Isaiah 34:11
But the cormorant and the bittern shall possess it; the owl also and the raven shall dwell in it: and he shall stretch out on it the line of confusion, and the stones of emptiness.
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(11) But the cormorant and the bittern shall possess it . . .—The picture of a wild, desolate region, haunted by birds and beasts that shun the abode of men, is a favourite one with Isaiah (comp. Isaiah 13:20-22; Isaiah 14:23), and is reproduced by Zephaniah (Zephaniah 2:14). Naturalists agree in translating, The pelicans and hedgehogs; the owl, and the raven.

The line of confusion, and the stones of emptiness . . .—The “line” and the “stones” are those of the builder’s plumb-line, used, as in 2Kings 21:13; Amos 7:7-9; Lamentations 2:8, for the work, not of building up, but for the destroying as with a scientific completeness. “Confusion” and “emptiness,” are the tohu v’bohu, “without form and void” of the primeval chaos (Genesis 1:1).

34:9-17 Those who aim to ruin the church, can never do that, but will ruin themselves. What dismal changes sin can make! It turns a fruitful land into barrenness, a crowded city into a wilderness. Let us compare all we discover in the book of the Lord, with the dealings of providence around us, that we may be more diligent in seeking the kingdom of God and his righteousness. What the mouth of the Lord has commanded, his Spirit will perform. And let us observe how the evidences of the truth continually increase, as one prophecy after another is fulfilled, until these awful scenes bring in more happy days. As Israel was a figure of the Christian church, so the Edomites, their bitter enemies, represent the enemies of the kingdom of Christ. God's Jerusalem may be laid in ruins for a time, but the enemies of the church shall be desolate for ever.But the cormorant - This and the following verses contain a description of the desolations of Edom in language remarkably similar to that employed in the account of the destruction of Babylon Isaiah 13:20-22; Isaiah 14:23. The word here translated 'cormorant' (קאת qâ'ath), occurs in this place and in Zephaniah 2:14, where it is rendered 'cormorant,' and in Leviticus 11:18; Deuteronomy 14:17; Psalm 102:6, where it is rendered 'pelican.' Bochart supposes it is the ardea stellaris, or bitourn, which frequents watery places in deserts, and makes a horrible noise. The pelican is a sea-fowl, and cannot be intended here. The cormorant or water raven is a large fowl of the pelican kind, which occupies the cliffs by the sea, feeds on fish, and which is extremely voracious, and which is the emblem of a glutton. It is not certain what fowl is intended here, but the word properly denotes a water-fowl, and evidently refers to some bird that inhabits desolate places.

And the bittern shall possess it - For a description of the bittern, see the note at Isaiah 14:23.

The owl also and the raven - Well known birds that occupy deserts, and old ruins of houses or towns. The image here is that of desolation and ruin; and the sense is, that the land would be reduced to a waste that would not be inhabited by man, but would be given up to wild animals. How well this agrees with Edom, may be seen in the Travels of Burckhardt, Seetsen, and others. In regard to the fact that the cormorant (קאת qâ'ath) should be found there, it may be proper to introduce a remark of Burckhardt, who seems to have had no reference to this prophecy. 'The bird katta,' says he, 'is met with in immense numbers. They fly in such large flocks that the boys often kill two or three of them at a time, merely by throwing a stick among them.' So also in regard to the fact that the owl and the raven shall dwell there, the following statements are made by travelers: Captain Mangles relates thatwhile he and his fellow-travelers were examining the ruins and contemplating the sublime scenery of Petra, 'the screaming of the eagles, hawks, and owls, which were soaring above their heads in considerable numbers, seemingly annoyed at anyone approaching their lonely habitation, added much to the singularity of the scene.' So says Burckhardt: 'The fields of Tafyle (situated in the immediate vicinity of Edom) are frequented by an immense number of crows.'

And he shall stretch out upon it - This is an illusion to the fact that an architect uses a line, which is employed to lay out his work (see the note at Isaiah 28:17).

The line of confusion - A similar expression occurs in 2 Kings 21:13 : 'I will stretch over Jerusalem the line of Samaria, and the plummet of the house of Ahab;' that is, I will apply the same measure and rule of destruction to Jerusalem that has been applied to Samaria. So Edom would be marked out for desolation. It was the work which God had laid out, and which he intended to perform.

And the stones of emptiness - Probably the plummet which the architect commonly employed with his line (see the note at Isaiah 28:17). It is a fact, however, that Edom is at present an extended waste of stones and barren rocks. 'We had before us an immense expanse of dreary country, entirely covered with black flints, with here and there some hilly chain rising from the plain.' (Burckhardt's Travels in Syria, p. 445.)

11. cormorant—The Hebrew is rendered, in Ps 102:6, "pelican," which is a seafowl, and cannot be meant here: some waterfowl (katta, according to Burckhardt) that tenants desert places is intended.

bittern—rather, "the hedgehog," or "porcupine" [Gesenius] (Isa 14:23).

owl—from its being enumerated among water birds in Le 11:17; De 14:16. Maurer thinks rather the heron or crane is meant; from a Hebrew root, "to blow," as it utters a sound like the blowing of a horn (Re 18:2).


line … stones—metaphor from an architect with line and plummet-stone (see on [756]Isa 18:2; [757]Isa 28:17); God will render to it the exact measure of justice without mercy (Jas 2:13; 2Ki 21:13; La 2:8; Am 7:7, 8).

emptiness—desolation. Edom is now a waste of "stones."

The cormorant and the bittern shall possess it, the owl also and the raven shall dwell in it; the inhabitants shall be wholly cut off, and it shall be entirely possessed by those creatures which delight in deserts and waste places. See the same or like expressions in the like case, Isaiah 13:21,22 14:23.

He shall stretch out upon it the line of confusion, and the stones of emptiness; he shall use the line, or the stone or plummet joined to it, not to build them, but to mark them out to desolation and destruction, as workmen commonly use them to mark what they are to pull down. But the cormorant and the bittern shall possess it,.... The word for "cormorant" is rendered a "pelican", in Psalm 102:6 they were both unclean fowls according to the law, of which see Leviticus 11:17 and See Gill on Isaiah 14:23,

the owl also and the raven shall dwell in it; which were likewise unclean creatures; and these, with the former, and other creatures after mentioned, delight to dwell in desolate and ruinous places; and so Babylon or Rome being destroyed, will become a cage of every unclean and hateful bird, Revelation 18:2,

and he shall stretch out upon it the line of confusion and the stones of emptiness; "he", that is, God, as Kimchi interprets it; the allusion is to builders, that make use of the line and plummet, as to build, so to pull down, that they may know what is to be pulled down, and how far they are to go; see 2 Kings 21:13 and hereby it is signified, that as the destruction should be entire, nothing should be left but confusion and emptiness; and all should become "tohu" and "bohu", which are the words used here; and are the same that are used to express the confused chaos, the unformed and empty earth, Genesis 1:2 so likewise that it should be by line and level, by rule and measure; or according to the rules of justice and equity.

But the cormorant {k} and the bittern shall possess it; the owl also and the raven shall dwell in it: and he shall stretch out upon it the line of {l} confusion, and the stones of emptiness.

(k) Read Isa 13:21, Zep 2:14.

(l) In vain will any man go about to build it again.

11. the cormorant and the bittern] Zephaniah 2:14. R.V. has “the pelican (Leviticus 11:18; Psalm 102:6) and the porcupine”; for the latter see on ch. Isaiah 14:23.

the line of confusion, and the stones (R.V. plummet) of emptiness] See on ch. Isaiah 28:17. These implements of the builder were naturally employed where a partial destruction (of houses, &c.) was contemplated; but the image is also extended to the case of complete demolition; 2 Kings 21:13; Lamentations 2:8. “Confusion” and “emptiness” stand for the words tôhû and bôhû, used of the primeval chaos in Genesis 1:2 (cf. Jeremiah 4:23).Verse 11. - The cormorant and the bittern shall possess it. Compare the prophecy against Babylon in Isaiah 14:23. The Hebrew word translated "cormorant," is now generally regarded as designating the "pelican," while the one rendered "bittern" is thought by some to mean "hedgehog" or "porcupine." Animals that delight in solitude are certainly meant, but the particular species is, more or less, matter of conjecture. He shall stretch out upon it; rather, and one shall stretch out upon it. The verb is used impersonally. The line of confusion, and the stones of emptiness; rather, the line of desolation, and the plummet of emptiness (comp. 2 Kings 21:13; Lamentations 2:8; Amos 7:7, 8). The destruction of cities was effected by rule and measure, probably because different portions of the task were assigned to different sets of laborers, and, if the work was to be completely done, it required to be done systematically. Here, the measuring-tape and the plumb-line are to be these of tohu and vohu, or of the eternal chaos out of which God, by his word, produced order (Genesis 1:2). If we bear this in mind, we shall not be surprised that the prophet gives the following reason for the passing away of the present heavens. "For my sword has become intoxicated in the heaven; behold, it comes down upon Edom, and upon the people of my ban to judgment. The sword of Jehovah fills itself with blood, is fattened with fat, with blood of lambs and he-goats, with kidney-fat of rams; for Jehovah has a sacrifice in Bozrah, and a great slaughter in the land of Edom. And buffaloes fall with them, and bullocks together with bulls; and their land become intoxicated with blood, and their dust fattened with fat." Just as in chapter 63 Jehovah is represented as a treader of the wine-press, and the nations as the grapes; so here He is represented as offering sacrifice, and the nations as the animals offered (zebhach: cf., Zephaniah 1:7; Jeremiah 46:10); Ezekiel 39:17.: all three passages founded upon this). Jehovah does not appear here in person as judge, as He does there, but His sword appears; just as in Genesis 3:24, the "sword which turned every way" is mentioned as an independent power standing by the side of the cherub. The sword is His executioner, which has no sooner drunk deeply of wrath in heaven, i.e., in the immediate sphere of the Deity (rivvethâh, an intensive form of the kal, like pittēăch, Isaiah 48:8; Ewald, 120, d), than it comes down in wild intoxication upon Edom, the people of the ban of Jehovah, i.e., the people upon whom He has laid the ban, and there, as His instrument of punishment, fills itself with blood, and fattens itself with fat. הדּשׁנה is the hothpaal equals התדּשׁנה, with the ת of the preformative syllable assimilated (compare הזּכּוּ in Isaiah 1:16, and אדּמּה in Isaiah 14:14). The penultimate has the tone, the nâh being treated as in the plural forms of the future. The dropping of the dagesh in the שׁ eht ni hse is connected with this. The reading מחלב, in Isaiah 34:6, is an error that has been handed down in modern copies (in opposition to both codices and ancient editions); for חלב (primary form, chilb) is the only form met with in the Old Testament. The lambs, he-goats, and rams, represent the Edomitish nation, which is compared to these smaller sacrificial animals. Edom and Bozrah are also placed side by side in Isaiah 63:1. The latter was one of the chief cities of the Edomites (Genesis 36:33; Amos 1:12; Jeremiah 49:13, Jeremiah 49:22) - not the Bozrah in Auranitis (Haurân), however, which is well known in church history, but Bozrah in the mountains of Edom, upon the same site as the village of Buzaire (i.e., Minor Bozrah), which is still surrounded by its ruins. In contrast with the three names of the smaller animals in Isaiah 34:6, the three names of oxen in Isaiah 34:7 represent the lords of Edom. They also will fall, smitten by the sword (yâredū: cf., Jeremiah 50:27; Jeremiah 51:40; also Jeremiah 48:15). The feast of the sword is so abundant, that even the earth and the dust of the land of Edom are satiated with blood and fat.
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