Isaiah 30:28
And his breath, as an overflowing stream, shall reach to the midst of the neck, to sift the nations with the sieve of vanity: and there shall be a bridle in the jaws of the people, causing them to err.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(28) His breath, as an overflowing stream.—Water supplies its symbolism, as well as fire. The wrath of the judge sweeps onward like an autumn torrent, threatening to engulf all that stand in its way.

To sift the nations with the sieve of vanity.—Better, the winnowing fan of nothingness. Sifting is, as elsewhere, the symbol of judgment (so Osiris appears in Egyptian monuments armed with a flail, as the judge of the dead; Cheyne), and the “fan” in this case is one which threatens to annihilate the guilty.

A bridle in the jaws of the people.—The words find a parallel in Isaiah 37:29. The enemies of Jehovah should find themselves under a constraining power, leading them on against their will to their own destruction. Quem Deus vult perdere, prius dementat.

30:27-33 God curbs and restrains from doing mischief. With a word he guides his people into the right way, but with a bridle he turns his enemies upon their own ruin. Here, in threatening the ruin of Sennacherib's army, the prophet points at the final and everlasting destruction of all impenitent sinners. Tophet was a valley near Jerusalem, where fires were continually burning to destroy things that were hurtful and offensive, and there the idolatrous Jews caused their children to pass through the fire to Moloch. This denotes the certainty of the destruction, as an awful emblem of the place of torment in the other world. No oppressor shall escape the Divine wrath. Let sinners then flee to Christ, seeking to be reconciled to Him, that they may be safe and happy, when destruction from the Almighty shall sweep away all the workers of iniquity.And his breath - The word רוח rûach properly means "wind," air in motion; then a breathing, an exhalation, a breath; then the soul, spirit, etc. The idea here seems to be that of excited, and rapid, and agitated breathing, as when one is in anger (compare Judges 8:3; Zechariah 6:8).

As an overflowing stream - This figure is common to express desolating judgments (see the notes at Isaiah 8:8; Isaiah 10:22; Isaiah 28:17; compare Psalm 69:2, Psalm 69:15).

Shall reach to the midst of the neck - Isaiah Isa 8:8, in describing the invasion of Sennacherib, and comparing it to an oveflowing torrent, says it would 'reach even to the neck;' that is, it would overflow the land, and even approach the head, the capital, but that that would be spared. By the use of a similar figure, and perhaps referring to that, he here says, that the judgment of God would overflow the army of the Assyrians, but that it would approach only to the neck, the head would still be spared; the commander and sovereign would not be destroyed. In accordance with this prediction, the angel in one night, as with an overflowing flood, cut off the army, and yet spared the sovereign, Sennacherib, who escaped with his life Isaiah 37:36-37. The word rendered 'shall reach' (רחצה yechĕtseh) properly means "shall divide," or cut into two parts Genesis 33:8; Numbers 31:37, Numbers 31:42; Judges 9:43; and the idea here seems to be that a man who is in the water seems to be "divided" into two parts, one part above, and one in the water.

To sift the nations - Doubtless many nations were laid under requisition to furnish an army so large as that of Sennaherib, as the kingdom of Assyria was made up of a number of tributary people and provinces. The word rendered 'to sift' refers to the act of winnowing or fanning grain, in which the grain is "tossed" or thrown from the shovel into the air. As the chaff is driven away by the wind, so the nations in the army of Sennacherib would be scattered.

With the sieve of vanity - That is, of emptiness or perdition; he would so scatter them that nothing would be left.

A bridle in the jaws of the people - The idea is, that he had all these nations as much under his control as a man has a horse with a bridle in his mouth. The same idea the prophet has used in reference to the same subject in Isaiah 37:29 :

I will put my bridle in thy jaws,

And I will turn thee back by the way by which thou camest.

Causing them to err - That shall cause them to wander; that is, he would turn them from the path in which they had designed to go. They had purposed to go to Jerusalem, but he would lead them back to their own land, discomfited and disheartened (see Isaiah 37:29).

28. (Isa 11:4; 2Th 2:8).

reach … neck—the most extreme danger; yet as the head, or capital of Judah, was to be spared (Isa 8:8), so the head, or sovereign of Assyria, Sennacherib, should escape.

sieve of vanity—Rather, "the winnowing fan of destruction" [Lowth] (Isa 41:16).

bridle in … jaws—as prisoners are represented in the Assyrian inscriptions (Isa 37:29).

causing … to err—(Isa 63:17). "People," Hebrew, "peoples," namely, the various races composing the Assyrian armies (Isa 5:26).

His breath; either,

1. The breath of his nostrils, as it is called, Job 4:9; or the blast of the breath of his nostrils, as Psalm 18:15; in both which places it is mentioned as a sign and effect of God’s anger, and the cause of the destruction of those against whom it is directed. And the expression seems to be borrowed from hence, that men discover their anger by a strong and vehement breathing through their nostrils. Or,

2. The breath of his lips or mouth, to which the destruction of God’s enemies is elsewhere ascribed, as Job 15:30 Isaiah 11:4, which may be the same thing with his lips and tongue in the foregoing verse, or may design strong blast coming out of his mouth; for God is frequently said to destroy wicked men by blowing upon them, as Isaiah 40:7,24 Eze 21:31 22:21. As an overflowing stream; coming from him as vehemently as a mighty torrent of waters.

Shall reach to the midst of the neck; shall bring him into a most dangerous condition, as a man who is in deep waters which reach to his neck is in danger of being drowned; and afterwards, as is related in the following verses, will utterly destroy him. And this was fulfilled in Sennacherib, who was highly endangered, when he lost so great a part of his army, and shortly after slain by his own sons. Although these words may be added as a description of the overflowing: stream now mentioned, and may be thus rendered, Which reacheth even to the midst of the neck; for the relative particle is frequently understood in Scripture.

To sift; to shake and scatter, as it were, with a sieve; or to try and vex, as this metaphor signifies, Amos 9:9 Luke 22:31. The nations; the Assyrian army, which was made up of the people of several nations. With the sieve of vanity; not with an ordinary sieve, which casteth away the chaff only, but keepeth the corn; but with a sieve which should shake them so long and so vehemently as to cast away all together, and to make a full end of them.

There shall be a bridle in the jaws of the people; God will restrain and overrule them by his secret and powerful providence. Causeth them to err; whereas other bridles guide the bridled creatures into the right way, this shall turn them out of the way, by giving them up to their own mistakes, and foolish counsels, and wicked courses, which shall bring them to sore and certain ruin.

And his breath as an overflowing stream,.... Which comes with great swiftness and force, bearing all before it, breathing out nothing but the fire of divine wrath, before which there is no standing; nor could the Assyrian army stand before it, but suddenly, in a moment, was carried away with the force of it: thus our Lord will consume the man of sin with the spirit or breath of his mouth, and destroy him with the brightness of his coming, 2 Thessalonians 2:8, and this stream

shall reach to the midst of the neck; which shows the extreme danger the army would be in, as a man that is up to the neck in water, and can find no way of escaping; and very aptly represents their state and condition, the whole body of the army being encompassed and destroyed by this overflowing stream of divine wrath, only their head, their king Sennacherib was saved; and he in a little time was cut off, when he had got into his country; as the Assyrian army served the Jews, they are served themselves; see Isaiah 8:7,

to sift the nations with the sieve of vanity; that is, the breath, wind, or Spirit of the Lord, compared to an overflowing stream, should be of this use, and have this effect, to sift the people of several nations, of which the Assyrian army consisted, so as to dash them one against another, and utterly destroy them; for they were to be sifted, not with a good and profitable sieve, which retains the corn, and shakes out the chaff, or so as to have some taken out and spared; but with a sieve that lets all through, and so be brought to nothing, as the Vulgate Latin version; and thus will all the antichristian nations be agitated, and shaken, and destroyed, ere long:

and there shall be a bridle in the jaws of the people, causing them to err; from the way they intended to go, namely, up to Jerusalem, and take and sack it, and obliging them to betake themselves another way for their retreat and safety; see Isaiah 37:29.

And his breath, as an overflowing stream, shall reach to the midst of the neck, to sift the nations with the sieve of {a} vanity: and there shall be a bridle in the jaws of the people, causing them to err.

(a) To drive you to nothing: and thus God consumes the wicked by that means, by which he cleanses his.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
28. Render with R.V. and his breath is as an overflowing stream that reacheth (lit. “divideth”) even unto the neck, &c. (cf. ch. Isaiah 8:8).

to sift (lit. “swing”) [the] nations with the sieve of vanity (or “ruin”)] i.e. to sift them until they are annihilated.

and there shall be a bridle … err] Better: and (he shall be) a bridle that causeth to err, in the jaws of peoples; i.e. Jehovah by His providence, turns the Assyrians aside from their purpose, and frustrates their enterprise.

Verse 28. - His breath, as an overflowing stream, shall reach to the midst of the neck. When the sacred writers are oppressed by the tremendous character of the revelations made to them, their metaphors are often labored and incongruous. Here, the mouth, in which there is a tongue of fire, sends forth a rush of breath, which is compared to an "overflowing stream, which reaches to the middle of the neck, "and sweeps those who try to cross it away (comp. Ezekiel 47:5) To sift the nations with the sieve of vanity. More incongruity, to be excused by the writer's theme being such as to transcend all language and all imagery. One of the Divine purposes, in all violent crashes and revolutions, is "to sift nations" - to separate in each nation the good from the bad, the precious from the vile; and this is done with "the sieve of vanity," i.e. the sieve which allows the good corn to pass through, separating from it, and keeping back, all that is vile and refuse (comp. Amos 9:9). There shall be a bridle in the jaws of the people, causing them to err. Another entire change in the metaphor. The result of God's interference shall be "to put a bridle in the jaws of the peoples," whereby the hand of the Almighty will guide them to their destruction. Isaiah 30:28"Behold, the name of Jehovah cometh from far, burning His wrath, and quantity of smoke: His lips are full of wrathful foam, and His tongue like devouring fire. And His breath is like an overflowing brook, which reaches half-way to the neck, to sift nations in the sieve of nothingness; and a misleading bridle comes to the cheeks of the nations." Two figures are here melted together - namely, that of a storm coming up from the farthest horizon, which turns the sky into a sea of fire, and kindles whatever it strikes, so that there rises up a heavy burden, or thick mass of smoke (kōbhed massâ'âh, like mas'ēth in Judges 20:40, cf., Judges 20:38; on this attributive combination, burning His wrath (Ewald, 288, c) and a quantity, etc., see Isaiah 13:9); and that of a man burning with wrath, whose lips foam, whose tongue moves to and fro like a flame, and whose breath is a snorting that threatens destruction, which when it issues from Jehovah swells into a stream, which so far covers a man that only his neck appears as the visible half. We had the same figure in Isaiah 8:8, where Asshur, as it came upon Judah, was compared to such an almost overwhelming and drowning flood. Here, again, it refers to Judah, which the wrath of Jehovah had almost though not entirely destroyed. For the ultimate object of the advancing name of Jehovah (shēm, name, relating to His judicial coming) is to sift nations, etc.: lahănâphâh for lehânı̄ph (like lahăzâdâh in Daniel 5:20), to make it more like nâphâh in sound. The sieve of nothingness is a sieve in which everything, that does not remain in it as good corn, is given up to annihilation; שׁוא is want of being, i.e., of life from God, and denotes the fate that properly belongs to such worthlessness. In the case of v'resen (and a bridle, etc.) we must either supply in thought לשׂום (שׂם), or, what is better, take it as a substantive clause: "a misleading bridle" (or a bridle of misleading, as Bttcher renders it, math‛eh being the form mashqeh) holds the cheeks of the nations. The nations are regarded as wild horses, which could not be tamed, but which were now so firmly bound and controlled by the wrath of God, that they were driven down into the abyss.
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