And the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water: in the habitation of dragons, where each lay, shall be grass with reeds and rushes.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)The parched ground . . .—The Hebrew word is essentially what we know as the mirage, or fata morgana, the silvery sheen which looks like a sparkling lake, and turns out to be barren sand. Instead of that delusive show, there shall be in the renewed earth the lake itself.
In the habitation of dragons . . .—Better, as elsewhere, jackals, which had their lair in the sandy desert.
Shall be grass with reeds and rushes.—Better, grass shall grow as (or unto) reeds and rushes, the well-watered soil giving even to common herbage an intensified fertility.Isaiah 49:10; and then the phenomenon which is produced by the refraction of the rays of the sun on the glowing sands of a desert and which gives the appearance of a sea or lake of water, This phenomenon is witnessed in the deserts of Arabia and Egypt, and has been also seen occasionally in the south of France and in Russia. We have no word in English to express it. The French word by which it is commonly designated is mirage. It is caused by the refraction of the rays of the sun, an explanation of which may be found in the Edin. Encyclopaedia, vol. xiv. pp. 753-755. It is often described by travelers, and is referred to in the Koran, chapter xxiv. 39:
The works of unbelievers are like the serab in a plain,
Which the thirsty man takes to be water;
Until he comes to it, and finds that it is not.
Mr. Sale's note on this place in the Koran is, 'The Arabic word serab signifies that false appearance which in the eastern countries is often seen in sandy plains about noon, resembling a large lake of water in motion, and is occasioned by the reverberation of the sunbeams, "by the quivering undulating motion of that quick succession of vapors and exhalations which are extracted by the powerful influence of the sun" (Shaw's Travels, p. 378). It sometimes tempts thirsty travelers out of their way, but deceives them when they come near, either going forward (for it always appears at the same distance), or quite vanishes.' Q. Curtius (vii. 5) also has mentioned it, in the description of the march of Alexander the Great across the Oxus to Sogdiana: 'The vapor of the summer sun inflamed the sands, which when they began to be inflamed all things seemed to burn. A dense cloud, produced by the unusual heat of the earth, covered the light, and the appearance of the plains was like a vast and deep sea.' The Arabians often refer to this in their writings, and draw images from it. 'Like the serab of the plain, which the thirsty take to be water.' 'He runs for the spoil of the serab;' a proverb. 'Deceitful as the appearance of water;' also a proverb. 'Be not deceived by the glimmer of the scrub;' another proverb. This appearance has been often described by modern travelers, (see Shaw's Travels, p. 375; Clarke's Travels, vol ii. p. 295; Belzoni's Travels and Operations in Egypt and Nubia, p. 196).
The same appearance has been observed in India, and in various parts of Africa. 'During the French expedition to Egypt, the phenomena of unusual refractions were often seen. The uniformity of the extensive sandy plains of Lower Egypt is interrupted only by small eminences, on which the villages are situated, in order to escape the inundations of the Nile. In the morning and the evening, as many have remarked, objects appear in their natural position; but when the surface of the sandy ground is heated by the sun, the land seems at a certain distance terminated by a general inundation. The villages which are beyond it appear like so many islands situated in the middle of a great lake; and under each village is an inverted image of it. As the observer approaches the limits of the apparent inundation, the imaginary lake which seemed to encircle the village withdraws itself, and the same illusion is reproduced by another village more remote.' (Edin. Encyclopaedia, vol. xiv. p. 754.) 'In the desert,' says Prof. Robinson, 'we had frequent instances of the mirage presenting the appearance of lakes of water and islands; and as we began to descend toward Suez, it was difficult to distinguish between these appearances and the distant real waters of the Red Sea.' (Travels in Palestine and the adjacent regions, in 1838, Bib. Repos. April, 1839, p. 402.) Major Skinner, in his recently published Journey Overland to India, describes the appearance of the scrub in that very desert, between Palestine and the Euphrates, which probably supplied the images which the prophet employs: 'About noon the most perfect deception that can be conceived exhilarated our spirits, and promised an early restingplace.
We had observed a slight mirage two or three times before, but this day it surpassed all I have ever fancied. Although aware that these appearances have often led people astray, I could not bring myself to believe that this was unreal. The Arabs were doubtful, and said that, as we had found water yesterday, it was not improbable that we should find some today. The seeming lake was broken in several parts by little islands of sand that gave strength to the delusion. The dromedaries of the Sheikhs at length reached its borders, and appeared to us to have commenced to ford as they advanced, and became more surrounded by the vapor. I thought they had got into deep water, and moved with greater caution. In passing over the sand banks their figures were reflected in the water. So convinced was Mr. Calmun of its reality, that he dismounted and walked toward the deepest part of it, which was on the right hand. He followed the deceitful lake for a long time, and to our sight was strolling on the bank, his shadow stretching to a great length beyond. There was not a breath of wind; it was a sultry day, and such an one as would have added dreadfully to our disappointment if we had been at any time without water.'
Southey has beautifully described this appearance and its effects on the traveler:
Still the same burning sun! no cloud in heaven!
The hot air quivers, and the sultry mist
Floats o'er the desert, with a show
Of distant waters mocking their distress.
The idea of the prophet, if he refers to this phenomenon, is exceedingly beautiful. It is that the mirage, which has the appearance Only of a sheet of water, and which often deceives the traveler, shall become a real lake; that there shall be hereafter no deception, no illusion; that man, like a traveler on pathless sands, weary and thirsty, shall no more be deceived by false appearances and unreal hopes. The hopes and promises which this world can furnish are as delusive as is the mirage to the exhausted and thirsty traveler. Man approaches them, and, like that delusive appearance, they recede or vanish. If they are still seen, they are always at I a distance, and he follows the false and deceptive vision until he comes to the end of life. But the promises of God through the Messiah, are like real lakes of water and running streams to the thirsty traveler. They never deceive, never recede, never vanish, never are unsatisfactory. Man may approach them, knowing that there is no illusion; he may satisfy his needs, and still the supply is unexhausted and inexhaustible. Others also may approach the same fountain of pure joy, with as much freedom as travelers may approach the running stream in the desert.
In the habitation of dragons - (see the note at Isaiah 13:22). The sense of this is, that the blessings which are promised shall be as great as if in such dry and desolate places there should be verdure and beauty.
grass—rather, "a dwelling or receptacle (answering to the previous habitation) for reeds," &c. (which only grow where there is water, Job 8:11). Where once there was no water, water shall abound.Job 8:11.
in the habitation of dragons, where each lay; in kingdoms, cities, and towns, inhabited by men, comparable to dragons for their poison and cruelty; where the great red dragon Satan had his seat; and the Pagan emperors, and Papal powers, who have exercised the authority, power, and cruelty of the dragon, dwell; see Revelation 12:3,
shall be grass, with reeds and rushes; persons shall spring up, partakers of the grace of God, who, for their number and flourishing estate, shall be like the green grass; and others, still more eminent for their gifts and usefulness, like reeds, or canes and rushes; see Isaiah 44:3.And the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water: in the habitation of dragons, where each lay, shall be grass with reeds and rushes.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)7. the parched ground] The Hebr. word (shârâb, only again in Isaiah 49:10) is generally thought to be identical with Serâb, the Arabic name for the mirage (so R.V. marg.). Allusions to this remarkable optical phenomenon, by which even experienced travellers are often deceived, are, as might be expected, common in Arabic literature. Cf. Koran (Sura 24:39):—
“The works of the unbelievers are like the mirage in the desert;
The thirsty takes it for water, till he comes up to it and finds that it is nothing.”
(Quoted by Gesenius.) The idea in the text, therefore, would be that the illusion which mocks the thirsty caravan shall become a reality; water shall be as common in the desert as the mirage now is. The rendering “parched ground,” however, corresponds with Jewish usage and the ancient versions; and the sense “mirage” is unsuitable in ch. Isaiah 49:10.
in the habitation … rushes] A literal rendering of the Hebr. would be: “in the habitation of jackals, its lair, a court (the word rendered habitation’ in E.V. of ch. Isaiah 34:13) for reeds and rushes.” This yields no sense. The text appears to have suffered extensive mutilation.Verse 7. - The parched ground shall become, etc.; rather, the glistening sand. That hot glow of the parched desert soil, which produces the mirage, shall be replaced by a real lake of cool water. Illusive imitations of goodness shall give way to the display of genuine virtues and excellences. In the habitation of dragons; or, according to some, of jackals - the driest and most desolate of all places. Shall be grass with reeds and rushes; i.e. "shall be a luxuriant vegetation, like that on the banks of the Nile" (comp. vers. 1, 2). Numbers 3:49 is afterwards written pidyōm (Ewald, 91, b). The explanation given by Rashi, Gesenius, and others (laetabuntur his), is untenable, if only because sūs (sı̄s) cannot be construed with the accusative of the object (see at Isaiah 8:6); and to get rid of the form by correction, as Olshausen proposes, is all the more objectionable, because "the old full plural in ūn is very frequently met with before Mem" (Bttcher), in which case it may have been pronounced as it is written here.
(Note: Bttcher calls ûm the oldest primitive form of the plural; but it is only a strengthening of ûn; cf., tannı̄m equals tannı̄n, Hanameel equals Hananeel, and such Sept. forms as Gesem, Madiam, etc. (see Hitzig on Jeremiah 32:7). Wetzstein told me of a Bedouin tribe, in whose dialect the third pers. praet. regularly ended in m, e.g., akalum (they have eaten).)
According to the Targum on Sol 2:1((also Saad., Abulw.), the chăbhatstseleth is the narcissus; whilst the Targum on the passage before us leaves it indefinite - sicut lilia. The name (a derivative of bâtsal) points to a bulbous plant, probably the crocus and primrose, which were classed together.
(Note: The crocus and the primrose (המצליתא in Syriac) may really be easily confounded, but not the narcissus and primrose, which have nothing in common except that they are bulbous plants, like most of the flowers of the East, which shoot up rapidly in the spring, as soon as the winter rains are over. But there are other colchicaceae beside our colchicum autumnale, which flowers before the leaves appear and is therefore called filius ante patrem (e.g., the eastern colchicum variegatum).)
The sandy steppe would become like a lovely variegated plain covered with meadow flowers.
(Note: Layard, in his Nineveh and Babylon, describes in several places the enchantingly beautiful and spring-like variation of colours which occurs in the Mesopotamian "desert;" though what the prophet had in his mind was not the real midâr, or desert of pasture land, but, as the words tsiyâh and ‛arâbhâh show, the utterly barren sandy desert.)
On gı̄lath, see at Isaiah 33:6 (cf., Isaiah 65:18): the infin. noun takes the place of an inf. abs., which expresses the abstract verbal idea, though in a more rigid manner; 'aph (like gam in Genesis 31:15; Genesis 46:4) is an exponent of the increased emphasis already implied in the gerunds that come after. So joyful and so gloriously adorned will the barren desert, which has been hitherto so mournful, become, on account of the great things that are in store for it. Lebanon, Carmel, and Sharon have, as it were, shared their splendour with the desert, that all might be clothed alike in festal dress, when the glory of Jehovah, which surpasses everything self in its splendour, should appear; that glory which they would not only be privileged to behold, but of which they would be honoured to be the actual scene.
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