Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold, he takes up the isles as a very little thing.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)The nations are as a drop . . .—“Nations” and “isles” bring us into the region of human history, as distinct from that of the material world. “Isles” as elsewhere, stands vaguely for far-off lands, or sea-coasts. The word is that of one who looks on the Mediterranean, and thinks of the unexplored regions that lie in it and around. It is one of Isaiah’s favourite words in this aspect of its meaning.
A drop of a bucket.—Better, on a bucket. Such a drop adds nothing to the weight which the bearer feels; as little do the nations and the isles to the burden which Jehovah bears. The “small dust in the balance” presents another illustration of the same idea.Isaiah 40:15-17. Behold the nations, &c. — As the drop of a bucket is as nothing when compared with the waters of the immense ocean, so all the nations of the world are as nothing when compared with God; and are counted by him, and in comparison of him, as the small dust which accidentally cleaves to the balance, but makes no alteration of the weight. Behold, he taketh, up the isles, &c. — Those numerous and vast countries, to which they went from Judea by sea, which are commonly called isles in the Scriptures. And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, &c. — Although he is pleased to accept poor and small sacrifices from his people, yet, if men were to offer a sacrifice suitable to his infinite excellency, the whole forest of Lebanon could not afford either a sufficient number of beasts to be sacrificed, or a sufficient quantity of wood to consume the sacrifice. All nations before him — In his eyes, or being set against him, as נגדו properly and usually signifies; are as nothing — In his judgment; or in comparison of him; less than nothing — Less than a thing of naught, or of no account or worth.
Are as a drop of a bucket - In comparison with him; or are so esteemed by him. The drop that falls from the bucket in drawing water is a trifle. It has no power, and compared with the waters of the ocean it is as nothing. So small is the power of the nations in comparison with God. "And are counted." Are thought of, regarded, esteemed by him, or in comparison with him.
As the small dust of the balance - The small, fine dust which collects on the best finished and most accurate balance or scales, and which has no effect in making the scales uneven, or making either side preponderate. Nothing can be a more striking representation of the fact that the nations are regarded as nothing in comparison with God.
Behold, he taketh up the isles - Or he is able to do it; he could remove the isles as the fine dust is driven before the whirlwind. A more literal translation of this passage would be, 'Lo, the isles are as the dust which is taken up,' or which one takes up; that is, which is taken up, and carried away by the wind. There is something unusual in the expression that God takes up the isles, and the idea is rather that the isles in his sight are regarded as the fine dust which the wind sweeps away. So the Chaldee renders it, 'Lo, the isles are like ashes which the wind drives away.' The word 'isles,' Vitringa and Jerome regard as denoting not the small portions of land in the sea that are surrounded by water, but lands which are encompassed and enclosed Mesopotamia. But there is no reason why it should not be taken here in its usual signification, as denoting the islands of the sea. They would serve well to be used in connection with mountains and hills in setting forth the vast power of God.
he taketh up … as a very little thing—rather, "are as a mere grain of dust which is taken up," namely, by the wind; literally, "one taketh up," impersonally (Ex 16:14) [Maurer].
isles—rather, "lands" in general, answering to "the nations" in the parallel clause; perhaps lands, like Mesopotamia, enclosed by rivers [Jerome] (so Isa 42:15). However, English Version, "isles" answers well to "mountains" (Isa 40:12), both alike being lifted up by the power of God; in fact, "isles" are mountains upheaved from the bed of the sea by volcanic agency; only that he seems here to have passed from unintelligent creatures (Isa 40:12) to intelligent, as nations and lands, that is, their inhabitants.The nations, all the nations of the world,
are as a drop of a bucket, compared with all the water in the bucket, wherein are innumerable drops: such are they if compared with God.
And are counted by him, and in comparison of him, as the small dust of the balance; which accidentally cleaves to the balance, but makes no alteration in the weight.
The isles; those numerous and vast countries to which they went from Judea by sea, which are commonly called isles, as hath been oft observed.
and are accounted as the small dust of the balance; that is, they are accounted nothing of with God, comparatively speaking, any more than the small dust which hangs upon the balance, and gives it no weight, nor turn one way or another, and so is of no consideration. The Septuagint, Vulgate Latin, Syriac, and Arabic versions, render it, "as the turn of the scale"; and so the Targum; but the other version more strongly expresses the sense:
behold, he taketh up the isles as a very little thing; by which are meant not merely islands, properly so called, which are encompassed by the sea, but all such countries which the Jews used to go to by sea, for all such they called isles; these the Lord can take up, or cast away (u), as some render the word; toss them about, overturn and destroy, as a man may take up the most minute thing and cast it from him. The Targum renders it,
"as chaff which flies away;''
or, as others translate it,
"as the ashes of a coal which fly away.''
The word may signify any light thing, as chaff, straw, stubble, feathers, down of thistles, which are easily carried away with the least force; and so Vitringa renders the words, "behold, the isles are as some little thing which flies away".Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold, he taketh up the isles as a very little thing.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)15–17. The insignificance of collective humanity before Jehovah. The meditation passes from Nature to History, with the same design of encouraging those who doubted Jehovah’s power to save.
a drop of a bucket] Rather: a drop from the bucket; which falls away without appreciably lessening the weight.
the small dust &c.] which does not turn the scale.
the isles] a characteristic word of the second half of Isaiah, occurring 12 times (see Introd. p. xlviii). In the general usage of O.T. it denotes the islands and coastlands of the Mediterranean (comp. the use of the singular by Isaiah in ch. Isaiah 20:6). Etymologically it probably means simply “habitable lands”; and this prophet uses it with great laxity, hardly distinguishing it from “lands” (see esp. ch. Isaiah 42:15).
as a very little thing] “a grain of powder,” used of the manna, Exodus 16:14.Verse 15. - Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket. "From nature," as Mr. Cheyne says, "we pass to history." If God is so great, so apart and by himself in relation to the material universe, what is he in relation to man? What are nations, compared to him, but "as a drop from a bucket," which drips from it, and is of no account? What are they, but as the small dust of the balance, which lies on it but does not disturb its equilibrium? They are absolutely "as nothing" (ver. 17) - vanity and emptiness, He taketh up the isles as a very little thing; literally, he taketh up islands, or perhaps lands generally. As he weighs mountains and hills in his balance (ver. 15), so he can take up in his own hands "lands," or "countries" (Cheyne), with all their inhabitants, and do with them as seemeth him good. They are no burden to him. Isaiah 52:7 and Isaiah 62:11 are misleading here. The words are in apposition (A. S. Th. εὐαγγελιζομένη Σιών). Zion-Jerusalem herself is called an evangelistess: the personification as a female renders this probable at the outset, and it is placed beyond all doubt by the fact, that it is the cities of Judah (the daughters of Zion-Jerusalem) that are to be evangelized. The prophet's standpoint here is in the very midst of the parousia. When Jerusalem shall have her God in the midst of her once more, after He has broken up His home there for so long a time; she is then, as the restored mother-community, to ascend a high mountain, and raising her voice with fearless strength, to bring to her daughters the joyful news of the appearance of their God. The verb bissēr signifies literally to smooth, to unfold, then to make glad, more especially with joyful news.
(Note: The verb bissēr signifies primarily to stroke, rub, shave, or scratch the surface of anything; then to stroke off or rub off the surface, or anything which covers it; then, suggested by the idea of "rubbing smooth" (glatt), "to smooth a person" (jemanden gltten; compare the English, to gladden a person), i.e., vultum ejus diducere, to make him friendly and cheerful, or "to look smoothly upon a person," i.e., to show him a friendly face; and also as an intransitive, "to be glad," to be friendly and cheerful; and lastly, in a general sense, aliquid attingere, tractare, attrectare, to grasp or handle a thing (from which comes bâsâr, the flesh, as something tangible or material). In harmony with the Hebrew bissēr (Jeremiah 20:15), they say in Arabic basarahu (or intensive, bassarahu) bi-maulûdin, he has gladdened him with the news of the birth of a son.)
It lies at the root of the New Testament εὐαγγελίζειν (evangelize), and is a favourite word of the author of chapters 40-66, that Old Testament evangelist, though it is no disproof of Isaiah's authorship (cf., Nahum 2:1). Hitherto Jerusalem has been in despair, bowed down under the weight of the punishment of her sins, and standing in need of consolation. But now that she has Jehovah with her again, she is to lift up her voice with the most joyful confidence, without further anxiety, and to become, according to her true vocation, the messenger of good tidings to all Judaea.
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