Isaiah 17:9
In that day shall his strong cities be as a forsaken bough, and an uppermost branch, which they left because of the children of Israel: and there shall be desolation.
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(9) In that day shall his strong cities be as a forsaken bough.—Better, his fortified cities shall be like a forsaken tract of forest and hill-top. These were naturally the usual sites of fortresses (2Chronicles 27:4), and the gist of the prediction is that they shall be left uninhabited and in ruins. The LXX., it may be noticed, either followed a different reading or else give a curious paraphrase, “thy cities shall be forsaken, like as the Amorites and Hivites forsook them before the face of the children of Israel.” The whole verse reminds us of the “great forsaking” of Isaiah 6:12.

Isaiah 17:9. In that day — The day of Jacob’s trouble, of which he spake, Isaiah 17:4; shall his strong cities be as a forsaken bough — The cities belonging to the ten tribes shall stand solitary and destitute of inhabitants, all the country about them being destroyed; and an uppermost branch, which they left because of the children of Israel — “The sense,” says Lowth, “is here imperfect: most expositors understand the words of the Assyrians, that they left some cities with a few inhabitants in the kingdom of Israel, that a remnant of that people might be preserved: see Isaiah 17:6. But the copy which the LXX. followed, instead of the Hebrew words, החרשׁ והאמיר, hacho-resh vehaamir, that is, bough and uppermost branch, must have read החוי והאמרי, hachivi vehaemori, the Hivites and Amorites:

for they translate the verse thus: Thy cities shall be forsaken, as when the Hivites and Amorites forsook them, because of the children of Israel. Which reading gives a plain and full sense to the text.” Thus also his son, Bishop Lowth: “The translation of the LXX has happily preserved what seems to be the true reading of the text, as it stood in the copies of their time. And it is remarkable, that many commentators, who never thought of admitting the reading of the LXX., yet understand the passage as referring to that very event, which their version expresses: so that, it is plain, nothing can be more suitable to the context.” Thus understood, the prophet’s words were calculated to awaken the Israelites to a serious belief of this threatening, as they reminded them that God had inflicted the same judgment upon the Canaanites, and for the same sins of which they were guilty: and therefore gave them reason to apprehend, according to the prediction of Moses, that as they committed the same abominations, the land would spew them out as it spewed out the nations which were before them.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.His strong cities - The cities of the united kingdoms of Damascus and Samaria.

Be as a forsaken bough - There has been much difficulty in the interpretation of this passage. Lowth says, 'No one has ever been able to make any tolerable sense of these words;' and proposes himself the translation,

In that day shall his strongly fenced cities become

Like the desertion of the Hivites and the Amorites;

Following in this the translation of the Septuagint, but doing violence to the Hebrew text. Rosenmuller translates it, 'As the remnant of a grove when the thicket is cut down, and when few trees are left.' The word rendered 'bough' (חרשׁ choresh) means, properly, a thicket, or thick foliage, a wood that is entangled or intricate 1 Samuel 23:15-16, 1 Samuel 23:18; 2 Chronicles 27:4; and probably this is the idea here. The phrase may be rendered, 'as the leavings or residue of a grove, copse, or entangled wood;' and the idea is, that as a "few" trees might be left when the axeman cuts down the grove, so a few inferior and smaller towns should be left in the desolation that would come upon Damascus.

And an uppermost branch - Isaiah 17:6. As a few berries are left in the topmost branch of the olive, or the vine, so shall I a few cities or people be left in the general desolation.

Which they left - Which "are" left, or which the invaders would leave.

Because of the children of Israel - literally, 'from the face,' that is, before the children of Israel. Lowth supposes that it refers to the Amorites, who left their land before the Israelites, or gave up their land for them. Vitringa renders it, 'On account of the children of Israel;' and supposes that it means that a few cities were spared by the purpose of God in the invasion by Tiglath-pileser, to be a residence of the Israelites that should remain; or that, for some reason which is not known, the Assyrians chose to spare a few towns, and not wholly to destroy the country. The "general" idea is plain, that a few towns would be left, and that it would be "before" the children of Israel, or in their presence, or in order that they might continue to dwell in them. Jerome interprets the whole as referring to the time when the land of Judea was forsaken on the invasion of the Romans.

And there shall be desolation - The land shall be desolated, except the few cities and towns that shall be left, like the gleaning of the olive tree.

9. forsaken bough—rather "the leavings of woods," what the axeman leaves when he cuts down the grove (compare Isa 17:6).

which they left because of—rather, "which (the enemies) shall leave for the children of Israel"; literally, "shall leave (in departing) from before the face of the children of Israel" [Maurer]. But a few cities out of many shall be left to Israel, by the purpose of God, executed by the Assyrian.

In that day; in the day of Jacob’s trouble, of which he spake Isaiah 17:4, and continueth his speech unto these words, and afterwards.

An uppermost branch; which he that pruneth the tree neglecteth, either because he esteems it useless and inconsiderable, or because he cannot reach it.

Which they left because of the children of Israel: the sense is either,

1. Which they, to wit, the enemies, left, or, which shall be left, (the active verb being put impersonally, as it frequently is in the Hebrew text,)

because of or for the children of Israel; which God inclined their hearts to leave or spare, out of his love to his Israel. Thus this is mentioned as a mercy, or mitigation of the calamity. But this seems not to agree either with the foregoing or following words, both which manifestly speak of the greatness of the judgment. And that their strong cities were not left for them, but taken from them, seems evident from Isaiah 17:3,4. Or,

2. As the cities (which words are easily understood out of the former part of the verse, where they are expressed) which they (to wit, the Canaanites, as the seventy interpreters express it; and it was needless to name them, because the history was so well known to them to whom the prophet writes) left or forsook (which they did either by departing from them, or being destroyed out of them) bemuse of (or before, or for fear of) the children of Israel. And this was a very fit example, to awaken the Israelites to a serious belief of this threatening, because God had inflicted the same judgment upon the Canaanites, and that for the same sins of which they were guilty. In that day shall his strong cities be as a forsaken bough, and an uppermost branch,.... Meaning the strong cities of Ephraim or Jacob, the ten tribes, which should be forsaken of their inhabitants; having fled from before the enemy, or being slain or carried captive; like a bough of a tree, that is forsaken stripped of its leaves, and an uppermost branch of a tree that is dead and dry, and has nothing on it:

which they left; or "as they left", or "were left":

because of the children of Israel; "from the face of" them; or for fear of them; that is, the same cities which the Canaanites left; and as they left them, or were left by them, for fear of the Israelites; the same, and in the same manner, shall they be left by the Israelites, for fear of the Assyrians; and so the Septuagint version reads the words,

"in that day thy cities shall be forsaken, in like manner as the Amorites and Hivites left them, from the face of the children of Israel;''

and this sense is given by Aben Ezra and Kimchi: though some interpret it of some places being spared and left for the remnant to dwell in; but what follows in this verse, and in the next Isaiah 17:10, shows the contrary sense:

and there shall be desolation; over all those cities, and in all the land; though Aben Ezra particularly applies it to Samaria, the royal city. Jerom interprets the whole of the cities of Judea being forsaken of their inhabitants, when the Romans besieged Jerusalem, and made the land desolate; which calamity came upon them, for their neglect and forgetfulness of Jesus the Saviour.

In that day shall his strong cities be as a forsaken bough, and an uppermost branch, which {l} they left because of the children of Israel: and there shall be desolation.

(l) As the Canaanites left their cities when God placed the Israelites there, so the cities of Israel will not be able to defend their inhabitants any more than bushes, when God will send the enemy to plague them.

9. his strong cities] cf. Isaiah 17:10,—the “Rock of thy strength.”

as a forsaken bough, and an uppermost branch] Rather, if the text must be kept: “as the deserted places of the forest and the height” (so R.V.). For “forest” cf. 1 Samuel 23:15; 1 Samuel 23:19; 2 Chronicles 27:4; Ezekiel 31:3 (“shroud”). “Height” is the word rendered “uppermost bough” in Isaiah 17:6, which A.V. here follows. The construction in A.V. is altogether at fault, and the meaning “bough” cannot possibly be retained. But this is a case where the LXX. gives the clue to the true text, which reads like the deserted places of the Amorite and the Hivvite (see R.V. marg.). This alone gives an intelligible force to the next clause, and the textual change is comparatively slight save that the two words have been transposed (“Hivvite and Amorite”).

which they left because of] More strictly, which they forsook before, &c. The passive “were forsaken” (R.V.) is only adopted because the previous clause contains no suitable subject; the LXX. rendering supplies this defect, and at the same time makes the reference clear.

9–11. Continued from Isaiah 17:6. The rejection of Jehovah leads to failure and disappointment.Verse 9. - In that day. While a remnant of the Israelites shall repent and turn to God, throwing in their lot with Judah, as it would seem the country generally shall feel the weight of God's chastening hand, on account of Israel's former sins and offences. As a forsaken bough, and an uppermost branch; rather, as the forsaken tract of woodland and mountain-crest (Kay). The reference is to the condition of the land when it passed out of the possession of the Canaanitish nations. It was then forsaken and desolate. So shall it be once more, when Israel is expelled for the same sins (see 2 Kings 17:7, 8). Which they left because of the children of Israel; rather, which men forsook before the children of Israel; i.e. from which the Canaanites fled as the children of Israel advanced and took possession. The writer ignores the long and fierce struggle which the Canaanites made, and looks only to the result - retirement from a desolated country. The first turn: "Behold, Damascus must (be taken) away out of the number of the cities, and will be a heap of fallen ruins. The cities of Aroer are forsaken, they are given up to flocks, they lie there without any one scaring them away. And the fortress of Ephraim is abolished, and the kingdom of Damascus; and it happens to those that are left of Aram as to the glory of the sons of Israel, saith Jehovah of hosts." "Behold," etc.: hinnēh followed by a participle indicates here, as it does everywhere else, something very near at hand. Damascus is removed מעיר ( equals עיר מהיות, cf., 1 Kings 15:13), i.e., out of the sphere of existence as a city. It becomes מעי, a heap of ruins. The word is used intentionally instead of עי, to sound as much as possible like מעיר: a mutilated city, so to speak. It is just the same with Israel, which has made itself an appendage of Damascus. The "cities of Aroer" (gen. appos. Ges. 114, 3) represent the land to the east of the Jordan: there the judgment upon Israel (executed by Tiglath-pileser) first began. There were two Aroers: an old Amoritish city allotted to the tribe of Reuben, viz., "Aroer on the Arnon" (Deuteronomy 2:36; Deuteronomy 3:12, etc.); and an old Ammonitish one, allotted to the tribe of Gad, viz., "Aroer before Rabbah" (Rabbath, Ammon, Joshua 13:25). The ruins of the former are Arair, on the lofty northern bank of the Mugib; but the situation of the latter has not yet been determined with certainty (see Comm. on Joshua 13:25). The "cities of Aroer" are these two Aroers, and the rest of the cities similar to it on the east of the Jordan; just as "the Orions" in Isaiah 13:10 are Orion and other similar stars. We meet here again with a significant play upon the sound in the expression ‛ârē ‛Aro‛ēr (cities of Aroer): the name of Aroer was ominous, and what its name indicated would happen to the cities in its circuit. ערער means "to lay bare," to pull down (Jeremiah 51:58); and ערער, ערירי signifies a stark-naked condition, a state of desolation and solitude. After Isaiah 17:1 has threatened Damascus in particular, and Isaiah 17:2 has done the same to Israel, Isaiah 17:3 comprehends them both. Ephraim loses the fortified cities which once served it as defences, and Damascus loses its rank as a kingdom. Those that are left of Aram, who do not fall in the war, become like the proud citizens of the kingdom of Israel, i.e., they are carried away into captivity. All this was fulfilled under Tiglath-pileser. The accentuation connects ארם שׁאר (the remnant of Aram) with the first half of the verse; but the meaning remains the same, as the subject to יהיוּ is in any case the Aramaeans.
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