Isaiah 57:9
And you went to the king with ointment, and did increase your perfumes, and did send your messengers far off, and did debase yourself even to hell.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(9) Thou wentest to the king . . .—The alteration of a single letter would give to Molech; and this may be the meaning even of the text as it stands. Looking to the Manasseh-surroundings of the passage, however, it is more natural to refer the words to the king, the great king of Assyria, whose religion Judah had basely and shamefully adopted. The sin of Ahaz (2Kings 16:11) had been reproduced by his grandson. The description that follows is that of a harlot adorning herself for her evil calling, and finds its best illustration in Proverbs 7:14-17. Looking to the previous traces of Isaiah’s study of that book (Isaiah 11:1-4, &c) we may, perhaps, find in it a deliberate reproduction of that passage. The “ointment” and “perfumes” are symbols of the treasures which were lavished to secure the Assyrian alliance. The words help us to understand Isaiah’s indignation at what must have seemed to him the initial step of a like policy on the part of Hezekiah (Isaiah 39:3-7). The words which point to the “far-off” land, to which the messengers were sent, seem almost like an echo from that king’s apology.

Even unto helli.e., Hades or Sheol, the world of the dead—as the symbol of an abysmal depth of degradation.

Isaiah 57:9. Thou wentest to the king, &c. — That is, the king of Assyria or Egypt, to whom the Israelites were very prone to seek, and trust, and send presents. Hosea reproaches the Israelites for the same practice: They make a covenant with Assyria, and oil is carried into Egypt, Hosea 12:1. Thus the prophet passes from their idolatry to another sin, even to their carnal confidence in heathen princes, for which they are often severely reproved. These two sins indeed were commonly joined together; for they easily received idolatry from those kings whose help they desired. With ointment — With precious ointment, particularly with balm, which was of great price, was a commodity peculiar to those parts, and sometimes sent as a present, Genesis 13:11. And didst increase thy perfumes — Didst send great quantities thereof to them, to procure their aid. Didst send thy messengers far off — Into Assyria, which was far from Judea, or into Egypt. And didst debase thyself, &c. — Thou wast willing to submit to the basest terms to procure their aid. “It is well known, that in all parts of the East, whoever visits a great person must carry him a present. ‘It is accounted uncivil,’ says Maundrell, p. 26, ‘to visit in this country without an offering in hand. All great men expect it, as a tribute due to their character and authority; and look upon themselves as affronted, and indeed defrauded, when the compliment is omitted.’” — Bishop Lowth. According to the interpretation of this part of the prophecy, adopted by Vitringa, the king, in this verse, must mean the head of mystical Babylon, the pope, to whom indeed the particulars here very aptly pertain, as they who are acquainted with the history of that antichristian ruler will easily discern. See Revelation 18:13.57:3-12 The Lord here calls apostates and hypocrites to appear before him. When reproved for their sins, and threatened with judgments, they ridiculed the word of God. The Jews were guilty of idolatry before the captivity; but not after that affliction. Their zeal in the worship of false gods, may shame our indifference in the worship of the true God. The service of sin is disgraceful slavery; those who thus debase themselves to hell, will justly have their portion there. Men incline to a religion that inflames their unholy passions. They are led to do any evil, however great or vile, if they think it will atone for crimes, or purchase indulgence for some favourite lust. This explains idolatry, whether pagan, Jewish, or antichristian. But those who set up anything instead of God, for their hope and confidence, never will come to a right end. Those who forsake the only right way, wander in a thousand by-paths. The pleasures of sin soon tire, but never satisfy. Those who care not for the word of God and his providences, show they have no fear of God. Sin profits not; it ruins and destroys.And thou wentest to the king - Margin, 'Respectedst.' Jerome renders this, 'Thou hast adorned thyself with royal ointment, and hast multiplied thy painting; and evidently understands it as a continuance of the sentiment in the previous verses as referring to the kind of decoration which harlots used. The Septuagint renders it, 'Thou hast multiplied thy fornication with them, and hast done it with many who are far from thee.' The Chaldee renders it, 'When thou didst keep the law thou wert prosperous in the kingdom; and when thou didst abound in good works, then thine armies were multiplied.' Lowth supposes that the king of Egypt or Assyria is intended, and that the prophet refers to the fact, that the Hebrews had sought an alliance with them, and in order to secure it, had carried a present of valuable unguents, after the manner of the East. Rosenmuller supposes, that by the king an idol was intended, and that the sense is, that they had anointed themselves with oil, and prepared perfumes, in order to be acceptable to the idol; that is, had decorated themselves as harlots did.

Grotius supposes that it means that they had imitated foreign kings, and copied the customs of other nations, and refers to the example of Ahaz 2 Kings 16:10. Others suppose that the word 'king' is to be taken collectively, and that it means that they had sought the alliance, and imitated the customs of foreign nations in general. It is probable that the prophet refers to some such fact. On former occasions, they had sought the alliance of the king of Assyria (see Isaiah 7:1); and on one occasion, at least, they had meditated an alliance with the king of Egypt (Isaiah 30:2 ff.) The essential idea is, that they had proved unfaithful to Yahweh. This idea is presented here under the image of a female unfaithful to her husband, who had decorated and perfumed herself that she might allure others. Thus the Jews had forsaken God, and had endeavored to make themselves agreeable in the sight of other nations, and had courted their friendship and alliance. The word I 'king,' according to this, refers not to idols, but to foreign princes, whose assistance had been sought.

And didst increase thy perfumes - That is, for the purpose of rendering thyself agreeable, after the manner of a licentious female (see Proverbs 7:17). The custom of perfuming the person was common in the East, and is still practiced there.

And didst send thy messengers - That is, to distant nations, for the purpose of securing their alliance.

And didst debase thyself even unto hell - On the meaning of the word 'hell,' see the notes at Isaiah 5:14. The idea is, that they had sunk to the deepest possible debasement. In forsaking Yahweh; in seeking foreign alliances; in their anxiety to secure their aid when Yahweh was abundantly able and willing to protect them, they had sunk to the lowest degradation of character and condition. The sentiment is, that people degrade themselves when they do not put confidence in God, and when, distrusting his ability, they put reliance on any other aid than his. If people have God for their protector, why should they court the friendship of earthly princes and kings?

9. the king—the idol which they came to worship, perfumed with oil, like harlots (Jer 4:30; Eze 23:16, 40). So "king" means idol (Am 5:26; Zep 1:5); (malcham meaning "king") [Rosenmuller]. Rather, the king of Assyria or Egypt, and other foreign princes, on whom Israel relied, instead of on God; the "ointment" will thus refer to the presents (Ho 12:1), and perhaps the compliances with foreigners' idolatries, whereby Israel sought to gain their favor [Lowth] (Isa 30:6; Eze 16:33; 23:16; Ho 7:11).

send … messengers far off—not merely to neighboring nations, but to those "far off," in search of new idols, or else alliances.

even unto hell—the lowest possible degradation.

Thou wentest, either by thyself, or by thy messengers, as it follows. Or, thou didst look, to wit, earnestly, with expectation and vehement affection.

To the king; either to Moloch, which was as it were the king or chief of their idols, and which signifies a king. Or to the great king of Assyria, called the king by way of eminency, to whom the Israelites in the days of Isaiah were very prone to seek, and trust, and send presents. Although the word king may be here taken collectively for the kings of Assyria or Egypt, or any other king, from whom they desired or expected help in their straits. And so the prophet passeth here from their idolatry to another sin, even to their carnal confidence in heathen princes, for which they are oft severely reproved; although these two sins were commonly joined together, and they easily received idolatry from those kings whose help they desired.

With ointment; with precious ointments, and particularly with balm, which was of great price, and was a commodity peculiar to those parts, and was sometimes sent as a present: see Genesis 43:11 Jeremiah 8:22 46:11.

Didst increase thy perfumes; didst send great quantities thereof to them to procure their aid.

Didst send thy messengers far off; into Assyria, which was far from Judea.

Didst debase thyself even unto hell; thou wast willing to submit to the basest terms to procure their aid. And thou wentest to the king with ointment,.... To the kings of the earth, the singular for the plural, with whom the whore of Rome has committed fornication or idolatry, in allusion to harlots, who, in order to render themselves the more agreeable to their lovers, anointed themselves with ointment: this may respect the grace of the Spirit of God, which the church of Rome pretends to give by administration of the sacraments, which it is said confer grace "ex opere operato"; and the extreme unction given as a meetness for heaven, in the last moments of life:

and didst increase thy perfumes; after the manner of harlots, who, to ingratiate themselves with men, use much perfumes: this may signify the many ways the whore of Rome takes to make herself regarded by the kings and nations of the earth; pretending to antiquity, infallibility, power of working miracles, works of supererogation, primacy and superiority over all other churches; using great pomp and splendour in places of worship, and in all religious services:

and didst send thy messengers far off; not only into neighbouring kingdoms and states, into all the nations of Europe; but even into the most distant parts of the world, into both the Indies, in order to make proselytes, spread the religion of the see of Rome, and increase its power. The pope's "nuncios" and "legates a latere", may be here pointed at, as well as the Jesuits his emissaries, sent into all parts to promote his interest. Jarchi's note is,

"to exact tribute of the kings of the nations;''

which has been the business of the pope's legates:

and didst debase thyself even unto hell; or lay thyself low; prostitute thyself as harlots do to every lover; or didst feign thyself very lowly and humble, as the pope does when he calls himself "servus servorum"; or rather, "thou didst depress", or "bring low, even unto hell" (t); that is, multitudes of men and women, who are brought down to hell by the false doctrine and worship of the church of Rome; and the followers of the man of sin say, that if he brings down thousands into hell, none ought to say, what dost thou? Cocceius thinks it may have respect to his pretended power over hell, to send as many there as do not please him; arrogating to himself the keys of heaven and hell; or over purgatory, a figment of his brain, where he pretends the souls of men are for a time, and from whence, for a sum of money, he delivers them. The Targum is,

"thou hast depressed the strength of the people; or, as some copies, the strong of the people unto hell.''

(t) "et demisti usque ad infernum", Cocceius.

And thou wentest {k} to the king with ointment, and didst increase thy perfumes, and didst send thy messengers far off, and didst debase thyself even to hell.

(k) You sought the favour of the Assyrians by gifts and presents to help you against the Egyptians and when they failed you sought the Babylonians, and more and more tormented yourself.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
9. Pilgrimages and deputations to the shrines of foreign deities form a fitting conclusion to the enumeration of their idolatries. Another view taken of the verse is that it refers to political embassies sent to court the favour of some great heathen power. This idea derives support from the resemblance of the passage to Ezekiel 23:16; Ezekiel 23:40, but it is out of keeping with the other allusions of the verse. Oil and ointment have nothing to do with politics; on the other hand unguents of various kinds played a great part in the cultus of the Semites. (See W. R. Smith, Religion of the Semites2, pp. 232 f., 382 f.) And the last line of the verse is most naturally explained as an allusion to infernal deities.

And thou wentest to the king, &c.] Rather, And thou hast journeyed to Melek with oil. “Melek” means king, and is here understood by many of the Great King of Assyria or Babylon. But for the reasons given above it is necessary to explain it as the name of a deity. It is, in fact, the word which has come to us in the Hebrew Bible under the form Molech, its proper vowels having been replaced in Jewish tradition by those of bôsheth, “shameful thing.” (see W. R. Smith, l.c. p. 372.) It was a title applied by the Northern Semites to many gods, and even (among the Israelites) to Jehovah, as “king.’ ” Here it seems to be used as a proper name, and the verb “journey” shows that a foreign god is meant; possibly, as Duhm thinks, Milkom, the chief god of the Ammonites, with whom the Samaritans seem to have been in close alliance (Nehemiah 2:10; Nehemiah 4:7; Nehemiah 6:1 ff.).

thy perfumes] or ointments.

and didst send thy messengers far off] Where they could not go in person they sent messengers with offerings.

and didst debase thyself even unto hell] Rather, and hast sent deep to Sheol (lit. “hast deepened [sc. thy sending] to Sheol”), i.e. they sought the favour of the deities of the underworld, by consulting their oracles etc.Verse 9. - And thou wentest to the king, Delitzsch and Mr. Cheyne understand "the King of Assyria," and regard the verse as bringing forward a new subject of complaint: "Not only hast thou deserted me tot other gods, but thou trustest for aid, not to me, but to the Assyrian monarch." But there is no indication of the Jews having put any trust in Assyria after the reign of Ahaz, to which this chapter, by its position in the prophecy, cannot belong. Moreover, the King of Assyria is never called simply" the king." It is, therefore, better to regard "the king" as Moloch, whom the Jews of Isaiah's time certainly worshipped (see ver. 5), and whose name was a mere dialectic variety of Melech, "king" (see Dean Payne Smith's ' Sermons on Isaiah,' sermon 4. p. 119). Ointment... perfumes. Either bearing them as offerings, or herself perfumed with them, as was the practice of lewd women (Proverbs 7:17). And didst send thy messengers far off; i.e. to distant Moloch-shrines. And didst debase thyself even unto hell; i.e. "didst take on thee the yoke of a mean and grovelling superstition, which debased thee to the lowest point conceivable." There was nothing lower in religion than the worship of Moloch. The reproachful language of the prophet is now directed against the mass of the nation, who have occasioned the "evil" from which the righteous is swept away, i.e., the generation that is hostile to the servants of Jehovah, and by whom those sins of idolatry are still so shamelessly carried on, which first led to the captivity. "And ye, draw nearer hither, children of the sorceress, seed of the adulterer, and of her that committed whoredom! Over whom do ye make yourselves merry? Over whom do ye open the mouth wide, and put the tongue out long? Are ye not the brook of apostasy, seed of lying?" They are to draw nearer hither (hēnnâh as in Genesis 15:16), to the place where God is speaking through His prophet, to have themselves painted, and to hear their sentence. Just as elsewhere the moral character of a man is frequently indicated by the mention of his father (2 Kings 6:32), or his mother (1 Samuel 20:30), or both parents (Job 30:8), so here the generation of the captivity, so far as it continued to practise the idolatry by which its ancestors had brought upon themselves the Chaldean catastrophe, is called first עננה בּני (or more correctly עננה), sons of the sorceress (possibly the maker of clouds or storm, Isaiah 2:6, Jer. auguratricis), one who made heathen and superstitious customs her means of livelihood, viz., the community as it existed before the captivity, which really deserved no better name, on account of the crying contradiction between its calling and its conduct; and secondly, with regard to both the male and female members of the community, ותּזנה מנאף זרע, semen adulteri et fornicariae (Jer.), though Stier, Hahn, and others adopt the rendering semen adulterum et quod (qui) scortaris. A better rendering than this would be, "Seed of an adulterer, and one who committest adultery thyself," viz., (what would be indicated with this explanation by the fut. consec.) in consequence of this descent from an adulterer. But as זרע (seed, posterity), wherever it is more minutely defined, is connected with a genitive, and not with an adjective, the presumption is that ותזנה מנאף denotes the father and mother. ותּזנה is an attributive clause regarded as a genitive (Ges. 123, 3, Anm. 1), and more closely connected with מנאף htiw than if it was written ותזנה equals וזונה, Isaiah 1:21): Seed of an adulterer, and consequently (Ewald, 351, b), or similarly, of one who gave herself up to whoredom. Idolatry, prostitution, and magic are most closely allied. The prophet now asks, "Over whom do ye find your pleasure? For whom are your common contemptuous actions intended?" התענּג is only used here, and denotes the feeling which finds pleasure in the sufferings of another. The objects of this malicious contemptuous pleasure (Psalm 22:8., Psalm 35:21) are the servants of Jehovah; and the question, as in Isaiah 37:23, is one of amazement at their impudence, since the men over whom they make merry are really deserving of esteem, whereas they themselves are the refuse of Israel: Are ye not a brook of apostasy, seed of lying? As apostasy and lying, when regarded as parents, can only produce something resembling themselves; the character of those from whom they are descended is here imputed to the men themselves, even more clearly than before. The genitives of origin are also genitives of attribute. Instead of ילדי (e.g., Isaiah 2:6) we have here ילדי before makkeph, with the shortening of a into i.
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