Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.II.
(1) The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw.—On the relation of this chapter to Isaiah 1, see Introduction. The moral and social state described in it points to an earlier date than the reformation of Hezekiah. The sins of the people are more flagrant; but there is not as yet with them the added guilt of a formal and ceremonial worship. The character of the king in Isaiah 3:12 corresponds with that of Ahaz. The influence of the Philistines, traceable in Isaiah 2:6, is probably connected with their invasion of Judah in that reign (2Chronicles 28:18). The mention of “ships of Tarshish” in Isaiah 2:16 points to a time when the commerce of the Red Sea (1Kings 9:26; 1Kings 22:48) was still in the hands of Judah, and prior, therefore, to the capture of Elath by Rezin, king of Syria (2Kings 16:6). We are able, therefore, with hardly the shadow of uncertainty, to fix the date of the whole section as belonging to the early years of the reign of Ahaz, with, perhaps, a backward glance at evils which belonged also to the reigns of Uzziah and Jotham. The title of the superscription unites in an exceptional form the two ideas of the prophet and of the seer. What follows is “the word” of Isaiah, but it is a word that he has seen.
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) It shall come to pass in the last days.—The three verses that follow are found in almost identical form in Micah 4:1-3, with the addition of a verse (Micah 4:4) which describes the prosperity of Judah—every man sitting “under his vine and his fig-tree,” as in the days of Solomon. Whether (1) Isaiah borrowed from Micah, or (2) Micah from Isaiah, or (3) both from some earlier prophet, or (4) whether each received an independent yet identical revelation, is a problem which we have no adequate data for solving. Micah prophesied, like Isaiah, under Ahaz, Jotham, and Hezekiah, and so either may have heard it from the other. On the other hand, the prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem, on which these verses follow, in Micah 3:12, appears from Jeremiah 26:18 to have been spoken in the days of Hezekiah. On the whole, (3) seems to have most to commend it. (See Introduction.)
For “in the last days” read latter or after days; the idea of the Hebrew words, as in Genesis 49:1; Numbers 24:14, being that of remoteness rather than finality. For the most part (Deuteronomy 4:30; Deuteronomy 31:29) they point to the distant future of the true King, to the time of the Messiah.
The mountain of the Lord’s house.—The prophet’s vision of the far-off days sees, as it were, a transfigured and glorified Jerusalem. Zion, with the Temple, was to be no longer surrounded by hills as high as, or higher than, itself (Psalm 125:2), scorned by other mountains (Psalm 68:16-17); but was to be to Israel as a Sinai or a Lebanon, as a Mount Meru, or an Olympus, “an exceeding high mountain” (Ezekiel 40:2), whose physical elevation should answer to its spiritual. (Comp. Zechariah 14:10.) So in that vision of the future, the waters of Shiloah, that went softly, were to become a broad and rushing river (Isaiah 33:21; Ezekiel 47:3-12). So, when men had been taught by experience that this ideal was to be realised in no Jerusalem or earth, the seer of Patmos saw a yet more transcendent vision of the glories of the heavenly Jerusalem (Revelation 21:10 to Revelation 22:5), and yet even these were but types and figures of divine and ineffable realities.
All nations shall flow unto it.—Better, all the nations—i.e., the heathen as distinct from Israel. The prophet sees and welcomes the approach of pilgrims from all regions of the earth to the new sanctuary. Thus early in his work was Isaiah (half unconsciously as to the manner in which his vision was to be realised) the prophet of a universal religion, of which the truths of Judaism were the centre, and of a catholic Church. In the admission of proselytes, commemorated in Psalms 87 (probably written about this time), we may see what may either have suggested the prophecy, or have seemed as the first-fruits of its fulfilment.
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) Many people shall go and say . . .—What was precious to the prophet’s heart was the thought that these pilgrims from afar would not come as with a formal worship like that of Isaiah 1:10-15, but, like the queen of Sheba (1Kings 10:1-10), as seekers after truth, desiring to be taught. (Comp. Isaiah 60:3.) The “ways” and the “paths” are the great laws of righteousness, which lead to the eternal life. The verb for “teach” is the root of the Hebrew for “law,” as the “teaching” of Jehovah.
Shall go forth the law . . .—In the preaching of the Christ, in the mission of the Twelve, in the whole history of the Apostolic Church, we have, to say the least, an adequate fulfilment of the promise. The language of St. Paul, however, suggests that there may be in the future a yet more glorious mission, of which Jerusalem shall once more be the centre (Romans 11:12-15).
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) He shall judge among the nations.—For “rebuke” read decide or arbitrate. The ideal Divine King is to be all, and more than all, that Solomon had been (1Kings 10:24). In reliance on His wisdom and equity, nations would refer their disputes to His decision instead of the arbitrament of war. Here again we have a partial fulfilment, it may be hoped, a “springing and germinant accomplishment,” in the history of Christendom. So far as the teaching of Christ has influenced international polity and law, He has been the supreme arbitrator of their disputes.
And they shall beat their swords into plowshares.—The words invert the picture of an earlier prophet, who spoke of a time of war (Joel 3:10). Isaiah must have known that prediction, and yet he proclaims (following Hosea 2:18) that peace, not war, is the ideal goal towards which the order of the Divine government is tending. (Comp. Zechariah 9:10; Luke 2:14.)
O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the LORD.(5) O house of Jacob . . .—The ideal of the future has been brought before Israel; but it is still far off, and the people must learn repentance, must themselves “walk in the light of the Lord,” before they can be as light-bearers to other nations. (Comp. the lines of thought in Romans 11:11-15.)
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 thy people . . .—Better, For Thou hast . . . This was the sad, dark present, in contrast with the bright future. Jehovah “went not forth” with the armies of Judah (Psalm 68:7); and the Syrians, Edomites, and Philistines, possibly the Assyrians also (2Kings 16:9; 2Chronicles 28:17-20), were laying the lands waste.
Because they be replenished from the east.—The disasters of the time are viewed as chastisements for sin, and the sin consisted in casting off their national allegiance to Jehovah. The “east,” from which they were replenished, with which they filled their thoughts and life, was Syria and Mesopotamia, to whose influence they had yielded, and whose cultus Ahaz had adopted (2Kings 16:10-12).
And are soothsayers like the Philistines.—Literally, cloud-diviners. The word points to the claim of being “storm-raisers,” which has been in all ages one of the boasts of sorcerers. The conquests of Uzziah (2Chronicles 26:6) had brought Judah into contact with the Philistines, and the oracles at Ekron and elsewhere (2Kings 1:2) attracted the people of Judah. There was, as it were, a mania for divination, and the “diviners” of Philistia (1Samuel 6:2) found imitators among the people of Jehovah.
They please themselves in the children of strangers.—Literally, they strike hands with, as meaning, (1) they enter into contracts with, or (2) they make common cause with. The commerce of the people with foreign nations, which had expanded under Uzziah (2Kings 14:22), was, from the prophet’s point of view, the cause of much evil. It was probably conducted, as at an earlier date, chiefly by Phoenician sailors and merchants (1Kings 9:27), and thus opened the way to their impurity of worship and of life (Jonah 1:5). The sense of being a peculiar and separate people wore away. The pictures of the “strange woman” and the foreign money-lender of Proverbs 5:3; Proverbs 6:1, present two aspects of this evil.
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 of silver and gold.—The long and prosperous reign of Uzziah, especially his trade with Ophir, had reproduced the wealth of the days of Solomon. Tribute came from the Arabians and Ammonites (2Chronicles 26:8). The words point to an earlier date than that at which Ahaz was left” naked and distressed” (2Chronicles 28:19). Even under Hezekiah, Sennacherib records in the inscription on the Taylor cylinder that the tribute paid by that king amounted to 30 talents of gold, and 800 talents of silver, besides wrought metal; and a like profusion of wealth, prior to Sennacherib’s invasion, is shown in the account of Hezekiah’s display of his treasures, in Isaiah 39:2 (Cheyne, in loc.; Records of the Past, i. 38).
Their land is also full of . . . chariots.—Here also the reign of Uzziah was like that of Solomon (1Kings 10:26-28). Chariots were used probably both for state pageants (Song of Solomon 1:9; Song of Solomon 3:9-10) and as part of the matériel of war (2Chronicles 1:14; 2Chronicles 9:25). Isaiah here also agrees with Micah (Micah 1:13) in looking on this as “the beginning of sin” (see Deuteronomy 17:16; 1Samuel 8:11). For him, as for Zechariah (Zechariah 9:9), the true King was to come, not with chariots and horses, but riding, as the judges of Israel had ridden (Judges 5:10; Judges 10:4; Judges 12:14), on “a colt, the foal of an ass.”
Their land also is full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made:(8) Their land also is full of idols.—The word which Isaiah chooses for “idols” (elîlîm—i.e., vain, false, gods) seems intentionally contrasted with elîm (gods, or mighty ones), and may fairly be rendered by no-gods. The reign of Ahaz was conspicuous from the first for this cultus (2Chronicles 28:2-3), but it had been prominent even under Jotham (2Chronicles 27:2).
And the mean man boweth down, and the great man humbleth himself: therefore forgive them not.(9) And the mean man boweth down.—The English gives adequately the significance of the two words for “man”—in Hebrew, adam and îsh. The Authorised Version applies the words to the prostrations of the worshippers of idols, whether of low or high degree; others refer them to the punishment of that idolatry: The mean man must be bowed down . . . the great man must be humbled.
Therefore forgive them not.—As a prayer the words find a parallel in Psalm 69:27; Psalm 109:14, but the rendering adopted by Cheyne and others, And thou canst not forgive them, is perhaps preferable. The sin is treated as “a sin unto death,” for which it is vain to pray (Isaiah 22:14).
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 limestone caverns of Palestine were natural asylums in times of terror and dismay (Judges 6:2; Judges 15:8; 1Samuel 13:6; 1Samuel 14:11; 1Samuel 24:3; 1Kings 18:4). Here, as in Micah 1:4, we may probably trace the impression left by the earthquake under Uzziah (Amos 1:1), when the people fled in terror from the city (Zechariah 14:5). Isaiah foresees the recurrence of a like panic in the future.
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) The lofty looks of man . . .—Better, the lofty looks of the mean man . . . the haughtiness of the great man. The self-assertion which is the essential element of pride may be found at the opposite extremes of social life.
The Lord alone shall be exalted . . .—The verb, as in Psalm 46:7; Psalm 46:11 (see margin and text of Authorised Version), implies the image of a rock-citadel, towering in its strength, and offering the one safe asylum in a time of danger. (Comp. also Psalm 61:2.)
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) The day of the Lord of hosts shall be . . .—Literally, the Lord of hosts hath a day . . . As generally in the prophets, any time of special judgment or special mercy is as “a day of Jehovah.” Man feels himself in the presence of a higher power, working in this way or in that for righteousness. The phrase. had been specially prominent in the mouth of Isaiah’s forerunner, Amos (8:9-13, 9:11).
Upon every one that is proud and lofty . . .—The emphatic iteration of “lifted up” is noticeable as indicating that the prophet sees in that self-assertion the root-evil of his time, that which was most destructive of the fear of the Lord, and most surely brought down judgment on the offender. So the devout historian of Greece reads the teaching of the history which he tells. He saw the loftiest trees most exposed to the lightning-flash, the loftiest monarch most liable to the working of the Divine Nemesis (Herod., vii. 10).
And upon all the cedars of Lebanon, that are high and lifted up, and upon all the oaks of Bashan,(13) Upon all the cedars of Lebanon . . .—The words find a striking parallel in the passage from Herodotus just referred to. In that storm which is about to burst over the land, the cedars and the oaks, and, we may add, those who were as the cedars and the oaks, in their pride and glory, should all alike be shattered.
And upon all the high mountains, and upon all the hills that are lifted up,(14)And upon all the high mountains.—Possibly the prophet may have had in his mind the thunderstorm of Psalm 29:5—“the Lord breaketh the cedars of Lebanon.” The oaks of Bashan were, like the cedars of Lebanon, proverbially types of forest greatness (Isaiah 33:9). Literally, the words must have found a fulfilment in the ravages of Sargon’s and Sennacherib’s armies.
And upon every high tower, and upon every fenced wall,(15) Upon every high tower.—Generic as the words are, they have a special reference to the fortifications which were the glory of Uzziah’s reign, and were continued by his successors (2Chronicles 26:9-10; 2Chronicles 27:3-4; Hosea 8:14; Micah 5:11; comp. also Isaiah 22:8-11, Psalm 48:13).
And upon all the ships of Tarshish, and upon all pleasant pictures.(16) And upon all the ships of Tarshish.—The words point to the commerce in the Red Sea carried on by the fleets of Uzziah and Jotham (1Kings 22:48); perhaps also to that in the Mediterranean with Tarshish, or Tartessus (Spain), as in Jonah 1:3. The “ships of Tarshish” had come to be used generically for all ships of the class used in such commerce, whether crossing the Mediterranean to Spain, or circumnavigating Africa, or passing over the Persian Gulf to Ophir.
Upon all pleasant pictures.—Literally, upon all imagery of delight (Comp. Leviticus 26:1; Numbers 33:52.) The combination of the phrase with “the ships of Tarshish” suggests the inference that it includes the works of art which were brought by them from East and West. For these, it would seem, there was a mania among the higher classes in Jerusalem, like that which in later times has fastened upon china, or pictures, or carvings in ivory. So the ships of Solomon brought gold and silver, and “ivory and apes and peacocks” (1Kings 10:22). The “ivory beds” of Amos 6:4, the “gold rings set with the beryl,” the “ivory overlaid with sapphires,” the “pillars of marble set upon sockets of fine gold” of Song of Solomon 5:14-15, the precious things in the treasury of Hezekiah (Isaiah 39:2), may be taken as examples of this form of luxury. The æstheticism of the Roman Empire, of the Renaissance of the fifteenth century, of the age of Louis XIV., of our own time and country, presents obvious parallels.
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.(17) And the loftiness of man shall be bowed down.—Iteration is used as the most solemn form of emphasis. That was the burden of the prophet’s song.
And the idols he shall utterly abolish.(18) And the idols.—Better, The no-gods shall pass away. The seven words of the English answer to three in the Hebrew. As with a profound sense, conscious or unconscious, of the power of rhythm, the prophet first condenses the judgment that is coming on the no-gods, and then expands it.
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) And they shall go into the holes of the rocks.—The imagery of the earthquake in Uzziah’s reign (see Note on Isaiah 2:10) is still present to Isaiah’s thoughts. (See Revelation 6:15.)
When he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.—The Hebrew verb and noun have the emphasis of a paronomasia which cannot be reproduced in English, but of which the Latin “ut terreat terram” gives some idea.
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) A man shall cast his idols of silver . . .—The picture of the earthquake is still continued. The men who have taken refuge in the caves fling away the idols, that they have found powerless to help them, to the moles and bats which had their dwelling there. It is perhaps significant that the animals thus named were proverbial for their blindness and love of darkness. Such, the prophet seems to say, were the fit custodians of the idols whom none could worship except those that hated the light and were spiritually blind.
Which they made each one for himself.—Better, which they (the carvers of the idol) made for him (the worshipper).
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) To go into the clefts of the rocks . . .—Comp. for the phrase, Exodus 33:22. The picture of Isaiah 2:19 is reproduced, with some noticeable variations. As men feel shock after shock of the earthquake, and see the flashing fires, and hear the crash of the thunder, they leave the larger caverns in which they had at first sought shelter, and where they have left the idols that were once so precious, and fly to the smaller and higher openings, the “clefts of the rocks,” and the rents of the crags, in their unspeakable panic.
Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of?(22) Cease ye from man . . .—The verse is wanting in some MSS. of the LXX. version, and is rejected by some critics, as of the nature of a marginal comment, and as not in harmony with the context. The first fact is the most weighty argument against it, but is not decisive. The other objection does not count for much. To “cease from man” as well as from “idols” is surely the natural close of the great discourse which had begun with proclaiming that men of all classes and conditions should be brought low. The words “whose breath is in his nostrils” emphasise the frailty of human life (Genesis 2:7; Genesis 7:22; Psalm 146:3-4). Looking to that frailty, the prophet asks, as the psalmist had asked, “What is man? (Psalm 8:1). What is he to be valued at?” If it could be proved that the verse was not Isaiah’s, it is at least the reflection of a devout mind in harmony with his.