Isaiah 34:9
And the streams thereof shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone, and the land thereof shall become burning pitch.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(9, 10) The streams thereof shall be turned into pitch . . .—The imagery of the punishment which is to fall on Edom is suggested partly by the scenery of the Dead Sea, partly by the volcanic character of Edom itself, with its extinct craters and streams of lava. (Comp. Jeremiah 49:18.) The prophet sees the destruction, as continuing not merely in its results, but in its process, the smoke of the burning craters rising up perpetually, and making the land uninhabitable.

Isaiah 34:9-15. And the streams thereof — The rivers, which seem most secure from the judgment here threatened; shall be turned into pitch, &c. — The country shall be dealt with as Sodom and Gomorrah were, even utterly destroyed, as it were, by fire, or burning pitch and brimstone, thrown down upon it from heaven. From generation to generation it shall lie waste — It shall be irrecoverably ruined, and shall remain a spectacle of God’s vengeance to all succeeding ages. The cormorant, &c., shall possess 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 Isaiah 13:21-22; and Isaiah 14:23. He shall stretch out upon it the line of confusion, &c. — He shall use the line, and the stone, or plummet, joined to it, not to build it up, but to mark it out for destruction and desolation. Thus the prophet goes on to “paint, in the most chosen figures, an image of the land and city desolated by war, wasted by fire, and devoted to eternal desolation, by the divine judgment; which should not only be deprived of its inhabitants, and left to impure beasts and birds, but also, by the desolations brought upon it, should be rendered uninhabitable, and present the appearance of the infernal flames, like another Sodom and Gomorrah, sending forth continually black smoke and horrid smells. The desolation of Babylon is set forth in similar terms, Isaiah 13:19, &c. Though Rome pagan and the Roman powers have already suffered great desolation from the Goths and others, yet Vitringa is of opinion that this prophecy has not yet had its full completion, but will hereafter have it in the destruction of Papal Rome. The state of Italy, and the sulphurous soil in the vicinity of Rome, render the probability of this devastation greater.” — Dodd.

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.And the streams thereof - The idea here is, that there would be as great and awful a destruction as if the streams everywhere should become pitch or resin, which would be set on fire, and which would fill the land with flame. This image is very striking, as we may see by supposing the rivers and streams in any land to flow not with water, but with heated pitch, turpentine, or tar, and that this was all suddenly kindled into a flame. It cannot be supposed that this is to be taken literally. The image is evidently taken from the destruction of Sodom and Gamorrah (Genesis 19:25-28), an image which is more fully used in reference to the same subject in Jeremiah 49:17-18 : 'And Edom shall be a desolation;... as in the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the neighbor cities thereof, saith the Lord, no man shall abide there, neither shall a son of man dwell in it.'

And the dust thereof into brimstone - The ruin shall be as entire as if all the soil were turned into brimstone, which should be ignited and left burning.

9. Images from the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah (Ge 19:24-28; so De 29:23; Jer 49:17, 18). The streams, which seem most secure from this danger, and much more the land. Idumea shall be dealt with as Sodom and Gomorrah were, even utterly destroyed, as it were, by fire, or burning pitch and brimstone thrown down upon it from heaven.

And the streams thereof shall be turned into pitch,.... The Septuagint render it, "the valleys"; the word signifying both rivers and valleys, most render it rivers or streams. The Targum is express,

"the rivers of Rome shall be turned into pitch;''

by which may be meant the maritime places belonging to the Romish jurisdiction, the same on which the third vial will be poured, by which the rivers and fountains of waters will become blood; and which refers to this very time, when blood shall be given to the whore of Rome to drink, Revelation 16:4. The allusion, in this and some following clauses, is to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; see Jeremiah 49:17,

and the dust thereof into brimstone; and so easily take fire:

and the land thereof shall become burning pitch: plainly pointing to the destruction of Rome by fire, Revelation 17:16.

And its streams shall be turned into pitch, and its dust into {i} brimstone, and its land shall become burning pitch.

(i) He alludes to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Ge 19:24.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
9, 10. The description is no doubt suggested by the volcanic phenomena which accompanied the destruction of the neighbouring cities of the Plain (Genesis 19; Jeremiah 49:18). The division of clauses in the LXX. is much preferable to that in the Hebrew Text. Render accordingly: … and its land shall become pitch, burning night and day; it shall not be quenched for ever; its smoke shall go up from generation to generation; it shall lie waste to all eternity, none passing through it (so Cheyne). The last two clauses prepare for the transition to the other picture of ruin, which is elaborated in the verses that follow.

9–17. The fate of the land of Edom is next represented under two incompatible images,—first that of a perpetual conflagration (Isaiah 34:9-10), and second that of a dreary solitude, peopled only by “doleful creatures” (Isaiah 34:11 ff.).

Verse 9. - And the streams thereof; i.e. "the streams of the land of Edom." Though Edom has no perennial rivers, it has numerous torrent-courses to carry off the winter rains (see 2 Kings 3:20-22). These should run with pitch, instead of water. The general idea is that Edom should be visited with a destruction like that of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:24; comp. Jeremiah 49:18). But the prophet scarcely intends his words to be taken literally; he is making Edom a type or representation of God's enemies, and the gist of his teaching is that a dreadful vengeance, an utter destruction, will come upon all who set themselves up against the Most High. In the next verse he declares that the vengeance will be eternal (comp. Isaiah 66:24). Isaiah 34:9Thus does Jehovah avenge His church upon Edom. "For Jehovah hath a day of vengeance, a year of recompense, to contend for Zion. And the brooks of Edom are turned into pitch, and its dust into brimstone, and its land becomes burning pitch. Day and night it is not quenched; the smoke of Edom goes up for ever: it lies waste from generation to generation; no one passes through it for ever and ever." The one expression, "to contend for Zion," is like a flash of lightning, throwing light upon the obscurity of prophecy, both backwards and forwards. A day and a year of judgment upon Edom (compare Isaiah 61:2; Isaiah 63:4) would do justice to Zion against its accusers and persecutors (rı̄bh, vindicare, as in Isaiah 51:22). The everlasting punishment which would fall upon it is depicted in figures and colours, suggested by the proximity of Edom to the Dead Sea, and the volcanic character of this mountainous country. The unquenchable fire (for which compare Isaiah 66:24), and the eternally ascending smoke (cf., Revelation 19:3), prove that the end of all things is referred to. The prophet meant primarily, no doubt, that the punishment announced would fall upon the land of Edom, and within its geographical boundaries; but this particular punishment represented the punishment of all nations, and all men who were Edomitish in their feelings and conduct towards the congregation of Jehovah.
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