Isaiah 32
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall rule in judgment.
1. and princes shall rule] Some render emphatically: “and as for princes—they shall rule,” on account of a preposition in the Hebr.; but this is probably only a copyist’s error. On “righteousness” and “judgment,” see ch. Isaiah 1:21; cf. Isaiah 11:4-5.

1, 2. It is characteristic of Isaiah that the renovation of society is represented as commencing at the top, with the king and aristocracy. (Cf. ch. Isaiah 1:26, Isaiah 3:1-7) The ideal king has already been described (ch. Isaiah 9:6-7, Isaiah 11:1-4) as supernaturally endowed with the virtues of a perfect ruler; here the emphasis lies on the manifestation of these qualities in righteous government; and this, according to the constitutional principles of Isaiah’s time, required an order of state officials animated by the same spirit as the king himself.

Ch. Isaiah 32:1-8. The ideal commonwealth of the Messianic Age

This passage, although treated by many expositors as the continuation of ch. 31, bears all the marks of an independent prophecy. Its insertion in the present group of discourses is sufficiently explained by the picture it gives of a reformed upper class, in contrast with the irreligious and unscrupulous nobility against whom the previous chapters have been mainly directed. The time of its actual composition cannot be determined with certainty, but it is perhaps most naturally assigned to the close of Isaiah’s ministry, when his mind was occupied with the hope of the ideal future. Much has been made of the fact that the figure of the Messianic King (Isaiah 32:1) is less idealised than in the great prophecies of ch. Isaiah 9:1-6 and Isaiah 11:1-4. But this circumstance is easily accounted for by the leading idea of the prophecy (which is the transformation of social relationships), and cannot be safely used as a criterion of date. Still less does it furnish an argument against the Isaianic authorship of the passage. It is true, however, that in its somewhat laboured didactic style, and in the terms employed, the passage differs widely from anything else in the acknowledged writings of Isaiah; and the suggestion that it may have owed its final literary form to a later hand cannot be altogether ignored.

The contents of the prophecy are as follows:—

(1) Isaiah 32:1-2. A perfectly just and beneficent government will be established; king and nobles alike being endowed with the virtues necessary for their office, and yielding protection to the poor.

(2) Isaiah 32:3-4. Public opinion also will be enlightened and purified; the people will no longer be misled by false and superficial judgments, but even the most ignorant will be gifted with the faculty of sound moral discernment.

(3) Isaiah 32:5-8. The consequences of this will be that “the aristocracy of birth and wealth will be replaced by an aristocracy of character” (Delitzsch); men will find their proper level and be estimated at their true worth (5). To this is appended an analysis of the two contrasted types, the “churl” and the true nobleman (6–8).

And a man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.
2. For a man read each one (of the princes). The meaning of the figure is that every great man, instead of being a tyrant and oppressor of the poor (Isaiah 29:20 f.), shall be a protection against calamity and a source of beneficent activity.

from the tempest] from the rain storm; cf. ch. Isaiah 4:6.

the shadow of a great (lit. “heavy”) rock] cooler than that of a tree. Frequently cited parallels (since Gesenius) are the σκιὴ πετραίη of Hesiod (Works, 589) and the “saxea umbra” of Vergil (Georg. III. 145).

And the eyes of them that see shall not be dim, and the ears of them that hear shall hearken.
3. shall not be dim] shall not be closed (R.V. marg.). The verb, although disguised in the pointing, is no doubt the same as that used in ch. Isaiah 6:10, Isaiah 29:10 (lit. “smear”). The curse there pronounced shall be removed.

3, 4. The quickening of the moral perceptions of the people. Comp. ch. Isaiah 29:18; Isaiah 29:24, Isaiah 30:20 f.

The heart also of the rash shall understand knowledge, and the tongue of the stammerers shall be ready to speak plainly.
4. the rash] i.e. the hasty, inconsiderate person, who constantly blurts out crude and ill-judged opinions. The stammerers, on the other hand, are those who, even when their thoughts are right, lack the gift of clear utterance. To the former class is promised “understanding,” to the latter the power to speak promptly and “plainly” (lit. lucidities). Sound judgment and fluent speech combine to form a good popular orator.

The vile person shall be no more called liberal, nor the churl said to be bountiful.
5. True and false nobility shall no longer be confounded because of artificial caste-distinctions.

The vile person] or, the fool; see the typical specimen, Nabal by name and by nature, in 1 Samuel 25.

liberal] Better: noble (in rank). The word denotes, first, one of generous, self-sacrificing disposition; and then one of noble degree; Numbers 21:18 and often.

The word rendered churl occurs only here (and Isaiah 32:7), and its meaning is uncertain. The view adopted by most commentators derives it from a root signifying guile or craftiness (hence Cheyne well renders knave). bountiful represents another rare word (only Job 34:19 [E.V. “rich”]), perhaps man of substance.

For the vile person will speak villany, and his heart will work iniquity, to practise hypocrisy, and to utter error against the LORD, to make empty the soul of the hungry, and he will cause the drink of the thirsty to fail.
6. The characteristics of the “fool.” Render: For a fool speaks folly and his heart works (LXX. “meditates”) mischief, to practise impiety (cf. Isaiah 9:17) and to speak error (Isaiah 29:24) against Jehovah, &c. The fool here depicted is a free thinker, a practical atheist, as in Psalm 14:1; the baneful effect of his principles is seen in his conduct towards his fellow-men, in his pitiless and cruel selfishness.

to make empty …] to deprive the destitute of their scanty subsistence.

6–8. The two types contrasted in their conduct.

The instruments also of the churl are evil: he deviseth wicked devices to destroy the poor with lying words, even when the needy speaketh right.
7. The instruments] i.e. the weapons or methods, of the knave. The word is chosen because of its close similarity to that for “knave” (kçlai—kçlâv). On these machinations of the knave, see ch. Isaiah 29:21.

even when the needy speaketh right] in a forensic sense (= “speaks with right on his side”).

But the liberal deviseth liberal things; and by liberal things shall he stand.
8. But the liberal (the noble man) deviseth liberal (noble) things—and thereby evinces genuine nobility.

by liberal things …] Better: in noble things doth he continue (nearly as R.V.). His generous impulses are sustained in his conduct.

Rise up, ye women that are at ease; hear my voice, ye careless daughters; give ear unto my speech.
9. The women are addressed partly as representing best certain aspects of the public mind, luxury and complacent ease (ch. Isaiah 3:16 ff.; Amos 4:1 ff.); partly because of their function as mourners in seasons of calamity (Jeremiah 9:20).

that are at ease … careless] (or, confident) cf. Amos 6:1.

Ch. Isaiah 32:9-20 To the Women of Jerusalem

Like the previous sections (Isaiah 29:1 ff., Isaiah 29:15 ff., Isaiah 30, 31) this passage is divided into two parts,—the announcement of judgment on Jerusalem, and a description of the Messianic salvation (see the analysis below). It presents, however, two remarkable peculiarities: (1) there is no reference to the overthrow of the Assyrians, and (2) it contemplates a complete destruction of Jerusalem and a protracted desolation of the land. For these reasons some critics have been led to assign the prophecy to a period much earlier than the invasion of Sennacherib; and this would be plausible if it were possible to separate the two parts of which it is composed (9–14 and 15–20). But this is difficult on account of the close connexion established by Isaiah 32:15; and since the latter portion presents some literary affinities with the other members of this group of discourses (ch. 28–31) it will probably be safer to regard the whole as belonging to the same period. It is possible, no doubt, that the Messianic conclusion might have been written later than the address to the women; but even on that assumption we should have to admit that the prophet retained the conception of an indefinitely prolonged depopulation of the land, at a late stage of his career.

The contents of the prophecy are as follows:—

i. Isaiah 32:9-14. A threatening oration, addressed to the women of Jerusalem. The introduction (Isaiah 32:9) shews that what roused the ire of the prophet was the careless unconcern and indifference of the women in face of the reiterated warnings he had uttered. He endeavours to shake them out of their light-hearted security by the announcement that “the ingathering shall not come” (10). So clear is the vision of calamity that he calls on his hearers to adopt the attitude of mourners over the ravaged vineyards, the desolate fields, and the deserted palaces of the “jubilant city” (11–14).

ii. Isaiah 32:15-20. Out of this state of collapse and ruin there will ultimately arise, but after an indefinite period, a new world. Under the vivifying influence of the Divine spirit, external nature will be renewed (15), righteousness will dwell in the land (16), and its blessed fruits will be undisturbed peace and security (17, 18). An unexpected allusion to the judgment (19) somewhat mars the continuity of the passage, which ends with a prophetic felicitation of the peaceful and industrious peasantry who inherit the golden age (20).

Many days and years shall ye be troubled, ye careless women: for the vintage shall fail, the gathering shall not come.
10. Many days and years] The Hebr. reads literally “days beyond a year,” probably a current popular phrase like “year and day.” Both A.V. and R.V. regard the expression as accus. of duration, but the context shews that it fixes the point of time when ease and security give place to anxiety. The meaning is “in little more than a year.” Comp. the less definite note of time in ch. Isaiah 29:1.

The feature of the judgment which is emphasised is the failure of the vintage and the fruit harvest (gathering); what follows shews that this is not the result of natural causes, but of a wholesale devastation of the land. The significance of the prediction would depend greatly on the season of the year at which it was uttered; on any natural interpretation of his words, the prophet means to assert that the next year’s harvest will never be gathered.

Tremble, ye women that are at ease; be troubled, ye careless ones: strip you, and make you bare, and gird sackcloth upon your loins.
11. The speaker calls on his female auditors at once to assume the garb of mourners; so certain is the calamity. The word for “tremble” is in the masc. gender in the original, a not uncommon irregularity (Amos 4:1; Micah 1:13, &c.). Indeed the next verse presents an example.

strip ye, and make ye bare]—as Arabian women occasionally do in a paroxysm of grief or terror.

gird (sc. sackcloth) upon your loins] Cf. ch. Isaiah 3:24; 1 Kings 21:27; 2 Kings 6:30; Job 16:15.

The words “be troubled,” “strip,” “make bare” and “gird” represent anomalous forms in the Hebrew, which are the despair of grammarians. The imperative no doubt gives the right sense.

They shall lament for the teats, for the pleasant fields, for the fruitful vine.
12. They shall lament for the teats] R.V. gives a better translation: they shall smite upon the breasts; but the construction is difficult. The verb is a masculine plural participle and signifies strictly “to mourn.” The word for “breasts” might by a slight change of points be read as “fields”; hence some commentators think that the reference to the women is here abandoned, and render, “men shall mourn for the fields.” If the R.V. is right we must suppose that the word “mourn” (like the Greek κόπτεσθαι) meant originally “smite upon (the breast)” and is here used in its literal sense. The clause would be somewhat more easily construed if read as the conclusion of Isaiah 32:11 (Duhm, “smiting on the breasts”), but even with this change the masculine gender is exceedingly harsh.

Upon the land of my people shall come up thorns and briers; yea, upon all the houses of joy in the joyous city:
13. Upon the land … briers] It is perhaps better to take this as continuing Isaiah 32:12, rendering thus: For the (cultivated) land of my people, which goes up in thorns and briers (cf. ch. Isaiah 5:6); yea, for all, &c. (The verb “goes up” is fem. and must have as its subj. the fem “land”; “thorns” and “briers” are masc.)

the joyous city] (see on ch. Isaiah 22:2) may be a genitive depending on “houses,” or may be a parallel phrase, governed by “for.”

Because the palaces shall be forsaken; the multitude of the city shall be left; the forts and towers shall be for dens for ever, a joy of wild asses, a pasture of flocks;
14. Render: For the palace is forsaken, the tumult of the city is a solitude (as in ch. Isaiah 6:12), &c. The tenses are prophetic perfects.

the forts and towers] Better as in R.V.: the hill and the watch tower. The first word is ‘Ophel, the name of the southern projection of the hill on which the temple stood (Nehemiah 3:26 f., Nehemiah 11:21; 2 Chronicles 27:3; 2 Chronicles 33:14), and is doubtless mentioned as the aristocratic quarter of the city, near the royal palace. The word translated “watch tower” occurs nowhere else, and is of uncertain significance; probably, like Ophel, it denotes a particular locality in the capital.

The phrase for ever must be understood in a relative sense, being restricted by the “until” of Isaiah 32:15.

The verse contains an absolute and explicit prediction of the complete overthrow of Jerusalem. Dillmann’s assertion that such an expectation must have been expressed in different language is inexplicable, and his distinction between destruction and desolation is sophistical. Surprising as this idea may be alongside of certain passages in this section of the book, it is not to be explained away, and after all it does not go very much beyond what is said in ch. Isaiah 29:4. For a complete parallel, however, we must go back to the early prophecy of ch. Isaiah 5:14; Isaiah 5:17.

Until the spirit be poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness be a fruitful field, and the fruitful field be counted for a forest.
15. At last the great transformation of all things will be ushered in, by an outpouring of spirit (the Heb. has no art.) from on high; i.e. from heaven, as in ch. Isaiah 33:5. The spirit, conceived as a subtle essence descending upon and then permeating the human world, is said to be “poured out” as in ch. Isaiah 29:10; Ezekiel 39:29; Joel 2:28 f. (although different verbs are there used). Any supernatural influence, even when acting to the injury of man, might be so spoken of (ch. Isaiah 19:14, Isaiah 29:10), just as a personal “spirit from Jehovah” may be evil or false (1 Samuel 16:14; 1 Kings 22:21 ff.). Here the word is used absolutely and denotes the Divine principle of life, and especially the power by which the will of God is made to prevail in human society (Isaiah 32:16 f.).

On the second half of the verse see ch. Isaiah 29:17.

Then judgment shall dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness remain in the fruitful field.
16. “Judgment” and “righteousness,” the foundations of social order (ch. Isaiah 1:21; Isaiah 1:26 f., Isaiah 28:17), shall then be established throughout the land. The “wilderness” (i.e. untilled pasture-land) is not annihilated, only pushed further into the desert proper; even there the reign of right extends.

And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever.
17. work and effect are synonyms; both mean literally “work,” and both have the sense of “effect” (the latter only here used in this sense).

quietness and assurance] (R.V. confidence) cf. ch. Isaiah 30:15.

17, 18. The consequence of this supremacy of righteousness is universal tranquillity and security,—a contrast to the false carnal security denounced in Isaiah 32:9; Isaiah 32:11.

And my people shall dwell in a peaceable habitation, and in sure dwellings, and in quiet resting places;
When it shall hail, coming down on the forest; and the city shall be low in a low place.
19. The verse reads: And it shall hail at the falling of the forest, and in lowliness shall the city be laid low. According to most commentators the “forest” is a symbol for Assyria, as in ch. Isaiah 10:18 f., 33 f. But this is suggested by nothing in the context, and the “city” in the next line cannot be Nineveh, which is never referred to by Isaiah, and is far from his thoughts here. The verse as a whole must (if genuine) be taken as an announcement of judgment on Jerusalem; but it comes in so awkwardly between Isaiah 32:18; Isaiah 32:20, that it may not unreasonably be regarded as an interpolation. On the “hail” as a synonym for Divine judgment see ch. Isaiah 28:2; Isaiah 28:17, Isaiah 30:30.

Blessed are ye that sow beside all waters, that send forth thither the feet of the ox and the ass.
20. The prophet apostrophises the happy agricultural population of the renovated land of Israel. The sentiment may be in part due to his own delight in the avocations of the husbandman, but it has to be remembered that agricultural prosperity naturally holds a prominent place in Messianic prophecy, as the antithesis to the false refinements and military pomp of the civilisation that is to be swept away. The features of the description are, the happiness of the people, the abundance of water for the irrigation of the fields, and immunity from danger, so that “the ox and the ass” can be safely driven out to pasture, without fear of their not returning (cf. ch. Isaiah 1:3). The “thither” of the A.V. is a misleading insertion.

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