Isaiah 1:29
For they shall be ashamed of the oaks which ye have desired, and ye shall be confounded for the gardens that ye have chosen.
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(29) They shall be ashamed of the oaks . . .—Better, terebinths. The words point to the groves that were so closely connected with the idolatry of Canaan, especially with the worship of the asherah, and which the people had chosen in preference to the sanctuary of Jehovah (Isaiah 17:8; Isaiah 57:5; Isaiah 66:17; Deuteronomy 16:21; 2Kings 16:4; Jeremiah 3:6). Greek worship presents the parallels of the groves of Daphne at Antioch, and those of Dodona and of the Eumenides at Colônos. The “gardens” were the precinct planted round the central tree or grove.

Isaiah 1:29. For they shall be ashamed — He does not speak of an ingenuous and penitential shame for sin, but of an involuntary and penal shame for the disappointment of the hopes which they had placed in their idols; of the oaks which ye have desired — Which, after the manner of the heathen, you have consecrated to idolatrous uses. Of what particular kind the trees here mentioned were, cannot be determined with certainty. The Hebrew word אלה, here used, is rendered ilex by Bishop Lowth, which properly means the scarlet oak. Others think the terebinth-tree was intended. And ye shall be confounded for the gardens, &c. — In which, as well as in the groves, they practised idolatry: see Isaiah 65:3; and Isaiah 66:17. “Sacred groves,” the reader will observe, “were a very ancient and favourite appendage of idolatry. They were furnished with the temple of the god to whom they were dedicated; with altars, images, and every thing necessary for performing the various rites of worship offered there; and were the scenes of many impure ceremonies, and of much abominable superstition. They made a principal part of the religion of the old inhabitants of Canaan; and the Israelites were commanded to destroy their groves, among other monuments of their false worship. The Israelites themselves, however, became afterward very much addicted to this species of idolatry:” see Ezekiel 20:28; Hosea 4:13. Bishop Lowth.

1:21-31 Neither holy cities nor royal ones are faithful to their trust, if religion does not dwell in them. Dross may shine like silver, and the wine that is mixed with water may still have the colour of wine. Those have a great deal to answer for, who do not help the oppressed, but oppress them. Men may do much by outward restraints; but only God works effectually by the influences of his Spirit, as a Spirit of Judgment. Sin is the worst captivity, the worst slavery. The redemption of the spiritual Zion, by the righteousness and death of Christ, and by his powerful grace, most fully accord with what is here meant. Utter ruin is threatened. The Jews should become as a tree when blasted by heat; as a garden without water, which in those hot countries would soon be burned up. Thus shall they be that trust in idols, or in an arm of flesh. Even the strong man shall be as tow; not only soon broken, and pulled to pieces, but easily catching fire. When the sinner has made himself as tow and stubble, and God makes himself as a consuming fire, what can prevent the utter ruin of the sinner?For they shall be ashamed - That is, when they see the punishment that their idolatry has brought upon them, they shall be ashamed of the folly and degradation of their worship. Moreover, the gods in which they trusted shall yield them no protection, and shall leave them to the disgrace and confusion of being forsaken and abandoned.

Of the oaks - Groves, in ancient times, were the favorite places of idolatrous worship. In the city of Rome, there were thirty-two groves consecrated to the gods. Those were commonly selected which were on hills, or high places; and they were usually furnished with temples, altars, and all the implements of idolatrous worship. Different kinds of groves were selected for this purpose, by different people. The Druids of the ancient Celtic nations in Gaul, Britain, and Germany, offered their worship in groves of oak - hence the name Druid, derived from δρῦς drus, an oak. Frequent mention is made in the Scriptures of groves and high places; and the Jews were forbidden to erect them; Deuteronomy 16:21; 1 Kings 16:23; 2 Kings 16:4; Ezekiel 6:13; Ezekiel 16:16, Ezekiel 16:39; Exodus 34:13; Judges 3:7; 1 Kings 18:19; Isaiah 17:8; Micah 5:14. When, therefore, it is said here, that they should be ashamed of the oaks, it means that they should be ashamed of their idolatrous worship, to which they were much addicted, and into which, under their wicked kings, they easily fell.

Their calamities were coming upon them mainly for this idolatry. It is not certainly known what species of tree is intended by the word translated oaks. The Septuagint has rendered it by the word "idols" - ἀπὸ τῶν εἰδώλων αὐτῶν apo tōn eidōlōn autōn. The Chaldee, 'ye shall be confounded by the groves of idols.' The Syriac version also has idols. Most critics concur in supposing that it means, not the oak, but the terebinth or turpentine tree - a species of fir. This tree is the Pistacia Terebinthus of Linnaeus, or the common turpentine tree, whose resin or juice is the China or Cyprus turpentine, used in medicine. The tree grows to a great age, and is common in Palestine. The terebinth - now called in Palestine the but'm-tree - 'is not an evergreen, as is often represented; but its small, leathered, lancet-shaped leaves fall in the autumn, and are renewed in the spring.

The flowers are small, and are followed by small oval berries, hanging in clusters from two to five inches long, resembling much the clusters of the vine when the grapes are just set. From incisions in the trunk there is said to flow a sort of transparent balsam, constituting a very pure and fine species of turpentine, with an agreeable odor like citron or jessamine, and a mild taste, and hardening gradually into a transparent gum. The tree is found also in Asia Minor, Greece, Italy, the south of France, and in the north of Africa, and is described as not usually rising to the height of more than twenty feet.' Robinson's Bib. Researches, iii. 15, 16. It produces the nuts called the pistachio nuts. They have a pleasant, unctuous taste, resembling that of almonds, and they yield in abundance a sweet and pleasant oil. The best Venice turpentine, which, when it can be obtained pure, is superior to all the rest of its kind, is the produce of this tree. The picture in the book will give you an idea of the appearance of the terebinth. The Hebrew word אילים 'ēylı̂ym, from איל 'eyl, or more commonly אלה 'ēlâh, seems to be used sometimes as the Greek δρῦς drus is, to denote any large tree, whether evergreen or not; and especially any large tree, or cluster of trees, where the worship of idols was celebrated.

Which ye have desired - The Jews, until the captivity at Babylon, as all their history shows, easily relapsed into idolatry. The meaning of the prophet is, that the punishment at Babylon would be so long and so severe as to make them ashamed of this, and turn them from it.

Shall be confounded - Another word meaning to be ashamed.

For the gardens - The places planted with trees, etc., in which idolatrous worship was practiced. 'In the language of the Hebrews, every place where plants and trees were cultivated with greater care than in the open field, was called a garden. The idea of such an enclosure was certainly borrowed from the garden of Eden, which the bountiful Creator planted for the reception of his favorite creature. The garden of Hesperides, in Eastern fables, was protected by an enormous serpent; and the gardens of Adonis, among the Greeks, may be traced to the same origin, for the terms horti Adenides, the gardens of Adonis, were used by the ancients to signify gardens of pleasure, which corresponds with the name of Paradise, or the garden of Eden, as horti Adonis answers to the garden of the Lord. Besides, the gardens of primitive nations were commonly, if not in every instance, devoted to religious purposes. In these shady retreats were celebrated, for a long succession of ages, the rites of pagan superstition.' - Paxton. These groves or gardens were furnished with the temple of the god that was worshipped, and with altars, and with everything necessary for this species of worship. They were usually, also, made as shady and dark as possible, to inspire the worshippers with religious awe and reverence on their entrance; compare the note at Isaiah 66:17.

29. ashamed—(Ro 6:21).

oaks—Others translate the "terebinth" or "turpentine tree." Groves were dedicated to idols. Our Druids took their name from the Greek for "oaks." A sacred tree is often found in Assyrian sculpture; symbol of the starry hosts, Saba.

gardens—planted enclosures for idolatry; the counterpart of the garden of Eden.

They shall be ashamed; not with an ingenuous and penitential shame for the sin, but with an involuntary and penal shame for the disappointment of their hopes which they had in their idols.

Which ye have desired; which, after the manner of the heathen, you have consecrated to idolatrous uses, that under them you might worship your idols, as they did, Ezekiel 6:13 Hosea 4:13: see also Isaiah 57:5 Jeremiah 2:20 3:6.

The gardens; in which, as well as in the groves, they committed idolatry; of which we read Isaiah 65:3 66:17.

That ye have chosen, to wit, for the place of your worship, which is opposed to the place which God had chosen and appointed for his worship.

For they shall be ashamed of the oaks which ye have desired,.... Though there is a change of persons in the words, the same are intended; and design such, who being convinced of the idolatries of the church of Rome they have been fond of, and delighted in, will be ashamed of them, and relinquish them, and come out of Babylon a little before the destruction of it; for under oaks, and such like green trees, idolatry used to be committed, to which the allusion is; see Jeremiah 2:20 and so the Targum interprets it of "trees of idols"; that is, under which idolatry was practised:

and ye shall be confounded for the gardens ye have chosen; where also idolatrous practices were used, see Isaiah 65:3 and so the Targum paraphrases it,

"and ye shall be ashamed of the gardens of idols, from whom ye have sought help.''

The sense is the same as before; unless both clauses should rather be understood of the destruction of sinners, before spoken of, who at that time will be filled with shame and confusion, they in vain praying to their idols for help; which sense the following words incline to.

For they shall be ashamed of the {o} oaks which ye have desired, and ye shall be confounded for the gardens that ye have chosen.

(o) That is, the trees and pleasant places where you commit idolatry which was forbidden De 16:22.

29. they shall be ashamed] Some MSS. and Ancient Versions have the second person, possibly a mere correction.

oaks] terebinths. These and the gardens are emblems not of luxury, but of nature-worship. On “gardens” as seats of heathenish cults, see Isaiah 65:3, Isaiah 66:17. The worship of sacred trees and sacred wells (which were probably the numina of the gardens [Duhm], see Isaiah 1:30) are two of the most widely diffused and persistent forms of nature-worship, and are not extinct in Syria at the present day.

29–31. The judgment will also bring about a purification of religion, by revealing the folly of trusting in other deities than Jehovah.

Verse 29. - The oaks which ye have desired are, primarily, the "green trees" under which images were set up (2 Kings 17:10), but perhaps represent also any worldly attractions which draw the soul away from God - as wealth, or power, or honors. In the day of suffering, sinners are ashamed of having been led away by such poor temptations as those to which they have yielded (comp. Romans 6:21, "What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed?"). The gardens. Kay suggests "idolatrous pleasure-gardens as those at Daphne, near Antioch, "which is a reasonable exegesis. Such were probably to be found wherever Astarte, or the "Dea Syra," was worshipped. Isaiah 1:29Isaiah 1:29 declares how God's judgment of destruction would fall upon all of these. The v. is introduced with an explanatory "for" (Chi): "For they become ashamed of the terebinths, in which ye had your delight; and ye must blush for the gardens, in which ye took pleasure." The terebinths and gardens (the second word with the article, as in Habakkuk 3:8, first binharim, then banneharim) are not referred to as objects of luxury, as Hitzig and Drechsler assume, but as unlawful places of worship and objects of worship (see Deuteronomy 16:21). They are both of them frequently mentioned by the prophets in this sense (Isaiah 57:5; Isaiah 65:3; Isaiah 66:17): Châmor and bâchar are also the words commonly applied to an arbitrary choice of false gods (Isaiah 44:9; Isaiah 41:24; Isaiah 66:3), and bosh min is the general phrase used to denote the shame which falls upon idolaters, when the worthlessness of their idols becomes conspicuous through their impotence. On the difference between bosh and Châpher, see the comm. on Psalm 35:4.

(Note: It is perfectly certain that Châpher (Arab. Chaphira, as distinguished from Châphar, hafara, to dig) signifies to blush, erubescere; but the combination of bosh and yâbash (bâda), which would give albescere or expallescere (to turn white or pale) as the primary idea of bosh, has not only the Arabic use of bayyada and ibyadda (to rejoice, be made glad) against it, but above all the dialectic bechath, bahita (bahuta), which, when taken in connection with bethath (batta), points rather to the primary idea of being cut off (abscindi: cf., spes abscissa). See Lane's Arabic-English Lexicon, i.263.)

The word elim is erroneously translated "idols" in the Septuagint and other ancient versions. The feeling which led to this, however, was a correct one, since the places of worship really stand for the idols worshipped in those places.

(Note: With regard to the derivation, êlim, whether used in the sense of strong men, or gods, or rams, or terebinths, is still but one word, derived from ı̄l or ūl, so that in all three senses it may be written either with or without Yod. Nevertheless elim in the sense of "rams" only occurs without Yod in Job 42:8. In the sense of "gods" it is always written without Yod; in that of "strong men" with Yod. In the singular the name of the terebinth is always written elah without Yod; in the plural, however, it is written either with or without. But this no more presupposes a singular êl (ayil) in common use, than bêtzim presupposes a singular bêts (bayits); still the word êl with Yod does occur once, viz., in Genesis 14:6. Allâh and allōn, an oak, also spring from the same root, namely âlal equals il; just as in Arabic both ı̄l and ill are used for ēl (God); and âl and ill, in the sense of relationship, point to a similar change in the form of the root.)

The excited state of the prophet at the close of his prophecy is evinced by his abrupt leap from an exclamation to a direct address (Ges. 137, Anm. 3).

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