Isaiah 17:5
And it shall be as when the harvestman gathers the corn, and reaps the ears with his arm; and it shall be as he that gathers ears in the valley of Rephaim.
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(5) And it shall be as when the harvestman gathereth the corn.—The work of devastation is described under another image. The conqueror shall plunder the cities of Israel as the reaper cuts off the ears of corn. With his usual Dantesque vividness the prophet localises the imagery. The valley of Rephaim, or, as in Joshua 15:8; Joshua 18:16, “of the giants,” lay to the south-west of Jerusalem in the direction of Bethlehem. It was famous for its fertility, and was often on that account attacked by the Philistines, who came to carry off its crops (2Samuel 23:13). The prophet had looked on the reaper’s work and had seen in it a parable of that of the Assyrian invader.

17:1-11 Sin desolates cities. It is strange that great conquerors should take pride in being enemies to mankind; but it is better that flocks should lie down there, than that they should harbour any in open rebellion against God and holiness. The strong holds of Israel, the kingdom of the ten tribes, will be brought to ruin. Those who are partakers in sin, are justly made partakers in ruin. The people had, by sins, made themselves ripe for ruin; and their glory was as quickly cut down and taken away by the enemy, as the corn is out of the field by the husbandman. Mercy is reserved in the midst of judgment, for a remnant. But very few shall be marked to be saved. Only here and there one was left behind. But they shall be a remnant made holy. The few that are saved were awakened to return to God. They shall acknowledge his hand in all events; they shall give him the glory due to his name. To bring us to this, is the design of his providence, as he is our Maker; and the work of his grace, as he is the Holy One of Israel. They shall look off from their idols, the creatures of their own fancy. We have reason to account those afflictions happy, which part between us and our sins. The God of our salvation is the Rock of our strength; and our forgetfulness and unmindfulness of him are at the bottom of all sin. The pleasant plants, and shoots from a foreign soil, are expressions for strange and idolatrous worship, and the vile practices connected therewith. Diligence would be used to promote the growth of these strange slips, but all in vain. See the evil and danger of sin, and its certain consequences.And it shall be ... - This is the other figure by which the prophet sets forth the calamities that were coming upon Ephraim - an image designed to denote the fact that the inhabitants and wealth of the land would be collected and removed, as the farmer gathers his harvest, and leaves only that which is inaccessible in the upper boughs of the tree, or the gleanings in the field.

As when the harvest-man gathereth the corn - The wheat, the barley, etc.; for so the word "corn" - now applied by us almost exclusively to maizes means in the Scriptures. The sense in this passage is plain. As the farmer cuts down and collects his grain and removes it from the harvest field, so the enemies of Ephraim would come and remove the people and their wealth to a distant land. This received a complete fulfillment when the ten tribes were removed by the Assyrians to a distant land. This was done by Tiglath-pileser 2 Kings 15:29, and by Shalmaneser 2 Kings 17:6.

And reapeth the ears with his arm - As he collects the standing grain with one arm so that he can cut it with the sickle in the other hand. The word rendered 'reapeth' (קצר qâtsar) means here "to collect together" as a reaper does the standing grain in his arm. The word rendered 'ears' (שׁבלים shı̂bălı̂ym) means here rather the spires or stalks of standing grain.

In the valley of Rephaim - The valley of Rephaim is mentioned in 2 Samuel 5:18, 2 Samuel 5:22; 2 Samuel 23:13; 1 Chronicles 11:15; 1 Chronicles 14:9. The name means 'the Giants;' but why it was given to it is now unknown. In passing from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, it lies on the left, and descends gradually to the southwest, until it contracts in that direction into a deeper and narrower valley, called wady el-Werd, which unites further on with wady Ahmed, and finds its way to the Mediterranean. The plain extends nearly to Jerusalem, and is terminated by a slight rocky ridge forming the brow of the valley of Hinnom (see Josephus, "Ant." vii. 4. 1; viii. 12. 4; also Robinson's "Bib. Researches," vol. i. pp. 323, 324). It seem to have been distinguished for its fertility, and is used here to denote a fertile region in general.

5. harvestman, &c.—The inhabitants and wealth of Israel shall be swept away, and but few left behind just as the husbandman gathers the corn and the fruit, and leaves only a few gleaning ears and grapes (2Ki 18:9-11).

with his arm—He collects the standing grain with one arm, so that he can cut it with the sickle in the other hand.

Rephaim—a fertile plain at the southwest of Jerusalem toward Beth-lehem and the country of the Philistines (2Sa 5:18-22).

Reapeth the ears with his arm; taking care, as far as may be, that all may be gathered in, and nothing left. So shall the whole body of the ten tribes be carried away captive, some few gleanings only being left of them, as it is in the harvest.

The valley of Rephaim; a very fruitful place near Jerusalem, Joshua 15:8 18:16. And it shall be as when the harvestman gathereth the corn,.... The "standing" corn, as in the Hebrew text: "and reapeth the ears with his arm"; or "his arm reaps the ears" (o); that is, with one hand he gathers the standing corn into his fist, and then reaps it with his other arm; and just so it should be with the people of Israel: they were like a field of standing corn, for number, beauty, and glory; the Assyrian was like a harvestman, who laid hold upon them, and cut them down, as thick and as numerous as they were, just as a harvestman cuts down the corn, and with as much ease and quick dispatch; they being no more able to stand before him than a field of corn before the reaper! this was done both by Tilgathpilneser, 2 Kings 15:29 and by Shalmaneser, 2 Kings 17:6 kings of Assyria:

and it shall be as he that gathereth ears in the valley of Rephaim; the Targum renders it,

"the valley of giants.''

and so it is translated, Joshua 15:8 mention is made of it in 2 Samuel 5:18 it was a valley not far from Jerusalem, as Josephus (p) says; who also calls it the valley of the giants: it is thought to have been a very fruitful place, where the ears of corn were very large and heavy, and so great care was taken in gathering and gleaning that none be lost: wherefore, as the former simile signifies the carrying off the people of Israel in great numbers by the above kings, this may signify, as some have thought, either the picking up of those that fled without, or the gleaning of them in after times by Esarhaddon, Ezra 4:2.

(o) "et brachium ejus spicas demeteret", Junius & Tremellius; "demetit", Piscator, &c. (p) Antiqu. l. 7. c. 4. sect. 1.

And it shall be as when the reaper gathereth {g} the grain, and reapeth the heads with his arm; and it shall be as he that gathereth heads in the valley of {h} Rephaim.

(g) As the abundance of corn does not fear the harvest men that would cut it down: no more will the multitude of Israel make the enemies shrink, whom God will appoint to destroy them.

(h) A valley which was plentiful and fertile.

5. The succeeding pictures are exceedingly graphic,—an evidence of Isaiah’s intense interest in rural life. The reaper gathers the stalks of wheat with one hand and with the other cuts off the ears close to the head.

and it shall be … Rephaim] Render as R.V. and it shall be as when one gleaneth ears, &c. See Ruth 2:2; Ruth 2:7; Ruth 2:15 ff. The clause might perhaps be read as the beginning of Isaiah 17:6; one simile passing insensibly into another. The “valley of Rephaim,” (=“valley of the giants,”) Joshua 15:8; Joshua 18:16 (cf. 2 Samuel 5:18; 2 Samuel 5:22; 2 Samuel 23:13),—a fertile plain to the south of Jerusalem where Isaiah had watched the reapers and gleaners at work.Verse 5. - As when the harvestman gathereth the corn. Death is the "harvestman" here, and gathers the Israelites by shocks, or sheaves, into his garner. A great depopulation appears in 2 Kings 17:25, where we learn that lions so multiplied in the land as to become a terror to the few inhabitants. Reapeth the ears. Mr. Cheyne well remarks that the "ears" only were reaped, the stalk being cut close under the ear. This was the practice also in Egypt (Rawlinson,' Hist. of Ancient Egypt,' vol. 1. p. 162). In the valley of Rephaim. The valley of Rephaim was the scene of David's double victory over the Philistines, related in 2 Samuel 5:17-25. It is disputed whether it lay north or south of Jerusalem; but the connection with Bethlehem (2 Samuel 23:13-17) and with the cave of Adullam seem decisive in favor of a southern position. A "valley," however ('emek), suitable for the cultivation of corn, in this direction, has yet to be discovered. The massa is now brought to a close, and there follows an epilogue which fixes the term of the fulfilment of what is not predicted now for the first time, from the standpoint of the anticipated history. "This is the word which Jehovah spake long ago concerning Moab. And now Jehovah speaketh thus: In three years, like years of a hireling, the glory of Moab is disgraced, together with all the multitude of the great; a remnant is left, contemptibly small, not great at all." The time fixed is the same as in Isaiah 20:3. Of working time the hirer remits nothing, and the labourer gives nothing in. The statement as to the time, therefore, is intended to be taken exactly: three years, not more, rather under than over. Then will the old saying of God concerning Moab be fulfilled. Only a remnant, a contemptible remnant, will be left (וּשׁאר, cf., וּמשׂושׂ, Isaiah 8:6, in sense equivalent to ושׁאר); for every history of the nations is but the shadow of the history of Israel.

The massa in Isaiah 15:1-16:12 was a word that had already gone forth from Jehovah "long ago." This statement may be understood in three different senses. In the first place, Isaiah may mean that older prophecies had already foretold essentially the same concerning Moab. But what prophecies? We may get an answer to this question from the prophecies of Jeremiah concerning Moab in Jeremiah 48. Jeremiah there reproduces the massa Moab of the book of Isaiah, but interweaves with it reminiscences (1.) out of the mâshal on Moab in Numbers 21:27-30; (2.) out of Balaam's prophecy concerning Moab in Numbers 24:17; (3.) out of the prophecy of Amos concerning Moab (Amos 2:1-3). And it might be to these earlier words of prophecy that Isaiah here refers (Hvernick, Drechsler, and others). But this is very improbable, as there is no ring of these earlier passages in the massa, such as we should expect if Isaiah had had them in his mind. Secondly, Isaiah might mean that Isaiah 15:1. contained the prophecy of an older prophet, which he merely brought to remembrance in order to connect therewith the precise tenor of its fulfilment which had been revealed to him. This is at present the prevailing view. Hitzig, in a special work on the subject (1831), as well as in his Commentary, has endeavoured to prove, on the ground of 2 Kings 14:25, that in all probability Jonah was the author of the oracle which Isaiah here resumes. And Knobel, Maurer, Gustav Baur, and Thenius agree with him in this; whilst De Wette, Ewald, and Umbreit regard it as, at any rate, decidedly non-Messianic. If the conjecture that Jonah was the author could but be better sustained, we should heartily rejoice in this addition to the history of the literature of the Old Testament. But all that we know of Jonah is at variance with such a conjecture. He was a prophet of the type of Elijah and Elisha, in whom the eloquence of a prophet's words was thrown altogether into the shade by the energy of a prophet's deeds. His prophecy concerning the restoration of the kingdom of Israel to its old boundaries, which was fulfilled by the victories of Jeroboam II, we cannot therefore imagine to have been so pictorial or highly poetical as the massa Moab (which would only be one part of that prophecy) really is; and the fact that he was angry at the sparing of Nineveh harmonizes very badly with its elegiac softness and its flood of tears. Moreover, it is never intimated that the conquerors to whom Moab was to succumb would belong to the kingdom of Israel; and the hypothesis is completely overthrown by the summons addressed to Moab to send tribute to Jerusalem. But the conclusion itself, that the oracle must have originated with any older prophet whatever, is drawn from very insufficient premises. No doubt it is a thing altogether unparalleled even in Isaiah, that a prophecy should assume so thoroughly the form of a kinah, or lamentation; still there are tendencies to this in Isaiah 22:4 (cf., Isaiah 21:3-4), and Isaiah was an inexhaustible master of language of every character and colour. It is true we do light upon many expressions which cannot be pointed out anywhere else in the book of Isaiah, such as baalē goyim, hedâd, yelâlâh, yâra‛, yithrâh, mâhir, mētz, nosâphoth, pekuddâh (provision, possession); and there is something peculiar in the circular movement of the prophecy, which is carried out to such an extent in the indication of reason and consequence, as well as in the perpetually returning, monotonous connection of the sentences by ci (for) and ‛al-cēn (lâcēn, therefore), the former of which is repeated twice in Isaiah 15:1, three times in Isaiah 15:8-9, and four times in succession in Isaiah 15:5-6. But there is probably no prophecy, especially in chapters 13-23, which does not contain expressions that the prophet uses nowhere else; and so far as the conjunctions ci and a‛ l-cēn (lâcēn), are concerned, Isaiah crowds them together in other passages as well, and here almost to monotony, as a natural consequence of the prevailing elegiac tone. Besides, even Ewald can detect the characteristics of Isaiah in Isaiah 16:1-6; and you have only to dissect the whole rhetorically, syntactically, and philologically, with the carefulness of a Caspari, to hear throughout the ring of Isaiah's style. And whoever has retained the impression which he brought with him from the oracle against Philistia, will be constrained to say, that not only the stamp and outward form, but also the spirit and ideas, are thoroughly Isaiah's. Hence the third possible conjecture must be the correct one. Thirdly, then, Isaiah may mean that the fate of Moab, which he has just proclaimed, was revealed to him long ago; and the addition made now is, that it will be fulfilled in exactly three years. מאז does not necessarily point to a time antecedent to that of Isaiah himself (compare Isaiah 44:8; Isaiah 48:3, Isaiah 48:5, Isaiah 48:7, with 2 Samuel 15:34). If we assume that what Isaiah predicts down to Isaiah 16:12 was revealed to him in the year that Ahaz died, and that the epilogue reckons from the third or tenth year of Hezekiah, in either case the interval is long enough for the mê'âz (from of old). And we decide in favour of this. Unfortunately, we know nothing certain as to the time at which the three years commence. The question whether it was Shalmanassar, Sargon, or Sennacherib who treated the Moabites so harshly, is one that we cannot answer. In Herodotus (ii. 141), Sennacherib is called "king of the Arabians and Assyrians;" and Moab might be included in the Arabians. In any case, after the fulfilment of Isaiah's prophecy in the Assyrian times, there was still a portion left, the fulfilment of which, according to Jeremiah 48, was reserved for the Chaldeans.

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