Isaiah 2:9
And the mean man bows down, and the great man humbles himself: therefore forgive them not.
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(9) And the mean man boweth down.—The English gives adequately the significance of the two words for “man”—in Hebrew, adam and îsh. The Authorised Version applies the words to the prostrations of the worshippers of idols, whether of low or high degree; others refer them to the punishment of that idolatry: The mean man must be bowed down . . . the great man must be humbled.

Therefore forgive them not.—As a prayer the words find a parallel in Psalm 69:27; Psalm 109:14, but the rendering adopted by Cheyne and others, And thou canst not forgive them, is perhaps preferable. The sin is treated as “a sin unto death,” for which it is vain to pray (Isaiah 22:14).

2:1-9 The calling of the Gentiles, the spread of the gospel, and that far more extensive preaching of it yet to come, are foretold. Let Christians strengthen one another, and support one another. It is God who teaches his people, by his word and Spirit. Christ promotes peace, as well as holiness. If all men were real Christians, there could be no war; but nothing answering to these expressions has yet taken place on the earth. Whatever others do, let us walk in the light of this peace. Let us remember that when true religion flourishes, men delight in going up to the house of the Lord, and in urging others to accompany them. Those are in danger who please themselves with strangers to God; for we soon learn to follow the ways of persons whose company we keep. It is not having silver and gold, horses and chariots, that displeases God, but depending upon them, as if we could not be safe, and easy, and happy without them, and could not but be so with them. Sin is a disgrace to the poorest and the lowest. And though lands called Christian are not full of idols, in the literal sense, are they not full of idolized riches? and are not men so busy about their gains and indulgences, that the Lord, his truths, and precepts, are forgotten or despised?And the mean man - That is, the man in humble life, the poor, the low in rank - for this is all that the Hebrew word here - אדם 'âdâm - implies. The distinction between the two words here used - אדם 'âdâm as denoting a man of humble rank, and אישׁ 'ı̂ysh as denoting one of elevated rank - is one that constantly occurs in the Scriptures. Our word "mean" conveys an idea of moral baseness and degradation, which is not implied in the Hebrew.

Boweth down - That is, before idols. Some commentators, however, have understood this of bowing down in "affliction," but the other is probably the true interpretation.

And the great man - The men in elevated rank in life. The expressions together mean the same as "all ranks of people." It was a common or universal thing. No rank was exempt from the prevailing idolatry.

Therefore forgive them not - The Hebrew is "future" - להם ואל־תשׂא ve'al-tis'â' lâhem. Thou wilt not "bear" for them; that is, thou wilt not bear away their sins (by an atonement), or 'thou wilt not forgive them;' - but agreeable to a common Hebrew construction, it has the force of the imperative. It involves a "threatening" of the prophet, in the form of an address to God 'So great is their sin, that thou, Lord, wilt not pardon them.' The prophet then proceeds, in the following verses, to denounce the certainty and severity of the judgment that was coming upon them.

9. mean—in rank: not morally base: opposed to "the great man." The former is in Hebrew, Adam, the latter, ish.

boweth—namely, to idols. All ranks were idolaters.

forgive … not—a threat expressed by an imperative. Isaiah so identifies himself with God's will, that he prays for that which he knows God purposes. So Re 18:6.

The mean man boweth down, and the great man humbleth himself; men of all ranks fall down and worship idols.

Forgive them not; cut off these incorrigible idolaters. Such an imprecation is not strange, considering the heinousness and inexcusableness of the crime, the singular condition of the prophets, who spake such things not from any disorderly passion, but by Divine inspiration, and from a fervent zeal for God’s glory, which ever was and ought to be dearer to them than all the interests of men, and from a pious care and fear lest others should be infected by their counsel or example. Yet the words may be taken as a prediction, Thou wilt not forgive them; by this I know thou hast determined utterly to destroy them; for the Hebrew particle al is sometimes taken only for a simple denial, as Psalm 121:3 Proverbs 12:28. And the mean man boweth down, and the great man humbleth himself,.... Both high and low, rich and poor, bow down unto, humble themselves before, and worship idols made by the hands of men: the words for the "mean man" and "the great man" are and "Adam" and "Ish"; and which are also interpreted by Jarchi of little or mean men, and of princes and mighty ones:

therefore forgive them not; their sins of soothsaying, covetousness, and idolatry; and such that worship the beast and his image shall not be forgiven, but drink of the wine of divine wrath, and be tormented with fire for ever and ever, Revelation 14:9. These are either the words of the prophet to the Lord representing the church, and imprecating evils on antichristian worshippers; or of the angel to the Christian powers, exhorting them not to spare Babylon, Revelation 18:6 some refer these words to the mean and great men bowing down and humbling themselves, and read them in connection with them thus, "and lifts not up unto them"; that is, the head or soul; so Aben Ezra, who also observes, that the word "earth" may be wanting, and supplied thus, "and the earth shall not bear them"; they shall be destroyed from off it, both the idols and the worshippers of them. See Psalm 10:16.

And the mean man boweth down, and the great man {q} humbleth himself: therefore {r} forgive them not.

(q) He notes the nature of the idolaters who are never satisfied in their superstitions.

(r) Thus the prophet spoke being inflamed with the zeal of God's glory, and that he might fear them with God's judgment.

9. boweth down … humbleth himself] If this be the right translation, the reference must be to the degradation of human dignity involved in idolatry and superstition, a thought not unworthy of Isaiah. It is more probable, however (see ch. Isaiah 5:15), that the words refer to the judgment at hand, which is as certain as if it had already taken place. So R.V. is bowed down … is brought low. The verbs may be understood either in a reflexive or a passive sense.

mean man … great man] In the original the contrast is expressed by two words for “man,” corresponding to homo and vir in Latin, Mensch and Mann in German, &c. Sometimes, as here, the distinction is emphasised so as to mark a contrast (Psalm 49:2).

therefore forgive them not] Or, and thou canst (or wilt) not forgive them. The verbal form employed in the Heb. (jussive) properly expresses the will or desire of the speaker (as E.V.), but in negative sentences it “sometimes expresses merely the subjective feeling and sympathy of the speaker with the act” (Davidson, Synt. § 128, R. 2).Verse 9. - And the mean man boweth down, etc. So Ewald and Kay; but most other commentators render, "Therefore shall the mean man be bowed down, and the great man brought low, and thou shalt not [or, 'canst not'] forgive them" (Rosenmüller, Lowth, Gcsenius, Knobel, Cheyne). The transition from narrative to threatening comes best at the beginning of the verse. "And peoples in multitude go and say, Come, let us go up to the mountain of Jehovah, to the house of the God of Jacob; let Him instruct us out of His ways, and we will walk in His paths." This is their signal for starting, and their song by the way (cf., Zechariah 8:21-22). What urges them on is the desire for salvation. Desire for salvation expresses itself in the name they give to the point towards which they are travelling: they call Moriah "the mountain of Jehovah," and the temple upon it "the house of the God of Jacob." Through frequent use, Israel had become the popular name for the people of God; but the name they employ is the choicer name Jacob, which is the name of affection in the mouth of Micah, of whose style we are also reminded by the expression "many peoples" (ammim rabbim). Desire for salvation expresses itself in the object of their journey; they wish Jehovah to teach them "out of His ways," - a rich source of instruction with which they desire to be gradually entrusted. The preposition min (out of, or from) is not partitive here, but refers, as in Psalm 94:12, to the source of instruction. The "ways of Jehovah" are the ways which God Himself takes, and by which men are led by Him - the revealed ordinances of His will and action. Desire for salvation also expresses itself in the resolution with which they set out: they not only wish to learn, but are resolved to act according to what they learn. "We will walk in His paths:" the hortative is used here, as it frequently is (e.g., Genesis 27:4, vid., Ges. 128, 1, c), to express either the subjective intention or subjective conclusion. The words supposed to be spoken by the multitude of heathen going up to Zion terminate here. The prophet then adds the reason and object of this holy pilgrimage of the nations: "For instruction will go out from Zion, and the word of Jehovah from Jerusalem." The principal emphasis is upon the expressions "from Zion" and "from Jerusalem." It is a triumphant utterance of the sentiment that "salvation is of the Jews" (John 4:22). From Zion-Jerusalem there would go forth thorah, i.e., instruction as to the questions which man has to put to God, and debar Jehovah, the word of Jehovah, which created the world at first, and by which it is spiritually created anew. Whatever promotes the true prosperity of the nations, comes from Zion-Jerusalem. There the nations assemble together; they take it thence to their own homes, and thus Zion-Jerusalem becomes the fountain of universal good. For from the time that Jehovah made choice of Zion, the holiness of Sinai was transferred to Zion (Psalm 68:17), which now presented the same aspect as Sinai had formerly done, when God invested it with holiness by appearing there in the midst of myriads of angels. What had been commenced at Sinai for Israel, would be completed at Zion for all the world. This was fulfilled on that day of Pentecost, when the disciples, the first-fruits of the church of Christ, proclaimed the thorah of Zion, i.e., the gospel, in the languages of all the world. It was fulfilled, as Theodoret observes, in the fact that the word of the gospel, rising from Jerusalem "as from a fountain," flowed through the whole of the known world. But these fulfilments were only preludes to a conclusion which is still to be looked for in the future. For what is promised in the following v. is still altogether unfulfilled.
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