That you shall take up this proverb against the king of Babylon, and say, How has the oppressor ceased! the golden city ceased!
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)That thou shalt take up this proverb against the king of Babylon.—The prophet appears once more (comp. Isaiah 5:1; Isaiah 12:1) in his character as a psalmist. In the mashal or taunting-song that follows, the generic meaning of “proverb” is specialised (as in Micah 2:4; Habakkuk 2:6; Deuteronomy 28:37, 1Kings 9:7, and elsewhere) for a derisive utterance in poetic or figurative speech. The LXX., singularly enough, renders the word here by “lamentation.”
How hath the oppressor ceased.—If we take “the golden city” of the English version as the correct rendering, it finds a parallel in the epithet of “gold abounding” applied to Babylon by Æschylus (Pers. 53). The word so translated is, however, not found elsewhere, and the general consensus of recent critics, following in the wake of the Targum and the LXX., is in favour of the rendering, the task-master, or the place of torture. The Vulgate, how has the tribute ceased, expresses substantially the same thought. The marginal reading, exactress of gold, seems like an attempt to combine two different etymologies.Exodus 20:7; Exodus 23:1; Psalm 15:2.
This proverb - (המשׁל hamâshâl). Vulgate, 'Parable.' Septuagint Τὸν ρῆνον ton thrēnon - 'Lamentation.' The Hebrew word משׁל mâshâl, usually rendered "proverb," is also rendered "a parable," or "a by-word." It properly denotes "a metaphor, a comparison, a similitude;" and is applied usually to a brief and pungent sentiment or maxim, where wisdom is embodied in few words. In these the ancients abounded. They had few books; and hence arose the necessity of condensing as much as possible the sentiments of wisdom, that they might be easily remembered, and transmitted to future times. These maxims were commonly expressed in figurative language, or by a brief comparison, or short parable, as they are with us. The word also means, figurative discourse generally; and hence, a song or poem Numbers 23:7, Numbers 23:18; Job 27:1; Job 29:1; Psalm 49:5. It is also used to denote a satire, or a song of triumph over enemies Micah 2:4; Hebrews 4:6; Joel 2:17. It is evidently used in this sense here - to denote a taunting speech, a song of triumph over the prostrate king of Babylon. In this beautiful song, there are all the elements of the most pungent satire, and all the beauties of the highest poetry.
Against the king of Babylon - Over the king of Babylon, or in regard to him. It is not certain that any particular king of Babylon is here intended. If there was, it was probably Belshazzar, in whose reign the city was taken (see the notes at Isaiah 14:22). It may, however, be designed to denote the Babylonian empire - the kingdom that had oppressed the Jews; and thus the king may be referred to as the head of the nation, and as the representative of the whole people.
How hath the oppressor ceased! - The word 'oppressor' (נגשׂ nogēs') denotes, properly, the "exactor of tribute," and refers here to the fact that Babylon had oppressed its dependent provinces, by exacting large revenues from them, and thus cruelly oppressing them.
Ceased - Ceased to exact tribute; or (Hebrew) 'is at rest.' It is now at rest, and no more puts forth its power in oppressing its dependent provinces.
The golden city - Babylon. The word used here (מדהבה madehēbâh) occurs nowhere else in the Bible. According to the Jewish Commentators, it means "an exactress of gold," as if derived from דהב dehab, used for זהב zehab, gold. Gesenius and Michaelis prefer another reading (מרהבה marehēbâh), from (רהב râhab), and suppose that it means oppression. The Vulgate renders it "tribute" - 'The tribute hath ceased.' The Septuagint Ἐπισπουδαστής Epispoudastēs - 'Solicitor, or exactor (of gold).' Vitringa supposes that the word means "gold," and that it refers to the golden scepter of its kings that had now ceased to be swayed over the prostrate nations. The most probable sense is, that it means the exactress of gold, or of tribute. This best expresses the force of the word, and best agrees with the parallelism. In this sense it does not refer to the magnificence of the city, but to its oppressive acts in demanding tribute of gold from its dependent provinces.
"It moves in lengthened elegiac measure like a song of lamentation for the dead, and is full of lofty scorn" [Herder].
Isa 14:4-8. A Chorus of Jews Express Their Joyful Surprise at Babylon's Downfall.
The whole earth rejoices; the cedars of Lebanon taunt him.
4. proverb—The Orientals, having few books, embodied their thoughts in weighty, figurative, briefly expressed gnomes. Here a taunting song of triumph (Mic 2:4; Hab 2:6).
the king—the ideal representative of Babylon; perhaps Belshazzar (Da 5:1-31). The mystical Babylon is ultimately meant.
golden city—rather, "the exactress of gold" [Maurer]. But the old translators read differently in the Hebrew, "oppression," which the parallelism favors (compare Isa 3:5).Shalt take up into thy mouth, as it is fully expressed, Psalm 50:16.
How hath the oppressor ceased! this is spoken by way of astonishment and triumph. Who would have thought this possible?
The golden city, as they used to call themselves; which therefore he expresseth here in a word of their own language.
and say, how hath the oppressor ceased! he who oppressed us, and other nations, exacted tribute of us, and of others, and made us to serve with hard bondage, how is he come to nothing? by what means is he brought to ruin; by whom is this accomplished? who has been the author of it, and by whom effected? this is said as wondering how it should be brought about, and rejoicing that so it was:
the golden city ceased! the city of Babylon, full of gold, drawn thither from the various parts of the world, called a golden cup, Jeremiah 51:7 and the Babylonish monarchy, in the times of Nebuchadnezzar, was signified by a golden head, Daniel 2:32 so mystical Babylon, or the Romish antichrist, is represented as decked with gold, and having a golden cup in her hand; and as a city abounding with gold, Revelation 17:4. The word here used is a Chaldee or Syriac word (x), and perhaps is what was used by themselves, and is the name by which they called this city, and is now tauntingly returned; the word city is not in the text, but supplied. Some render "tribute" (y), a golden pension, a tribute of gold, which was exacted of the nations in subjection, but now ceased; and when that tyrant and oppressor, the Romish antichrist, shall cease that tribute which he exacts of the nations of the earth will cease also, as tithes, first fruits, annates, Peter's pence, &c.That thou shalt take up this proverb against the king of Babylon, and say, How hath the oppressor ceased! the golden city ceased!
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)4. this proverb] The Hebrew word (mâshâl) is used in a variety of senses. Originally signifying a similitude, it came naturally to denote a popular proverb or gnomic saying, and finally acquired the sense of a satire or taunt-song, as here (Habakkuk 2:6; Numbers 21:27). In ancient Israel wit seems to have passed into sarcasm as readily as in more recent times. The poem which follows might with equal propriety be described as a dirge (qînah, θρῆνος in LXX.), commencing as it does with the characteristic word ’êkh, and exhibiting the peculiarity of the elegiac measure (the line is broken by a cæsura in such a manner that the second member is shorter than the first. See on ch. Isaiah 1:21). Such ironical elegies are common in the prophets of the exile. Another striking example will meet us in ch. 47.
4. The line may be rendered:
How is the oppressor stilled,—stilled the insolent rage!
The translation golden city is an attempt to render the received text, but can hardly be justified. All the ancient versions read instead of madhçbâh, marhçbâh, a word which combines the ideas of restlessness and insolence (see ch. Isaiah 3:5).
4b—8. The first strophe is like a sigh of relief breathed by the whole of creation, when the disturber of its peace has vanished from the scene.
4b—21. The song of triumph over the king of Babylon is one of the finest specimens of Hebrew poetry which the Old Testament contains. A division into five strophes, each containing seven long lines, is distinctly recognisable, and the occasional deviations from strict symmetry of form are probably due to defects in the text.Verse 4. - Thou shalt take up this proverb; rather, this parable, as the word is translated in Numbers 23, and 24; in Job 26:1; Job 29:1; Psalm 49:4; Psalm 78:2; Ezekiel 17:2; Ezekiel 20:49; Ezekiel 21:5; Ezekiel 24:3; Micah 2:4; Habakkuk 2:6; or "this taunting speech," as our translators render in the margin (see Cheyne, ad loc.; and comp. Hebrews 2:6). The golden city. There are two readings here - mad-hebah and marhebah. The latter reading was preferred anciently, and is followed by the LXX., the Syriac and Chaldee Versions, the Targums, Ewald, Gesenius, and Mr. Cheyne. It would give the meaning of" the raging one." Madhebah, however, is preferred by Rosenmüller, Vitringa, and Dr. Kay. It is supposed to mean "golden," from d'hab, the Chaldee form of the Hebrew zahob, gold. But the question is pertinent - Why should a Chaldee form have been used by a Hebrew writer ignorant of Chaldee and Chaldea? Isaiah 34:16-17. There the certainty of the prediction, even in its most minute particulars, is firmly declared; here the nearness of the time of fulfilment. But the fulfilment did not take place so soon as the words of the prophecy might make it appear. According to Herodotus, Cyrus, the leader of the Medo-Persian army, left the city still standing, with its double ring of walls. Darius Hystaspis, who had to conquer Babylon a second time in 518 b.c., had the walls entirely destroyed, with the exception of fifty cubits. Xerxes gave the last thrust to the glory of the temple of Belus. Having been conquered by Seleucus Nicator (312), it declined just in proportion as Seleucia rose. Babylon, says Pliny, ad solitudinem rediit exhausta vicinitate Seleuciae. At the time of Strabo (born 60 b.c.) Babylon was a perfect desert; and he applies to it (16:15) the words of the poet, ἐρημία μεγάλη ̓στὶν ἡ μεγάλη πόλις. Consequently, in the passage before us the prophecy falls under the law of perspective foreshortening. But all that it foretells has been literally fulfilled. The curse that Babylon would never come to be settled in and inhabited again (a poetical expression, like Jeremiah 17:25; Jeremiah 33:16), proved itself an effectual one, when Alexander once thought of making Babylon the metropolis of his empire. He was carried off by an early death. Ten thousand workmen were at that time employed for two months in simply clearing away the rubbish of the foundations of the temple of Belus (the Nimrod-tower). "Not an Arab pitches his tent there" (‛Arâbi, from ‛Arâbâh, a steppe, is used here for the first time in the Old Testament, and then again in Jeremiah 3:2; yăhēl, different from yâhēl in Isaiah 13:10 and Job 31:26, is a syncopated form of יאהל, tentorium figet, according to Ges. 68, Anm. 2, used instead of the customary יאהל): this was simply the natural consequence of the great field of ruins, upon which there was nothing but the most scanty vegetation. But all kinds of beasts of the desert and waste places make their homes there instead. The list commences with ziyyim (from zi, dryness, or from ziyi, an adj. relat. of the noun zi), i.e., dwellers in the desert; the reference here is not to men, but, as in most other instances, to animals, though it is impossible to determine what are the animals particularly referred to. That ochim are horned owls (Uhus) is a conjecture of Aurivillius, which decidedly commends itself. On benoth ya‛ănâh, see at Job 39:13-18. Wetzstein connects ya‛ănâh with an Arabic word for desert; it is probably more correct, however, to connect it with the Syriac יענא, greedy. The feminine plural embraces ostriches of both sexes, just as the 'iyyim (sing. אי equals אוי, from 'âvâh, to howl: see Bernstein's Lex. on Kirsch's Chrestom. Syr. p. 7), i.e., jackals, are called benât āwa in Arabic, without distinction of sex (awa in this appellation is a direct reproduction of the natural voice of the animal, which is called wawi in vulgar Arabic). Tan has also been regarded since the time of Pococke and Schnurrer as the name of the jackal; and this is supported by the Syriac and Targum rendering yaruro (see Bernstein, p. 220), even more than by the Arabic name of the wolf, tinân, which only occurs here and there. אי, ibnu āwa, is the common jackal found in Hither Asia (Canis aureus vulgaris), the true type of the whole species, which is divided into at least ten varieties, and belongs to the same genus as dogs and wolves (not foxes). Tan may refer to one of these varieties, which derived its name from its distinctive peculiarity as a long-stretched animal, whether the extension was in the trunk, the snout, or the tail.
The animals mentioned, both quadrupeds (râbatz) and birds (shâcan), are really found there, on the soil of ancient Babylon. When Kerporter was drawing near to the Nimrod-tower, he saw lions sunning themselves quietly upon its walls, which came down very leisurely when alarmed by the cries of the Arabs. And as Rich heard in Bagdad, the ruins are still regarded as a rendezvous for ghosts: sâ‛ir, when contrasted with ‛attūd, signifies the full-grown shaggy buck-goat; but here se‛irim is applied to demons in the shape of goats (as in Isaiah 34:14). According to the Scriptures, the desert is the abode of unclean spirits, and such unclean spirits as the popular belief or mythology pictured to itself were se‛irim. Virgil, like Isaiah, calls them saltantes Satyros. It is remarkable also that Joseph Wolf, the missionary and traveller to Bochâra, saw pilgrims of the sect of Yezidis (or devil-worshippers) upon the ruins of Babylon, who performed strange and horrid rites by moonlight, and danced extraordinary dances with singular gestures and sounds. On seeing these ghost-like, howling, moonlight pilgrims, he very naturally recalled to mind the dancing se‛irim of prophecy (see Moritz Wagner's Reise nach Persien und dem Lande der Kurden, Bd. ii. p. 251). And the nightly howling and yelling of jackals (‛ânâh after rikkēd, as in 1 Samuel 18:6-7) produces its natural effect upon every traveller there, just as in all the other ruins of the East. These are now the inhabitants of the royal 'armenoth, which the prophet calls 'almenoth with a sarcastic turn, on account of their widowhood and desolation; these are the inhabitants of the palaces of pleasure, the luxurious villas and country-seats, with their hanging gardens. The Apocalypse, in Revelation 18:2, takes up this prophecy of Isaiah, and applies it to a still existing Babylon, which might have seen itself in the mirror of the Babylon of old.
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