Isaiah 17:8
And he shall not look to the altars, the work of his hands, neither shall respect that which his fingers have made, either the groves, or the images.
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(8) The groves or the images.—Literally, the Asherah or the sun-images. The former were conical, tree-like pillars which symbolised the worship of a Canaanite goddess, the giver of good fortune. (See Notes on 2Kings 21:7; 2Chronicles 34:3-7.)

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 he shall not look to the altars - That is, the altars of the gods which the Syrians worshipped, and the altars of the false gods which had been erected in the land of Israel or Samaria by its wicked kings, and particularly by Ahaz. Ahaz fancied an altar which he saw at Damascus when on a visit to Tiglath-pileser, and ordered Urijah the priest to construct one like it in Samaria, on which he subsequently offered sacrifice 2 Kings 16:10-13. It is well known, also, that the kings of Israel and Judah often reared altars to false gods in the high places and the groves of the land (see 2 Kings 21:3-5). The Ephraimites were particularly guilty in this respect Hosea 8:11 : 'Because Ephraim hath made many altars to sin, altars shall be unto him to sin.'

Which his fingers have made - Perhaps indicating that the idols which they worshipped had been constructed with special art and skill (see Isaiah 2:8).

Either the groves - The altars of idols were usually erected in groves, and idols were worshipped there before temples were raised (see Exodus 34:13; Deuteronomy 7:5; Deuteronomy 12:3; Judges 3:7; 1 Kings 14:23; 1 Kings 18:19; 2 Chronicles 33:3; compare the notes at Isaiah 1:29).

Or the images - Margin, 'Sun images' (חמנים chamānı̂ym). This word is used to denote idols in general in Leviticus 26:30; 2 Chronicles 24:4. But it is supposed to denote properly images erected to the sun, and to be derived from חמה chamāh, "the sun." Thus the word is used in Job 30:28; Isaiah 24:23; Isaiah 30:26; Sol 6:10. The word, according to Gesenius, is of Persian origin (Commentary in loc.) The sun was undoubtedly worshipped by the ancient idolaters, and altars or images would be erected to it (see the notes at Job 31:26).

8. groves—A symbolical tree is often found in Assyrian inscriptions, representing the hosts of heaven ("Saba"), answering to Ashteroth or Astarte, the queen of heaven, as Baal or Bel is the king. Hence the expression, "image of the grove," is explained (2Ki 21:7).

images—literally, "images to the sun," that is, to Baal, who answers to the sun, as Astarte to the hosts of heaven (2Ki 23:5; Job 31:26).

Not look to the altars; not resort or trust to them, or to the worship offered to idols upon them.

The work of his hands; their own inventions; for otherwise the altars made by God’s command were the work of men’s hands. The groves, which were devised and planted by men, as fit places for the worship of their gods; and therefore were forbidden, Deu 16:21 1 Kings 14:15. The images, worshipped in their groves. The word properly signifies images of the sun, either having the form and shape of the sun, or at least erected to his honour and worship; of which see Deu 4:19 17:3 2 Kings 23:5,11 Jer 8:2 7:18 44:17,18.

And he shall not took to the altars, the work of his hands,.... That is, to altars erected to the worship of idols, which are both the works of men's hands, so as to serve at them, and sacrifice upon them. Kimchi observes, that the latter clause is not to be understood as belonging to the former, but as distinct from it, and signifies idols which men have made; otherwise all altars, even the altars of God, were the works of men, which yet it was right to look unto, and offer sacrifice upon; but idol altars, and idols themselves, are here meant: and a good man will not look unto his good works as altars to atone for sin; he knows that nothing that a creature can do can expiate sin; that his best works are such as are due to God, and therefore can never atone for past crimes; that Jesus Christ is only the altar, sacrifice, and priest, to whom he looks for, and from whom he receives the atonement:

neither shall respect that which his fingers have made, either the groves or the images; both might be said to be made by the fingers of men, the former being planted, and, the latter carved and fashioned by them; whether by groves are meant clusters of trees, where idols and altars were placed, or medals struck with such a representation on them, and also whatever images are here designed: the word signifies sun images, images made to represent the sun, or for the honour and worship of it. Aben Ezra says they were images made according to the likeness of chariots for the sun. The Targum renders it "temples", such as were dedicated to the sun; though some understand by it sunny places, where their idols were set and sunburnt, as distinct from shady groves. Good men will not took to their own works, what their fingers have wrought, as groves to shelter them from divine wrath and vengeance, or as idols to bow down to, trust in, and depend upon for salvation; but reject them, and look to Christ only.

And he shall not look to the altars, the work of his hands, neither shall respect that which his fingers have made, either the groves, or the images.
8. the work of his hands … that which his fingers have made] phrases used of idols in ch. Isaiah 2:8; Isaiah 2:20, Isaiah 31:7.

the altars … either the groves or the images] These words overburden the rhythm of the verse and are probably explanatory glosses. An allusion to the brazen-altar of Ahaz (2 Kings 16:10-13) is far-fetched, even if not absolutely excluded by the date. The two last-mentioned objects are never referred to elsewhere by Isaiah.

the groves] R.V., rightly, the Asherim. The Ashçrah or Sacred Pole was an emblem of divinity which seems to have stood regularly by the side of the altar in a Canaanitish sanctuary (Jdg 6:13; Jdg 6:25; Deuteronomy 16:21; 2 Kings 18:4, &c.). It is regarded by some as an artificial survival of the sacred tree, under which the altar stood; by others as the symbol (or image) of a goddess of the same name. Whether a goddess Ashçrah was actually worshipped is a much controverted point; if so, she was probably nothing more than an impersonation of the material symbol here referred to. (See Robertson Smith, Relig. of the Semites, Revd. Ed. pp. 187 ff.)

images] probably sun-pillars: R.V. “sun-images.” The word (ḥammânîm, pl.) only occurs in ch. Isaiah 27:9; 2 Chronicles 14:5; 2 Chronicles 34:4; 2 Chronicles 34:7; Ezekiel 6:4; Ezekiel 6:6; Leviticus 26:30. It seems to be connected with Baal-Ḥammân, a Phœnician deity (best known from the Carthaginian inscriptions) whose name appears to designate him as “Lord of the sun’s heat,” (cf. the Hebrew ḥammâh used in poetry of the sun: Psalm 19:6; Job 30:28; Song of Solomon 6:10; Isaiah 24:23; Isaiah 30:26). The “sun-pillars” were probably emblems of this deity.

Verse 8. - And he shall not look to the altars. The altars at Dan and Bethel (1 Kings 12:28-33) may be intended, or the Israelites may have had other idolatrous altars besides these (2 Kings 17:11; Hosea 8:11). Josiah, about B.C. 631, broke down altars throughout all the land of Israel, in the cities of Manasseh and Ephraim and Simeon (?), even unto Naphtali (2 Chronicles 34:5-7). Apparently he had the consent of the inhabitants to this demolition. Either the groves, or the images, Asherah, the word here and elsewhere commonly translated "grove" in the Authorized Version, is now generally admitted to have designated an artificial construction of wood or metal, which was used in the idolatrous worship of the Phoenicians and the Israelites, probably as the emblem of some deity. The Assyrian "sacred tree" was most likely an emblem of the same kind, and may give an idea of the sort of object worshipped under the name of Asherah (comp. 'Ancient Monarchies,' vol. 2. pp. 235-237). The Israelites, in the time of their prosperity, had set up "groves" of this character "on every high hill, and under every green tree" (2 Kings 17:10). Many of them were still standing when Josiah made his iconoclastic raid into the Israelite country (2 Chronicles 34:5-7), and were broken down by him at the same time as the altars. The "images" of this place are the same as those coupled with the Israelite "groves" in 2 Chronicles 34:7, namely "sun-images," emblems of Baal, probably pillars or conical stones, such as are known to have held a place in the religious worship of Phoenicia. Isaiah 17:8Second turn: "And it comes to pass in that day, the glory of Jacob wastes away, and the fat of his flesh grows thin. And it will be as when a reaper grasps the stalks of wheat, and his arm mows off the ears; and it will be as with one who gathers together ears in the valley of Rephaim. Yet a gleaning remains from it, as at the olive-beating: two, three berries high up at the top; four, five in its, the fruit tree's, branches, saith Jehovah the God of Israel. At that day will man look up to his Creator, and his eyes will look to the Holy One of Israel. And he will not look to the altars, the work of his hands; and what his fingers have made he will not regard, neither the Astartes nor the sun-gods." This second turn does not speak of Damascus, but simply of Israel, and in fact of all Israel, the range of vision widening out from Israel in the more restricted sense, so as to embrace the whole. It will all disappear, with the exception of a small remnant; but the latter will return. Thus "a remnant will return," the law of Israel's history, which is here shown first of all in its threatening aspect, and then in its more promising one. The reputation and prosperity to which the two kingdoms were raised by Jeroboam II and Uzziah would pass away. Israel was ripe for judgment, like a field of corn for the harvest; and it would be as when a reaper grasps the stalks that have shot up, and cuts off the ears. קציר is not used elliptically for קציר אישׁ (Gesenius), nor is it a definition of time (Luzzatto), nor an accusative of the object (Knobel), but a noun formed like נביא, פליל, פריץ, and used in the sense of reaper (kōtzēr in other cases).

(Note: Instead of kâtzar (to cut off, or shorten), they now say kâratz in the whole of the land to the east of the Jordan, which gives the idea of sawing off - a much more suitable one where the Syrian sickle is used.)

The figure suggested here is more fully expanded in John 4 and Revelation 14. Hardly a single one will escape the judgment: just as in the broad plain of Rephaim, which slopes off to the south-west of Jerusalem as far as Bethlehem, where it is covered with rich fields of wheat, the collectors of ears leave only one or two ears lying scattered here and there.

Nevertheless a gleaning of Israel ("in it," viz., in Jacob, Isaiah 17:4; Isaiah 10:22) will be left, just as when the branches of the olive tree, which have been already cleared with the hand, are still further shaken with a stick, there still remain a few olives upon the highest branch (two, three; cf., 2 Kings 9:32), or concealed under the foliage of the branches. "Its, the fruit tree's, branches:" this is an elegant expression, as, for example, in Proverbs 14:13; the carrying over of the ה to the second word is very natural in both passages (see Ges. 121, b). This small remnant will turn with stedfast gaze to the living God, as is becoming in man as such (hâ'âdâm), and not regard the idols as worthy of any look at all, at least of any reverential look. As hammânim are here images of the sun-god חמן בעל, which is well known from the Phoenician monuments,

(Note: See Levy, Phnizisches Wrterbuch (1864), p. 19; and Otto Strauss on Nahum, p. xxii. ss.)

ashērim (for which we find, though more rarely, 'ashēroth) apparently signifies images of the moon-goddess. And the combination of "Baal, Asherah, and all the host of heaven" in 2 Kings 23:4, as well as the surname "queen of heaven" in Jeremiah 7:18; Jeremiah 44:18-19, appears to require this (Knobel). But the latest researches have proved that 'Ashērâh is rather the Semitic Aphrodite, and therefore the planet Venus, which was called the "little luck" (es-sa‛d el-as'gar)

(Note: See Krehl, Religion der vorislamischen Araber (1863), p. 11.)

by the Arabs, in distinction from Musteri (Jupiter),

(Note: This was the tutelar deity of Damascus; see Comm. on Job, Appendix.)

or "the great luck." And with this the name 'Asherah the "lucky" (i.e., the source of luck or prosperity) and the similar surname given to the Assyrian Istar agree;

(Note: "Ishtar," says Rawlinson in his Five Great Monarchies of the Ancient Eastern World, - a work which challenges criticism through its dazzling results - "Ishtar is the goddess who rejoices mankind, and her most common epithet is Amra, 'the fortunate' or 'the happy.' But otherwise her epithets are vague and general, insomuch that she is often scarcely distinguishable from Beltis (the wife of Bel-Nimrod)." Vid., vol. i. p. 175 (1862).)

for 'Asherah is the very same goddess as 'Ashtoreth, whose name is thoroughly Arian, and apparently signifies the star (Ved. stir equals star; Zend. stare; Neo-Pers. sitâre, used chiefly for the morning star), although Rawlinson (without being able to suggest any more acceptable interpretation) speaks of this view as "not worthy of much attention."

(Note: The planet Venus, according to a Midrash relating to Genesis 6:1-2, is 'Istehar transferred to the sky; and this is the same as Zuhare (see Geiger, Was hat Muhammed, etc. 1833, pp. 107-109).)

Thus Asherim is used to signify the bosquets (shrubberies) or trees dedicated to the Semitic Aphrodite (Deuteronomy 16:21; compare the verbs used to signify their removal, גדע, כרת, נתשׁ); but here it probably refers to her statues or images


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