Isaiah 18:5
For before the harvest, when the bud is perfect, and the sour grape is ripening in the flower, he shall both cut off the sprigs with pruning hooks, and take away and cut down the branches.
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Isaiah 18:5. For afore the harvest — Here the Lord informs his people how he would act toward those of their adversaries, for whom he had prepared this great slaughter. He compares them to a vine, which, after it hath sent forth its buds, then its flowers, and the flowers the sour grapes, which too were beginning to ripen, is suddenly stripped of its shoots and branches by the pruning-hook of the vine-dresser, who leaves them, burdened with grapes, a prey to the fowls of heaven, and the beasts of the earth. By which allegory, continued through this and the sixth verse, the prophet means, that, when every thing respecting the Assyrians was in the most promising situation, when Sennacherib’s great designs seemed almost mature, and just ready to be crowned with success, his mighty efforts should be in a moment frustrated, his vast expectations rendered abortive, and the chief part of his immense army made a prey to the beasts and birds.18:1-7 God's care for his people; and the increase of the church. - This chapter is one of the most obscure in Scripture, though more of it probably was understood by those for whose use it was first intended, than by us now. Swift messengers are sent by water to a nation marked by Providence, and measured out, trodden under foot. God's people are trampled on; but whoever thinks to swallow them up, finds they are cast down, yet not deserted, not destroyed. All the dwellers on earth must watch the motions of the Divine Providence, and wait upon the directions of the Divine will. God gives assurance to his prophet, and by him to be given to his people. Zion is his rest for ever, and he will look after it. He will suit to their case the comforts and refreshments he provides for them; they will be acceptable, because seasonable. He will reckon with his and their enemies; and as God's people are protected at all seasons of the year, so their enemies are exposed at all seasons. A tribute of praise should be brought to God from all this. What is offered to God, must be offered in the way he has appointed; and we may expect him to meet us where he records his name. Thus shall the nations of the earth be convinced that Jehovah is the God, and Israel is his people, and shall unite in presenting spiritual sacrifices to his glory. Happy are those who take warning by his judgment on others, and hasten to join him and his people. Whatever land or people may be intended, we are here taught not to think that God takes no care of his church, and has no respect to the affairs of men, because he permits the wicked to triumph for a season. He has wise reasons for so doing, which we cannot now understand, but which will appear at the great day of his coming, when he will bring every work into judgment, and reward every man according to his works.For afore the harvest - This verse is evidently figurative, and the image is drawn from that which is commenced in the previous verse. There, God is represented as calmly regarding the plans of the people here referred to - as the sun shines serenely on the herb, or the dew falls on the grass. "That" figure supposes that they had "formed" plans, and that they were advancing to maturity, like a growing harvest, while God surveyed them without interposition. This verse continues the figure, and affirms "that those plans shall not be mature;" that God will interpose and defeat them "while" they are maturing - as if a man should enter the harvest field and cut it down after it had been sown, or go into the vineyard, and cut down the vines while the green grape was beginning to ripen. It is, therefore, a most beautiful and expressive figure, intimating that all their plans would be foiled even when they had the prospect of a certain accomplishment.

When the bud is perfect - The word 'bud' here (פרח perach) denotes either a "blossom," or a sprout, shoot, branch. Here it denotes probably the "blossom" of the grain; or it may be the grain when it is "set." Its meaning is, when their plans are maturing, and there is every human prospect that they will be successful.

And the sour grape is ripening - Begins to turn; or is becoming mature.

In the flower - (נצה netsâh). The blossom. This should be read rather, 'and the flower is becoming a ripening grape.' The common version does not make sense; but with this translation the idea is clear. The sense is the same as in the former phrase - when their plans are maturing.

He shall cut off the sprigs - The shoots; the small limbs on which the grape is hanging, as if a man should enter a vineyard, and, while the grape is ripening, should not only cut off the grape, but the small branches that bore it, thus preventing it from bearing again. The idea is, not only that God would disconcert their "present" plans, but that he would prevent them from forming any in future. Before their plans were matured, and they obtained the anticipated triumph, he would effectually prevent them from forming such plans again.

5. For—rather, "But."

perfect—perfected. When the enemy's plans are on the verge of completion.

sour grape … flower—rather, "when the flower shall become the ripening grape" [Maurer].

sprigs—the shoots with the grapes on them. God will not only disconcert their present plans, but prevent them forming any future ones. Horsley takes the "harvest" and vintage here as referring to purifying judgments which cause the excision of the ungodly from the earth, and the placing of the faithful in a state of peace on the earth: not the last judgment (Joh 15:2; Re 14:15-20).

Afore the harvest; before they receive the end of their hopes, and finish the work which they have designed and begun.

When the bud is perfect, and the sour grape is ripening in the flower; when the bud or flower is turned into a perfect but unripe grape, which gives hopes of a good vintage. The body of this people are compared to a vine tree.

He; the Lord, who is easily understood from the foregoing verse, and who is here represented under the notion of a husbandman or vine-dresser.

Take away and cut down the branches; instead of the gathering of the grapes, he shall cut down the body and branches of the tree, and throw it into the fire. For afore the harvest,.... Or vintage: the above metaphor is carried on; before the designs and schemes of the people above described are ripe for execution, who promised themselves a large harvest of their neighbours:

when the bud is perfect; when the bud of the vine is become a perfect grape, though unripe; when the scheme was fully laid, and with perfect and consummate wisdom as imagined, though not brought into execution:

and the sour grape is ripening in the flower; things go on and promise well, as if the issue would be according to expectation, and there would be a good vintage. The sour grape may denote the temper and disposition of the above people against their enemies, their ill nature, and enmity to them; or the sins and transgressions, for which the judgment denounced came upon them:

he shall both cut off the sprigs with pruning hooks, and take away and cut down the branches; as the vinedresser; or rather as one that has no good will to the vine, cuts it with pruning hooks, not to make it better, but worse, and cuts off, not the dead withered and useless parts of it, but the sprigs that have buds and flowers, or unripe grapes, upon them, and even whole branches that have clusters on them, and takes them and casts them away, to be trodden under foot, or cast into the fire; so the Lord, or the king of Assyria, the instrument in the hand of God, should cut off the Ethiopians, or the Egyptians, with the sword, both small and great, when their enterprise should fail, and their promised success: or this is to be understood of the destruction of Sennacherib's army by the angel, when he was full of expectation of taking Jerusalem, and plundering that rich city. Jarchi and Kimchi interpret it of the destruction of the armies of Gog and Magog. The Targum is,

"and he shall kill the princes of the people with the sword, and their mighty ones he shall remove and cause to pass over.''

For afore the harvest, when the bud is perfect, and the sour grape is ripening in the flower, he shall both cut off the sprigs with pruning hooks, and take away and cut down the branches.
5. Assyria is here compared to a vine, ripening its grapes under the favourable influences indicated in Isaiah 18:4. The word for harvest does not strictly denote “vintage” (see on ch. Isaiah 16:9); either the more general term is employed for the particular, or the vine is conceived as cut down at that stage of its growth which coincides with the (wheat-) harvest.

Continue as in R.V., when the blossom is over and the flower becometh a ripening grape, &c.

take away and cut down] Rather (to avoid a hysteron-proteron) new away, the first verb having merely adverbial force.Verse 5. - For afore the harvest. God can rest thus tranquil, because he can step in at any time; and this he is about to do, before Assyria reaps her harvest. When the bud is perfect, etc.; rather, when the blossom is past, and the green grape is becoming a ripening bunch. He shall cut off (comp. Isaiah 10:33, 34). The metaphor is slightly varied in this place, to suit the imagery of the preceding clause, where Assyria has been represented as a vine-stock. Formerly her "boughs" were to be "lopped;" now her "branches" and "sprigs" or "sprouts" are to be cut away with pruning-hooks. Fourth turn: "Woe to the raoring of many nations: like the roaring of seas they roar; and to the rumbling of nations, like the rumbling of mighty waters they rumble! Nations, like the rumbling of many waters they rumble; and He threatens it: then it flies far away, and is chased like chaff of the mountains before the wind, and like a cloud of dust before the gale. At eventide, behold consternation; and before the morning dawn it is destroyed: this the portion of our plunderers, and the lot of our robbers." It is the destruction of Asshur that the prophet is predicting here (as in Isaiah 14:24-27; Isaiah 29:5-8, etc.), though not of Asshur as Asshur, but of Asshur as the imperial kingdom, which embraced a multitude of nations (Isaiah 22:6; Isaiah 8:9, Isaiah 8:10; Isaiah 14:26; Isaiah 29:7, Isaiah 29:8) all gathered together under the rule of one will, to make a common attack upon the church of God. The connection between this fourth turn and the third is precisely the same as between Isaiah 8:9, Isaiah 8:10, and Isaiah 8:6-8. The exclamation of woe (hoi) is an expression of pain, as in Isaiah 10:1; and this is followed by a proclamation of the judgment of wrath. The description of the rolling wave of nations is as pictorial as the well-known illi inter sese, etc., of the Cyclops in Virgil. "It spreads and stretches out, as if it would never cease to roll, and roar, and surge, and sweep onward in its course" (Drechsler). In the expression "it" (bo) in Isaiah 17:13, the many surging nations are kneaded together, as it were, into one mass. It costs God simply a threatening word; and this mass all flies apart (mimmerchâk like mērâchōk, Isaiah 23:7), and falls into dust, and whirls about in all directions, like the chaff of threshing-floors in high situations, or like dust whirled up by the storm. The judgment commences in the evening, and rages through the night; and before the morning dawns, the army of nations raised by the imperial power is all destroyed (compare Isaiah 29:7, Isaiah 29:8, and the fulfilment in Isaiah 37:36). The fact that the oracle concerning Damascus in its fourth stage takes so comprehensive and, so far as Israel is concerned, so promising a form, may be explained on the ground that Syria was the forerunner of Asshur in the attack upon Israel, and that the alliance between Israel and Syria became the occasion of the complications with Asshur. If the substance of the massâ Dammesek (the oracle concerning Damascus) had been restricted to the prophecy contained in the name Mahershalal, the element of promise so characteristic of the prophecies against the nations of the world would be entirely wanting. But the shout of triumph, "This is the portion," etc., supplied a terminal point, beyond which the massa could not go without the sacrifice of its unity. We are therefore warranted in regarding Isaiah 18:1-7 as an independent prophecy, notwithstanding its commencement, which apparently forms a continuation of the fourth strophe of Isaiah 17:1-14.
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