Isaiah 10:1
Woe unto them that decree unrighteous decrees, and that write grievousness which they have prescribed;
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(1) Woe unto them that decree unrighteous decrees . . .—The division of the chapters is again misleading. Isaiah 10:1-4 continue the discourse of Isaiah 9, and end with the final knell, “For all this . . .” With Isaiah 10:5 a new section begins, and is carried on to Isaiah 12:6, which deals, for the first time in the collection of Isaiah’s writings, exclusively with Assyria, and is followed in its turn by utterances that deal with Babylon and other nations. The formula with which the section opens reminds us of that of Isaiah 5:8; Isaiah 5:11; Isaiah 5:18; Isaiah 5:22, and suggests the thought that the prophet is speaking not only or chiefly of the northern kingdom, as in Isaiah 9:21, but of Israel as including Judah. The evils the prophet denounces are, it will be noted, identical with those in Isaiah 1:23; Isaiah 5:23. For the second clause of the verse, read, “and the scribes who register oppression.” All the formalities of justice were observed punctiliously. The decision of the unjust judge was duly given and recorded, but the outcome of it all was that the poor, the widow, and the fatherless got no redress. The words for “prey” and “rob” are those used in the mysterious name of Isaiah 8:1. They occur again in Isaiah 10:6. It would seem as if the prophet sought in this way to impress the thought of the great law of divine retribution. Men were reaping as they had sown.

Isaiah 10:1-2. Wo, &c. — The first four verses of this chapter are closely connected with the foregoing, and ought to have been joined thereto, being a continuation of the subject treated of in it. We have here the fourth evil charged on the people, and the punishment of it. The sin complained of is the injustice of the magistrates and judges, who decreed unrighteous decrees — That is, made unjust laws, and gave forth unjust sentences, which is termed in the next clause, writing grievousness, or grievous things, edicts which caused grief and vexation to their subjects. To turn aside the needy from judgment — From obtaining a just sentence, because these rulers and judges either denied or delayed to hear their causes, or when they heard them decided unjustly; to take away the right from the poor — Whom I have, in a special manner, committed to your care; of my people — Whom I had taken into covenant with myself; and therefore this is an injury, not only to them, but also to me. The punishment assigned to this iniquity is, that they should be absolutely deserted and deprived of all help and protection from God, whose laws they had so shamefully perverted; and should perish miserably before their enemies, who should come from far.

10:1-4 These verses are to be joined with the foregoing chapter. Woe to the superior powers that devise and decree unrighteous decrees! And woe to the inferior officers that draw them up, and enter them on record! But what will sinners do? Whither will they flee?Wo unto them that decree unrighteous decrees - To those who frame statutes that are oppressive and iniquitous. The prophet here refers, doubtless, to the rulers and judges of the land of Judea. A similar description he had before given; Isaiah 1:10, Isaiah 1:23, ...

And that write ... - Hebrew, 'And to the writers who write violence.' The word translated "grievousness," עמל ‛âmâl, denotes properly "wearisome labor, trouble, oppression, injustice." Here, it evidently refers to the judges who declared oppressive and unjust sentences, and caused them to be recorded. It does not refer to the mere scribes, or recorders of the judicial opinions, but to the judges themselves, who pronounced the sentence, and caused it to be recorded. The manner of making Eastern decrees differs from ours: they are first written, and then the magistrate authenticates them, or annuls them. This, I remember, is the Arab manner, according to D'Arvieux. When an Arab wanted a favor of the emir, the way was to apply to the secretary, who drew up a decree according to the request of the party; if the emir granted the favor, he printed his seal upon it; if not, he returned it torn to the petitioner. Sir John Chardin confirms this account, and applies it, with great propriety, to the illustration of a passage which I never thought of when I read over D'Arvieux. After citing Isaiah 10:1, 'Wo unto them that decree unrighteous decrees, and to the writers that write grievousness,' for so our translators have rendered the latter part of the verse in the margin, much more agreeably than in the body of the version, Sir John goes on, 'The manner of making the royal acts and ordinances hath a relation to this; they are always drawn up according to the request; the first minister, or he whose office it is, writes on the side of it, "according to the king's will," and from thence it is sent to the secretary of state, who draws up the order in form.' - Harmer.


Isa 10:1-4. Fourth strophe.

1. them that decree—namely, unrighteous judges.

write grievousness, &c.—not the scribes, but the magistrates who caused unjust decisions (literally, "injustice" or "grievousness") to be recorded by them (Isa 65:6) [Maurer], (Isa 1:10, 23).The woe of unjust oppressors, Isaiah 10:1-4: of Assyria for their pride and ambition: his folly in it, Isaiah 10:5-19. A remnant of Israel shall be saved, and that speedily, Isaiah 10:20-27. Sennacherib marching toward Jerusalem, Isaiah 10:28-31. His judgment, Isaiah 10:32-34.

Woe unto them that decree unrighteous decrees! unto those magistrates who make unjust laws, and give unjust sentences.

That write; either,

1. The scribes, who were assistant to the magistrates, and ofttimes did promote or execute such decrees; or,

2. The unjust magistrates, whose decrees were usually written. So the same thing is repeated in other words. Only this writing may note their obstinacy or perseverance in their unjust decrees, and their proceeding to the execution of them.

Grievousness; grievous things, such unjust decrees as cause grief and vexation to their subjects.

Woe unto them that decree unrighteous decrees,.... Or, "O ye that decree", &c. being a sign of the vocative case, and an interjection of calling, as Aben Ezra observes; though the Targum and other versions understand it of a threatening denounced; and is to be understood as lying against lawgivers and judges, political rulers and governors of the people, that made unrighteous laws; laws which were not agreeable to the law of God, nor right reason; and were injurious to the persons and properties of men; and which were calculated for the oppression of good men, especially the poor, and for the protection of wicked men, who made no conscience of spoiling them:

and that write grievousness which they have prescribed; laws grievous and intolerable being made by them, they wrote them, or ordered them to be written, to be engrossed and promulgated, published them, and obliged the people to be subject to them. This some understand of the scribes of judges, who sat in court, and wrote out the decrees and sentences made by them; but it rather intends the same persons as before; and not ecclesiastical but political governors are meant, and such as lived before the Babylonish captivity; or otherwise the whole is applicable to the Scribes and Pharisees, to the Misnic doctors, the authors of the oral law, the fathers of tradition, whose decisions and decrees were unrighteous and injurious, and contrary to the commands of God; heavy burdens, and grievous to be borne, and very oppressive of the poor, the fatherless, and the widow; for which they are reproved by Christ, Matthew 15:3 Jarchi says it is an Arabic (g) word, which signifies scribes.

(g) So and Scriba, Golius, col. 1999; so the word is used in the Chaldee and Syriac languages. See Castel. col. 1828, 1829.

Woe to them that decree unrighteous decrees, and that {a} write grievousness which they have prescribed;

(a) Who write and pronounce a wicked sentence to oppress the people: meaning, that the wicked magistrate, who were the chief cause of mischief, would be first punished.

1. that decree unrighteous decrees, &c.] Better perhaps, that draw up mischievous ordinances and are continually writing oppression. The magnates are addressed not as judges but as legislators; their offence is that they embody injustice in arbitrary written enactments, which enable them to perpetrate the most grievous wrongs under legal forms.

and that write … prescribed] The construction is peculiar. The intensive form of the verb “to write” occurs only here.

1–4. Fourth strophe. Most critics consider that at this point the scene changes from Samaria to Jerusalem; (1) because the internal condition of Ephraim has already been depicted in the last stages of dissolution and (2) because the abuses here denounced are a constant feature of Isaiah’s prophecies against Judah. In the absence of positive indications these reasons are hardly sufficient to justify so abrupt a transition. It would be more plausible to hold with Giesebrecht and others that the strophe had its place originally among the “woes” of ch. 5; but this also seems unnecessary.

Verses 1-4. - The prophecy begun in Isaiah 9:8 terminates with this stanza, which contains a warning against injustice and oppression, addressed to Israel and Judah equally, and accompanied by the threat of a "day of desolation," when those who have refused to make God their Refuge will have no resource, but to go into captivity with the "prisoners," or to perish with the "slain." A foreign conquest, accompanied by slaughter, and the deportation of captives, is not obscurely intimated. Verse 1. - Woe unto them that decree unrighteous decrees (comp. Isaiah 1:17, 20, 26; Isaiah 5:23, etc.). The perversion of judgment from the judgment-seat is the sin rebuked. It was certainly prevalent in Judah, it may also have been practiced in Israel. And that write grievousness, etc. Translate, and unto the writers that enregister oppression. The decrees of courts were, it is clear, carefully engrossed by the officials, probably upon parchment, every outward formality being observed, while justice itself was set at naught. Isaiah 10:1Strophe 4. "Woe unto them that decree unrighteous decrees, and to the writers who prepare trouble to force away the needy from demanding justice, and to rob the suffering of my people of their rightful claims, that widows may become their prey, and they plunder orphans! And what will ye do in the day of visitation, and in the storm that cometh from afar? To whom will ye flee for help? and where will ye deposit your glory? There is nothing left but to bow down under prisoners, and they fall under the slain. With all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still." This last strophe is directed against the unjust authorities and judges. The woe pronounced upon them is, as we have already frequently seen, Isaiah's Ceterum censeo. Châkak is their decisive decree (not, however, in a denominative sense, but in the primary sense of hewing in, recording in official documents, Isaiah 30:8; Job 19:23); and Cittēb (piel only occurring here, and a perfect, according to Gesenius, 126, 3) their official signing and writing. Their decrees are Chikekē 'aven (an open plural, as in Judges 5:15, for Chukkē, after the analogy of גללי, עממי, with an absolute Chăkâkim underlying it: Ewald, 186-7), inasmuch as their contents were worthlessness, i.e., the direct opposite of morality; and what they wrote out was ‛âmâl, trouble, i.e., an unjust oppression of the people (compare πόνος and πονηρός).

(Note: The current accentuation, ומכתבים mercha, עמל tiphchah, is wrong. The true accentuation would be the former with tiphchah (and metheg), the latter with mercha; for ‛âmâl cittēbu is an attributive (an elliptical relative) clause. According to its etymon, ‛âmâl seems to stand by the side of μῶλος, moles, molestus (see Pott in Kuhn's Zeitschrift, ix. 202); but within the Semitic itself it stands by the side of אמל, to fade, marcescere, which coincides with the Sanscrit root mlâ and its cognates (see Leo Meyer, Vergleichende Grammatik, i. 353), so that ‛âmâl is, strictly speaking, to wear out or tire out (vulg. to worry).)

Poor persons who wanted to commence legal proceedings were not even allowed to do so, and possessions to which widows and orphans had a well-founded claim were a welcome booty to them (for the diversion into the finite verb, see Isaiah 5:24; Isaiah 8:11; Isaiah 49:5; Isaiah 58:5). For all this they could not escape the judgment of God. This is announced to them in Isaiah 10:3, in the form of three distinct questions (commencing with ūmâh, quid igitur). The noun pekuddah in the first question always signifies simply a visitation of punishment; sho'âh is a confused, dull, desolate rumbling, hence confusion (turba), desolation: here it is described as "coming from afar," because a distant nation (Asshur) was the instrument of God's wrath. Second question: "Upon whom will ye throw yourselves in your search for help then" (nūs ‛al, a constr. praegnans, only met with here)? Third question: "Where, i.e., in whose hand, will ye deposit your wealth in money and possessions" (câbōd, what is weighty in value and imposing in appearance); ‛âzab with b'yad (Genesis 39:6), or with Lamed (Job 39:14), to leave anything with a person as property in trust. No one would relieve them of their wealth, and hold it as a deposit; it was irrecoverably lost. To this negative answer there is appended the following bilti, which, when used as a preposition after a previous negation, signifies praeter; when used as a conjunction, nisi (bilti 'im, Judges 7:14); and where it governs the whole sentence, as in this case, nisi quod (cf., Numbers 11:6; Daniel 11:18). In the present instance, where the previous negation is to be supplied in thought, it has the force of nil reliquum est nisi quod (there is nothing left but). The singular verb (câra‛) is used contemptuously, embracing all the high persons as one condensed mass; and tachath does not mean aeque ac or loco (like, or in the place of), as Ewald (217, k) maintains, but is used in the primary and local sense of infra (below). Some crouch down to find room at the feet of the prisoners, who are crowded closely together in the prison; or if we suppose the prophet to have a scene of transportation in his mind, they sink down under the feet of the other prisoners, in their inability to bear such hardships, whilst the rest fall in war; and as the slaughter is of long duration, not only become corpses themselves, but are covered with corpses of the slain (cf., Isaiah 14:19). And even with this the wrath of God is not satisfied. The prophet, however, does not follow out the terrible gradation any further. Moreover, the captivity, to which this fourth strophe points, actually formed the conclusion of a distinct period.

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