Isaiah 10:1
Woe to them that decree unrighteous decrees, and that write grievousness which they have prescribed;
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
X.

(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.

CHAPTER 10

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.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
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. Strophe 2. "But the people turneth not unto Him that smiteth it, and they seek not Jehovah of hosts. Therefore Jehovah rooteth out of Israel head and tail, palm-branch and rush, in one day. Elders and highly distinguished men, this is the head; and prophets, lying teachers, this is the tail. The leaders of this people have become leaders astray, and their followers swallowed up. Therefore the Lord will not rejoice in their young men, and will have no compassion on their orphans and widows: for all together are profligate and evil-doers, and every mouth speaketh blasphemy. With all this His anger is not turned away, and His hand is stretched out still." As the first stage of the judgments has been followed by no true conversion to Jehovah the almighty judge, there comes a second. עד שׁוּב (to turn unto) denotes a thorough conversion, not stopping half-way. "The smiter of it" (hammaccēhu), or "he who smiteth it," it Jehovah (compare, on the other hand, Isaiah 10:20, where Asshur is intended). The article and suffix are used together, as in Isaiah 24:2; Proverbs 16:4 (vid., Ges. 110, 2; Caspari, Arab. Gram. 472). But there was coming now a great day of punishment (in the view of the prophet, it was already past), such as Israel experienced more than once in the Assyrian oppressions, and Judah in the Chaldean, when head and tail, or, according to another proverbial expression, palm-branch and rush, would be rooted out. We might suppose that the persons referred to were the high and low; but Isaiah 9:15 makes a different application of the first double figure, by giving it a different turn from its popular sense (compare the Arabic er-ru 'ūs w-aledhnâb equals lofty and low, in Dietrich, Abhandlung, p. 209). The opinion which has very widely prevailed since the time of Koppe, that this v. is a gloss, is no doubt a very natural one (see Hitzig, Begriff der Kritik; Ewald, Propheten, i. 57). But Isaiah's custom of supplying his own gloss is opposed to such a view; also Isaiah's composition in Isaiah 3:3 and Isaiah 30:20, and the relation in which this v. stands to Isaiah 9:16; and lastly, the singular character of the gloss itself, which is one of the strongest proofs that it contains the prophet's exposition of his own words. The chiefs of the nation were the head of the national body; and behind, like a wagging dog's tail, sat the false prophets with their flatteries of the people, loving, as Persius says, blando caudam jactare popello. The prophet drops the figure of Cippâh, the palm-branch which forms the crown of the palm, and which derives its name from the fact that it resembles the palm of the hand (instar palmae manus), and agmōn, the rush which grows in the marsh.

(Note: The noun agam is used in the Old Testament as well as in the Talmud to signify both a marshy place (see Baba mesi'a 36b, and more especially Aboda zara 38a, where giloi agmah signifies the laying bare of the marshy soil by the burning up of the reeds), and also the marsh grass (Sabbath 11a, "if all the agmim were kalams, i.e., writing reeds, or pens;" and Kiddsin 62b, where agam signifies a talk of marsh-grass or reed, a rush or bulrush, and is explained, with a reference to Isaiah 58:5, as signifying a tender, weak stalk). The noun agmon, on the other hand, signifies only the stalk of the marsh-grass, or the marsh-grass itself; and in this sense it is not found in the Talmud (see Comm on Job, at Isaiah 41:10-13). The verbal meaning upon which these names are founded is evident from the Arabic mâ āgim (magūm), "bad water" (see at Isaiah 19:10). There is no connection between this and maugil, literally a depression of the soil, in which water lodges for a long time, and which is only dried up in summer weather.)

The allusion here is to the rulers of the nation and the dregs of the people. The basest extremity were the demagogues in the shape of prophets. For it had come to this, as Isaiah 9:16 affirms, that those who promised to lead by a straight road led astray, and those who suffered themselves to be led by them were as good as already swallowed up by hell (cf., Isaiah 5:14; Isaiah 3:12). Therefore the Sovereign Ruler would not rejoice over the young men of this nation; that is to say, He would suffer them to be smitten by their enemies, without going with them to battle, and would refuse His customary compassion even towards widows and orphans, for they were all thoroughly corrupt on every side. The alienation, obliquity, and dishonesty of their heart, are indicated by the word Chânēph (from Chânaph, which has in itself the indifferent radical idea of inclination; so that in Arabic, Chanı̄f, as a synonym of ‛âdil,

(Note: This is the way in which it should be written in Comm on Job, at Isaiah 13:16; ‛adala has also the indifferent meaning of return or decision.)

has the very opposite meaning of decision in favour of what is right); the badness of their actions by מרע (in half pause for מרע

(Note: Nevertheless this reading is also met with, and according to Masora finalis, p. 52, Colossians 8, this is the correct reading (as in Proverbs 17:4, where it is doubtful whether the meaning is a friend or a malevolent person). The question is not an unimportant one, as we may see from Olshausen, 258, p. 581.)

equals מרע, maleficus); the vicious infatuation of their words by nebâlâh. This they are, and this they continue; and consequently the wrathful hand of God is stretched out over them for the infliction of fresh strokes.

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