Isaiah 30:17
One thousand shall flee at the rebuke of one; at the rebuke of five shall ye flee: till ye be left as a beacon upon the top of a mountain, and as an ensign on an hill.
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(17) One thousand shall flee at the rebuke of one.—The hyperbole is natural and common enough (Deuteronomy 32:30; Joshua 23:10; Leviticus 26:8); but the fact that the inscription of King Piankhi Mer. Amon., translated in Records of the Past, ii. 84, gives it in the self-same words (“many shall turn their backs on a few; and one shall rout a thousand”) as his boast of the strength of Egypt, may have given a special touch of sarcasm to Isaiah’s words.

As a beacon upon the top of a mountain.—Literally, as a pine. As with a poet’s eye, the prophet paints two of the most striking emblems of solitariness: the tall pine standing by itself on the mountain height, the flag-staff seen alone far off against the sky. (Comp. the lowlier imagery of Isaiah 1:8.)

30:8-18 The Jews were the only professing people God then had in the world, yet many among them were rebellious. They had the light, but they loved darkness rather. The prophets checked them in their sinful pursuits, so that they could not proceed without fear; this they took amiss. But faithful ministers will not be driven from seeking to awaken sinners. God is the Holy One of Israel, and so they shall find him. They did not like to hear of his holy commandments and his hatred of sin; they desired that they might no more be reminded of these things. But as they despised the word of God, their sins undermined their safety. Their state would be dashed in pieces like a potter's vessel. Let us return from our evil ways, and settle in the way of duty; that is the way to be saved. Would we be strengthened, it must be in quietness and in confidence, keeping peace in our own minds, and relying upon God. They think themselves wiser than God; but the project by which they thought to save themselves was their ruin. Only here and there one shall escape, as a warning to others. If men will not repent, turn to God, and seek happiness in his favour and service, their desires will but hasten their ruin. Those who make God alone their confidence, will have comfort. God ever waits to be gracious to all that come to him by faith in Christ, and happy are those who wait for him.One thousand ... - The sense of this is, that you shall be easily alarmed and overcome by those who are inferior in numbers and strength. The number 'one thousand,' is put for a large indefinite number; probably meaning all.

At the rebuke of one - The number one here is put to denote a very small number; a number in the ordinary course of warfare entirely disproportionate to those who would be vanquished. There is probably a reference here to the prediction in Deuteronomy 32:30 :

How should one chase a thousand,

And two put ten thousand to flight,

Except their Rock had sold them

And Yahweh had shut them up?

At the rebuke of five - Of a very small number.

Till ye be left as a beacon upon the top of a mountain - The word rendered 'beacon' (תרן toren), (Greek ἱστὸς histos, "a mast"), denotes properly the mast of a ship Isaiah 33:23; Ezekiel 27:5; then anything resembling a mast, a flagstaff, or a beacon of any kind. It may refer to a staff or mast erected on a promontory to warn sailors, or to be a landmark - as it is not improbable that the masts of ships would be employed for that purpose; or it may refer to a flagstaff, erected on a conspicuous place, to which the nation could rally in time of war. On the sea coasts of America such beacons are often erected. Those which I have seen consist of a pole erected on an eminence or rising ground, with a cask or barrel painted white on the top. The idea seems to be, that of a long pole erected for any purpose, and which was standing alone, stripped of its leaves and branches, and without ornament. So would be the few, solitary, and scattered Jews when driven before their enemies.

And as an ensign on a hill - (see Isaiah 5:26, note; Isaiah 11:12, note). The idea is, that those who should escape would be few in number, and would stand alone, as a beacon in view of all the nations, to admonish them of the justice of God, and the truth of his threatening - like an ensign floating on a hill that can be seen from afar. What a striking description is this of the condition of the Jews in our times, and indeed in all ages since their dispersion! Their strength, and influence, and power as a people are gone. They stand as beacons to warn the nations of the evils of a want of confidence in God, and of his justice.

17. One thousand—A thousand at once, or, "As one man" [Maurer].

rebuke—the battle cry.

shall ye—at the rebuke of five shall ye, namely, all (in contrast to the "one thousand") flee so utterly that even two shall not be left together, but each one shall be as solitary "as a signal staff" [G. V. Smith], or "a banner on a hill" (Isa 5:26; 11:12). The signal staff was erected to rally a nation in war. The remnant of Jews left would be beacons to warn all men of the justice of God, and the truth of His threatenings. Gesenius (from Le 26:8; De 32:30) arbitrarily inserts "ten thousand." "At the rebuke of five shall ten thousand of you flee."

Shall flee; which words are fitly supplied out of the following clause.

At the rebuke; either,

1. At his real rebuke, upon his assault or onset; or rather,

2. At his verbal rebuke, upon his mere threats, as fearing that he will proceed from words to blows.

Shall ye flee; all of you, how numerous soever.

Till ye be left as a beacon, & c.; till you be generally destroyed, and but a few of you left.

One thousand shall flee at the rebuke of one,.... A troop of horse, consisting of a thousand men, shall flee upon the attack and onset of a single person, so dispirited should they be, and so possessed of the fear of the enemy; what was promised to them with respect to their enemies is here turned against them, Leviticus 26:7,

at the rebuke of five shall ye flee; being attacked by a very small number, the whole army should run away: this denotes with what ease they should be routed, and put to flight; and is to be understood, not of what would be at the present time, but of what should come to pass hereafter, when the Chaldean army should come against them;

till ye be left as a beacon upon the top of a mountain; or, "as the mast of a ship", so the Septuagint and other versions. Jarchi says it signifies a high tree, or tall piece of wood fixed in the earth, like a ship's mast (p), set up to give warning of an enemy's approach, and when, and where, sometimes fires used to be kindled; hence the Targum is,

"till ye are left as a burning torch on the top of a mountain.''

The Syriac version renders it, "as a wild ass", solitary and alone:

and as an ensign on a hill; erected as a trophy of victory. The design of the metaphors is to show that there should be few that should escape falling into the enemy's hand, here and there one, that should he scattered about, and be very thin, as beacons and signs are, and should be warnings to others of pursuing the same foolish and sinful methods and practices.

(p) So Ben Melech says, it is a high piece of wood in a ship, on which they hang an ensign or flag; and so he interprets the ensign in the next clause of a veil, so called, because they lift it up upon the mast.

One thousand shall flee at the rebuke of one; at the rebuke of five shall ye flee: till ye be left as a beacon upon the {p} top of a mountain, and as an ensign on an hill.

(p) Whereas all the trees are cut down save two or three to make masts.

17. Their flight will be disgraceful. The words at the rebuke of five seem to weaken the force of the preceding hyperbole; hence some critics would insert “a myriad” in the second clause, after Leviticus 26:8; Deuteronomy 32:30.

beacon means “flag-staff” (elsewhere “mast”), cf. ch. Isaiah 33:23.

18 is frequently explained as a concluding threat—“Therefore will the Lord wait before having mercy on you”; will postpone your deliverance. But this interpretation does violence to the terms of the verse, which is really the introduction of a new section, full of glorious promises. The “waiting” of Jehovah is that of anxious expectancy for the opportune moment of intervention; His “exaltation” denotes His readiness to act. The emendation “he will be silent” for “he will be exalted” is unnecessary. It is difficult, however, to explain the conjunction “therefore,” after Isaiah 30:17; unless we can hold that it has adversative force (= “even under these circumstances,” “nevertheless”). The new passage seems to belong to a different time, and to continue another train of thought: see Isaiah 29:15-24.

a God of judgment] or “justice.”

that wait for him] Cf. ch. Isaiah 8:17; Psalm 33:20, &c.

Verse 17. - One thousand shall flee at the rebuke of one. A hyperbole common in Scripture (Deuteronomy 32:30; Joshua 23:10; Leviticus 26:8), and not confined to the sacred writers. Piankhi the Ethiopian boasts, in his great inscription, that, with Ammon's help, "many should turn their backs upon a few, and one should rout a thousand" ('Records of the Past,' vol. it. p. 84). At the rebuke of five. The "rebuke" of five (i.e. their war-shout) would put to flight the whole army. As a beacon; rather, as a flag-staff - stripped and bare (comp. Isaiah 33:23; Ezekiel 27:5). A tree stripped of its branches and left standing as a landmark seems to be intended. As an ensign. A military standard, such as was in common use among the Assyrians and Egyptians, as among the Greeks and Romans (see 'Ancient Monarchies,' vol. 2. p. 57; Rawlinson, 'Hist. of Egypt,' vol. 1. p. 463). Isaiah 30:17Into such small sherds, a heap thus scattered hither and thither, would the kingdom of Judah be broken up, in consequence of its ungodly thirst for self-liberation. "For thus saith the Lord Jehovah, the Holy One of Israel, Through turning and rest ye would be helped; your strength would show itself in quietness and confidence; but ye would not. And ye said, No, but we will fly upon horses; therefore ye shall flee: and, We will ride upon racehorses; therefore your pursuers will race. A thousand, ye will flee from the threatening of one, from the threatening of five, until ye are reduced to a remnant, like a pine upon the top of the mountain, and like a banner upon the hill." The conditions upon which their salvation depended, and by complying with which they would attain to it, were shūbhâh, turning from their self-chosen way, and nachath, rest from self-confident work of their own (from nūăch, like rachath, ventilabrum, from rūăch, and shachath, fovea, from shūăch). Their strength (i.e., what they would be able to do in opposition to the imperial power) would show itself (hâyâh, arise, come to the light, as in Isaiah 29:2), in hashqēt, laying aside their busy care and stormy eagerness, and bitchâh, trust, which cleaves to Jehovah and, renouncing all self-help, leaves Him to act alone. This was the leading and fundamental principle of the prophet's politics even in the time of Ahaz (Isaiah 7:4). But from the very first they would not act upon it; nor would they now that the alliance with Egypt had become an irreversible fact. To fly upon horses, and ride away upon racehorses (kal, like κέλης, celer)

(Note: We regard the Sanscrit kal, to drive or hunt, the Greek κέλλ(ὀκέλλ)ειν, and the Semitic qal, as all having the same root: cf., Vurtius, Grundzge der griech. Etymol. i.116.))

had been and still was their proud and carnal ambition, which Jehovah would answer by fulfilling upon them the curses of the thorah (Leviticus 26:8, Leviticus 26:36; Deuteronomy 28:25; Deuteronomy 32:30). One, or at the most five, of the enemy would be able with their snorting to put to flight a whole thousand of the men of Judah. The verb nūs (Isaiah 30:16), which rhymes with sūs, is used first of all in its primary sense of "flying" (related to nūts, cf., Exodus 14:27), and then in its more usual sense of "fleeing." (Luzzatto, after Abulwald: vogliamo far sui cavalli gloriosa comparsa, from nūs, or rather nâsas, hence nânōs, from which comes nēs, excellere.) יקּלּוּ, the fut. niphal, signifies to be light, i.e., swift; whereas יקל, the fut. kal, had become a common expression for light in the sense of despised or lightly esteemed. The horses and chariots are Judah's own (Isaiah 2:7; Micah 5:9), though possibly with the additional allusion to the Egyptian cavalry, of world-wide renown, which they had called to their help. In Isaiah 30:17 the subject of the first clause is also that of the second, and consequently we have not וּמפּני (compare the asyndeta in Isaiah 17:6). The insertion of rebhâbhâh (ten thousand) after chămisshâh (five), which Lowth, Gesenius, and others propose, is quite unnecessary. The play upon the words symbolizes the divine law of retribution (talio), which would be carried out with regard to them. The nation, which had hitherto resembled a thick forest, would become like a lofty pine (tōrne, according to the talmudic tūrnı̄thâ, Pinus pinea), standing solitary upon the top of a mountain, and like a flagstaff planted upon a hill - a miserable remnant in the broad land so fearfully devastated by war. For אם עד followed by a preterite (equivalent to the fut. exactum), compare Isaiah 6:11 and Genesis 24:19.

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