Isaiah 34
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 34–35 A Prophecy of Vengeance on Edom, and the future blessedness of Israel

The oracle consists of two sharply contrasted eschatological pictures, one of judgment, the other of redemption.

i. The first (ch. 34) commences with a lurid description of the terrors of the last judgment, which is a universal judgment on the nations of the world (Isaiah 34:1-4). But this passes abruptly (Isaiah 34:5-17) into a threat of special and fearful vengeance on Edom for its implacable hostility to the people of God (Isaiah 34:8). An indiscriminate slaughter of its population is decreed (5–8); and the land shall be turned into a perpetual desolation, haunted by desert beasts and creatures of demon kind (9–17).

ii. Ch. 35 is a beautiful prophecy of Israel’s restoration, in imagery borrowed chiefly from the second part of the book of Isaiah. The marvellous transformation of nature, the appearing of Jehovah to deliver His people, the cessation of human infirmities, and the raising of a highway for the redeemed of the Lord to return, lead up to the final promise of everlasting joy and gladness to the ransomed nation, and the banishment of sorrow and sighing from their midst.

The passage is post-Exilic. Although the “perpetual hatred” (Ezekiel 35:5) of Edom to Judah no doubt dated from the subjugation of the former country by David (2 Samuel 8:13-14), so passionate a longing for vengeance as we find here is only intelligible after the crowning exhibition of Edomitish hostility in the day of Jerusalem’s calamity (cf. Psalm 137:7; Ezekiel 25:12; Ezekiel 35:5; Ezekiel 35:10 ff.; Obadiah 1:10-16). This conclusion is confirmed by obvious traces of familiarity with writings belonging to the end of the Exile if not later (chs. 13, 14, 40 ff., esp. Isaiah 63:1-6), and by the fact that the dispersion of the Jews is presupposed by ch. 35. A more exact determination of its date is impossible. The mutual antipathy of Judah and Edom continued unabated for centuries after the Exile, and was constantly inflamed by fresh encroachments on Judæan territory on the part of the Edomites, who in this period were being dispossessed of their ancestral possessions by the growing power of the Nabatæans. Some such incident may have been the occasion of the threat in Malachi 1:2-5 (c. 450 b.c.), and a succession of them would keep alive the embittered feeling which is unmistakeably present in this prophecy.

Come near, ye nations, to hear; and hearken, ye people: let the earth hear, and all that is therein; the world, and all things that come forth of it.
1–4. The announcement of the world-judgment, introduced by a proclamation addressed to all nations. The peoples are invited to come near, as if for debate (ch. Isaiah 41:1, Isaiah 48:16, Isaiah 57:3), but really to hear their doom. Cf. ch. Isaiah 1:2; Deuteronomy 32:1; Micah 1:2.

all that is therein] Better, the fulness thereof (R.V.);—the same word as in ch. Isaiah 6:3.

all things that come forth of it] The word is used (1) of vegetation, the produce of the earth, (2) of a man’s issue: here, apparently, by a mixture of metaphors, of mankind as springing from the earth.

For the indignation of the LORD is upon all nations, and his fury upon all their armies: he hath utterly destroyed them, he hath delivered them to the slaughter.
2. For the indignation of the Lord …] Rather, For Jehovah hath indignation … and fury. It is remarkable that no reason is assigned for Jehovah’s anger.

their armies] their host (R.V.). he hath utterly destroyed them] Lit. he hath made them a devoted thing,—ḥçrem, a technical word for that which is irrevocably devoted to the deity, usually implying utter destruction. Cf. ch. Isaiah 11:15.

Their slain also shall be cast out, and their stink shall come up out of their carcases, and the mountains shall be melted with their blood.
3. Cf. Joel 2:20; Amos 4:10.

And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig tree.
4. The representation seems somewhat confused. Bickell acutely observes that “the host of heaven” is probably a marginal gloss to “their host” later in the verse, and that the original subject of the first clause (“the hills”) has been displaced by it. The first line then supplies the parallel to the last line of Isaiah 34:3 :—

“And the mountains shall melt with their blood

(4.) And all [the hills] shall be dissolved.”

and the heavens … as a scrole] Cf. ch. Isaiah 51:6; Psalm 102:26; Matthew 24:29; Revelation 6:13-14.

fall dawn … falleth off from … fallen fig] R.V. fade away … fadeth from off … fading leaf.

For my sword shall be bathed in heaven: behold, it shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse, to judgment.
5. my sword (see on ch. Isaiah 27:1) shall be bathed] Better: is drunk; i.e. not “with blood” (which suggests an idea foreign to this passage) but “with fury,” in preparation for its work, which is on earth.

Idumea] Read Edom with R.V. The A.V. uses this Greek form here and in Isaiah 34:6, and in Ezekiel 35:15; Ezekiel 36:5, without any justification.

the people of my curse] The last word is strictly ban (ḥçrem, cf. Isaiah 34:2): “the people on whom I have laid the ban.”

5–8. The slaughter of the inhabitants of Edom.

The sword of the LORD is filled with blood, it is made fat with fatness, and with the blood of lambs and goats, with the fat of the kidneys of rams: for the LORD hath a sacrifice in Bozrah, and a great slaughter in the land of Idumea.
6. The sword of the Lord is filled] Render: A sword hath Jehovah which is filled, &c.

made fat with fatness] Or, “greased with fat” (different words in the original). The Edomites are compared to sacrificial animals; cf. Zephaniah 1:7; Jeremiah 46:10; Jeremiah 51:40; Ezekiel 39:17 ff. (See also 2 Samuel 1:22.)

Bozrah (ch. Isaiah 63:1; Genesis 36:33; Amos 1:12; Jeremiah 49:13; Jeremiah 49:22) was a chief city of Edom, certainly not a place of that name in the Hauran; more probably El-Buṣeira, south of the Dead Sea; but Wetzstein identifies it with Petra.

And the unicorns shall come down with them, and the bullocks with the bulls; and their land shall be soaked with blood, and their dust made fat with fatness.
7. For unicorns render with R.V. wild oxen.

come down] sc. to the place of slaughter, Jeremiah 48:15, &c.

For it is the day of the LORD'S vengeance, and the year of recompences for the controversy of Zion.
8. Comp. ch. Isaiah 61:2, Isaiah 63:4; Jeremiah 50:28; Jeremiah 51:6; Jeremiah 51:11.

the controversy of Zion] with Edom.

And the streams thereof shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone, and the land thereof shall become burning pitch.
9, 10. The description is no doubt suggested by the volcanic phenomena which accompanied the destruction of the neighbouring cities of the Plain (Genesis 19; Jeremiah 49:18). The division of clauses in the LXX. is much preferable to that in the Hebrew Text. Render accordingly: … and its land shall become pitch, burning night and day; it shall not be quenched for ever; its smoke shall go up from generation to generation; it shall lie waste to all eternity, none passing through it (so Cheyne). The last two clauses prepare for the transition to the other picture of ruin, which is elaborated in the verses that follow.

9–17. The fate of the land of Edom is next represented under two incompatible images,—first that of a perpetual conflagration (Isaiah 34:9-10), and second that of a dreary solitude, peopled only by “doleful creatures” (Isaiah 34:11 ff.).

It shall not be quenched night nor day; the smoke thereof shall go up for ever: from generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it for ever and ever.
But the cormorant and the bittern shall possess it; the owl also and the raven shall dwell in it: and he shall stretch out upon it the line of confusion, and the stones of emptiness.
11. the cormorant and the bittern] Zephaniah 2:14. R.V. has “the pelican (Leviticus 11:18; Psalm 102:6) and the porcupine”; for the latter see on ch. Isaiah 14:23.

the line of confusion, and the stones (R.V. plummet) of emptiness] See on ch. Isaiah 28:17. These implements of the builder were naturally employed where a partial destruction (of houses, &c.) was contemplated; but the image is also extended to the case of complete demolition; 2 Kings 21:13; Lamentations 2:8. “Confusion” and “emptiness” stand for the words tôhû and bôhû, used of the primeval chaos in Genesis 1:2 (cf. Jeremiah 4:23).

They shall call the nobles thereof to the kingdom, but none shall be there, and all her princes shall be nothing.
12. They shall call the nobles … there] A very obscure sentence, probably through a defect in the text. The rendering of E.V. might be maintained if with Prof. Weir we suppose a transposition of words in the original; the inference being that the monarchy in Edom was elective (cf. Genesis 36:31 ff.). More likely, however, “her nobles” is the subject of a sentence the rest of which is now lost; and the following words are to be translated “and there is no kingdom there which they may proclaim.”

And thorns shall come up in her palaces, nettles and brambles in the fortresses thereof: and it shall be an habitation of dragons, and a court for owls.
13. The mention of nobles and princes naturally leads to the palaces and castles.

dragons … owls] jackals … ostriches (R.V.). See on ch. Isaiah 13:21 f.

The wild beasts of the desert shall also meet with the wild beasts of the island, and the satyr shall cry to his fellow; the screech owl also shall rest there, and find for herself a place of rest.
14. wild beasts the desert … wild beasts of the island … satyr] See on ch. Isaiah 13:21 f.

the shrich owl] The Hebr. is Lîlîth, a fem. formation from Iáil “night.” Render with Cheyne: the night-hag. Lilith appears to be a creation of the Babylonian demonology. “This Lilith plays a great part in the Talmudic demonology; the cabalistic Rabbis forged a whole legend in which this spirit is said to have taken a feminine form to deceive Adam, and to have united herself to him.” (Lenormant, Chaldæan Magic, Engl. Tr. p. 38.) She is mentioned in the Bible only here.

find for herself a place of rest] On the restlessness of evil spirits, cf. Matthew 12:43, “walketh through dry places, seeking rest.”

There shall the great owl make her nest, and lay, and hatch, and gather under her shadow: there shall the vultures also be gathered, every one with her mate.
15. the great owl] the arrowsnake as in R.V.

gather under her shadow] The expression is almost meaningless, when applied to a very small snake. Duhm, by a clever emendation, reads “shall lay and hatch and heap up her eggs” (bêçehâ for běçillâh).

Seek ye out of the book of the LORD, and read: no one of these shall fail, none shall want her mate: for my mouth it hath commanded, and his spirit it hath gathered them.
16. The verse is remarkable in several respects. It seems to be a solemn assurance that the foregoing prediction shall be fulfilled literally and down to the smallest details; and must therefore be addressed to a future generation of readers. This implies a view of the scope and functions of prophecy, which is not that of the older prophets. Further, the expression “book of Jehovah” appears to point to the existence of a prophetic canon; and the opening exhortation presupposes a habit of searching for evidences of the fulfilment of prophecy. All these circumstances would indicate a late date for the composition of this oracle. Some commentators, however, have sought to evade this interpretation by amending the text with the help of the LXX.; reading: “According to their number Jehovah calls them, &c.” But the received text excites no suspicion.

the book of the Lord] The immediate reference must be to the present prophecy, since there is no other which speaks of the desert creatures that are to possess the land of Edom. But the phrase is too pregnant to be used of a detached oracle; we must therefore conclude that it was destined to be incorporated in a collection of sacred writings.

my mouth … his spirit] The change of person is harsh. Read either “his mouth” or (better) “the mouth of Jehovah” (LXX. has “Jehovah” alone).

And he hath cast the lot for them, and his hand hath divided it unto them by line: they shall possess it for ever, from generation to generation shall they dwell therein.
17. The eternity of the judgment is again emphasised (Isaiah 34:10).

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