Isaiah 29:17
Is it not yet a very little while, and Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field, and the fruitful field shall be esteemed as a forest?
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(17) Is it not yet a very little while . . .?—The image of the potter does not suggest to Isaiah the thought of an arbitrary sovereignty, but of a love which will in the long run fulfil itself. He paints as not far off the restoration at once of the face of nature and of the life of man. Lebanon, that had been stripped of its cedars by the Assyrian invader (Isaiah 10:34), so as to be as the wilderness of Isaiah 22:15, should regain its glory, and once more be as Carmel, or “the fruitful field,” while the fields that had rejoiced in the rich growth of herbage and shrubs should attain the greatness of the forests of Lebanon as they had been. (See Isaiah 32:15, where “the wilderness” answers to the “Lebanon” of this verse.) The thought and the language would seem to have been among Isaiah’s favourite utterances.

Isaiah 29:17. Is it not a very little while, &c. — The following paragraph, to the end of the chapter, relates to the times of the gospel; the prophet foretelling therein, in figurative language, the rejection of the Jews and the calling of the Gentiles. Lebanon, a barren mountain, a desolate wilderness, here stands for the Gentile world. This was to be turned into a fruitful field — Hebrew, לכרמל, into Carmel, or the vineyard of God, as the word signifies. On the other hand, the fruitful field, what had formerly been the vineyard of God, the Jewish Church, should be esteemed as a forest — See this interpretation confirmed, Isaiah 32:15; and Matthew 15:7-8.29:17-24 The wonderful change here foretold, may refer to the affairs of Judah, though it looks further. When a great harvest of souls was gathered to Christ from among the Gentiles, then the wilderness was turned into a fruitful field; and the Jewish church, that had long been a fruitful field, became as a deserted forest. Those who, when in trouble, can truly rejoice in God, shall soon have cause greatly to rejoice in him. The grace of meekness contributes to the increase of our holy joy. The enemies who were powerful shall become mean and weak. To complete the repose of God's people, the scorners at home shall be cut off by judgements. All are apt to speak unadvisedly, and to mistake what they hear, but it is very unfair to make a man an offender for a word. They did all they could to bring those into trouble who told them of their faults. But He that redeemed Abraham out of his snares and troubles, will redeem those who are, by faith, his true seed, out of theirs. It will be the greatest comfort to godly parents to see their children renewed creatures, the work of God's grace. May those who now err in spirit, and murmur against the truth, come to understanding, and learn true doctrine. The Spirit of truth shall set right their mistakes, and lead them into all truth. This should encourage us to pray for those that have erred, and are deceived. All who murmured at the truths of God, as hard sayings, shall learn and be aware what God designed in all. See the change religion produces in the hearts of men, and the peace and pleasure of a humble and devout spirit.Is it not yet a very little while - The idea here is, 'you have greatly perverted things in Jerusalem. The time is at hand when there shall be "other" overturnings - when the wicked shall be cut off, and when there shall be poured out upon the nation such judgments that the deaf shall hear, and the blind see, and when those who have erred in spirit shall come to understanding' Isaiah 29:18-24.

And Lebanon shall be tutored into a fruitful field - This is evidently a proverbial expression, denoting any great revolution of things. It is probable that in the times of Isaiah the whole chain of Lebanon was uncultivated, as the word is evidently used here in opposition to a fruitful field (see the note at Isaiah 2:13). The word which is rendered 'fruitful field' (כרמל karmel) properly denotes "a fruitful field," or a finely cultivated country (see Isaiah 10:18). It is also applied to a celebrated mountain or promontory on the Mediterranean Sea, on the southern boundary of the tribe of Asher. It runs northwest of the plain of Esdraelon, and ends in a promontory or cape, and forms the bay of Acco. The mountain or promontory is about 1500 feet high; and abounds in caves or grottoes, and was celebrated as being the residence of the prophets Elijah and Elisha (see 1 Kings 18:19, 1 Kings 18:42; 2 Kings 2:25; 2 Kings 4:25; 2 Kings 19:23; compare the note at Isaiah 35:2). More than a thousand caves are said to exist on the west side of the mountain, which it is said were formerly inhabited by monks. But the word here is to be taken, doubtless, as it is in our translation, as denoting a well-cultivated country. Lebanon, that is now barren and uncultivated, shall soon become a fertile and productive field. That is, there shall be changes among the Jews that shall be as great as if Lebanon should become an extensively cultivated region, abounding in fruits, and vines, and harvests. The idea is this: 'The nation is now perverse, sinful, formal, and hypocritical. But the time of change shall come. The wicked shall be reformed; the number of the pious shall be increased; and the pure worship of God shall succeed this general formality and hypocrisy. The prophet does not say when this would be. He simply affirms that it would be before "a great while" - and it may, perhaps, be referred to the times succeeding the captivity (compare Isaiah 32:15; Isaiah 35:1-10; Isaiah 1:6).

And the fruitful field be esteemed as a forest - That is, there shall be great changes in the nation, as if a well-cultivated field should be allowed to lie waste, and grow up into a forest. Perhaps it means that that which was then apparently flourishing would be overthrown, and the land lie waste. Those who were apparently in prosperity, would be humbled and punished. The effect of this revolution is stated in the following verses.

17. turned—as contrasted with your "turnings of things upside down" (Isa 29:16), there shall be other and better turnings or revolutions; the outpouring of the Spirit in the latter days (Isa 32:15); first on the Jews; which shall be followed by their national restoration (see on [739]Isa 29:2; [740]Zec 12:10) then on the Gentiles (Joe 2:28).

fruitful field—literally, "a Carmel" (see on [741]Isa 10:18). The moral change in the Jewish nation shall be as great as if the wooded Lebanon were to become a fruitful field, and vice versa. Compare Mt 11:12, Greek: "the kingdom of heaven forces itself," as it were, on man's acceptance; instead of men having to seek Messiah, as they had John, in a desert, He presents Himself before them with loving invitations; thus men's hearts, once a moral desert, are reclaimed so as to bear fruits of righteousness: vice versa, the ungodly who seemed prosperous, both in the moral and literal sense, shall be exhibited in their real barrenness.

The forest of Lebanon, which was a barren mountain and a desolate wilderness, shall by God’s wonderful providence become a fruitful and populous place; and these places, which are now fruitful and populous, shall then become as barren and desolate as that forest. The sense is confirmed by that parallel place, Isaiah 32:15. And from both places compared together, this seems to be a prophecy of the rejection of the wicked and unbelieving Jews, whose sins and marvellous judgments, and particularly infatuation, are declared in the foregoing verses; and of the calling of the Gentiles, of which he speaks in the following verse, as appears further by comparing that verse with Isaiah 35:5. And this opinion may receive some countenance from Matthew 15:7, &c., where Christ expounds the foregoing words, Isaiah 29:13, upon which these have a dependence, of his own times. Is it not yet a very little while,.... In a short space of time, in a few years, what follows would come to pass; when there would be a strange change and alteration made in the world, and by which it would appear, that the Lord not only knows, but foreknows, all things:

and Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field; the forest of Lebanon should be as Carmel. The meaning is, that the Gentile world, which was like a forest uncultivated, and full of unfruitful trees, to which wicked men may be compared, should through the preaching of the Gospel be manured, become God's husbandry, and be like a fruitful field, abounding with people and churches, fruitful in grace and good works:

and the fruitful field shall be esteemed as a forest? the people of the Jews, who once had the word and ordinances of God, and were a fruitful and flourishing people in religion; through their rejection of the Messiah, and contempt of his Gospel, should be deprived of all their privileges, and become like a forest or barren land: this was fulfilled, when the kingdom of God was taken from them, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits of it, Matthew 21:43. See Isaiah 32:15.

Is it not yet a very little while, and Lebanon shall be {p} turned into a fruitful field, and the fruitful field shall be esteemed as a forest?

(p) Will there not be a change of all things? Carmel is a plentiful place in respect to what it will be then and may be taken for a forest, as in Isa 32:15 and thus he speaks to comfort the faithful.

17. The expressions here were perhaps proverbial; they are almost exactly repeated in ch. Isaiah 32:15.

yet a very little while] as in ch. Isaiah 10:25 (cf. Isaiah 16:14).

Lebanon is here a synonym for forest (see on ch. Isaiah 10:34); it answers to “wilderness” (uncultivated pasture-land) in Isaiah 32:15.

a fruitful field] cf. Isaiah 10:18.Verses 17-24. - A RENEWAL OF PROMISE. God's judgment (ver. 14), whatever it is, will pass. In a little while there will be a great change. The lowly will be exalted, the proud abased. From the "meek" and "poor' will be raised a body of true worshippers, who will possess spiritual discernment (ver. 18), while the oppressors and "scorners" will be brought to naught. When Isaiah expected this change is uncertain; but he holds out the hope of it here, as elsewhere so frequently (Isaiah 1:24-31; Isaiah 2:2-5; Isaiah 4:2-6; Isaiah 5:13, etc.), to keep up the spirits of the people and prevent them from sinking into a state of depression and despair. Verse 17. - Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field. Lebanon, the wild forest, shall become smiling garden-ground, while garden-ground shall revert into wild uncultivated forest. An inversion of the moral condition of Judaea is shadowed forth by the metaphor. This enigma of the future the prophet holds out before the eyes of his contemporaries. The prophet received it by revelation of Jehovah; and without the illumination of Jehovah it could not possibly be understood. The deep degradation of Ariel, the wonderful deliverance, the sudden elevation from the abyss to this lofty height - all this was a matter of faith. But this faith was just what the nation wanted, and therefore the understanding depending upon it was wanting also. The shemu‛âh was there, but the bı̄nâh was absent; and all שׁמועה הבין was wrecked on the obtuseness of the mass. The prophet, therefore, who had received the unhappy calling to harden his people, could not help exclaiming (Isaiah 29:9), "Stop, and stare; blind yourselves, and grow blind!" התמהמהּ, to show one's self delaying (from מההּ, according to Luzzatto the reflective of תּמהמהּ, an emphatic form which is never met with), is connected with the synonymous verb תּמהּ, to be stiff with astonishment; but to שׁעע, to be plastered up, i.e., incapable of seeing (cf., Isaiah 6:10), there is attached the hithpalpel of the same verb, signifying "to place one's self in such circumstances," se oblinere (differently, however, in Psalm 119:16, Psalm 119:47, compare Isaiah 11:8, se permulcere). They could not understand the word of God, but they were confused, and their eyes were, so to speak, festered up: therefore this self-induced condition would become to them a God-appointed punishment. The imperatives are judicial words of command.

This growth of the self-hardening into a judicial sentence of obduracy, is proclaimed still more fully by the prophet. "They are drunken, and not with wine; they reel, and not with meth. For Jehovah hath poured upon you a spirit of deep sleep, and bound up your eyes; the prophets and your heads, the seers, He has veiled. And the revelation of all this will be to you like words of a sealed writing, which they give to him who understands writing, saying, Pray, read this; but he says, I cannot, it is sealed. And they give the writing to one who does not understand writing, saying, Pray, read this; but he says, I do not understand writing." They were drunken and stupid; not, however, merely because they gave themselves up to sensual intoxication (יין, dependent upon שׁכרוּ, ebrii vino), but because Jehovah had given them up to spiritual confusion and self-destruction. All the punishments of God are inflicted through the medium of His no less world-destroying than world-sustaining Spirit, which, although not willing what is evil, does make the evil called into existence by the creature the means of punishing evil. Tardēmâh is used here to signify the powerless, passive state of utter spiritual insensibility. This judgment had fallen upon the nation in all its members, even upon the eyes and heads of the nation, i.e., the prophets. Even they whose duty is was to see to the good of the nation, and lead it, were blind leaders of the blind; their eyes were fast shut (עצּם, the intensive form of the kal, Isaiah 33:15; Aram. עצּם; Talmud also עמּץ: to shut the eyes, or press them close), and over their heads a cover was drawn, as over sleepers in the night. Since the time of Koppe and Eichhorn it has become a usual thing to regard את־הנּביאים and החזים as a gloss, and indeed as a false one (compare Isaiah 9:13-14); but the reason assigned - namely, that Isaiah's polemics are directed not against the prophets, but against the stupid staring people - is utterly groundless (compare Isaiah 28:7, and the polemics of his contemporary Micah, e.g., Isaiah 3:5-8). Moreover, the author of a gloss would have been more likely to interpret ראשׁיכם by השּׂרים or הכּהנים (compare Job 9:24). And Isaiah 29:11, Isaiah 29:12 are also opposed to this assumption of a gloss. For by those who understood what was written (sēpher), it is evident that the prophets and rulers of the nation are intended; and by those who did not understand it, the great mass of the people. To both of them, "the vision of all," i.e., of all and everything that God had shown to His true prophets, was by the judgment of God completely sealed. Some of them might have an outward knowledge; but the inward understanding of the revelation was sealed to them. Some had not even this, but stared at the word of the prophet, just as a man who cannot read stares at what is written. The chethib has הסּפר; the keri ספר, though without any ground, since the article is merely generic. Instead of נא־זה קרא, we should write זה קרא־נא in both cases, as certain codices and old editions do.

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