In Isaiah 7 the prophet had told Ahaz that God would give him a sign that the lad of Judah should be safe from the threatened invasion of the united armies of Syria and Israel. In this chapter Isaiah 8, there is a record of the primary fulfillment of that promise, Isaiah 8:1-4. From Isaiah 8:5 to Isaiah 8:8, the prophet resumes and repeats what he had said before in Isaiah 7:17-25, that although the land should be safe from this invasion, yet one more formidable would occur by the armies of Assyria. The cause of this is stated to be, that Judah had despised the Lord, and had sought alliances with Syria and Israel. The prophet then proceeds to exhort the people to put confidence in Yahweh - assuring them that if they refused to confide in him, they must expect to be destroyed, Isaiah 8:9-18; and the chapter concludes with denouncing punishment on those that looked to necromancers and diviners, rather than to the true God. The prophecy is intimately connected with that in the previous chapter; and was delivered, evidently, not far from the same time.
Moreover the LORD said unto me, Take thee a great roll, and write in it with a man's pen concerning Mahershalalhashbaz.Take thee a great roll - The word which is here translated 'roll' more properly signifies tablet. So the Chaldee renders it. Those tablets were made of wood, metal, or stone, for the purpose of writing on; see Isaiah 30:8; Habakkuk 2:2. On these tablets, or smooth plates, writing was performed by cutting the letters with an iron stylus, or small chisel. The process was slow, but the writing was permanent. They sometimes used the skins of animals, or the bark of trees, and subsequently the papyrus of Egypt (compare the note at Isaiah 19:7); and it is possible that Isaiah may have used such a roll or volume on this occasion; compare Isaiah 8:16.
With a man's pen - The word "pen" here (חרט chereṭ) denotes the iron stylus, which was used to engrave or cut the letters in the metal or wood. The phrase 'a man's pen,' has been variously interpreted. The Chaldee renders it, 'Write in it an open, or clear writing, or an expanded writing;' meaning that he should make it clear and distinct, so as to be easily read. The Syriac, 'Write on it in the (usual) custom of men.' The word which is translated 'man's אנושׁ 'ĕnôsh usually denotes common men, the lower ranks, in opposition to the higher ranks of society. And probably the direction means simply, 'write on it in letters such as men commonly use; in a plain, open, distinct manner - without using any mysterious emblems or characters, but so that men may read it distinctly and easily.' A parallel place occurs in Habakkuk 2:2 : 'Write the vision and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it.'
Concerning - Hebrew ל (le). This preposition may denote concerning, of, or to. I understand it here as referring to the heading or title of the prophecy. This was to be set over the prophecy, as a running title, to denote the main subject of it. The subject is indicated in the name which is immediately added.
Maher - Hasten; or, he shall hasten. "Shalal." Spoil, or prey.
Hash - Hasten, or make speed.
Baz - Spoil, or prey. The name used here is a repetition of the same idea - denoting haste in seizing prey, or spoil; and is repeated to give emphasis, and to excite attention. The idea is, that the Assyrian would hasten to his plunder - that it would be accomplished with speed. This name was to be given to a child of Isaiah; and this child was to be a sign of the event which was signified by the name; see Isaiah 8:18; compare Habakkuk 2:2-3.
And I took unto me faithful witnesses to record, Uriah the priest, and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah.And I took unto me faithful witnesses - What was the precise object in calling in these witnesses is not known. Some have supposed that it was to bear testimony to the marriage of the prophet at that time. But it may have been for the purpose of a public record of the prophecy; a record so made, that the precise time when it was delivered could be attested without dispute. The prophecy was an important one; and it was important to know, in the most authentic and undisputed manner, that such a prophecy had been delivered. It is probable that the prophecy, attested by the names of those two men, was suspended in some public place in the temple, so that it might be seen by the people, and allay their fears; and in order to remove from the multitude every suspicion that it was a prophecy after the event. That this was a real, and not a symbolic transaction, is perfectly manifest, not only from the narrative itself, but from Isaiah 8:18. They are called 'faithful,' not off account of their private character, but because their public testimony would be credited by the people.
To record - To bear witness.
Uriah the priest - This is, doubtless, the same man that is mentioned in 2 Kings 16:10. He was a man of infamous character; the accomplice of Ahaz in corrupting the true religion; but still his testimony might be the more valuable to Ahaz, as he was associated with him in his plans.
And Zechariah ... - It is not certainly known who this was. Perhaps he was one of the Levites whose name is mentioned in 2 Chronicles 29:13.
And I went unto the prophetess; and she conceived, and bare a son. Then said the LORD to me, Call his name Mahershalalhashbaz.Then said the Lord ... - The name thus given was to be emblematic of a particular event - that Assyria would soon take away the spoil of Damascus and Samaria. It is not remarkable that the name Immanuel should also be given to the same child, as signifying the presence and protection of God in defending the nation from the invaders; see the notes at Isaiah 7:14-15. Calvin thinks that all this passed in a vision before the prophet; but it has every mark of being a literal narrative of the birth of a son to Isaiah; and without this supposition, it is impossible to understand the account contained here.
For before the child shall have knowledge to cry, My father, and my mother, the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria shall be taken away before the king of Assyria.For before ... - This must have occurred in a short time - probably before the expiration of three years. A child would usually learn to address his parents in that time. In fact, the event here predicted occurred in less than three years from the time when the prophecy was spoken; see the notes at Isaiah 7:16.
Before the king of Assyria - By the king, or by his conquests. By the spoil of Samaria here, is to be understood, not the plunder which should be carried away from the city, but from the kingdom of Samaria. In other places, the land is called by the name of the capital; compare 2 Kings 17:26; 2 Kings 23:19; Jeremiah 31:5. The city of Samaria was not plundered until eighteen years after the time mentioned here by the prophet; Isaiah 8:5-6. These verses introduce again what was predicted in Isaiah 7:17, following, respecting the invasion of the land by the king of Assyria. The cause of the invasion is specified, and the consequences are foretold.
The LORD spake also unto me again, saying,
Forasmuch as this people refuseth the waters of Shiloah that go softly, and rejoice in Rezin and Remaliah's son;Forasmuch as this people - There has been a considerable difference of opinion among interpreters respecting the 'people' to whom the prophet here refers. Some have supposed that it refers to the kingdom of Judah alone; others to a party in that kingdom; and others to the kingdom of Judah in connection with the ten tribes, or the kingdom of Israel also. The latter is probably the correct interpretation. The prophet reproves the whole nation of the Jews for despising the mild and gentle reign of the family of David, and for seeking the aid of foreign nations; the ten tribes as seeking an alliance with Rezin and Pekah; and the kingdom of Judah as seeking an alliance with the king of Assyria. It was characteristic of the nation - both of the ten tribes, and of the tribe of Judah - that they forsook the defense which they had in themselves. and sought foreign alliances. Hence, God says, that he will bring upon them the judgments which they deserve. That there is a joint reference to both the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, is apparent from Isaiah 8:14. It cannot refer to the kingdom of Judah alone, for it could not be brought as an accusation against them, that they took pleasure in Rezin. In the opinion that it refers to the kingdoms of Israel and of Judah - to the whole Jewish people, Vitringa, Lowth, and Hengstenberg concur.
The waters of Shiloah that go softly - That flow gently. The name Siloah, or Siloam, is found only three times in the Scriptures as applied to waters; once in this place, where it is spoken of a running water; once as a pool in Nehemiah - השׁלח ברכה berêkah hashelach - Isaiah 3:15, and again as a pool, in the account of the miracle of healing the man who was born blind; John 9:7, John 9:11. Siloam is on the east side of the city of Jerusalem, to the southeast of the site of the temple, and its waters flow into the valley of Jehoshaphat. The name means sent, or sending, from שׁלח shâlach to send, and was probably given to it because the waters were sent or made to pass through a subterranean passage or aqueduct.
At present, it properly consists of two receptacles or reservoirs, the waters from one of which flow into the other. The first, or upper one, is now called the 'Fountain of the Virgin,' from a tradition that it was here that the Virgin Mary resorted before her purification, in order to wash her child's linen. This fountain is on the west side of the valley of Jehoshaphat, and is about 1550 feet from the southeast corner of the city wall. The cavity of this fountain is wholly excavated in the solid rock. To enter it there is at first a descent of sixteen steps, to a level place or platform of twelve feet in diameter, and then another descent of ten steps to the water, making the whole depth twenty-five feet. The basin here is about fifteen feet long by five or six wide, and the height six or eight feet. There is some reason to suppose that this is supplied by a fountain lying under the mosque of Omar, on the site of the temple of Solomon. From this fountain the water is conducted by a subterranean passage, in a direction a little to the west of south to what is properly called the fountain of Siloam. This passage runs under the extremity of mount Ophel; is cut entirely from the solid rock, and is found by measurement to be 1750 feet in length.
At the lower part it is from ten to fifteen feet in height by two in breadth; but in the middle so low, that it can be passed only by creeping on the hands and knees. The passage is partly fiilled up with sand. From this aqueduct the water is conveyed into the pool of Siloam, situated near where the Tyropeon, or 'valley of cheesemongers,' opens into the valley of Jehoshaphat. This reservoir is fifty-three feet long, eighteen feet broad, and nineteen feet deep, though now there is usually no water remaining within it. From this reservoir the water flows off into the vale below, furnishing water for the gardens which are constructed in terraces on the side of the valley. The water in both these fountains is the same. It is sweet, and slightly brackish, but not disagreeable. It is the common water now used by the inhabitants of the neighboring village of Kefr Selwane - or the straggling village of Siloam. For a full description of this fountain, see Robinson's Bib. Researches, vol. i. pp. 493-514. This fountain was probably formerly included within the walls, and furnished a part of the supply of water to the city.
The meaning of this passage is this. The waters of Siloam denote the reign of Yahweh, as manifesting itself in the administration of the family of David - a mild, gentle, and munificent reign, beautifully represented by the unfailing and gently flowing waters on which the happiness of Jerusalem so much depended. That reign a large part of the nation - the ten tribes - had rejected, and had set up a separate kingdom, and had sought the aid of the king of Damascus. The remainder - the kingdom of Judah - were in like manner now disposed to reject the aid of Yahweh, and sought an alliance with the king of Assyria - beautifully represented here by the river Euphrates. The waters of Siloam - a gentle, small sweetly-flowing stream, represented the government of Yahweh. The waters of the Euphrates - violent, rapid, impetuous, and overflowing, represented the government of Assyria. The one they despised; the other they sought and admired. The power of the kingdom of David was then feeble and decayed. That of the Assyrian monarch was vigorous, mighty, vast. They despised the one, and sought the alliance of the other.
And rejoice - That is, they confide in, and feel that in their protection riley are safe.
In Rezin - King of Syria.
And Remaliah's son - Pekah, king of Samaria; Isaiah 7:1. The crime here mentioned was unique to the kingdom of Israel; showing that the prophet, in part at least, had reference to them.
Now therefore, behold, the Lord bringeth up upon them the waters of the river, strong and many, even the king of Assyria, and all his glory: and he shall come up over all his channels, and go over all his banks:The waters of the river - By the river, in the Scripture, is commonly meant the river Euphrates, as being, by way of eminence, the largest river with which they were acquainted; and also as being that distinguished by the fact that Abraham had lived beyond it, and crossed it; see the note at Isaiah 7:20. In this verse the image is kept up which was commenced in Isaiah 8:6. The Jews rejected the gentle waters of Siloah, and sought the alliance of a foreign king, whose kingdom stretched along, and extended beyond the Euphrates. It was natural, therefore, to compare the invasion of the land to the overflowing of mighty waters that would sweep everything away. A similar comparison is found in Juvenal, who, in describing the introduction of Eastern customs into Rome, represents the Orontes as flowing into the Tiber: Jampridem Syrus in Tiberim defluxit Orontes. The comparison of an invading army with an overflowing stream, or an inundation, is not uncommon; see Lucan's Phars. vi. 272. Hor. Car. iv. 14, 15ff.
Strong and many - Violent waves, and numerous. It means that a mighty host would come up upon the land.
Even the king of Assyria - It has been supposed by many that this is a gloss, or explanation, which has crept into the text. There is no doubt that it expresses the true sense of the passage, but it is remarkable that Isaiah himself should furnish a literal explanation in the midst of a figurative description.
And all his glory - Eastern kings marched in the midst of vast splendor. They moved with all the magnificence of the court, and were attended usually with their princes and nobles; with a splendid retinue; and with all the insignia of royalty. Such was the case with Xerxes when he invaded Greece; and such, too, with Darius, and with most of the Oriental conquerors.
And he shall come up ... - The figure of overflowing waters is here retained. To understand this, it is necessary to remark, that the Euphrates annually overflows its banks to a very considerable extent. It rises in the mountains of Armenia, and, flowing for a considerable distance in a region where the mountains are covered with snow, it falls into the level region of Mesopotamia or Syria, and flows through that region, almost parallel with the Tigris, toward the Persian Gulf. From its banks, vast numbers of canals were made, as in Egypt, to receive the water, and to render the country fertile. By the melting of the snows in Armenia, in the summer, the stream becomes greatly enlarged, and overflows vast portions of the adjacent country in a manner similar to the Nile. Usually the river is not very large. Otho says, that on the 12th of March, when he crossed the Euphrates, it was not more than 200 paces in width, but in its height, it extends 500 or 600 paces into the plains on the right. Thevenot observes, that near to Bir, the Euphrates seemed no larger than the Seine at Paris, but was very large when it was swollen. At Babylon, it is said to be about four hundred feet in breadth. That it overflows its banks, is abundantly attested by ancient as well as modern travelers; see Rosenmuller and Gesenius on this verse.
Its channels - This word means either brooks, or valleys, or canals, or channels of a river. The Euphrates flowed through a level region, and it is not improbable that it had at various times made for itself many channels. Besides this, there were many canals cut in various directions to convey its waters to the gardens, farms, etc. All these the prophet says would be full - and the water would extend even far beyond them.
And he shall pass through Judah; he shall overflow and go over, he shall reach even to the neck; and the stretching out of his wings shall fill the breadth of thy land, O Immanuel.He shall ... - That is, the Assyrians - though still retaining the idea of an overflowing stream, or a deluge of waters.
Reach even to the neck - Chaldee, 'They shall come even to Jerusalem.' 'The prophet compares Jerusalem here,' says Kimchi, 'to the head of the human body. As when the waters reach to the neck of a man, he is very near drowning, so here, the prophet intimates that the whole land would be deluged, and that it would be nearly utterly destroyed.' The figure thus understood is a very sublime one Jerusalem was situated on hills - elevated above the surrounding country, and, in reference to the whole land, might be aptly compared to the human head. Thus, Josephus (De Bello, lib. iii. ch. ii.), describing Jerusalem, says - Ἱεροσόλυμα προανίσχουσα τῆς περιοίκου πάσης, ὥσπερ ἡ κεφαλὴ σώματος Hierosoluma proanischousa tēs perioikou pasēs, hōsper hē kephalē sōmatos - "Jerusalem, eminent above all the surrounding region, as the head of the body." The country is represented as being laid under water - a vast sea of rolling and tumultuous waves - with Jerusalem alone rising above them, standing in solitary grandeur amidst the heaving ocean, and itself in danger each moment of being ingulphed; see a similar figure, Isaiah 30:28 :
He is spirit is like a torrent overflowing
It shall reach to the middle of the neck.
And so also, Habakkuk 3:13 :
Thou didst go forth for the salvation of thy people,
For the salvation of thine anointed:
Thou didst smite the head from the house of the wicked,
Destroying the foundation even to the neck.
And the stretching out of his wings - This is a continuation of the same idea under a new figure. The term wings is often applied to an army, as well in modern as in ancient writings. It denotes that the invading army would be so vast as, when expanded or drawn out, to fill the land.
Shall fill the breadth - Shall occupy the entire land, so that there shall be no city or town which he shall not invade.
Thy land, O Immanuel - see the note at Isaiah 7:14. If this be understood as referring to the son of Isaiah that was to be born, then it means that the child was given as a pledge that the land would be safe from the threatened invasion. It was natural, therefore, to address the child in that manner; as reminding the prophet that this land, which was about to be invaded, belonged to God, and was yet under his protection. Its meaning may be thus paraphrased: 'O thou who art a pledge of the protection of God - whose birth is an assurance that the land is under his care, and who art given as such a sign to the nation. Notwithstanding this pledge, the land shall be full of foes. They shall spread through every part and endanger all.' Yet the name, the circumstances of the birth, the promise at that time, would all remind the prophet and the king, that, notwithstanding this, the land would be still under the protection of God. If the language be understood as referring to the future Messiah, and as an address made to him then, by calling the land his land, it is intimated that it could not be brought to utter desolation, nor could the country where he was to be born remain wasted and ruined. It would be indeed invaded; the armies of the Assyrian would spread over it, but still it was the land of Immanuel; and was to be the place of his birth, and it was to be secure until the time should arrive for him to come. The probability is, I think, that the address is here solely to the Messiah; and that the purpose of God is to fix the mind of the prophet on the fact that the Messiah must come, as an assurance that the land could not be wholly and perpetually desolate; see the notes at Isaiah 7:14.
Associate yourselves, O ye people, and ye shall be broken in pieces; and give ear, all ye of far countries: gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces; gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces.Associate yourselves - In the previous verses the prophet had seen the Assyrian coming up on the land like an overwhelming flood. He looked upon the danger, and his mind was turned to the pledge of safety which God had given. The name Immanuel, and the promise connected with the giving of that name Isaiah 7:16, reminded him of the perfect safety of the nation, for it was a pledge that God was with them; see Isaiah 8:10. In view of this pledge of the protection of God, this verse is a spirited apostrophe to the mighty host that was about to invade the land. Though confederated and vast, yet they could not prevail. They should be scattered, much as they might be prepared for victory, for God had given a pledge that he would defend his people.
Associate - There has been much variety among interpreters about the meaning of the Original word used here. It may mean "to be terrified, to be alarmed," as well as to associate or become confederate. The Vulgate and Chaldee render it, 'Be assembled, or congregated.' The Septuagint, 'Know, ye nations,' etc. The Syriac, 'Tremble, ye people,' etc. Still the notion of associating, confederating, or entering into an alliance, suits the connection better; answers to the parallelism in the latter part of the verse, and is equally consonant with the original.
O ye people - Ye people of Assyria. This is an apostrophe to the mighty multitudes that were to come up upon the land from that country.
And ye shall be broken in pieces - That is, though the confederacy be mighty, yet shall not prevail. It shall not accomplish that which you purpose - the entire destruction of the land of Judah.
Give ear, all ye of far countries - That should be particularly engaged in the confederacy - Assyria, and the kingdoms allied with it.
Gird yourselves - As if for war; that is, prepare yourselves thoroughly for conquest; see the note at Isaiah 5:27. The repetition of this shows the excited and agitated state of the prophet's mind. It is a strong, emphatic mode of expression - denoting that they should be certainly broken in pieces, notwithstanding the strength of their confederacy.
Take counsel together, and it shall come to nought; speak the word, and it shall not stand: for God is with us.Take counsel together - This is an address to the same foreign nations. It refers to the designs which they would form to destroy the Jewish state.
Speak the word - That is, give the command - to overturn the nation of the Jews.
It shall not stand - It shall not be accomplished.
For God is with us - Hebrew 'For Immanuel.' It indicates the confidence of the prophet in view of the promise and the pledge. His reliance was there. Though the enemies were strong and mighty; though the confederacy was formidable; yet his simple reliance was in the name Immanuel! In this he had confidence, in spite of all the violent efforts and designs of the foes of Judah; see Numbers 14:9 :
Only, rebel not ye against the Lord:
Neither fear ye the people of the land;
For they are bread for us;
Their defense is departed from them,
And Jehovah is with us,
Fear thom not.
See also Psalm 46:6-7 :
The heathen raged,
The kingdoms were moved.
He uttered his voice, the earth dissolved.
Jehovah of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our refuge.
For the LORD spake thus to me with a strong hand, and instructed me that I should not walk in the way of this people, saying,For the Lord spake thus - Spake that which immediately follows in the next verse. Warned him not to Unite in the alliance with foreign kingdoms which the nation was about forming.
With a strong hand - Margin, 'With strength of hand.' That is, when the hand of God urged me. A strong prophetic impulse is often represented as being produced by God's laying his hand on the prophet; or by his being thus, as it were, urged or impelled to it; Ezekiel 3:14 : 'The hand of Jehovah was strong upon me;' 2 Kings 3:15 : 'And it came to pass, that when the minstrel played, the hand of the Lord came upon him;' Jeremiah 20:7 : 'O Lord, thou art stronger than I, and hast prevailed;' see also Ecclesiastes 2:24; 1 Kings 18:46; 2 Kings 3:15; Ezekiel 33:22; Ezekiel 40:1; compare the Introduction, section 7. 11. (3.) The meaning is, that the prophet was strongly, and almost irresistibly, urged by the divine influence, to say what he was about to say.
That I should not walk ... - That I should not approve, and fall in with the design of Ahaz, and of the nation, in calling in the aid of the Assyrian armies.
Say ye not, A confederacy, to all them to whom this people shall say, A confederacy; neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid.Say ye not - Do not join in their purposes of forming a confederacy. Do not unite with the king and the people of Judah in their alarms about the threatened invasion by the kings of Syria and Samaria, and in their purpose to form an alliance with the king of Assyria. The reason why they should not do this, he states in Isaiah 8:13, where he exhorts the nation to put confidence in the Lord rather than in man. There has been, however, great diversity in the interpretation of this passage. The Septuagint renders the word קשׁר qesher, 'confederacy,' by the word σκληρόν sklēron - 'Everything which this people say, is hard.' The Syriac, 'Do not say, rebellion,' etc. The Chaldee understands the word in the same sense. Lowth proposes to change the word קשׁר qesher, into קדשׁ qâdôsh, because Dr. Seeker possessed one manuscript in which this reading was found; and he translates the passage:
'Say ye not it is holy,
Of everything of which this people shall say it is holy.'
That is, 'call not their idols holy; nor fear ye the object of their fear; that is, the gods of the idolaters.' But it is plain that this does not suit the connection of the passage, since the prophet is not reproving them for their idolatry, but is discoursing of the alliance between the kings of Syria and Samaria. Besides, the authority of one manuscript, without the concurrence of any ancient version, is not a sufficient authority for changing the Hebrew text. Most commentators have understood this word 'confederacy' as referring to the alliance between the kings of Syria and Samaria; as if the prophet had said, 'Do not join in the cry so common and almost universal in the nation, "There is a confederacy between those two kingdoms; there is an alliance formed which endangers our liberty" - a cry that produces alarm and trepidation in the nation.' Thus Rosenmuller and Gesenius explain it.
Aben Ezra, and Kimchi, however. understand it of a conspiracy, which they suppose was formed in the kingdom of Ahaz, against him and the house of David; and that the prophet warns the people against joining in such a conspiracy. But of the existence of such a conspiracy there is no evidence. Had there been such a conspiracy, it is not probable that it would have been so well known as to make it a proper subject of public denunciation. Conspiracies are usually secret and concealed. I regard this, however, as a caution to the prophet not to join in the prevailing demand for an alliance with the king of Assyria. Ahaz trembled before the united armies of Syria and Samaria. He sought, therefore, foreign assistance - the assistance of the king of Assyria. It is probable that in this he was encouraged by the leaders of the people, and that this would be a popular measure with the mass of the nation. Yet it implied distrust of God (note, Isaiah 8:6); and, therefore, the prophet was directed not to unite with them in seeking this 'confederacy,' or alliance, but to oppose it. The word translated 'confederacy,' קשׁר qesher is derived from the verb קשׁר qâshar, "to bind, to fetter;" to enter into a conspiracy. It usually refers to a conspiracy, but it may mean a combination or alliance of any kind. Or, if it here means a conspiracy, a union between Ahaz and the Assyrians may be regarded as a species of conspiracy, as it was an unnatural alliance; a species of combination against the natural and proper government of Judah - the theocracy.
Neither fear ye their fear - Do not partake of their alarm at the invasion of the land by the united armies of Syria and Samaria. Rather put confidence in God, and believe that he is able to save you; compare 1 Peter 3:13-15.
Sanctify the LORD of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.Sanctify ... - Regard Yahweh as holy; that is, worship and honor him with pious fear and reverence. Regard him as the source of safety, and the true defense. Ahaz and his people sought for aid from Assyria against the armies of Syria and Samaria. The direction here is rather to seek aid from God.
Let him be your fear - Do not be alarmed at what man can do Isaiah 8:12, but fear and honor God. Be afraid to provoke his wrath by looking to other sources of help when his aid only should be sought.
And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.And he shall be for a sanctuary - The word translated sanctuary means, literally, a holy place, a consecrated place, and is usually applied to the tabernacle, or to the temple; Exodus 25:8; Leviticus 12:4; Leviticus 21:12; Jeremiah 51:51. It also means an asylum, or a refuge, to which one might flee in case of danger, and be safe; see Ezekiel 11:16. Among all ancient nations, temples were regarded as safe places to which people might flee when pursued, and when in danger. It was deemed sacrilege to tear a man away from a temple or an altar. That the temple was so regarded among the Jews is manifest; see 1 Kings 1:50; 1 Kings 2:28. In allusion to this, the prophet says, that Yahweh would be a sanctuary; that is, an asylum, or refuge, to whom they should flee in times of danger, and be safe; see Psalm 46:1 : 'God is our refuge and strength;' Proverbs 18:10 : 'The name of the Loan is a strong tower; the righteous runneth into it, and is safe.' It is also well known that temples and altars were regarded as asyla among the Greeks and Romans. The reference here is rather to an altar, as the asylum, than to a city or temple; as, in the other member of the sentence, the same object is said to be a stone of stumbling - a figure which would not be applicable to a temple or a city.
A stone of stumbling - A stone against which one should impinge, or over which he should fall. The idea is, that none could run against a hard, rough, fixed stone, or rock, without injuring himself. So the Jews would oppose the counsels of God; instead of making him their refuge and strength, they would resist his claims and appeals, and the consequence would be their destruction. It is also to be remembered, that God is often represented in the Scriptures as a rock, a firm defense, or place of safety, to those who trust in him. But instead of their thus taking refuge in him, they would oppose themselves to this firm rock, and ruin themselves; see Deuteronomy 32:4, Deuteronomy 32:15, Deuteronomy 32:18, Deuteronomy 32:30-31, Deuteronomy 32:37; Psalm 19:14; Psalm 28:1; Psalm 31:2, Psalm 31:8; Psalm 41:2; Psalm 42:9. Many of the ancient Jewish commentators applied this to the Messiah. - Gesenius in loc. It is also applied to Christ in the New Testament, 1 Peter 2:8.
A rock of offence - A rock over which they should fall. The English word offence, had that meaning formerly, and retains it in our translation of the Bible.
To both the houses of Israel - To the two kingdoms of Judah and Israel; that is, to the wicked portion of them, not to those who were truly pious.
For a gin - A net, or snare, to take birds. The idea is the same as in the former part of the verse. By rejecting the counsel of God; by despising his protection, and by resisting his laws, they would be unexpectedly involved in difficulties, as birds which are caught in a snare.
And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken.And many among them - Many by the invasion under the Assyrian. Many were taken captive; many killed. and many were carried to Babylon. The repetition here of so many expressions so nearly synonymous is emphatic, and shows that it would be certainly done.
Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples.Bind up - This expression is one that is applicable to a volume, or roll of writing. Thus far the prophet seems to have had the roll opened, which is mentioned in Isaiah 8:1. Now the prophecy is complete, and he directs to bind it up, or close it. Perhaps, also, it is implied that it would be useless any further to address a rebellious and headstrong people. He had delivered his message, but they disregarded it.
The testimony - The message; especially that of which Uriah and Zechariah had been called to bear witness, Isaiah 8:2. Any message from God is, however, sometimes called a testimony, as being that to which a prophet bears witness; Psalm 19:7; 2 Kings 11:12; Deuteronomy 4:45; Deuteronomy 6:17, Deuteronomy 6:20; 1 Kings 2:3; Nehemiah 9:34.
Seal - Books were made in the form of rolls, and were often sealed when completed - as we seal a letter. The mode of sealing them was not by wax only, but by uniting them by any adhesive matter, as paste, or glue. Wax in warm climates would be generally rendered useless by the heat. The meaning here is, to secure, to close up - perhaps by passing a cord or string around the volume, and making it secure, denoting that it was finished; see Daniel 8:26; Daniel 12:4.
The law - The communication or command which he had delivered, and which, being given by inspiration, had now the force of law.
Among my disciples - Most of the Jewish commentators suppose that the volume, when completed by a prophet, was given for safe keeping to his disciples, or to some employed to preserve it securely. The word disciples means those who are taught, and here means those who were taught by the prophet; perhaps the pious and holy part of the people who would listen to his instructions. The Chaldee translates this verse, 'O prophet, preserve the testimony, lest ye testify to those who will not obey; seal and hide the law, because they will not learn it.'
And I will wait upon the LORD, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him.And I will wait upon the Lord - This is the commencement of a new subject. The prophet had closed his former message; but had seen that in regard to the great mass of the nation, his exhortation had been in vain. He now says, that having delivered his message, he would patiently look to God alone. His hope was in him, though the nation looked elsewhere; and though calamities were coming, yet he would still trust in God only.
That hideth his face - This is a figurative expression, denoting the withdrawing of his favor and protection. He would leave them, and give them to deserved punishment; compare Job 23:9; Job 13:24; Psalm 44:24; Psalm 10:1; Psalm 104:29.
And I will look for him - I will expect aid from him, and will believe that his promises of final protection will yet be fulfilled; compare Habakkuk 2:3 :
For the vision is yet for an appointed time,
But at the end it shall speak, and not lie:
Though it tarry, wait for it;
Because it will surely come, it will not tarry.
Behold, I and the children whom the LORD hath given me are for signs and for wonders in Israel from the LORD of hosts, which dwelleth in mount Zion.Behold, I... - By 'signs and wonders,' here, it is meant that they, by the names given them, were intended to teach important lessons to the Jewish people. Their names were significant, and were designed to illustrate some important truth; and especially the prophet here intimates that they were to inculcate the truth in regard to the presence and protection of God, to induce the people to look to him. Thus the name immanuel, 'God with us,' Isaiah 7:14; and Shear-jashub, 'the remnant shall return,' Isaiah 7:3, were both significant of the fact that none but God could be the protector of the nation. And in like manner, it is possible that his own name, signifying the salvation of Jehovah, had been given him with such a reference. But at all events, it was a name which would remind them of the truth that he was now inculcating, that salvation was to be found in Yahweh, and that they should look to him. Names of children were often thus emblematic (see Hosea 1:1-11); and the prophets themselves were regarded as signs of important events; Ezekiel 24:24; compare the note at Isaiah 20:3. This passage is quoted with reference to the Messiah in Hebrews 2:13.
Which dwelleth in mount Zion - Mount Zion was the residence of the house of David, or of the court, and it was often used to signify Jerusalem itself. The sense here is, that God was the protector of Jerusalem, or regarded that as his home; see the note at Isaiah 1:8.
And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead?And when they shall say - When the people, instead of putting confidence in God, shall propose to apply to necromancers. In the time of Ahaz the people were, as they were often, much inclined to idolatry; 2 Kings 16:10. In their troubles and embarrassments, instead of looking to Yahweh, they imitated the example of surrounding nations, and applied for relief to those who professed to be able to hold converse with spirits. That it was common for idolatrous people to seek direction from those who professed that they had the power of divining, is well known; see Isaiah 19:3; Isaiah 29:4. It was expressly forbidden to the Jews to have recourse to those who made such professions; Leviticus 20:6; Deuteronomy 18:10-11. Yet, notwithstanding this express command, it is evident that it was no uncommon thing for the Jews to make application for such instructions; see the case of Saul, who made application to the woman of Endor, who professed to have a familiar spirit, in 1 Samuel 28:7-25. Among pagan nations, nothing was more common than for persons to profess to have contact with spirits, and to be under the influence of their inspiration. The oracle at Delphi, of this nature, was celebrated throughout Greece, and throughout the world. Kings and princes, warriors and nations, sought of the priestess who presided there, responses in undertaking any important enterprise, and were guided by her instructions; see the Travels of Anacharsis, vol. ii.376ff.
Seek unto - Apply to for direction.
That hath familiar spirits - Hebrew, אבות 'obôth. The word 'familiar,' applied to spirit, is supposed to have been used by our translators to imply that they were attended by an invisible spirit that was subject to their call, or that would inspire them when they sought his direction. The Hebrew word is used to denote a necromancer, a conjuror; particularly one who was supposed to have power to call up the dead, to learn Of them respecting future events; see 1 Samuel 28:7-19; Deuteronomy 18:11. The word is most commonly applied to women; as it was almost entirely confined to women to profess this power; Leviticus 19:31; Leviticus 20:6; 1 Samuel 28. The idea was, that they could call up the spirits of the dead who were supposed to have seen objects invisible to the living, and who could, therefore, inform them in regard to things which mortals on earth could not see. The Vulgate renders this by 'Pythons and diviners.' A Python, among the Greeks and Romans, denoted one that had the spirit of prophesying, and was particularly applied to the priestess of Apollo at Delphi. The Septuagint renders the place thus: 'And if they say to you, Seek the "ventriloquists," ἐγγαστριμύθους engastrimuthous, and those speaking from the earth, and speaking vain things, who speak from the belly,' οἵ ἐκ τῆς κοιλίας φωνοῦσιν hoi ek tēs koilias phōnousin. From this it is evident, that the art of the ventriloquist, so well known now, was known then; and it is highly probable that the secret of the art of soothsayers consisted very much in being able to throw the voice, with various modifications, into different places, so that it would seem to come from a grave, or from an image of a dead person, that was made to appear at the proper time.
And unto wizards - The word used here - ידענים yidde‛ônı̂ym - is derived from the verb ידע yâda‛ to know; and means a wise man, a soothsayer, a magician, or one possessed with a spirit of divination. The arts of the magician, or soothsayer, were often the arts of one skilled in natural magic; acquainted somewhat with the laws of chemistry; and able, therefore, to produce appearances among an ignorant people that would surprise them; see Brewster's Natural Magic, where this art is fully explained.
That peep - This word is properly used of young birds, and means to chirp, to pip; and also to make a small noise by the gentle opening of the mouth. It is then applied to the gentle whispering which the ancients ascribed to departed spirits; the small, low, shrill voice which they were supposed to use, and which, probably, those attempted to imitate who claimed the power of raising them to the earth. It was believed among all the ancient nations, that departed spirits did not speak out openly and clearly, but with an indistinct, low, gentle, suppressed voice. Thus, in Virgil:
- Pars tollere vocem
AEneid, vi. 492.
- gemitus lachrymabilis imo
Auditur tumulo, et vox reddita ferter ad aures.
Umbrae cum Sagana resonarint triste et acutum.
Sat. lib i. 8, 40.
Thus Homer, speaking of the shade or spirit of Patroclus, says that it went with a whizzing sound: ̓Ωχετο τετριγυῖα Ǒcheto tetriguia. - Iliad, ψ- 101.
He said, and with his longing arms essay'd
In vain to grasp the visionary shade;
Like a thin smoke he sees the spirit fly
And hears a feeble, lamentable cry.
This night my friend, so late in battle lost,
Stood at my side a pensive, plaintive ghost.
So, also, Lucian says of the infernal regions, 'The whizzing shades of the dead fly around us;' see Gesenius in loc. and Rosenmuller; also Bochart's Hieroz., Part i. B. iii. ch. ii. p. 731.
And that mutter - The word used here - הגה hâgâh - usually means to meditate, to consider; and then to speak, to utter. It also means to sigh, to mourn, Jeremiah 48:31; Isaiah 16:7; to coo, as a dove, Isaiah 37:14; Isaiah 59:11; and then to roar like a lion; not the loud roar, but the grumbling, the suppressed roar (Bochart); Isaiah 31:4. The idea here is, probably, that of gently sighing, or mourning - uttering feeble, plaintive lamentations or sighs, as departed shades were supposed to do; and this was; probably, imitated by necromancers. By thus feigning that they conversed with the dead, they imposed on the ignorant populace, and led them to suppose that they had supernatural powers.
Should not a people seek ... - Is it not proper that a people should inquire of the God that is worshipped, in order to be directed in perplexing and embarrassing events? Some have understood this to be a question of the idolaters, asking whether it was not right and proper for a people to seek counsel of those whom they worshipped as God. I understand it, however, as a question asked by the prophet, and as the language of strong and severe rebulge. 'You are seeking to idols, to the necromancers, and to the dead, But Yahweh is your God. And should not a people so signally favored, a people under his special care, apply to him, and seek his direction?'
For the living - On account of the affairs of the living. To ascertain what will be their lot, what is their duty, or what will occur to them.
To the dead - The necromancers pretended to have contact with the spirits of the dead. The prophet strongly exposes the absurdity of this. What could the dead know of this? How could they declare the future events respecting the living? Where was this authorized? People should seek God - the living God - and not pretend to hold consultation with the dead.
To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.To the law ... - To the revelation which God has given. This is a solemn call of the prophet to try everything by the revealed will of God; see Isaiah 8:16.
If they speak not - If the necromancers - those that pretended to have contact with the dead.
According to this word - According to what God has revealed. By this standard all their pretended revelations were to be tried. By this standard all doctrines are still to be tried.
It is because - There has been a great variety of criticism upon this verse, but our translation expresses, probably, the true idea. The word rendered here 'because,' אשׁר 'ăsher, commonly denotes 'which;' but it seems here to be used in the sense of the Syriac? "Dolath," or the Greek ὅτι hoti.
No light - Margin, 'Morning.' Hebrew שׁחר shāchar. The word usually means the morning light; the mingled light and darkness of the aurora; daybreak. It is an emblem of advancing knowledge, and perhaps, also, of prosperity or happiness after calamity, as the break of day succeeds the dark night. The meaning here may be, 'If their teachings do not accord with the law and the testimony, it is proof that they are totally ignorant, without even the twilight of true knowledge; that it is total darkness with them.' Or it may mean, 'If they do not speak according to this word, then no dawn will arise, that is, no prosperity will smile upon this people.' - Gesenius. Lowth understands it of obscurity, darkness:
'If they speak not according to this word,
In which there is no obscurity.'
But there is no evidence that the word is ever used in this sense. Others suppose that the Arabic sense of the word is to be retained here, deception, or magic. 'If they speak not according to this oracle, in which there is no deception.' But the word is not used in this sense in the Hebrew. The meaning is, probably, this: 'The law of God is the standard by which all professed communications from the invisible world are to be tested. If the necromancers deliver a doctrine which is not sustained by that, and not in accordance with the prophetic communications, it shows that they are in utter ignorance. There is not even the glimmering of the morning twilight; all is total night, and error, and obscurity with them, and they are not to be followed.'
And they shall pass through it, hardly bestead and hungry: and it shall come to pass, that when they shall be hungry, they shall fret themselves, and curse their king and their God, and look upward.And they shall pass - The people who have been consulting necromancers. This represents the condition of these who have sought for counsel and direction, and who have not found it. They shall be conscious of disappointment, and shall wander perplexed and alarmed through the land.
Through it - Through the land. They shall wander in it from one place to another, seeking direction and relief.
Hardly bestead - Oppressed, borne down, agitated. The meaning is, that the people would wander about, oppressed by the calamities that were coming upon the nation, and unalleviated by all that soothsayers and necromancers could do.
And hungry - Famished; as one effect of the great calamities that would afflict the nation.
They shall fret themselves - They shall be irritated at their own folly and weakness, and shall aggravate their sufferings by self-reproaches for having trusted to false gods.
Their king and their God - The Hebrew interpreters understand this of the false gods which they bad consulted, and in which they had trusted. But their looking upward, and the connection, seem to imply that they would rather curse the true God - the 'king and the God' of the Jewish people. They would be subjected to the proofs of his displeasure, and would vent their malice by reproaches and curses.
And look upward - For relief. This denotes the condition of those in deep distress, instinctively casting their eyes to heaven for aid. Yet it is implied that they would do it with no right feeling, and that they would see there only the tokens of their Creator's displeasure.
And they shall look unto the earth; and behold trouble and darkness, dimness of anguish; and they shall be driven to darkness.And they shall look unto the earth - They would look upward and find no relief, and then in despair cast their eyes to the earth to obtain help there. Yet equally in vain. The whole image is one of intense anguish brought on the nation for leaving the counselor the true God.
And behold ... - see the note at Isaiah 5:30.
Trouble - Anguish, oppression, צרה tsârâh, from צור tsûr, to oppress, to straiten, to afflict. This is a remarkable instance of the prophet Isaiah's manner - of a rapid, impetuous, and bold style of utterance. He accumulates images; piles words on each other; and deepens the anxiety by each additional word, until we almost feel that we are enveloped by the gloom, and see objects of terror and alarm on every side.
Dimness of anguish - These words should be kept separate in the translation - צוּקה מעוּף me‛ûp tsûqâh, "darkness, oppression" - accumulated epithets to heighten the gloom and terror of the scene.
And they shall be driven to darkness - Hebrew, מנדה ואפלה va'ăpēlâh menudāch a darkness that is driven, or that is urged upon itself; that becomes condensed, accumulated, until it becomes terrible and frightful. The idea is that of a driving tempest, or an involving obscurity (מנדה menudāch from נדה nâdâh, to push, thrust, impel, urge on, as a driving storm). The prophet has thus accumulated every possible idea of gloom and obscurity, and probably there is not anywhere a more graphic description of gathering darkness and trouble, and of the consternation of those involved in it, than this. So fearful and terrific are the judgments of God when he comes forth to punish people!