Isaiah 9:15
The ancient and honorable, he is the head; and the prophet that teaches lies, he is the tail.
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(15) The ancient and honourable . . .—Comp. Isaiah 3:2-3, for the meaning of the words. These, the prophet seems to say, were the true leaders of the people. The ideal work of the prophet was, indeed, that of a teacher who was to lead even them, but corruptio optimi pessima; and to Isaiah, as to Jeremiah, there was no class so contemptible and base as that of spiritual guides whose policy was that of a time-serving selfishness. The verse is rejected by some critics as a marginal note that has found its way into the text; but the prophet may well have given his own interpretation of this formula. (Comp. Isaiah 28:7; Isaiah 29:10; Jeremiah 14:14; Jeremiah 23:9-40.)

9:8-21 Those are ripening apace for ruin, whose hearts are unhumbled under humbling providences. For that which God designs, in smiting us, is, to turn us to himself; and if this point be not gained by lesser judgments, greater may be expected. The leaders of the people misled them. We have reason to be afraid of those that speak well of us, when we do ill. Wickedness was universal, all were infected with it. They shall be in trouble, and see no way out; and when men's ways displease the Lord, he makes even their friends to be at war with them. God would take away those they thought to have help from. Their rulers were the head. Their false prophets were the tail and the rush, the most despicable. In these civil contests, men preyed on near relations who were as their own flesh. The people turn not to Him who smites them, therefore he continues to smite: for when God judges, he will overcome; and the proudest, stoutest sinner shall either bend or break.The ancient - The elder; the old man.

And honorable - Hebrew, 'The man of elevated countenance.' The man of rank and office.

The prophet that teacheth lies - The false prophet. Of those there were many; and probably at this time many in Samaria.

15. ancient—the older.

honourable—the man of rank.

prophet … lies, … tail—There were many such in Samaria (1Ki 22:6, 22, 23; compare as to "tail," Re 9:19).

He is, i.e. signifies, as that word is commonly used in the Hebrew tongue, as Genesis 41:26,27, and every where.

The prophet that teacheth lies; whose destruction he mentions, not as if it were a punishment to them to be deprived of such persons, but partly to show the extent of the calamity, that it should reach all sorts of persons; and partly to beat down their vain presumptions of peace and prosperity, by showing that those false prophets, which had fed their vain hopes, should perish, and all their false prophecies of peace with them.

He is the tail; these I mean by the tail, as being in’ truth the basest part of the whole body of the people. The ancient and honourable, he is the head,.... The elder in office, not in age; and who, on account of his office, dignity, and riches, is honoured by men, is of a venerable countenance himself, and is reverenced when seen and looked upon by others, and received by persons with pleasure and cheerfulness; as the phrase used signifies. The Septuagint and Arabic versions render it, "who admire", or "have" men's "persons in admiration"; which is the character Jude gives of false teachers, Jde 1:16 who are next described:

and the prophet that teacheth lies, he is the tail; so called from their low extract, being often of a mean original and descent; or rather from the meanness of their spirits, their flattery of princes and great men, to whom they tell lies, and prophesy smooth and false things, for the sake of a little sordid gain, in allusion to dogs that wag their tails at their masters; or from the poison of their doctrines, some creatures having poison in their tails, and do much mischief with them. See Revelation 9:19.

The ancient and honourable, he is the head; and the prophet that teacheth lies, he is the tail.
Verse 15. - Some suppose this verse to be a gloss, or marginal note, which has crept into the text; but it is too pointed and sarcastic for a mere gloss. There is no reason to doubt its being Isaiah's. Having spoken of "the tail," he takes the opportunity of lashing the false prophet, who claimed to be among the "honorable," but was really the lowest of the low, worse than his dupes, the true "tail" (comp. Isaiah 28:7; Isaiah 29:10; Isaiah 30:10). The great light would not arise till the darkness had reached its deepest point. The gradual increase of this darkness is predicted in this second section of the esoteric addresses. Many difficult questions suggest themselves in connection with this section. 1. Is it directed against the northern kingdom only, or against all Israel? 2. What was the historical standpoint of the prophet himself? The majority of commentators reply that the prophet is only prophesying against Ephraim here, and that Syria and Ephraim have already been chastised by Tiglath-pileser. The former is incorrect. The prophet does indeed commence with Ephraim, but he does not stop there. The fates of both kingdoms flow into one another here, as well as in Isaiah 8:5., just as they were causally connected in actual fact. And it cannot be maintained, that when the prophet uttered his predictions Ephraim had already felt the scourging of Tiglath-pileser. The prophet takes his stand at a time when judgment after judgment had fallen upon all Israel without improving it. And one of these past judgments was the scourging of Ephraim by Tiglath-pileser. How much or how little of the events which the prophet looks back upon from this ideal standpoint had already taken place, it is impossible to determine; but this is a matter of indifference so far as the prophecy is concerned. The prophet, from his ideal standing-place, had not only this or that behind him, but all that is expressed in this section by perfects and aorists (Ges. 129, 2, b). And we already know from Isaiah 2:9; Isaiah 5:25, that he sued the future conversive as the preterite of the ideal past. We therefore translate the whole in the present tense. In outward arrangement there is no section of Isaiah so symmetrical as this. In chapter 5 we found one partial approach to the strophe in similarity of commencement, and another in chapter 2 in similarity of conclusion. But here Isaiah 5:25 is adapted as the refrain of four symmetrical strophes. We will take each strophe by itself.

Strophe 1. Isa 9:8-12 "The Lord sends out a word against Jacob, and it descends into Israel. And all the people must make atonement, Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria, saying in pride and haughtiness of heart, 'Bricks are fallen down, and we build with square stones; sycamores are hewn down, and we put cedars in their place.' Jehovah raises Rezin's oppressors high above him, and pricks up his enemies: Aram from the east, and Philistines from the west; they devour Israel with full mouth. For all this His anger is not turned away, and His hand is stretched out still." The word (dâbâr) is both in nature and history the messenger of the Lord: it runs quickly through the earth (Psalm 147:15, Psalm 147:18), and when sent by the Lord, comes to men to destroy or to heal (Psalm 107:20), and never returns to its sender void (Isaiah 55:10-11). Thus does the Lord now send a word against Jacob (Jacob, as in Isaiah 2:5); and this heavenly messenger descends into Israel (nâphal, as in Daniel 4:28, and like the Arabic nazala, which is the word usually employed to denote the communication of divine revelation), taking shelter, as it were, in the soul of the prophet. Its immediate commission is directed against Ephraim, which has been so little humbled by the calamities that have fallen upon it since the time of Jehu, that the people are boasting that they will replace bricks and sycamores (or sycamines, from shikmin), that wide-spread tree (1 Kings 10:27), with works of art and cedars. "We put in their place:" nachaliph is not used here as in Job 14:7, where it signifies to sprout again (nova germina emittere), but as in Isaiah 40:31; Isaiah 41:1, where it is construed with כּח (strength), and signifies to renew (novas vires assumere). In this instance, when the object is one external to the subject, the meaning is to substitute (substituere), like the Arabic achlafa, to restore. The poorest style of building in the land is contrasted with the best; for "the sycamore is a tree which only flourishes in the plain, and there the most wretched houses are still built of bricks dried in the sun, and of knotty beams of sycamore."

(Note: Rosen, Topographisches aus Jerusalem.)

These might have been destroyed by the war, but more durable and stately buildings would rise up in their place. Ephraim, however, would be made to feel this defiance of the judgments of God (to "know," as in Hosea 9:7; Ezekiel 25:14). Jehovah would give the adversaries of Rezin authority over Ephraim, and instigate his foes: sicsēc, as in Isaiah 19:2, from sâcac, in its primary sense of "prick," figere, which has nothing to do with the meanings to plait and cover, but from which we have the words שׂך, סך, a thorn, nail, or plug, and which is probably related to שׂכה, to view, lit., to fix; hence pilpel, to prick up, incite, which is the rendering adopted by the Targum here and in Isaiah 19:2, and by the lxx at Isaiah 19:2. There is no necessity to quote the talmudic sicsēc, to kindle (by friction), which is never met with in the metaphorical sense of exciting. It would be even better to take our sicsēc as an intensive form of sâcac, used in the same sense as the Arabic, viz., to provide one's self with weapons, to arm; but this is probably a denominative from sicca, signifying offensive armour, with the idea of pricking and spearing - a radical notion, from which it would be easy to get at the satisfactory meaning, to spur on or instigate. "The oppressors of Rezin" tzâr Retzı̄n, a simple play upon the words, like hoi goi in Isaiah 1:4, and many others in Isaiah) are the Assyrians, whose help had been sought by Ahaz against Rezin; though perhaps not these exclusively, but possibly also the Trachonites, for example, against whom the mountain fortress Rezı̄n appears to have been erected, to protect the rich lands of eastern Hauran. In Isaiah 9:12 the range of vision stretches over all Israel. It cannot be otherwise, for the northern kingdom never suffered anything from the Philistines; whereas an invasion of Judah by the Philistines was really one of the judgments belonging to the time of Ahaz (2 Chronicles 28:16-19). Consequently by Israel here we are to understand all Israel, the two halves of which would become a rich prize to the enemy. Ephraim would be swallowed up by Aram - namely, by those who had been subjugated by Asshur, and were now tributary to it - and Judah would be swallowed up by the Philistines. But this strait would be very far from being the end of the punishments of God. Because Israel would not turn, the wrath of God would not turn away.

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