drain quite clean (cf., Psalm 75:9, and more especially Ezekiel 23:32-34). Observe the plaintive falling of the tone in shâthı̄th mâtsı̄th. In this state of unconscious stupefaction was Jerusalem lying, without any help on the part of her children; there was not one who came to guide the stupefied one, or took her by the hand to lift her up. The consciousness of the punishment that their sins had deserved, and the greatness of the sufferings that the punishment had brought, pressed so heavily upon all the members of the congregation, that not one of them showed the requisite cheerfulness and strength to rise up on her behalf, so as to make her fate at any rate tolerable to her, and ward off the worst calamities. What elegiac music we have here in the deep cadences: mikkol-bânı̄m yâlâdâh, mikkol-bânı̄m giddēlâh! So terrible was her calamity, that no one ventured to break the silence of the terror, or give expression to their sympathy. Even the prophet, humanly speaking, is obliged to exclaim, "How (mı̄, literally as who, as in Amos 7:2, Amos 7:5) should I comfort thee!" He knew of no equal or greater calamity, to which he could point Jerusalem, according to the principle which experience confirms, solamen miseris socios habuisse malorum. This is the real explanation, according to Lamentations 2:13, though we must not therefore take mı̄ as an accusative equals bemı̄, as Hitzig does. The whole of the group is in the tone of the Lamentations of Jeremiah. There were two kinds of things (i.e., two kinds of evils: mishpâchōth, as in Jeremiah 15:3) that had happened to her (קרא equals קרה, with which it is used interchangeably even in the Pentateuch) - namely, the devastation and ruin of their city and their land, famine and the sword to her children, their inhabitants.

In Isaiah 51:20 this is depicted with special reference to the famine. Her children were veiled (‛ullaph, deliquium pati, lit., obvelari), and lay in a state of unconsciousness like corpses at the corner of every street, where this horrible spectacle presented itself on every hand. They lay ketho' mikhmâr (rendered strangely and with very bad taste in the lxx, viz., like a half-cooked turnip; but given correctly by Jerome, sicut oryx, as in the lxx at Deuteronomy 14:5, illaqueatus), i.e., like a netted antelope (see at Job 39:9), i.e., one that has been taken in a hunter's net and lies there exhausted, after having almost strangled itself by ineffectual attempts to release itself. The appositional וגו המלאים, which refers to בניך, gives as a quippe qui the reason for all this suffering. It is the punishment decreed by God, which has pierced their very heart, and got them completely in its power. This clause assigning the reason, shows that the expression "thy children" (bânayikh) is not to be taken here in the same manner as in Lamentations 2:11-12; Lamentations 4:3-4, viz., as referring to children in distinction from adults; the subject is a general one, as in Isaiah 5:25. With lâkhē̄n (therefore, Isaiah 51:21) the address turns from the picture of sufferings to the promise, in the view of which the cry was uttered, in Isaiah 51:17, to awake and arise. Therefore, viz., because she had endured the full measure of God's wrath, she is to hear what His mercy, that has now begun to move, purposes to do. The connecting form shekhurath stands here, according to Ges. 116, 1, notwithstanding the (epexegetical) Vav which comes between. We may see from Isaiah 29:9 how thoroughly this "drunk, but not with wine," is in Isaiah's own style (from this distinction between a higher and lower sphere of related facts, compare Isaiah 47:14; Isaiah 48:10). The intensive plural 'ădōnı̄m is only applied to human lords in other places in the book of Isaiah; but in this passage, in which Jerusalem is described as a woman, it is used once of Jehovah. Yârı̄bh ‛ammō is an attributive clause, signifying "who conducts the cause of His people," i.e., their advocate or defender. He takes the goblet of reeling and wrath, which Jerusalem has emptied, for ever out of her hand, and forces it newly filled upon her tormentors. There is no ground whatever for reading מוניך (from ינה, to throw down, related to יון, whence comes יון, a precipitate or sediment) in the place of מוגי (pret. hi. of יגה, (laborare, dolere), that favourite word of the Lamentations of Jeremiah (Lamentations 1:5, Lamentations 1:12; Lamentations 3:32, cf., Isaiah 1:4), the tone of which we recognise here throughout, as Lowth, Ewald, and Umbreit propose after the Targum ליך מונן דהוו. The words attributed to the enemies, shechı̄ vena‛ăbhorâh (from shâchâh, the kal of which only occurs here), are to be understood figuratively, as in Psalm 129:3. Jerusalem has been obliged to let her children be degraded into the defenceless objects of despotic tyranny and caprice, both at home in their own conquered country, and abroad in exile. But the relation is reversed now. Jerusalem is delivered, after having been punished, and the instruments of her punishment are given up to the punishment which their pride deserved.

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