Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. Isaiah 1:2-31. The Lord’s Controversy with His People
The passage falls into two main divisions:—
i. Isaiah 1:2-20. The moral and religious issues involved in the great dispute between Jehovah and Israel.
(i) Isaiah 1:2-3. Jehovah has discovered rebellion and ingratitude in the sons whom He has reared and brought to honour. This fact, disclosed to the spiritual perception of the prophet, is the basis of the whole subsequent argument.
(2) Isaiah 1:4-9. The prophet, in his own name, presses home the charge of rebellion; the divine accusation being “translated into passionate invective and threatening by the prophet” (Delitzsch) (Isaiah 1:4). The evidence of Israel’s sin is seen in the calamities of the land; why should they invite further chastisement by persistent disobedience? (5–8). It is of the Lord’s mercy that they are not utterly consumed, like the Cities of the Plain (9).
(3) Isaiah 1:10-17. Does Israel imagine that Jehovah can be propitiated by costly rites and offerings? Nay, the whole system of ritual worship as practised by them is an intolerable insult to Him (10–15). The prophet’s invective is aimed at a deep-seated fallacy of the popular religion. In opposition to this mistaken notion he demands moral reformation and public righteousness as the only service acceptable to God (16 f.).
(4) Isaiah 1:18-20. The conclusion of the argument. Jehovah summons the nation to a trial at law, and submits the alternative: prosperity as the reward of obedience, or destruction as the penalty of continued rebellion.
ii. Isaiah 1:21-31. The necessity for a purifying judgment. This is the prominent idea in the second division of the chapter, but the connexion of thought is less obvious than in the first. The keynote is struck in
(1) Isaiah 1:21-26. A dirge over the decay of civic virtue in Jerusalem (21–23), followed by a threat of judgment (24 f.), and a picture of the city restored to its pristine purity (26).
(2) Isaiah 1:27-31. The operation of the judgment is shewn to be twofold: the deliverance of a converted remnant (27), and the annihilation of apostates (28). And a further consequence will be a demonstration of the vanity of nature-worship and idolatry (29–31).
The chapter, entitled by Ewald ‘The Great Arraignment,’ stands worthily as the introduction to Isaiah’s prophecies. Its leading ideas—the breach between Jehovah and Israel, the inefficacy of mere ritual, the call to national repentance, the certainty of a sweeping judgment—are those which underlie not only Isaiah’s teaching, but also that of all the pre-Exilic prophets; and these elementary principles are here presented with a force and clearness unrivalled m the Old Testament. Certain resemblances, both in thought and expression, to the ‘Song of Moses’ (Deuteronomy 32) have been noted by commentators, but the inference that this discourse is in any sense an imitation of that poem is on every ground to be rejected. The passage is probably a summary of several public discourses; these, however, have been worked up into a literary unity, and there is perhaps a presumption that the original oracles belong to one and the same period of the prophet’s activity.
What that period was cannot, however, be determined with certainty. Critical opinion seems to gravitate more and more to the view that the first part of the chapter (Isaiah 1:2-17) belongs to the time of Sennacherib’s campaign (b.c. 701). This conclusion is based chiefly on the historical allusions in Isaiah 1:7-9. But it is not quite clear that the expressions there used might not apply to the Syro-Ephraimitish invasion of circa 735; and there are one or two general considerations which plead for the earlier date. (1) A presentation of fundamental prophetic ideas so fresh and powerful as this points to the beginning rather than the close of Isaiah’s career. (2) It is difficult to read the whole chapter in the light of Sennacherib’s invasion. It would be surprising if a series of discourses uttered during that crisis should contain only a pair of doubtful indications of their historical setting. It is admitted, moreover, that the allusions to idolatry (29 ff.) are more naturally understood of the reign of Ahaz than of that of Hezekiah, and no counter argument can fairly be drawn from the assiduous worship of Jehovah referred to in 10 ff. (3) The tone and teaching of the chapter closely resemble the prophecies uttered by Isaiah in the earliest portion of his public work (ch. 2–5). On the whole it seems not improbable that the passage is a résumé of the principal themes of Isaiah’s early ministry, compiled shortly after the attack by Rezin and Pekah (see on ch. 7). Fortunately the interpretation of the chapter is but little affected by the question of its date.
The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.Ch. Isaiah 1:1. The Superscription
The verse is probably best understood as the heading of the first great collection of prophecies, ch. 1–12. The contents of these chapters are described with sufficient accuracy for the purposes of a title; whereas the phrase concerning Judah and Jerusalem is unsuitable to many of the later prophecies, and the note of time forbids us to limit the reference to ch. 1. The second difficulty (but not the first) might be removed by accepting Vitringa’s ingenious suggestion that the first half of the verse (down to “Jerusalem”) was originally the title of ch. 1, the latter part having been added in order to extend its scope to the whole book. Since, however, there is reason to suppose that ch. 1–12 once formed a separate volume (see General Introduction, p. lxxii), it is better to adopt the view which most fully accounts for all the particulars of the superscription.
The word vision is used here in the wide sense of a collection of prophetic oracles (cf. Nahum 1:1; Obadiah 1:1). As the prophet was called a “seer” (ḥôzeh), and his perception of divine truth was called “seeing,” so his message as a whole is termed a “vision” (ḥâzôn). See further on ch. Isaiah 2:1, Isaiah 30:10.
Isaiah the son of Amoz] On the name and parentage of the prophet, see General Introduction, p. xxii.
concerning Judah and Jerusalem] as distinguished from prophecies on foreign nations, ch. 13 ff.
in the days of Uzziah … Judah] The words indicate generally the period covered by Isaiah’s public ministry. The author of the title probably understood that the vision of ch. 6 took place in the lifetime of Uzziah. It is not necessary to suppose that he assigned other prophecies to the reign of that king.
Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the LORD hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me.2. the Lord hath spoken] The inner ear of the prophet has heard the words which follow; he will utter them in trumpet-tones which shall cause all creation to hear and shudder. The apostrophe to the heavens and the earth has probably no other force than this (cf. Deuteronomy 32:1; Micah 6:1-2; Jeremiah 2:12), although Dillmann thinks they are appealed to as witnesses of all that has passed between the Lord and His people. The dramatic conception of a formal Assize, with Heaven and Earth for Assessors, the prophet for Herald, and so on, although a favourite one with commentators, is merely fanciful, and weakens the rhetorical effect of the passage.
nourished and brought up] The two expressions may be synonymous, as in ch. Isaiah 23:4; Ezekiel 31:4. More probably, however, the second means “set on high [among the nations]” (cf. R.V. marg.).
children] sons; the position of the word is emphatic. (Israel, the son of Jehovah, as Exodus 4:22 f.; Deuteronomy 16:1; Deuteronomy 32:5-6; Deuteronomy 32:18; Hosea 11:1 ff.) The “sons” are not named here, attention being concentrated on the tragic fact that He who is Lord of all should know
“How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is
To have a thankless child.”
have rebelled] The charge of rebellion in the mouth of Isaiah (only here and Isaiah 1:28) would include three things: (1) the sin of idolatry, (2) breaches of the moral law, (3) rejection of his own prophetic message (cf. Isaiah 1:4). It is possible that the occasion of this revelation may have been some particular incident of the kind last mentioned, such as e.g. the decision of Ahaz to call in the help of Assyria (ch. 7), or Hezekiah’s treaty with Egypt in 701 (cf. ch. Isaiah 30:9-15).
2, 3. The heart-rending complaint of Jehovah.
The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.3. Israel’s ingratitude is rebuked by the instinctive fidelity of the dumb animals to their human benefactors (cf. Jeremiah 8:7). Ox and ass are mentioned, not as the most stupid animals, but as the only thoroughly domesticated animals of the Hebrews,—lodged probably under the same roof as their owner and his family.
Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward.4. seed (i.e. race or brood, consisting) of evildoers] Cf. Matthew 3:7, “brood of vipers.” The indef. art. should be omitted in this clause and the preceding.
children … corrupters] better: sons that deal corruptly (R.V.); lit. “that corrupt [sc. their way]” as Genesis 6:12.
provoked … unto anger] R.V., rightly, despised.
Holy One of Israel] i.e. “the Holy One who is Israel’s God.” Holiness was the aspect of the divine nature impressed on Isaiah’s mind in his inaugural vision, and this phrase, common in his writings and apparently coined by him, sums up his fundamental conception of God in relation to Israel (see Introd., p. lii, and on ch. 6 below).
they are gone away backward] A pregnant construction, to be rendered as in R.V.: they are estranged [and gone] backward. The words are wanting in the LXX.
4–9. The prophet speaks.
Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.5. Why] Many comm., following the Vulg., render “On what (sc. part of the body).” Their meaning is exactly expressed by the line of Ovid (cited by Gesenius), “Vix habet in vobis iam nova plaga locum.” The idea seems somewhat frigid, and hardly suits the clause immediately following. The translation “why” is thoroughly established by Hebrew usage, is supported by most ancient versions, and ought probably to be retained.
the whole head … heart] Not “every head” (in spite of the absence of the Hebr. art.). The commonwealth is conceived as a body, sorely wounded and sick unto death: afterwards its calamities are described literally (Isaiah 1:7).
From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment.6. The state of the nation is indeed desperate; no remedial measures have yet been applied. In the simple surgery of Isaiah’s time a wound was first pressed (to extrude suppurating matter), then bandaged and softened with oil (cf. Luke 10:34).
Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers.7. The situation here described (which was undoubtedly present at the time of utterance) is that of a land ravaged by foreign troops (land is “cultivated land”). It has been contended that the word strangers (foreigners) must refer to the Assyrians, and could not be used of the allied Syrians and Ephraimites. But there seems no good reason why an army mainly composed of Syrians should not be designated as “foreigners.”
and it is desolate … strangers] Lit., “and a desolation like an overthrow of strangers.” If the text is sound it must mean “is such an overthrow as might be expected at the hands of strangers” (the so-called Kaph veritatis). This is a weak sense; and hence Ewald’s plausible emendation, “like the overthrow of Sodom,” has been accepted by most subsequent writers. The word for “overthrow” never occurs elsewhere except in connexion with Sodom (ch. Isaiah 13:19; Deuteronomy 29:23; Jeremiah 49:18; Jeremiah 50:40; Amos 4:11).
And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city.8. daughter of Zion] A gen. of apposition = “the daughter, Zion.” It is a personification either of the city or the population of Jerusalem, or both together. The capital is as yet spared, but its isolation in the midst of the devastated country suggests to the imagination of the prophet two homely and vivid pictures of forlorn and dreary solitariness: like a booth in a vineyard, or a night-lodge in a cucumber field. Such frail structures, consisting of four poles stuck in the ground, with cross-pieces supporting a couch and a slight roof or awning overhead, were erected for the watchers who guarded the fruit or crop from thieves and wild animals. (See Wetzstein’s description in Del. Comm. on Job, Trans., vol. ii. p. 74, and ed.)
as a besieged city] The exact sense is doubtful. Some render: “like a city under observation,” others: “like a watch-tower.”
An interesting parallel to the idea of the verse is furnished by Sennacherib’s boast (in 701) that he shut up Hezekiah in his capital “like a bird in a cage.”
Except the LORD of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah.9. the Lord of hosts] In Hebr. Yahveh Tsĕbâôth, a peculiarly solemn title of the God of Israel, specially common in the prophetic writings. On the different theories as to the origin of the expression, see the Note in Cheyne, Comm. i. pp. 11 ff. The simplest explanation of its origin is that which regards it as equivalent to “Jehovah (the God) of the armies of Israel” (1 Samuel 17:45; cf. Exodus 7:4). It is true that this cannot be the precise sense in which the phrase is used by the prophets, since it is a fundamental conception with them that Jehovah is no longer on the side of the hosts of Israel. But just as Amos took the phrase “day of Jehovah” from the lips of the people (see below on Isaiah 2:12), and gave it an interpretation diametrically opposed to the popular one, so he may have done also with this expression. If this be the correct view, “God of battles” may approximately reproduce the sense in which it is used by the prophets: Jehovah is still the Lord of Hosts, although He has disowned those of Israel. Or, if a vaguer idea be preferred, we may adopt the Κύριος παντοκράτωρ (All-sovereign Lord) of the LXX. as sufficiently expressive.
a very small remnant] The adverbial phrase “very small” might (disregarding the accents) be taken with the following clause, which, would then read “we might readily have been as Sodom, &c.” (as in Genesis 26:10; Psalm 94:17; Psalm 119:87). The word for remnant (sarîd) is only here used by Isaiah. He perhaps purposely avoids shě’âr, which he would have used in speaking of the ideal remnant that inherits the hope of the future.
Hear the word of the LORD, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.10. rulers of Sodom … people of Gomorrah] Note the singularly effective transition from the last words of Isaiah 1:9. The word for “ruler” is the same as the Arabic kadi (found again in Isaiah 3:6, Isaiah 22:3) and means strictly “decider,” i.e. judge.
law of our God] Parallel to word of the Lord, as in Isaiah 2:3. The reference is not to the Mosaic Law, but to the prophetic revelation which follows (cf. Isaiah 5:24, Isaiah 8:16, Isaiah 30:9). The word Tôrâh (primarily “direction,” then “instruction” or “teaching”) was perhaps originally employed of the oral directions given by the priests on points of ritual or ethics (see esp. Haggai 2:11; Jeremiah 2:8; Jeremiah 8:8; Jeremiah 18:18; Ezekiel 7:26); but is frequently used of the prophetic teaching (Jeremiah 31:33; Isaiah 42:4, &c.). It appears always to denote religious instruction, even in such cases as Proverbs 1:8; Proverbs 3:1; Proverbs 13:14, &c. Of the Mosaic Law, Deuteronomy 1:5; Deuteronomy 4:8, and very often.
10–17. “The false and the true way of seeking God’s favour” (Dillmann). The threatening aspect of public affairs had probably led to an unwonted display of zeal in the performance of the Temple ritual. Although the underlying thought of the people is that the bond between them and their God is maintained by sacrifice, &c., there is no reason to suppose that they are here conceived as consciously entering this plea in arrest of judgment. It is not till Isaiah 1:18 that Jehovah calls the nation to answer His indictment.—It is to be noted that in these verses there is a progression from the cruder and more external to the more spiritual expressions of religious homage: sacrifice, solemn assemblies, prayer. This shews that what the prophet repudiates is not cultus as such, but the unholy combination of ritual worship with immoral conduct.
To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.11. sacrifices] the general term for animal sacrifices; burnt-offerings, those entirely consumed on the altar; of the more ordinary kinds the deity received the fat and the blood.
I am full of] am sated with. The idea of sacrifice as the food of the gods seems to belong to the original conception of the rite, and lingered long in the popular consciousness even of Israel (Psalm 50:13). See Robertson Smith, Religion of the Semites, p. 224 (Revised Ed.).
When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?12. to appear before me] R.V. marg. (following one Hebr. MS.) suggests to see my face, which is grammatically easier. It is thought that here and elsewhere the traditional text has substituted the passive for the active so as to avoid the appearance of anthropomorphism. On either view the phrase is a technical one, denoting the act of worship in the sanctuary: Exodus 23:15; Exodus 23:17; Exodus 34:20; Exodus 34:23; Deuteronomy 16:16; Deuteronomy 31:11; 1 Samuel 1:22.
to tread] Better to trample; the idea of desecration is implied. This ending of the question seems weak: LXX. transfers the clause to the beginning of the next verse: “My courts ye shall no more trample; to bring oblations is vain, &c.”
Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.13. oblations] The word is technically used of the meal-offering, but may embrace sacrificial gifts of every description (Genesis 4:4).
incense is an abomination] Or (according to the Hebrew accentuation), “it is abominable incense to me.” The word “incense” meant originally the sacrificial smoke.
new moon and sabbath (R.V.). Cf. 1 Samuel 20:5; 1 Samuel 20:24; 2 Kings 4:23; Amos 8:5; Hosea 2:11; Numbers 28:11, &c.; Exodus 20:8; Genesis 2:2-3, &c. assemblies (lit. “calling together”) is the word rendered “convocation” in the Pent. (see esp. Leviticus 23).
it is iniquity … meeting] Render as R.V. I cannot away with (endure) iniquity and the solemn meeting (festal gathering), i.e. the combination of the two. The construction is still harsh (but see a somewhat similar combination in 1 Samuel 15:23). LXX. has “fasting and idleness”; apparently çôm wě‘açlâh. The true reading may have been çôm wa‘ǎçârâh, “fasting and solemn assembly” (Joel 1:14; Joel 2:15).
solemn meeting] (=“throng,” Jeremiah 9:2), cf. 2 Kings 10:20; Amos 5:21; Joel 1:14. A slightly different form is used in the Law for the great gathering on the last day of the feasts of Passover and Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:36; Deuteronomy 16:8, &c.). The original meaning of the word is probably “tempus clausum.” (See Robertson Smith, Rel. of the Semites, Revd. Ed. p. 456.)
Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.14. appointed feasts] the stated festivals dependent on the season of the year; see Genesis 1:14. trouble is literally burden.
And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.15. your hands (“spread forth” in the attitude of prayer) are full of blood] a symbol of cruel wrongs perpetrated or tolerated, including the guilt of actual murder (Isaiah 1:21).
Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;16, 17. In opposition to this false service of God, Jehovah calls for moral reformation and enunciates the true conditions on which the restoration of His favour depends.
Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.17. relieve the oppressed] E.V. seems here to follow the LXX. The Hebrew must be translated set right the oppressor (R.V. marg.)—restrain him within the bounds of justice.
fatherless … widow] those who have no natural protectors, and are always exposed to wrong when the administration of justice is weak or corrupt (cf. Isaiah 1:23; ch. Isaiah 10:2). To defend such is specially the duty of the judge, but it is also an obligation lying on every one who has influence in the community. The prophet addresses his hearers (“rulers” and “people” Isaiah 1:10) as members of the state; and his demand is that by “seeking judgment” they shall exercise the fundamental virtue of citizenship. The righteousness which he requires is social righteousness, iustitia civilis, a public life so ordered as to secure for each individual his personal rights. The prophets’ passion for justice is always inspired by a deep sense of the value of the human personality in the sight of God.
Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.18. let us reason together] more accurately, let us implead one another (Acts 19:38, A.V.). The idea is that of a legal process in which each party maintains his own case (see ch. Isaiah 43:26). It is felt by some comm. that the legal figure is inconsistent with an absolute offer of forgiveness in the two clauses which follow. The difficulty would be obviated by the subtle and attractive rendering (proposed, but now withdrawn, by Cheyne) “let us bring our dispute to an end”; but this is unsupported by grammar or usage. The second member of each sentence might be taken as an indignant question, “If your sins are … shall they be white …?”—or as an ironical concession, “Though your sins be … let them be white …!” The idea of pardon, however, may be retained, provided it be understood as conditioned by the alternative of Isaiah 1:19-20.
scarlet and crimson are really synonyms for one colour, properly “crimson.” The dye in question was obtained from the dried and powdered bodies of an insect (coccus ilicis, in Hebr. tôla‘ath shânî = “bright worm”). There is perhaps no other instance of red used as a general symbol for sin, though white is the natural emblem of innocence (Psalm 51:7).
18–20. Jehovah condescends to plead.
If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land:
But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.20. ye shall be devoured with the sword] “Sword” is here taken as an acc. of instrument, a construction of more than doubtful validity in Hebr. A more idiomatic rendering is: ye shall be made to eat the sword. An exactly similar expression is used by the Arabs, although Hebr. analogies are wanting.
21 ff. The elegy (qînâh, distinguished by a peculiar rhythm and by the opening word ’êkâh, “how”) is a frequent vehicle of prophetic utterance. This is the clearest instance in the genuine writings of Isaiah, and it is characteristic of the ‘city prophet’ (Cheyne), that the subject is not the nation but the idealised capital. Isaiah is in a good sense ‘laudator temporis acti.’ He laments the degeneracy of Jerusalem, looking back probably to the days of David, when it was the abode of judgment and righteousness.
How is the faithful city become an harlot! it was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers.21. a harlot] The idea conveyed is perhaps rather deterioration of character than infidelity to the marriage bond with Jehovah, an image not used by Isaiah (as by Hos.).
righteousness (çédeq) is the principle of right action in individuals or the community; judgment (mishpâṭ) the embodiment of that principle in judicial decisions, use and wont, and the like. These qualities constituted the “faithfulness,” trustworthiness, of the city.
Thy silver is become dross, thy wine mixed with water:22. silver and wine may refer to the great men of the city (Isaiah 1:23) but more naturally to the “judgment” and “righteousness” of Isaiah 1:21;—all that was best in her, purity of morals, excellence of character, &c. The word for mixt occurs only here. The phrase is usually illustrated by the Latin “castrare vinum,” the verb being taken as connected with that for “circumcise.”
wine] better: choice drink, found elsewhere only in Hosea 4:18.
Thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves: every one loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards: they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them.23. Thy princes are rebellious] In the Heb. a paronomasia, borrowed from Hosea 9:15. The “princes” (sârîm) are the civil and military officials of the monarchical constitution, as distinguished from the zěqçnîm (sheikhs or elders) of the old tribal system. The charge brought against them is that as a class they are corrupted by systematic bribery. They are companions of thieves, conniving at extortion and receiving in return a share of the spoil. Hence the fatherless and widows, having no bribes to offer, can obtain no redress; they cannot even find access to the seat of judgment.
Therefore saith the Lord, the LORD of hosts, the mighty One of Israel, Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies:24. Such men are adversaries and enemies of Jehovah, thwarting His wishes and purposes for His people. the Lord] “the Master” or the Sovereign. The title, used absolutely as here (hâ-’Adôn), is almost peculiar to Isaiah, and is used by him only in introducing a threat (ch. Isaiah 3:1, Isaiah 10:16; Isaiah 10:33, Isaiah 19:4; cf. Exodus 23:17; Exodus 34:23).
the mighty One of Israel] Israel’s Strong One, a rare word in Hebr., first found in Genesis 49:24. See on ch. Isaiah 10:13. ease me] Better: appease myself, and so again, avenge myself. By a bold anthropopathy the divine Being is compared to a man thirsting for vengeance.
25 resumes the first figure of Isaiah 1:22, the judgment on Zion being likened to the smelting of impure ore. turn (or bring back) my hand] not in mercy, but, as usual, in judgment.
purely] R.V. throughly, lit. “as with lye,” i.e. potash, which was used as a flux to facilitate the separation of the metals. The grammar is still suspicious. Some, by transposing two consonants, obtain the sense “in the furnace.”
And I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin:
And I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counsellers as at the beginning: afterward thou shalt be called, The city of righteousness, the faithful city.26. The result will be the establishment of a pure administration in Jerusalem, as in the olden time, Zion once more worthy of her ancient name, citadel of righteousness (Cheyne), faithful city. The last expression, carrying us back to Isaiah 1:21, marks the close of the elegy.
Two things are noteworthy in this passage. (1) The ideal is political. The salvation of Israel is secured when all public offices are filled with good men (“judges” and “counsellers”). (2) The ideal will be realised by a restoration of the best days of the past. In later prophecies Isaiah looks forward to a state of things far transcending anything that had been achieved in Israel’s previous history. Such an anticipation as this is most naturally assigned to an early period of his career, before his eschatological conceptions had assumed a definite form.
27 describes the salutary and 28 the judicial aspect of the chastisement in more abstract terms than those hitherto employed. her converts] lit. “those in her who turn”; cf. “Remnant-shall-turn” in ch. Isaiah 7:3.
redeemed] A very rare word with Isaiah (only again in Isaiah 29:22). It is doubtful whether the meaning is that she shall be redeemed from her own sins, or from the troubles they shall have brought upon her. So it is uncertain whether judgment and righteousness (cf. Isaiah 1:21) are the virtues of the redeemed people, or the attributes of God manifested in the redemption. The former idea is most in accordance with Isaiah’s use of the words, but the latter, which is common in the later parts of the book, undoubtedly gives the best sense in this connexion.
Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness.
And the destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall be together, and they that forsake the LORD shall be consumed.28. And the destruction … together] Better as an exclamation: But destruction of rebels and sinners together! Rebels, sinners, forsakers of Jehovah, as in Isaiah 1:2-4.
For they shall be ashamed of the oaks which ye have desired, and ye shall be confounded for the gardens that ye have chosen.29. they shall be ashamed] Some MSS. and Ancient Versions have the second person, possibly a mere correction.
oaks] terebinths. These and the gardens are emblems not of luxury, but of nature-worship. On “gardens” as seats of heathenish cults, see Isaiah 65:3, Isaiah 66:17. The worship of sacred trees and sacred wells (which were probably the numina of the gardens [Duhm], see Isaiah 1:30) are two of the most widely diffused and persistent forms of nature-worship, and are not extinct in Syria at the present day.
29–31. The judgment will also bring about a purification of religion, by revealing the folly of trusting in other deities than Jehovah.
For ye shall be as an oak whose leaf fadeth, and as a garden that hath no water.30. To the nature worshippers themselves the falling leaf of the terebinth and the failure of the spring in the garden, would mean the decay of the divine life which was supposed to animate these objects. To Isaiah, who recognises no divine life in nature but that of Jehovah, they are simply appropriate images of the collapse of superstition.
31 refers probably (though not certainly) to idolatry in the strict sense of image-worship. the strong] Apparently “the powerful (opulent) man.” The word occurs only once again in Amos 2:9.
and the maker of it] Render with R.V. and his work, i.e. either “his idol,” or “his unrighteous work.”
they shall both burn … quench them] The “work” is a spark and the worker like tinder. The idea is that the product of sin will become the means of the sinner’s destruction.
And the strong shall be as tow, and the maker of it as a spark, and they shall both burn together, and none shall quench them.