Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
In these three chapters we seem to have one of the minor collections of Isaianic oracles from which the present book of Isaiah has been compiled (see Introd., p. lxvii). That they once existed as a separate volume is strongly suggested by two circumstances. (a) The form of the superscription (Isaiah 2:1) as compared with that of ch. Isaiah 1:1. The repetition of the full designation of the prophet, without any note of time or subject specially applicable to what follows, would seem to indicate that this heading was written independently of the general title in ch. 1. (b) The artistic unity and completeness of the section as a whole confirms the impression of its original independence. It contains (1) an introduction (Isaiah 2:2-4), describing the future glory of Zion as the religious metropolis of the world; (2) a series of discourses in which the prophet assails the prevalent vices and evils of his own day, and announces the judgment about to fall on the nation (Isaiah 2:5 –4:1); and (3) a conclusion (Isaiah 4:2-6), shewing how through judgment the ideal set forth at the outset shall be realised in the blessings reserved for those who escape the judgment. The enclosing of the oracles of judgment between two passages of Messianic import affords clear evidence of literary design: which is admitted even by critics who (see below) question the Isaianic authorship of the opening and closing sections.
With regard to the date little difference of opinion exists. At least the middle portion (Isaiah 2:6 to Isaiah 4:1) is assigned with hardly a dissentient voice to the very earliest period of Isaiah’s prophetic career. In Isaiah 2:6-22, the material prosperity attained under Uzziah still exists in undiminished splendour, and (since Isaiah did not receive his prophetic call till the year of that king’s death) the passage is most naturally assigned to the succeeding reign, that of Jotham. Ch. 3 may have been written somewhat later. Its picture of anarchy may have been suggested by tendencies which Isaiah saw around him, caused by the removal of a strong hand from the helm; and at all events Isaiah 2:12 applies to no king so well as to the weak and irresolute Ahaz. On the other hand, the absence of any explicit allusion to the Assyrians shews that the prophecies belong to the very beginning of the reign, prior to the events recorded in ch. 7. The whole passage is thus of great importance as a record of the impressions and ideas with which Isaiah entered on public life.
II. 1. On the scope of the heading see Introd. Note above.—The word … saw] The combination of the verb “see” with the obj. “word” is not uncommon: Jeremiah 38:21; Habakkuk 2:1; Amos 1:1; Micah 1:1, and cf. Isaiah 13:1; Habakkuk 1:1 (burden). In such expressions both words have undergone a certain process of generalisation; “word” denoting the substance of the prophetic revelation, in whatever way received, and “see” (ḥâzâh) describing the spiritual intuition by which the prophet was enabled to apprehend it. (See on ch. Isaiah 1:1)
The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.CH. Isaiah 2:2-4. ZION THE CENTRE OF THE UNIVERSAL RELIGION IN THE LATTER DAYS
In this striking picture of the Messianic age the following features should be noticed:—(i) The preeminence, amongst the mountains of the world, of Zion, the acknowledged seat of Jehovah’s universal dominion (cf. Jeremiah 3:17; Psalm 2:6; Psalm 110:2, &c., also Ezekiel 40:2). (ii) The extension of the true religion is effected, not by conquest, but by the moral influence of Israel’s theocratic institutions on surrounding peoples (cf. Isaiah 60:3). The submission of the nations is spontaneous; they are filled with eager desire to learn the ways of Jehovah (comp. Zechariah 2:11; Zechariah 8:22). Hence (iii) the nations retain their political independence. They are not conceived as absorbed in the Jewish nationality or as incorporated in a world-empire. Jehovah, not Israel, rules the world, and He rules it by His word, not by the sword. (iv) The authority of Jehovah, appealed to in all international disputes, brings war to an end, and ushers in an era of universal peace.
The representation is ideal, yet it contains little to which the hope of the Church does not look forward as the issue of the Christian dispensation. The only traces of the limitations of the Old Testament stand point spring from the idea of Zion as the earthly centre of Jehovah’s sovereignty. Even this has been understood literally by many Christians. But it is more in accordance with the analogy of prophecy to regard it as one of those symbols of spiritual truth, which, although conceived realistically by the prophets, were destined to be fulfilled in ways that could not be perfectly revealed until the true nature of God’s kingdom was disclosed by Christ.
The occurrence of this prophecy, with slight variations, in Micah 4:1-4, raises a difficult literary problem, for no one will now hold that the two prophets were independently inspired to utter identical words. Did Isaiah borrow from Micah or Micah from Isaiah, or both from some unknown earlier prophet? Against the first hypothesis it is pointed out that Micah’s prophetic career had not begun till a time considerably later than the date of these chapters; hence if either prophet borrowed from the other the citation must be on the part of Micah. But against this it is urged that its position in Isaiah and the want of connexion with what follows mark it out as a quotation, and also that it is given by Micah in what appears to be the more original form. Hence the third alternative (originally propounded by Koppe in the last century) has been widely accepted by critics. On this view the utterance of an older prophet has been adopted by Isaiah and Micah as a “classic” and perhaps popular expression of the ideal to which they both looked forward. But a theory which is reached by a process of exhaustion cannot command much confidence, especially when the process is after all not exhaustive. The possibility of a later insertion in both places cannot be ignored, and a certain presumption in favour of Isaiah’s authorship is furnished by resemblances both in matter and style to other passages in the book (Isaiah 11:1-8, Isaiah 32:1-8), (so Duhm). At the same time it cannot be denied that its connexion in the present passage is somewhat loose, and it must remain doubtful whether it was originally composed as the introduction to this group of prophecies or belongs to a later stage of Isaiah’s life. The assertion that the conception presented would be unintelligible in the age of Isaiah may be disregarded. As Wellhausen remarks, the prediction is one that would be remarkable in any age; it is perhaps even less surprising from the pen of Isaiah than from that of a later prophet.
And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD'S house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.2. And it shall come to pass] This formula (so common in continuous discourse) nowhere else introduces a prophetic oration (Ezekiel 38:10 is not really an exception), and shews that the passage has been detached from its original context. in the last days] Better, in the after-days (Cheyne) or “latter days” (R.V.), lit. “in the sequel of the days.” The phrase in itself denotes simply the (remote) future, and is so used in Genesis 49:1; Numbers 24:14; Deuteronomy 4:30; Deuteronomy 31:29. An exact Assyrian parallel to this use (akhrat yumi) is given by Cheyne and Delitzsch. By the prophets the expression is often specialised in an eschatological sense, as in Hosea 3:5; Ezekiel 38:16 (cf. Isaiah 2:8), and probably Jeremiah 48:47; Jeremiah 49:39, where it means (as here) the final age of the world’s history following the establishment of the kingdom of God. In Jeremiah 23:20; Jeremiah 30:24, however, the vaguer sense is more probable.
the mountain of the Lord’s house] the Temple mount, which is also the seat of the Messiah’s government. The phrase occurs in the parallel passage in Micah, also in Micah 3:12 (“mount of the house”); 1Ma 16:20 (“mount of the temple”). In the next verse it is resolved into the two members of a parallelism: “mountain of Jehovah” and “house of the God of Jacob.” established in the top of …] Better as R.V. at the head of … (cf. 1 Samuel 9:22; Amos 6:7); although the translation “as the chief of the mountains” would also be admissible (Davidson, Synt. § 101 R, 1 a.). A miraculous physical elevation of Zion may possibly be thought of (Ezekiel 40:2; Zechariah 14:10); but the idea (seriously entertained by some) that Zion is to be literally set on the top of the other hills is too grotesque to be attributed to any prophet, save under compulsion. In this passage a metaphorical exaltation, in respect of political and religious importance, seems to satisfy all the requirements both of syntax and exegesis (cf. Psalm 68:15 f.).
all (the) nations shall flow] Properly “shall stream,” a verb only used figuratively of the movement of masses of men to great centres of intercourse like Babylon (Jeremiah 31:12; Jeremiah 51:44). Instead of “all the nations” Micah has (in harmony with Isaiah 2:3 f.) simply “peoples,” which probably preserves the original text. The universality of the true religion is in either case implied; and the bare suggestion is perhaps more effective than an explicit assertion would be.
And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.3. The conflux of nations explained by the desire, everywhere expressed, to know and practise the ways of Jehovah. Cf. Zechariah 8:20-21. and he will teach us … and we will walk] Or that He may teach us … and that we may walk. The verb for “teach” is that from which the noun “Tôrâh” (Isaiah 1:10) is derived; hence the instruction must be conceived as communicated through the agency of prophets like Isaiah. of his ways] The preposition has a partitive sense (cf. Psalm 94:12): “somewhat of his ways”; each people receiving such direction as is adapted to its peculiar circumstances. The “ways” and “paths” of Jehovah, denoting the revealed principles and maxims of religion and ethics, are figures too frequent in the O.T. to need detailed references.
for out of Zion … Jerusalem] These may be either words of the prophet, looking into the future, or of the peoples themselves as they exhort one another to go up to Jerusalem. In the latter case the verbs should be rendered in the present tense. the law] i.e. “Tôrâh.” See on Isaiah 1:10.
And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.4. Jehovah’s righteous judgment causes “wars to cease to the ends of the earth.”
among the nations] Here again Micah’s language is more indefinite: “many peoples”; “strong nations afar off.”
rebuke] arbitrate for; or, as R.V. marg., “give decision concerning.” Cf. Genesis 31:37; Job 9:33 (“umpire,” R.V. marg.). The meaning of course is that disputes which would otherwise have been settled by the sword are referred to the just and impartial arbitrament of Jehovah, whose award is accepted as final.
they shall beat … pruninghooks] For the figure cf. Martial’s “falx ex ense” (Ep. xiv. 34) and on the contrary Ovid (Fast. 1. 699), “sarcula cessabunt, versique in pila ligones”; also Joel 3:10. The word rendered “ploughshares” is found only in 1 Samuel 13:20 f. and in the parallels in Micah and Joel. Perhaps “mattock.”
The cessation of war is a prominent idea in Messianic prophecy. See esp. Hosea 2:18; Zechariah 9:10; and on Isaiah 9:5 below.
Ch. Isaiah 2:5-22. The False Glory of Israel to be annihilated by the Glory of Jehovah in a Day of Judgment
The passage may be divided into three brief sections:—
i. (Isaiah 2:5-9). After a transition verse (5, see below), the prophet proceeds, in an impassioned appeal to Jehovah, to contrast the actual condition of His people with the ideal set forth in Isaiah 2:2-4. The city destined to be the source of light and truth to all nations is at present a receptacle for the darkest and most degrading errors of heathenism. Having surveyed the symptoms of apostasy and ungodly pride which are everywhere around him—foreign superstitions (6), display of wealth (7), confidence in military resources (7), idolatry (8)—he gives utterance to the conviction borne in upon his mind, that the sin of the nation is unpardonable (9). Then follows,
ii. (Isaiah 2:10-17). A powerful description of the physical convulsions which mark the great “Day of Jehovah.” The conception seems to combine the features of the earthquake with those of the thunderstorm; it is a judgment directed against all that is “high and lofty” (12); i.e. everything, whether in nature (13 f.) or in human civilisation (15 f.), which seems to lift its head against the majesty of Jehovah (11, 17).
iii. In Isaiah 2:18-21 the prophet returns to the subject of idolatry, describing the sudden despair and ignominious discomfiture “in that day” of all who put their trust in images. The last verse then sums up in general terms the lesson of the preceding prophecy.
5 is apparently a transition verse (cf. Micah 4:5), “Since this great destiny is ours, O House of Jacob, let us at least for ourselves rise to the height of our privileges. But how vain is the exhortation! (6) For Thou, Jehovah, hast rejected, &c.” Or, the prophet may be supposed to cut short abruptly a line of thought he meant to pursue, and to make a fresh start at Isaiah 2:6. But neither of these views is convincing enough to remove the impression that Isaiah 2:2-4 are not the original introduction to 6 ff.
light of the Lord] Not the “light of His countenance” (as Psalm 89:15; Psalm 44:3), but of His Revelation (cf. Isaiah 51:4).
O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the LORD.
Therefore thou hast forsaken thy people the house of Jacob, because they be replenished from the east, and are soothsayers like the Philistines, and they please themselves in the children of strangers.6. Therefore thou hast forsaken] For thou hast rejected—a strong word, used twice (Deuteronomy 32:15; Jeremiah 15:6) of Israel’s rejection of Jehovah, more frequently as here. This “rejection” is the counterpart of the “rebellion” of ch. Isaiah 1:2. replenished from the east] An old and plausible emendation (mqṣm for mqdm) gives the sense “filled with sorcery.” Possibly both words were written (“with sorcery from the east”), one having been dropped in copying because of their resemblance. “The east” would include Arabia, Syria, and Mesopotamia, perhaps also Babylonia, “the classic land of magic.”
soothsayers] It is not certain what particular form of divination is indicated by the name. Some take it as derived from the word for cloud; “cloud-compellers,” i.e. rainmakers. On divination amongst “the Philistines” see 1 Samuel 6:2; 2 Kings 1:2 please themselves in] Lit. strike hands with (R.V.), i.e. “form alliances with.” The expression is not found elsewhere, and the rendering is somewhat uncertain. Dillmann thinks that “children of strangers” must mean “foreign youths,” who were in request as sorcerers, but the wider sense (= “strangers,” simply) seems preferable. It is probably better (with Hitzig) to read bîdê (“with the hands of”) instead of běyaldê (“with the children of”), rendering simply: “join hands with strangers.”
6–9. The prophet bears witness to Jehovah against Israel. It is very rarely that Isaiah thus addresses himself directly to God.
Their land also is full of silver and gold, neither is there any end of their treasures; their land is also full of horses, neither is there any end of their chariots:7. Their land also is full …] Lit. and its (the people’s) land has become filled (and so throughout Isaiah 2:7-8). silver and gold … treasures] The wealth of the country had increased enormously through commercial activity and the control of the Red Sea traffic (2 Kings 14:22) in the reigns of Uzziah and Jotham. These “treasures” were partly expended in procuring “horses and chariots,” as in the time of Solomon. The prophets condemn all such accumulation of earthly resources, as tending to lead the nation away from reliance on the help of Jehovah. Cf. Deuteronomy 17:16-17; Deuteronomy 20:1; Isaiah 31:1; Micah 5:10; Zechariah 9:10.
Their land also is full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made:8. idols] Lit. “nonentities.”—The word (’ělîlîm) is almost peculiar to Isaiah; and appears to contain a scornful play on the word for “gods” (’êlîm). work of their own hands] The prophet refuses to distinguish, as a heathen might, between the false deity and his image; the latter alone has real existence. Cf. Hosea 13:2; Isaiah 40:19 f., Isaiah 41:7; Isaiah 44:12-20, &c.
And the mean man boweth down, and the great man humbleth himself: therefore forgive them not.9. boweth down … humbleth himself] If this be the right translation, the reference must be to the degradation of human dignity involved in idolatry and superstition, a thought not unworthy of Isaiah. It is more probable, however (see ch. Isaiah 5:15), that the words refer to the judgment at hand, which is as certain as if it had already taken place. So R.V. is bowed down … is brought low. The verbs may be understood either in a reflexive or a passive sense.
mean man … great man] In the original the contrast is expressed by two words for “man,” corresponding to homo and vir in Latin, Mensch and Mann in German, &c. Sometimes, as here, the distinction is emphasised so as to mark a contrast (Psalm 49:2).
therefore forgive them not] Or, and thou canst (or wilt) not forgive them. The verbal form employed in the Heb. (jussive) properly expresses the will or desire of the speaker (as E.V.), but in negative sentences it “sometimes expresses merely the subjective feeling and sympathy of the speaker with the act” (Davidson, Synt. § 128, R. 2).
Enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty.10. Enter into the rock] The clefts and caverns (see Isaiah 2:19; Isaiah 2:21) which abounded in the limestone rock of Palestine were used as natural hiding-places in time of invasion (Jdg 6:2; 1 Samuel 13:6; 1 Samuel 14:11). Cf. the still more impressive representation, Hosea 10:8.
10, 11. It is doubtful whether these verses should be connected with what precedes or with what follows. Each is of the nature of a refrain verse: note the resemblances in 10, 19, 21 and in 11, 17. (In the LXX. Isaiah 2:10 ends with “to terrify the earth,” as 19, 21.) Although no strophic arrangement can be traced, the verses obviously express the keynote of this part of the discourse.
The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day.11. in that day] The day to be now described in
For the day of the LORD of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low:12. For the day … proud …] Render, For Jehovah of Hosts hath a day upon all that is proud … (see R.V. marg.). What the prophet asserts is that there is a “day of Jehovah,” in the sense in which he has to announce it. From Amos 5:18 we learn that the phrase was already familiar to the people, but was understood in a sense favourable to themselves. How they arrived at the idea is not known. Probably the word “day” was interpreted as “day of battle,” Jehovah’s “day” being the day of His victory over the enemies of Israel (see Robertson Smith, Proph. of Israel, Revd. Ed. pp. 397 f.). From the time of Amos (if not earlier) the “day of the Lord” becomes a standing designation of the prophets for the final manifestation of Jehovah to judge Israel and the world. Here it is obviously a universal judgment that is predicted.
12–16. The conception, although in the highest degree poetic, is not allegorical. Trees, mountains, ships, &c. are not emblems of kings, magnates, commerce and the like; the destruction of all that is imposing and sublime in nature or art is itself the concrete expression of the idea that “the Lord alone shall be exalted.” The appearing of Jehovah is depicted under the imagery of the thunderstorm, an ancient symbol of the Theophany (cf. Jdg 5:4 f.; Psalm 18:7-14; Psalm 18:29).
And upon all the cedars of Lebanon, that are high and lifted up, and upon all the oaks of Bashan,
And upon all the high mountains, and upon all the hills that are lifted up,
And upon every high tower, and upon every fenced wall,15, 16. Works of human art are last mentioned as being nearer to the sinful pride of man, which is the ultimate cause of the judgment.
And upon all the ships of Tarshish, and upon all pleasant pictures.16. ships of Tarshish] The largest class of merchant vessels then used. They were first built by the Phœnicians for the long voyage to Tartessus (Tarshish) in Spain; but the name (like our “Indiaman”) was applied to large ships whatever their destination. Since the harbour of Elath was at this time in the possession of Judah the prophet may allude to fleets sailing thence to the East in the service of Jotham. More likely, however, he is thinking of the Phœnician argosies which he had seen in the Mediterranean. pleasant pictures] An obscure expression, found only here. The noun is thought to be derived from a verb meaning “to see,” but this lends itself to a variety of senses. The rendering of A.V. seems to rest on the Vulg., “omne quod visu pulchrum est”; or perhaps like that of R.V. (“imagery”) on the analogy of a cognate Heb. noun (Numbers 33:52; Proverbs 25:11); “watch-towers” (R.V. marg.) is based on the Peshito (see Cheyne, Comm. II. p. 137),
And the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low: and the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day.
And the idols he shall utterly abolish.18. And the idols … abolish] Rather, and as for the idols—they shall completely pass away (cf. R.V.). If the text be right this is the sense. But the extreme shortness of the verse, together with some grammatical anomalies, suggest that the text may have suffered mutilation in the course of transmission.
18–21. A special feature of the judgment will be the extinction of idolatry everywhere.
And they shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.19. they shall go] i.e., as R.V., men shall go.
holes of the rocks … earth] Better: caves of the rocks and into the holes of the dust (R.V. and marg.; see on Isaiah 2:10 above).
to shake terribly the earth] R.V. has “to shake mightily,” but the strict rendering is to terrify the earth: a paronomasia in Heb., easily imitated in Latin, “ut terreat terram.” There is an undoubted allusion to an earthquake. Isaiah must have experienced the great earthquake in the reign of Uzziah (Amos 1:1; Zechariah 14:5); and the deep impression made on his youthful mind furnished him with a presentiment of the terror of the great day of Jehovah.
In that day a man shall cast his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which they made each one for himself to worship, to the moles and to the bats;20. An expansion of the thought of Isaiah 2:18. The verse is remarkable for the absence of parallelism. which they made each one for himself] R.V. renders more faithfully, “which they made for him.” Probably, however, the verb is an archaic singular wrongly pointed (‘âsû, read ‘âsav), the translation being: which he made for himself, cf. Isaiah 2:8.
to the moles and to the bats] The sense is not doubtful, although an accidental division of the word for “moles” in the original (laḥparpârôth) has misled some of the older interpreters.
To go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.21. See on Isaiah 2:10; Isaiah 2:19. Translate: to enter into the hollows of the rocks and clefts of the crags, &c.
Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of?22. whose breath … nostrils] A translation both weak and ungrammatical, although retained in R.V. Render: in whose nostrils is a breath. The breath of the nostrils symbolises the divinely imparted principle of life in man (Genesis 2:7); and the meaning of the clause is that man’s life is frail and perishable as a breath (cf. Job 7:7).
This verse is not found in the LXX., and is regarded by many as a later insertion in Isaiah’s prophecy.