Isaiah 8
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Chap. Isaiah 8:1-18. Further oracles from the time of the Syro-Ephraimitish war

The passage may be analysed as follows:—

i. Isaiah 8:1-4. The prophet, having utterly failed to influence the policy of the court (ch. Isaiah 7:1-17) is directed by Jehovah to impress his divinely inspired view of the situation on the public mind by two significant actions. First, he is to place in some conspicuous position a large tablet bearing in legible characters the ominous inscription lmhrshllḥshbz; at the same time giving legal formality to the transaction by taking two prominent citizens as witnesses. Then the explanation of the word is given in connexion with the naming of a son born to him soon afterwards. It is a prophecy of the speedy overthrow of Ephraim and Syria by the king of Assyria. These actions are only intelligible at a time when the prediction was contrary to common expectation; hence they were performed certainly before the conquest of Damascus (732), and probably also before the embassy of Ahaz to Tiglath-pileser (2 Kings 16:7).

ii. Isaiah 8:5-8. A prediction of the Assyrian invasion of Judah. The people who despise the softly flowing waters of Shiloah (the symbol of Jehovah’s invisible presence and government) shall be inundated by the waters of the Euphrates (a figure for the might of Assyria).

iii. Isaiah 8:9-10. An oracle of very different import from the preceding. In an apostrophe to the nations of the world the prophet announces the frustration of all plans and combinations directed against the sovereign rule of Jehovah on mount Zion.

iv. Isaiah 8:11-15. Isaiah relates how in an hour of ecstasy he had experienced the strong pressure of the divine hand on his spirit, holding him aloof from the currents of public opinion which flowed around him, and constraining him to regulate his attitude by the constant thought of God’s presence; and along with this there were revealed to him the awful consequences of stumbling heedlessly against the purposes of Jehovah.

v. Isaiah 8:16-18. The prophet recognises that a chapter of his ministry has now closed. He is conscious that Jehovah has withdrawn the gracious guidance of the prophetic word which the nation has so emphatically rejected; and therefore he retires within the circle of his own adherents to wait for the fulfilment of his words. To these “disciples” he commits a record of the prophecies delivered during the crisis, while to the unbelieving people Jehovah has given pledges of His word in the names of the prophet and his two children.

It would be a mistake to look for a close logical connexion between these sections. They form a series of detached oracles, which followed each other at intervals like lightning flashes, illuminating for us the darkness of the political situation. Along with ch. 7 and probably also ch. 6, they constitute no doubt the chief part of the “testimony” which Isaiah “sealed up” among his disciples.

Moreover the LORD said unto me, Take thee a great roll, and write in it with a man's pen concerning Mahershalalhashbaz.
1. Comp. ch. Isaiah 30:8; Habakkuk 2:2. a great roll] a great tablet (R.V.). The word is used in ch. Isaiah 3:23 of polished metal mirrors; here it means a smooth flat tablet of wood, stone or metal.

with a man’s pen] i.e. “in common characters” (R.V. marg.) easily legible and understood by the people (Habakkuk 2:2). Such a direction bears witness to an extensive knowledge of writing in Isaiah’s time. The famous inscription in the Siloam tunnel, belonging probably to this age, is thought to have been carved by the workmen for their amusement.

Maher-shalal-hash-baz] That is, “Haste-spoil-speed-booty.” Syntactically the enigmatic legend is capable of more than one construction. Most probably the verbs are participles; and then the nouns may be either nominative to them, or in the accusative of direction. I.e. we may translate either “Spoil hasteneth—booty speedeth” or “Hasting to (the) spoil—speeding to (the) booty.” The last seems preferable. (Comp. Goethe’s Raufebold, Habebald, Eilebeute in the second part of Faust.)

concerning] is in Hebr. simply “to” or “for,” a formula of dedication common on seals and epitaphs. The tablet relates to Maher-shalal-hash-baz.

1–4. The twofold sign of Maher-shalal-hash-baz.

And I took unto me faithful witnesses to record, Uriah the priest, and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah.
2. And I took] The Hebr. pointing gives and I will take (as in R.V.). The speaker is still Jehovah. The LXX. and other old versions have the imperative (“and take for me”) which, as addressed to the prophet, reads more naturally. Uriah the priest is mentioned in 2 Kings 16:10 ff.; Zechariah is unknown, although the name occurs in the nearly contemporary notices of 2 Chronicles 26:5; 2 Chronicles 29:13. He has even been identified, somewhat rashly, with the author of Zechariah 9-11 on the ground of Zechariah 1:1. It is not to be inferred that the two men were intimate friends of Isaiah, still less that they belonged to the band of his disciples (Isaiah 8:16); they are called to witness simply as responsible public persons, trusted by the people.

And I went unto the prophetess; and she conceived, and bare a son. Then said the LORD to me, Call his name Mahershalalhashbaz.
3. the prophetess] Isaiah’s wife is so called, not because she herself possessed the prophetic gift, but because the husband’s designation is transferred by courtesy to the wife;—as a German might have said “die Frau Prophetin.”

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.
4. The period here indicated, about a year, is of course shorter than in ch. Isaiah 7:16, the date of the prediction being about a year later.

The LORD spake also unto me again, saying,
5–8. The Assyrian invasion of Judah threatened.

Forasmuch as this people refuseth the waters of Shiloah that go softly, and rejoice in Rezin and Remaliah's son;
6. the waters of Shiloah] According to Delitzsch the older and correct pronunciation is Shillôaḥ. The pool of Siloam (Nehemiah 3:15; John 9:7, now called ‘Ain Silwân) was situated on the south-west side of the Temple Mount, at the lower end of the Tyropœon valley. From a very ancient time it has been connected, by a rock-hewn tunnel, with an intermittent spring (St Mary’s well) on the opposite (eastern) side of the hill, outside the wall. If this work had been executed before Isaiah’s day there could be no reasonable doubt that it is referred to here. The name (from a verb meaning “send” John 9:7) suggests an artificial channel, and the expression “that go softly” exactly describes the flow of the water along the easy gradient of the tunnel. Its execution, however, is very generally assigned to Hezekiah, on the ground of 2 Kings 20:20; 2 Chronicles 32:30; Sir 48:17. Whether this or some still more ancient aqueduct be intended, the point of the metaphor is that the waters, flowing “fast by the oracle of God,” are a type (not of the Davidic dynasty, but) of the silent unobtrusive presence and majesty of Jehovah, who “dwells in mount Zion” (Isaiah 8:18 : cf. Psalm 46:4).

and rejoice in Rezin and Remaliah’s son] If the text and translation be right, we must assume either (a) that “this people” does not refer to Judah, but to Ephraim or Ephraim and Syria together; or (b) that the people of Judah were secretly disaffected towards the house of David and sympathised with the design of the allied kings. But (a) “this people” most naturally means those who had refused the waters of Shiloah, the people amongst whom the prophet was living (as in Isaiah 8:11-12), i.e. the inhabitants of Judah; while (b) is a supposition not probable in itself, and at variance with Isaiah 7:2, Isaiah 8:12. We might retain the present text and translate “rejoice with Rezin, &c.,” i.e. rejoice in the same kind of things as Rezin, &c. rejoice in; but this is extremely forced. The most likely explanation is that there has been a confusion between two words of similar sound; and that what the prophet really wrote was not “rejoice in” but “faint before” (mṣôṣ instead of msôs). This presents itself as the easiest solution, although it may possibly require a change of the following preposition (perhaps mippnê instead of ’çth). Render, therefore, and faint before Rezin, &c. (cf. Isaiah 8:12 and ch. Isaiah 7:2).

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:
7. Now therefore] lit. “and therefore,” introducing the apodosis; a combination not found elsewhere.

bringeth up upon them] Not North Israel, but Judah, “this people.”

the waters of the river] The Euphrates, explained in the next clause as a symbol of the Assyrian power. The figure of the verse is based on the fact that in summer the Euphrates overflows its banks,—an obvious emblem of the aggressive policy of the great world-power.

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.
8. And he shall pass through Judah] Better as R.V., And he shall sweep onward into Judah. overflow and go over are rightly taken as synonyms (not as R.V.).

shall reach even to the neck] (cf. Isaiah 30:28). Judah is in the utmost extremity of danger, yet is not wholly submerged.

shall fill … land] lit. “shall be the filling (as in ch. Isaiah 6:3) of the breadth of thy land.” “Wings” cannot mean “masses of water branching off from the main current”; nor is there any evidence that the Hebrews spoke of the “wings” of an army, as we do. The figure of the deluge seems abruptly changed to that of a huge bird of prey, overshadowing the whole land with its extended wings.

of thy land, O Immanuel] Without any change of the original consonantal text we might read, as at the end of Isaiah 8:10, “… of the land. For with us is God!” The change is perhaps not imperatively required even if Immanuel be an ordinary child; whereas, on the view that he is the Messiah, the apostrophe becomes natural. Still there remains a suspicion that the last part may be a gloss introduced from Isaiah 8:10.

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.
9. Associate yourselves] Rather: Be exasperated. A.V. follows the Targum and Vulgate, whose translation is based on a wrong grammatical analysis of the word (the root being râ‘a‘, not râ‘âh).

and ye shall be broken in pieces] Lit.: and be dismayed,—a consecutive imperative (Davidson, Synt. § 64), forming the apodosis of a conditional sentence.

gird yourselves] for battle against the cause of Jehovah.

9, 10. The challenge of faith to the combined nations of the world. Cf. Psalm 2:1-6.

Take counsel together, and it shall come to nought; speak the word, and it shall not stand: for God is with us.
10. Take counsel … nought] “If ye resolve on a scheme it shall be frustrated.” speak the word] a word, i.e. “proclaim your resolution.”

For God is with us] See on Isaiah 8:8.

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,
11. with a strong hand] Better: while the Hand (of Jehovah) grasped (me), (an infinitive construction). The phrase (cf. Ezekiel 3:14) refers to a prophetic trance, in which the true view of the aspects and issue of the situation was borne in upon Isaiah’s mind with irresistible force. His mind was as it were fixed in one direction, and he was henceforth proof against the disturbing influences of social opinion around him.

and instructed me … walk] Or, to warn me against walking. Grammatically, the clause is a continuation, not of the main sentence (“and Jehovah spake, &c.”), but of the infinitive construction, which is here resolved into the Imperfect (Qal). the way of this people] the prevailing emotions, thoughts and resolves of the hour.

11–15. Isaiah was able to stand alone against the nation during this crisis, because he knew that his thoughts were controlled by a Power not his own.

Say ye not, A confederacy, to all them to whom this people shall say, A confederacy; neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid.
12. A confederacy] Strictly: A conspiracy (R.V.). But the word “conspiracy” does not necessarily imply (as some have thought) treason within the state. It may be used (as the verb is in Nehemiah 4:2) of an external coalition threatening the integrity of the commonwealth. On the whole this seems to give the best sense here. The “conspiracy” is the Syro-Ephraimitish alliance, which Isaiah and his adherents are warned not to treat as a serious danger. Another explanation is that Isaiah and his party were suspected of treasonable complicity in the designs of the allies (cf. Jeremiah 37:13); but did they need a supernatural revelation to tell them that that charge was false? The word has also been supposed to allude to the spirit of preternatural suspicion that was abroad, causing every man to suspect his neighbour of being a traitor. But Isaiah is little likely to have been disturbed by this.

neither fear ye their fear] i.e. “fear not what they fear,” but fear Jehovah alone (Isaiah 8:13).

Sanctify the LORD of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.
13. Render: Jehovah of Hosts, Him shall ye count holy, and let Him be (the object of) your fear and (of) your terror. “Count holy” (Isaiah 29:23); recognise as the Holy One, especially by absolute trust in His providential disposition of events; fearing only what would offend Him.

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.
14. To those who obey this admonition, Jehovah shall be for a sanctuary; to all others a stumbling-stone. This contrast would certainly be clearer if (with the Targ. and Vulg.) we might insert “to you” after “shall be.” But the want of these words hardly justifies us in changing the text, or even in translating “He will shew Himself a holy object,” in the sense explained by the remainder of the verse. Although it is doubtful if the word is ever used for “asylum,” yet the sanctuary was in fact an asylum (Exodus 21:14; 1 Kings 1:50; 1 Kings 2:28; 1 Kings 2:30), and there is no great improbability in supposing that that idea is expressed here.

Two figures are used to set forth the threatening side of Jehovah’s relation to both the houses of Israel: the stone against which one heedlessly stumbles to one’s own destruction; and the snare in which a wild animal is caught unawares. Jehovah is a secret and sudden danger to those who walk in blind unbelief. Cf. Psalm 18:26.

And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken.
15. many among them] Not all; a “Remnant shall turn” and be saved: how, is more fully shewn in the next verses. The expressions of this verse are reproduced with little variation in ch. Isaiah 28:13. They are frequently alluded to in the N.T. (Luke 2:34; Matthew 21:44 : Romans 9:33).

Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples.
16. Cf. ch. Isaiah 30:8; Daniel 12:4. Bind up … seal] The imperatives can only be understood as a command of Jehovah to Isaiah, as in Isaiah 8:1 ff. But in the next verse Isaiah himself is the speaker, and since the change of person is somewhat abrupt, the suggestion deserves consideration that the two verbs are infs. abs. (wrongly vocalised). We might then translate: “(I will) bind up … (I will) seal.”

the testimony … the law] testimony … instruction (see on Isaiah 1:10). Both words are here used of the contents of the revelations communicated to the prophet during these months of danger and anxiety; the former describes more particularly the evidential character of the predictions, the latter refers to the practical element in the revelation (as in Isaiah 7:4-9, Isaiah 8:11-13).

among my disciples] i.e. those who had received the prophet’s message, and rallied round him as their spiritual guide.

16–18. The prophet, recognising the failure of his work as regards the nation, prepares a written record of his teaching, and deposits this as a sealed document in the custody of his disciples. By this solemn act he forms an inner circle of religious fellowship, which is the nucleus of the new people of God. See General Introd. p. xxxi.

And I will wait upon the LORD, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him.
17. that hideth his face …] A very common expression for Jehovah’s anger: Deuteronomy 31:17 f.; Micah 3:4; Jeremiah 33:5; Psalm 13:1; Psalm 44:24; Job 13:24, &c. The special mark of displeasure which Isaiah has in view is the cessation of those admonitions and warnings which Jehovah had sent through him to the people.

will look for him] Better: will hope in Him. The counsel which the nation and the king rejected becomes the rule of the prophet’s own life.

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.
18. I and the children whom the Lord hath given me] Like Hosea, Isaiah had been directed to embody leading ideas of his teaching in the names of at least two of his children, Shear-jashub and Maher-shalal-hash-baz. His own name, also, though not an uncommon one, expresses what we may regard as the most comprehensive idea of his theology—“Jehovah saves.” He and they are thus for signs and portents (cf. ch. Isaiah 20:3 and see on Isaiah 7:11) in Israel; the children especially cannot be seen or named without recalling to mind prophetic utterances of profound import.

which dwelleth in mount Zion] This conception seems to have first emerged in Isaiah’s teaching at the time of the Syro-Ephraimite war, when Jerusalem was threatened by a foreign army. We have here perhaps the earliest anticipation of what became afterwards a fixed element of his prophecy—the inviolability of Jerusalem, the earthly seat of Jehovah’s throne.

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?
19. And when they (the infatuated, God-forsaken people) shall say unto you (believers in divine revelation).

them that have familiar spirits] Hebr. simply hâ’ôbhôth. Strictly, the ’ôbh is the “familiar spirit” itself (Leviticus 20:27, &c.), i.e. the disembodied spirit after death; the necromancer or “medium” through whom it holds communication with the living is ba‘al ’ôbh or ba‘ǎlath ’ôbh (1 Samuel 28:8)—the possessor of an ’ôbh.

wizards that peep, and that mutter] “Wizards,” lit. “knowing ones,” practitioners of an occult science. Peep (i.e. chirp) and mutter refer to the faint voice, like that of a little bird, which antiquity ascribed to the shades of the departed: “The sheeted dead did squeak and gibber in the streets of Rome.” See ch. Isaiah 29:4, where the word “peep” is again used, and comp. Aen. 6:492 f.; Il. 23:101. The LXX. (τοὺς ἐνγαστριμύθους and οἳ ἐκ τῆς κοιλίας φωνοῦσιν) suggests that the voice of the ghost was imitated by ventriloquism, which is not unlikely.

should not a people … dead?] This seems to be the answer which the prophet’s disciples are to return to the people.

for the living to the dead?] i.e. “should one enquire of the dead (ghost) on behalf of the living?”

19, 20. Religion and superstition contrasted.

To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.
20. To the law and to the testimony] See on Isaiah 8:16. Apparently an exclamation of the distracted people (see on next clause).

The remainder of the verse, where the construction is very difficult, ought probably to be rendered: surely they shall speak according to this word when there is no dawn (i.e. no hope) for them (lit. him). The meaning is that the people will seek direction from the “sure word of prophecy,” but only when it is too late. But the original is so obscure that no great confidence can be placed in any translation.

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.
21. they shall pass through it] Obviously, the land; but something must have fallen out before this verse, to account for the reference of the pronoun. Throughout this and the following verse, “they,” “their,” “themselves,” should be “he,” “his,” “himself.” The subject is either the whole nation or an individual Israelite. He wanders through the land, perhaps seeking an oracle (Amos 8:12).

they shall fret themselves] Better: he shall break out in anger (the form is used only here).

curse his king and his God] Not “his king and God” whether Jehovah or a false god; but the king because he cannot, and God because He will not, help. Cf. 2 Kings 6:26 f. (see also 1 Kings 21:10). This gives a much better sense than “curse by his king and his God,” although the parallel passages are in favour of the latter translation.

21, 22. Another scene, representing the utter desolation of the land, and the miseries of the survivors.

And they shall look unto the earth; and behold trouble and darkness, dimness of anguish; and they shall be driven to darkness.
22. The last words of the previous verse should be taken along with this one: and he shall look upward and shall look to the earth: and behold, &c. Whether he look to heaven or earth, no ray of hope shall appear (cf. ch. Isaiah 5:30).

trouble and darkness …] Render with R.V. distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. The word here translated “gloom” is slightly different in form from that in Isaiah 9:1, and does not occur again.

and they shall … darkness] Probably: and he shall be chased into thick darkness. A somewhat similar phrase in Jeremiah 23:12. Others render: “and darkness shall be driven (upon him)”; others: “but (the) darkness shall be dispelled.”

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