Isaiah 66:17
They that sanctify themselves, and purify themselves in the gardens behind one tree in the middle, eating swine's flesh, and the abomination, and the mouse, shall be consumed together, said the LORD.
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(17) They that sanctify themselves . . .—Better, they that consecrate themselves . . . As in Isaiah 65:3-4, the prophet has in his thoughts the apostates, who gloried in mingling heathen rites with the worship of Jehovah. Such a blending of incompatible elements was, as we have seen, eminently characteristic of the reign of Manasseh. We have no trace of anything corresponding to it among the. Babylonian exiles, either before or after their return. The “consecration” and “purification” are the initiatory rites of heathen mysteries, connected probably with the worship of Baal or Ashtoreth, or, as the context, with its reference to gardens and swine’s flesh, renders probable, with that of Thammuz. (See Note on Isaiah 64:4.)

Behind one tree in the midst.—The noun “tree” is a conjectural explanation. The Hebrew text gives the “one” in the masculine, and is explained as referring either (1) to the Hierophant, who led the worshippers; or (2), as with a contemptuous reluctance to utter the name of the false deity, to Thammuz. The Hebrew margin gives “one” in the feminine, and this may have been meant for the Asherah, the “grove,” or Phallic symbol of idolatrous worship. If we adopt the masculine, and refer it to Thammuz, the word may connect itself with the lamentations of the Syrian maidens over Thammuz (Adonis) as over an only son. (Comp. Milton, Paradise Lost, i.)

The abomination.—The word stands in Leviticus 7:21; Leviticus 11:11, for various kinds of unclean beasts, among which the mouse, or jerboa, still eaten by the Arabs, was conspicuous (Leviticus 11:29). It is probable that all these, as well as the swine’s flesh, were used in the idolfeasts. In any case the apostate worshippers would seem to have exulted in throwing off the restraints of the Mosaic law.

Isaiah 66:17. They that sanctify themselves, &c. — “Behold,” says Vitringa, “the reason of the great severity above mentioned, namely, a base and abominable departure from God, represented under a certain kind of idolatry and detestable superstition, of all others the most odious and contrary to the institutions of the ancient religion.” It is evident the passage is to be understood figuratively, like those in Isaiah 66:3, and in Isaiah 65:3-4; Isaiah 65:11, on which see the notes. And purify themselves in the gardens — There were several sorts of lustrations, or purifications, used among the heathen, from whence the Jews learned their idolatrous customs, some of which were performed by washings, for which purpose they had fountains in their sacred groves and gardens. Behind one tree — The word tree is not in the Hebrew. The words are אחר אחד, achar achad, which may signify, after the manner of achad. Or, as Bishop Lowth renders it, after the rites of achad; observing, “the Syrians worshipped a god called Adad, whom they held to be the highest and greatest of the gods, and to be the same with Jupiter and the sun: and the name Adad, says Macrobius, signifies one, as likewise does the word achad, in Isaiah. Many learned men, therefore, have supposed, and with some probability, that the prophet means the same pretended deity. But whatever the particular mode of idolatry might be, the general sense of the verse is perfectly clear.” It is plainly a reproof of the wicked Jews for the many idolatries and superstitions of which they were guilty, and which are here set forth in figurative language, borrowed from the abominable practices to which many of the Jews were addicted in Isaiah’s time; who privately, in enclosed gardens which were not exposed to view, performed the heathen lustrations, sacrificed in the heathen manner, and to their gods, and eat meats which were prohibited by the law as unclean, although in public they pretended to be true Jews, or strict observers of the law. Eating swine’s flesh — Forbidden, Leviticus 11:7; Deuteronomy 14:8. And the abomination — Other abominable meats forbidden to the Jews; and the mouse — The word which we translate mouse being nowhere found but Leviticus 11:29; 1 Samuel 6:4-5; 1 Samuel 6:11; 1 Samuel 6:18, and here, some think it is not that creature which we call a mouse, but rather signifies some serpent. Be this as it may, the sense evidently is, that God would not only destroy the open and gross idolaters and superstitious persons, but all those who made no conscience of yielding obedience to the law of God in such things as seemed to them of a trivial nature, and in which they easily might have yielded obedience. The Lord here assures them that they should all perish together. Observe, reader, in the day of final judgment, the idolatrous pagan or Papist, and the ungodly Protestant, shall fare alike. For no man can reasonably imagine that either baptism, or a profession of Christianity, can save a man from God’s wrath without holiness, any more than circumcision, and the being reputed a member in the Jewish Church.66:15-24 A prophetic declaration is given of the Lord's vengeance on all enemies of his church, especially that of all antichristian opposers of the gospel in the latter days. Ver.They that sanctify themselves - That is, who attempt to purify themselves by idolatrous rites, by ablutions, and lustrations. The design here is, to describe those who will be exposed to the wrath of God when he shall come to execute vengeance.

And purify themselves in the gardens - (See the notes at Isaiah 65:3).

Behind one tree in the midst - This passage has not a little exercised the ingenuity of commentators. It is quite evident that our translators were not able to satisfy themselves with regard to its meaning. In the margin they have rendered it, 'one after another,' supposing that it may mean that the idolaters engaged in their sacrifices in a solemn procession, walking one after another around their groves, their shrines, or their altars. In the translation in the text, they seem to have supposed that the religious rites referred to were celebrated behind one particular selected tree in the garden. Lowth renders it, 'After the rites of Achad.' Jerome renders it, In hortis post januam intrinsecus - 'In the gardens they sanctify themselves behind the gate within.' The Septuagint, 'Who consecrate and purify themselves (εἰς τοὺς κήπους, καὶ ἐν τοῖς προθύροις ἕσθοντες, κ.τ.λ. eis tous kēpous, kai en tois prothurois hesthontes, etc.) for the gardens, and they who, in the outer courts, eat swine's flesh,' etc. The Chaldee renders the phrase סיעא בחר סיעא siy‛ā' bāchar siy‛ā' - 'Multitude after multitude.' The vexed Hebrew phrase used here, אחד אחר 'achar 'achad, it is very difficult to explain. The word אחר 'achar means properly after; the after part; the extremity; behind - in the sense of following after, or going after anyone. The word אחד 'achad, means properly one; someone; anyone. Gesenius (Commentary at the place) says that the phrase may be used in one of the three following senses:

1. In the sense of one after another. So Sym. and Theo. render it - ὀπίσω ἀλλήλων opisō allēlōn. Luther renders it, Einer hier, der andere da - 'one here, another there.'

2. The word אחד 'achad, may be understood as the name of a god who was worshipped in Syria, by the name of Adad. This god is that described by Macrobius, Sat., i.:23: 'Understand what the Assyrians think about the power of the sun. For to the God whom they worship as Supreme they give the name Adad, and the signification of this name is One.' That the passage before us refers to this divinity is the opinion of Lowth, Grotius, Bochart, Vitringa, Dathe, and others. 'The image of Adad,' Macrobius adds, 'was designated by inclined rays, by which it was shown that the power of heaven was in the rays of the sun which were sent down to the earth.' The same god is referred to by Pliny (Hist. Nat. xxxvii. 71), where he mentions three gems which received their names from three parts of the body, and were called 'The veins of Adad, the eye of Adad, the finger of Adad;' and he adds, 'This god was worshipped by the Syrians.' There can be no doubt that such a god was worshipped; but it is by no means certain that this idol is here referred to. It is not improbable, Vitringa remarks, that the name Adad should be written for Achadh, for the ease of pronunciation - as a slight change in letters was common for the purpose of euphony. But it is still not quite clear that this refers to any particular idol.

3. The third opinion is that of Gesenius and accords substantially with that which our translators have expressed it the text. According to that, it should be rendered 'Those who sanctify and purify themselves in the (idol) groves after one in the midst;' that is, following and imitating the one priest who directed the sacred ceremonies. It may mean that a solemn procession was formed in the midst of the grove, which was led on by the priest, whom all followed; or it may mean that they imitated him in the sacred rites. It seems tome probable that this refers to some sacred procession in honor of an idol, where the idol or the altar was encompassed by the worshippers, and where they were led on by the officiating priest. Such processions we know were common in pagan worship.

In the midst - In the midst of the sacred grove; that is, in the darkest and obscurest recess. Groves were selected for such worship on account of the sacred awe which it was supposed their dark shades would produce and cherish. For the same reason, therefore, the darkest retreat - the very middle of the grove - would be selected as the place where their religious ceremonies would be performed. I see no evidence that there is any allusion to any tree here, as our translators seem to have supposed; still less, that there was, as Burder supposes, any allusion to the tree of life in the midst of the garden of Eden, and their attempts to cultivate and preserve the memory of it; but there is reason to believe that their religious rites would be performed in the center, or most shady part of the grove.

Eating swine's flesh - That is, in connection with their public worship (see the notes at Isaiah 65:4).

And the abomination - The thing which is held as abominable or detestable in the law of God. Thus the creeping thing and the reptile were regarded as abominations Leviticus 11:41-42. They were not to be eaten; still less were they to be offered in sacrifice (compare Exodus 8:26; Deuteronomy 20:16; Deuteronomy 29:17; see the notes at Isaiah 65:3).

And the mouse - The Hebrew word used here means the dormouse - a small field-mouse. Jerome understands it as meaning the glis, a small mouse that was regarded as a great delicacy by the Romans. They were carefully kept and fattened for food (see Varro, De Rust., iii. 15). Bochart (Hieroz., i. 3, 34) supposes that the name used here is of Chaldaic origin, and that it denotes a field-mouse. Mice abounded in the East, and were often exceedingly destructive in Syria (see Bochart; compare 1 Samuel 5:4). Strabo mentions that so vast a multitude of mice sometimes invaded Spain as to produce a pestilence; and in some parts of Italy, the number of field-mice was so great that the inhabitants were forced to abandon the country. It was partly on account of its destructive character that it was held in abomination by the Hebrews. Yet it would seem that it was eaten by idolaters; and was, perhaps, used either in their sacrifices or in their incantations (see the notes at Isaiah 65:4). Vitringa supposes that the description in this verse is applicable to the time of Herod, and that it refers to the number of pagan customs and institutions which were introduced under his auspices. But this is by no means certain. It may be possible that it is a general description of idolatry, and of idolaters as the enemies of God, and that the idea is, that God would come with vengeance to cut off all his foes.

17. in … gardens—Hebrew and the Septuagint rather require, "for (entering into) gardens," namely, to sacrifice there [Maurer].

behind one tree—rather, "following one," that is, some idol or other, which, from contempt, he does not name [Maurer]. Vitringa, &c., think the Hebrew for "one," Ahhadh, to be the name of the god; called Adad (meaning One) in Syria (compare Ac 17:23). The idol's power was represented by inclined rays, as of the sun shining on the earth. Gesenius translates, "following one," namely, Hierophant ("priest"), who led the rest in performing the sacred rites.

in … midst—namely, of the garden (see on [886]Isa 65:3, 4).

mouse—legally unclean (Le 11:29) because it was an idol to the heathen (see on [887]Isa 37:36; 1Sa 6:4). Translate, "the field mouse," or "dormouse" [Bochart]. The Pharisees with their self-righteous purifications, and all mere formalists, are included in the same condemnation, described in language taken from the idolatries prevalent in Isaiah's times.

That the Jews might not think that the judgments threatened concerned only the heathen, he tells them they concerned them, the idol worshippers amongst them; and not idolaters only, but such as broke his laws about meats, which he had prohibited them to eat. Those that sanctified and purified themselves in gardens, gardens in which they worshipped idols, Isaiah 1:29 65:3,4 1 Kings 14:23 15:13: the word translated gardens signifieth such as were thick planted with trees, and had groves in them, where they set their idols, 1 Kings 15:13; hence the idol is called the grove, 2 Kings 23:6; they had also in these gardens pools, where they washed themselves in a way of preparation for their idol worship, as the priest by God’s ordinance was to bathe himself, Numbers 19:7.

Behind one tree in the midst; behind one of the trees, or one by one behind the trees. Some think that Achar is here a proper name of an idol, behind which or behind whose temple these idolaters were wont to purify themselves. These gardens were places too as well for brutish lusts as idol worship, as may be learned from 1 Kings 14:24 2 Kings 23:7, and they by these washings thought to make themselves clean.

Eating swine’ s flesh, forbidden Leviticus 11:7 Deu 14:8.

And the abomination; either any abominable things, or all those beasts forbidden the Jews for meat, Leviticus 11:9,10, &c. Some think a particular abominable thing is here meant, and think it is the weasel, which, Leviticus 11:29, is joined with the mouse, which is here next mentioned. The word which we translate mouse being no where found but there, and here, and 1 Samuel 6:4,5,11,18, some think it is not that creature we call a mouse, (because a mouse is properly no creeping thing; but the word, Leviticus 11:29, signifieth a creeping thing,) they therefore think it rather signifieth some serpent. It is a matter of no great consequence. The sense is, that God would not only destroy the open and gross idolaters and superstitious persons, but all those also who had made no conscience of yielding obedience to the law of God in such things as seemed to them of a minute nature, and such as they easily might have yielded obedience to; he saith that they shall all perish together. In the day of judgment, the idolatrous pagan and papist, and the lewd anti disobedient protestant, shall fare alike. It will be a hard thing for a thinking soul to see how baptism, and a membership in the Christian church, should save men from God’s wrath, without holiness, more than circumcision and membership in the Jewish church. They that sanctify themselves,.... This is a description of the enemies of the Lord, and of his people, who shall be slain at this time; not who are sanctified by the Spirit and grace of God, but who sanctify themselves, pretend to make themselves holy, and give out that they are holier than others; professing great outward sanctity, as the Papists do, but destitute of real inward holiness: or, "that prepare themselves", as the Targum; to go and worship such an idol, on such a day, as Jarchi and Aben Ezra interpret it, and as the above followers of the man of sin do, Revelation 9:20.

that purify themselves in the gardens; in pools or ponds of water in gardens. This Kimchi understands of the Persians, by whom he means the Mahometans, who bathe and purify themselves daily, but yet are unclean in their lives and actions; and it is true also of the Papists, who pretend to purify themselves with their holy water in their churches. "Behind one tree in the midst": so Aben Ezra supplies it. Some take Achad, rendered "one", to be the name of an idol. Macrobius (d) says, the Assyrians worshipped the sun under the name of Adad, which signifies "one"; him they adore as a most powerful deity; the same perhaps, with the Adodus of Sanchoniatho (e), whom he calls the king of the gods; and the Adadus of Pliny (f), the god of the Syrians, from whom the gem "adadunephros" has its name. The Targum paraphrases it, "company after company"; to which agrees the Syriac version, "that purify themselves--one after another"; as the Papists go to Mass company after company, when they make use of their holy water purification. The phrase, "after one in the midst" (g), as it may be rendered, may signify, after some middle person or mediator; and the note of Cocceius is not amiss, after the false vicar and head, that is, the pope, the pretended vicar of Christ, and head of the church the above things the Papists do after his orders and injunctions. So R. Bechai (h) interprets all of this of the Mahometans and Papists; his words are, as Buxtorf (i) has cited them,

"that sanctify themselves; these are the sons of Edom (that is, the Christians), whose custom it is to move their fingers here and there (that is, to sanctify themselves with the sign of the cross): that purify, themselves; these are the sons of Ishmael (that is, the Turks), whose custom is to wash their hands and their feet; which custom of washing they had from Esau and the Jews: "after one in the midst"; this signifies the cross of the Edomites (that is, the Christians), by which they sanctify, themselves;''

the Papists he means. Ben Melech understands it of one pool in the midst of the garden; and observes, that others interpret it of one of the groves in the midst of it.

Eating swine's flesh, and the abomination, and the mouse; the eating of swine's flesh, and the mouse, were forbidden by the law of Moses, Leviticus 11:7 and some think by the "abomination" is meant the "weasel", since that is mentioned in the above law with the "mouse"; though it may be rather things offered to idols, or blood, are designed. Mice have been eaten, at least some sort of them, as the dormouse, by some people, particularly the Romans, and counted delicious food, as Sanctius upon the place, from various authors, has showed; and Bochart (k) also observes, that there is a kind of field mice, called by the Arabians "jarbuo", which are eaten by them, and had in great esteem, and is the very word the Arabic interpreter renders this by in the text. Now, though the ceremonial law is abolished, and all distinction of meats ceased, and will continue so in the times referred to; yet the description of these unclean people, pretending to so much sanctity and purity, is taken from such persons who were reckoned impure in the times the prophet wrote; and may particularly point at such who abstain from meats at certain times, to be eaten lawfully; and yet are as unclean as those under the law were, who ate things forbidden; they being such who are abominable, and make an abomination, and a lie, Revelation 21:8, "these shall be consumed together, saith the Lord"; in the above mentioned battles, or in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone.

(d) Saturnal. I. 1. c. 23. (e) Apud Euseb. Praepar. Evangel. I. 1. c. 10. p. 38. (f) Nat. Hist. 1. 37. c. 11. (g) "post unam in medio", Montanus Munster, Vatablus; "post unum in medio", Cocceius, Vitringa. (h) Comment. in Deuteronomy 30.fol. 220. col, 4. (i) De Abbreviat. Heb. p. 199, 200. (k) Hierozoic. par. 1. l. 3. c. 33. col. 1014.

They that sanctify {r} themselves, and purify themselves in the gardens behind one tree in the midst, eating {s} swine's flesh, and the abomination, and the mouse, shall be consumed together, saith the LORD.

(r) Meaning, the hypocrites.

(s) By which are meant them that maliciously transgressed the law, by eating beasts forbidden, even to the mouse which nature abhors.

17. A renewed description of the apostates, in terms similar to Isaiah 66:3, Isaiah 65:3-5; Isaiah 65:11. Although the judgement is “with all flesh” it has a special significance for these reprobates. The connexion of Isaiah 66:17 with Isaiah 66:16 is not, however, beyond suspicion.

in the gardens] for the gardens, i.e. in order to go into the sacred gardens (ch. Isaiah 65:3) where the illegal rites were to be consummated (“ad sacra in lucis obeunda”).

behind one tree in the midst] A difficult and much disputed phrase. The insertion of the word “tree” is purely gratuitous, and indefensible. If the consonantal text be sound the best rendering by far is after one in the midst; i.e. following the actions of a hierophant or mystagogue, who stands in the midst of the brotherhood and regulates the important ceremony of purification. Comp. Ezekiel 8:11, “… seventy men of the elders of the house of Israel, and in the midst of them stood Jaazaniah the son of Shaphan, with every man his censer in his hand.” There does not appear to be any valid objection to this interpretation, although it is not supported by any ancient authority. The Massoretes substitute the fem. of “one” for the masc., thinking apparently of the image of some goddess as the central object. (The Babylonian Codex and the Soncino Bible have the fem. in the text.) Many commentators, guided by a faulty reference in Macrobius (Saturn. 1. 23), have supposed that the word for “one” (אֶחָד) contains the name of a deity; but this view, although revived by Lagarde, finds little favour among modern scholars. Several ancient versions (Pesh., Sym., Theod.) render “one after another” (Targ. “company after company”), which would be possible if we might insert an additional אחד (אחד אחר אחד), but it leaves “in the midst” unexplained. Cheyne (Introd. p. 370) reads with Klostermann אחד אחד בתנך—“one (consecrating) the other on the tip of the ear”; an ingenious emendation, but hardly yielding an easier sense than the received (consonantal) text as understood above.

swine’s flesh] ch. Isaiah 65:4.

the abomination] Hebr. shéqec̨, the general name for unclean animals; Leviticus 7:21; Leviticus 9:10 ff. (passim); cf. Ezekiel 8:10. (Duhm reads shéreç, “vermin,” creeping or swarming creatures).

the mouse] an unclean animal according to Leviticus 11:29. Of the 23 species of small rodents included under the name in Palestine, several are esteemed edible by the Arabs (Tristram, Nat. Hist., pp. 122 ff.). The allusion here without doubt is to sacrificial meals, the mouse being a sacred animal in the same sense as the swine and the dog. see W. R. Smith, Rel. of Sem.2 p. 293; who mentions a statement of Maimonides that the Harranians sacrificed field-mice.

shall be consumed] shall come to an end; see on next verse.Verse 17. - They that sanctify... themselves in the gardens (comp. Isaiah 1:29; Isaiah 65:3; and see the comment on the latter passage). Behind one tree in the midst; literally, behind one in the midst. It seems quite impossible that "one" can mean "one tree," when no tree has been mentioned, and gardens do not necessarily contain trees. The marginal rendering, "one after another," is also impossible. The "one in the midst" must have been either a hierophant who directed the ceremonies (Gesenius, Hitzig, Knobel, Delitzsch), or an image of a deity (Scaliger, Voss, Grotius, Lagarde, Cheyne). In the latter case, we must suppose that the worshippers had a scruple about mentioning the deity's name, and were accustomed to call him "one," or "a certain one" (comp. Herod., 2:171). Isaiah adopts their usage. Eating swine's flesh (comp. Isaiah 65:4). And the abomination. The word is used generically of all the "abominable things" forbidden to be eaten in Leviticus 11:4-30, as the camel, the coney, the hare, the eagle, the vulture, the ferret, the chameleon, the lizard, etc. The mouse. Probably the jerboa (see Leviticus 11:20). In the anticipation of such a future, those who inwardly participate in the present sufferings of Zion are to rejoice beforehand in the change of all their suffering into glory. "Rejoice ye with Jerusalem, and exult over her, all ye that love her; be ye delightfully glad with her, all ye that mourn over her, that he may suck and be satisfied with the breast of her consolations, that ye may sip and delight yourselves in the abundance of her glory." Those who love Jerusalem (the abode of the church, and the church itself), who mourn over her (hith'abbēl, inwardly mourn, 1 Samuel 15:35, prove and show themselves to be mourners and go into mourning, b. Mod katan 20b, the word generally used in prose, whereas אבל, to be thrown into mourning, to mourn, only occurs in the higher style; compare ציּון אבלי, Isaiah 57:18; Isaiah 61:2-3; Isaiah 60:20), these are even now to rejoice in spirit with Jerusalem and exult on her account (bâh), and share her ecstatic delight with her ('ittâh), in order that when that in which they now rejoice in spirit shall be fulfilled, they may suck and be satisfied, etc. Jerusalem is regarded as a mother, and the rich actual consolation, which she receives (Isaiah 51:3), as the milk that enters her breasts (shōd as in Isaiah 60:16), and from which she now supplies her children with plentiful nourishment. זיז, which is parallel to שׁד (not זיו, a reading which none of the ancients adopted), signifies a moving, shaking abundance, which oscillates to and fro like a great mass of water, from זאזא, to move by fits and starts, for pellere movere is the radical meaning common in such combinations of letters as זא, זע, רא, Psalm 42:5, to which Bernstein and Knobel have correctly traced the word; whereas the meaning emicans fluxus (Schrder), or radians copia (Kocher), to pour out in the form of rays, has nothing to sustain it in the usage of the language.
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