Isaiah 1:31
And the strong shall be as tow, and the maker of it as a spark, and they shall both burn together, and none shall quench them.
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(31) The maker of it as a spark.—Better, his work as a spark. The sin itself becomes the instrument of destruction. The mighty and the proud, who were foremost in the work of idolatry, and who did not repent, should perish with their work—i.e., with the idol which their hands had made. The tow and the spark are chosen as representing the most rapid form of combustion.

Isaiah 1:31. And the strong — The wisest, strongest, or richest persons among you, who think to secure themselves against the threatened danger by their wisdom, wealth, or power, and much more they that are weak and helpless; shall be as tow — Shall be as suddenly and easily consumed by God’s judgments as tow is by the fire. And the maker of it — The maker of the idol, who can neither save himself nor his workmanship; as a spark — To set it on fire: by his sin he shall bring himself to ruin. Or, as פעלו לניצוצ, may be rendered, his work shall become a spark, shall be the cause of his destruction. “The words are elegant, and the meaning of them is, that the rich, the powerful, the great, (meant by the word החסן, which we render strong,) who seemed like a lofty and well-rooted oak, shall perish with their works: for their works, their great and wicked undertakings, by which they had sought safety, like sparks, shall set them on fire and consume them like tow. They shall perish, like fools, by their own devices. The very works themselves, which they had raised for the glory and preservation of themselves and their republic, shall be turned into the very cause of their destruction. Vitringa thinks the prophet alludes to the destruction of their state and temple by the Romans.” — Dodd.

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?And the strong - Those who have been thought to be strong, on whom the people relied for protection and defense - their rulers, princes, and the commanders of their armies.

As tow - The coarse or broken part of flax, or hemp. It means here that which shall be easily and quickly kindled and rapidly consumed. As tow burns and is destroyed at the touch of fire, so shall the rulers of the people be consumed by the approaching calamities.

And the maker of it - This is an unhappy translation. The word פעלו po‛ălô may be indeed a participle, and be rendered 'its maker,' but it is more commonly a noun, and means his work, or his action. This is its plain meaning here. So the Latin Vulgate, the Septuagint, and the Chaldee. It means, that as a spark enkindles tow, so the works or deeds of a wicked nation shall be the occasion or cause of their destruction. The ambition of one man is the cause of his ruin; the sensuality of a second is the cause of his; the avarice of a third is the cause of his. These passions, insatiable and ungratified, shall be the occasion of the deep and eternal sorrows of hell. So it means here, that the crimes and hypocrisy of the nation would be the real cause of all the calamities that would come upon them as a people.

Shall both burn together - The spark and the flame from the kindled flax mingle, and make one fire. So the people and their works would be enkindled and destroyed together. They would burn so rapidly, that nothing could extinguish them. The meaning is, that the nation would be punished; and that all their works of idolatry and monuments of sin would be the occasion of their punishment, and would perish at the same time. The "principle" involved in this passage teaches us the following things:

(1) That the wicked, however mighty, shall be destroyed.

(2) That their works will be the "cause" of their ruin - a cause necessarily leading to it.

(3) That the works of the wicked - all that they do and all on which they depend - shall be destroyed.

(4) That this destruction shall be final. Nothing shall stay the flame. No tears of penitence, no power of men or devils, shall "put out" the fires which the works of the wicked shall enkindle.

31. strong—powerful rulers (Am 2:9).

maker of it—rather, his work. He shall be at once the fuel, "tow," and the cause of the fire, by kindling the first "spark."

both—the wicked ruler, and "his work," which "is as a spark."

The strong; either,

1. Your idols, which you think to be strong, and able to defend you, as appears by your confidence in them. Or,

2. The strongest persons among you, who think to secure themselves against the threatened danger by their wealth, or power, or wisdom; and much more they that are weak and helpless.

Shall be as tow; shall be as suddenly and easily consumed by my judgments as tow is by fire.

The maker of it; the maker of the idol, who can neither save himself nor his workmanship. Or,

his work; either all that he doth or can do, or that which he hath done, his wicked course of life, shall bring him to ruin.

And the strong shall be as tow,.... "that strong one", who is eminently so; the little horn, whose look is more stout than his fellows, Daniel 7:20 the beast who had great power and authority given by the dragon, Revelation 13:2 who shall be cast alive into the lake of fire; when he will be like tow in those devouring flames, easily, quickly, and irrecoverably consumed, Daniel 7:11, Revelation 19:20.

and the maker of it as a spark, or "his work"; so the Targum,

"and the work of their hands shall be as a spark of fire;''

or like the embers and ashes of a coal, which are blown away and lost at once: so antichrist, and all his evil works, as well as all his evil workers under him, will be entirely consumed: or, as it may be rendered, "he that wrought him": that is, Satan, for his coming is after the working of Satan; he has his seat, power, and authority, from the dragon, the old serpent, and the devil, and may be truly called a creature of his, 2 Thessalonians 2:9.

and they shall both burn together; both the pope and the devil in the lake of fire and brimstone, into which they will both be cast, Revelation 20:10.

and none shall quench them; that fire will be unquenchable and everlasting; they will be tormented for ever and ever, and so will all the worshippers of the beast, Matthew 25:41. The Chaldee paraphrase is,

"so the wicked shall be consumed, and their evil works, and there shall be no mercy upon them.''

And the strong shall be as a {p} wick, and its maker as a spark, and they shall both burn together, and none shall quench them.

(p) The false god's in which you put your confidence will be consumed as easily as a piece of wick.

Verse 31. - The strong (literally, the strong one) shall be as tow; i.e. weak and powerless (comp. Judges 16:9), utterly unable to resist the Divine fiat when it goes forth. The maker of it. An extraordinary mistranslation, since po'al never means anything but "work." His own acts would light the fire by which the "strong one" would be consumed and perish.

"Nec lex justior ulla est,
Quam necis artifices arts perire sua."

Isaiah 1:31Isaiah 1:31 shows in a third figure where this spark was to come from: "And the rich man becomes tow, and his work the spark; and they will both burn together, and no one extinguishes them." The form poalo suggests at first a participial meaning (its maker), but החסון would be a very unusual epithet to apply to an idol. Moreover, the figure itself would be a distorted one, since the natural order would be, that the idol would be the thing that kindled the fire, and the man the object to be set on fire, and not the reverse. We therefore follow the lxx, Targ., and Vulg., with Gesenius and other more recent grammarians, and adopt the rendering "his work" (opus ejus). The forms פּעלו and פּעלו (cf., Isaiah 52:14 and Jeremiah 22:13) are two equally admissible changes of the ground-form פעלו (פּעלו). As Isaiah 1:29 refers to idolatrous worship, poalo (his work) is an idol, a god made by human hands (cf., Isaiah 2:8; Isaiah 37:19, etc.). The prosperous idolater, who could give gold and silver for idolatrous images out of the abundance of his possessions (Châson is to be interpreted in accordance with Isaiah 33:6), becomes tow (talm. "the refuse of flax:" the radical meaning is to shake out, viz., in combing), and the idol the spark which sets this mass of fibre in flames, so that they are both irretrievably consumed. For the fire of judgment, by which sinners are devoured, need not come from without. Sin carries the fire of indignation within itself. And an idol is, as it were, an idolater's sin embodied and exposed to the light of day.

The date of the composition of this first prophecy is a puzzle. Caspari thoroughly investigated every imaginary possibility, and at last adopted the conclusion that it dates from the time of Uzziah, inasmuch as Isaiah 1:7-9 do not relate to an actual, but merely to an ideal, present. But notwithstanding all the acuteness with which Caspari has worked out his view, it still remains a very forced one. The oftener we return to the reading of this prophetic address, the stronger is our impression that Isaiah 1:7-9 contain a description of the state of things which really existed at the time when the words were spoken. There were actually two devastations of the land of Judah which occurred during the ministry of Isaiah, and in which Jerusalem was only spared by the miraculous interposition of Jehovah: one under Ahaz in the year of the Syro-Ephraimitish war; the other under Hezekiah, when the Assyrian forces laid the land waste but were scattered at last in their attack upon Jerusalem. The year of the Syro-Ephraimitish war is supported by Gesenius, Rosenmller (who expresses a different opinion in every one of the three editions of his Scholia), Maurer, Movers, Knobel, Hvernick, and others; the time of the Assyrian oppression by Hitzig, Umbreit, Drechsler, and Luzzatto. Now, whichever of these views we may adopt, there will still remain, as a test of its admissiblity, the difficult question, How did this prophecy come to stand at the head of the book, if it belonged to the time of Uzziah-Jotham? This question, upon which the solution of the difficulty depends, can only be settled when we come to Isaiah 6:1-13. Till then, the date of the composition of chapter 1 must be left undecided. It is enough for the present to know, that, according to the accounts given in the books of Kings and Chronicles, there were two occasions when the situation of Jerusalem resembled the one described in the present chapter.

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