Isaiah 44:14
He heweth him down cedars, and taketh the cypress and the oak, which he strengtheneth for himself among the trees of the forest: he planteth an ash, and the rain doth nourish it.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(14) He heweth him down cedars.—The manufacture is traced further back, possibly by way of protest against the belief current in all nations that some archaic image had fallen from heaven (Acts 19:35). The “cypress” is probably the Quercus ilex, and the “ash” a fig tree; but the identification of trees in the language of a remote time and language is always somewhat uncertain.

Which he strengtheneth for himself.—Better, fixeth his choice among. The eye travels, it will be noted, backward from the workshop.

44:9-20 Image-making is described, to expose the folly of idolaters. Though a man had used part of a log for fuel, he fell down before an image made of the remainder, praying it to deliver him. Man greatly dishonours God, when he represents him after the image of man. Satan blinds the eyes of unbelievers, causing absurd reasonings in matters of religion. Whether men seek happiness in worldly things, or run into unbelief, superstition, or any false system, they feed on ashes. A heart deceived by pride, love of sin, and departure from God, turns men aside from his holy truth and worship. While the affections are depraved, a man holds fast the lie as his best treasure. Are our hearts set upon the wealth of the world and its pleasures? They will certainly prove a lie. If we trust to outward professions and doings, as if those would save us, we deceive ourselves. Self-suspicion is the first step towards self-deliverance. He that would deliver his soul, must question his conscience, Is there not a lie in my right hand?He heweth him down cedars - In the previous verses, the prophet had described the formation of an axe with which the work was to be done Isaiah 44:12, and the laying out, and carving of the idol Isaiah 44:13. In this verse he proceeds to describe the material of which the idol was made, and the different purposes Isaiah 44:15-17 to which that material was applied. The object is to show the amazing stupidity of those who should worship a god made of the same material from which they made a fire to warm themselves, or to cook their food. For a description of cedars, see the notes at Isaiah 9:10.

And taketh - Takes to himself; that is, makes use of.

The cypress - (תרזה tı̂rzâh). This word occurs nowhere else in the Bible. It is probably derived from a root (תרז târaz) signifying to be hard, or firm. Hence, it probably means some species of wood that derived its name from its hardness or firmness. Jerome translates it, Ilex (a species of oak) - 'the holm-oak.' It was an evergreen. This species of evergreen, Gesenius says, was abundant in Palestine.

And the oak - The oak was commonly used for this purpose on account of its hardness and durability.

Which he strengtheneth for himself - Margin, 'Taketh courage.' The word אמץ 'ı̂mmēts means properly "to strenthen," to make strong, to repair, to replace, to harden. Rosenmuller and Gesenius suppose that it means here to choose, that is, to set fast, or appoint; and they appeal to Psalm 80:15, Psalm 80:17, 'thou madest strong for thyself.' Kimchi supposes that it means, that he gave himself with the utmost diligence and care to select the best kinds of wood for the purpose. Vitringa, that he was intent on his work, and did not leave the place, but refreshed himself with food in the woods without returning home, in order that be might accomplish his design. Others interpret it to mean that he girded himself with strength, and made use of his most intense efforts in felling the trees of the forest. Lowth renders it, 'Layeth in good store of the trees of the forest.' It may mean that he gave himself with great diligence to the work; or may it not mean that he planted such trees, and took great pains in watering and cultivating them for this purpose?

He planteth an ash - (ארן 'oren). The Septuagint renders it, Πίτυν Pitun - 'Pine.' Jerome also renders it, Pinum. Gesenius supposes the name was given from the fact that the tree had a tall and slender top, which, when it vibrated, gave forth a tremulous, creaking sound (from רנן rânan). This derivation is, however, somewhat fanciful. Most interpreters regard it as the ash - a well-known tree. In idolatrous countries, where it is common to have idols in almost every family, the business of idol-making is a very important manufacture. Of course, large quantities of wood would be needed; and it would be an object to procure that which was most pure, or as we say, 'clear stuff,' and which would work easily, and to advantage. It became important, therefore, to cultivate that wood, as we do for shipbuilding, or for cabinet-work, and doubtless groves were planted for this purpose.

And the rain doth nourish it - These circumstances are mentioned to show the folly of worshipping a god that was formed in this manner. Perhaps also the prophet means to intimate that though the man planted the tree, yet that be could not make it grow. He was dependent on the rains of heaven; and even in making an idol-god he was indebted to the providential care of the true God. Men, even in their schemes of wickedness, are dependent on God. Even in forming and executing plans to oppose and resist him, they can do nothing without his aid. He preserves them, feeds them, clothes them; and the instruments which they use against him are those which he has nurtured. On the rain of heaven; on the sunbeam and the dew; on the teeming earth, and on the elements which he has made, and which he controls, they are dependent; and they can do nothing in their wicked plans without abusing the bounties of his Providence, and the expressions of his tender mercy.

14. Description of the material out of which the idol is formed.

cypress—rather, from Hebrew root, "to be hard," the holm oak," an evergreen abundant in Palestine [Gesenius].

strengtheneth—literally, "and he getteth strength to himself in the trees of the forest;" that is, he layeth in a great store of timber [Lowth]. Or, "chooseth," as "madest strong for thyself," that is, hast chosen (Ps 80:15, 17) [Gesenius]. But English Version gives a good sense: "strengtheneth"; that is, rears to maturity; a meaning suitable also to the context of Ps 80:15, 17, where Israel is compared to a vine planted by Jehovah [Maurer].

rain doth nourish it—Though the man planted the tree, yet he could not make it grow. In preparing to make an idol, he has to depend on the true God for rain from heaven (Jer 14:22).

The cypress and the oak, which afford the best and most durable timber.

Which he strengtheneth for himself among the tress of the forest: the sense of the words thus rendered is, that he planteth, and with care and diligence improveth, those trees among and above all the trees of the forest, that he or his posterity may thence have materials for their images, and those things which belong to them. And this sense seems to be favoured by the following clause, wherein it is said, he planteth an ash, for this very reason. Or the sense may be this, which he suffers to grow to greater strength and largeness than other trees of the forest, that they may be better and fitter for his use. Heb. and he strengtheneth himself, &c.; and he useth all his strength among the trees of the forest, in planting such as are proper for this end, in walking hither and thither to survey which is the best of them; in hewing them down, and in other things relating to them.

He heweth him down cedars, and taketh the cypress and the oak,.... To make gods of, trees both pleasant and durable, but all unfruitful:

which he strengtheneth for himself among the trees of the forest; taking a great deal of pains in seeking out such trees as were most fit for his use, and a great deal of care in the growth of them, that they might answer his end, as well as exerting his strength in cutting of them down:

he planteth an ash, and the rain doth nourish it; a tree that soon grows up, and which he plants for the purpose to make a god of; and this being watered and nourished with rain, which God vouchsafes, though designed for an idolatrous use, grows, and is fit for what it was intended; and being so, he cuts it down, and, makes an image of it; which shows his folly and madness, that a tree of his own planting, which he has seen the growth of, and yet be so sottish as to imagine that a god may be may be made of it. The word for "rain" signifies a body in the Syriac (g) language, as Kimchi observes, and for which he produces Daniel 4:33, and so Aben Ezra says it signifies in the Arabic language (h); and the sense is, "the body" of the tree "grew up", and being grown up, was cut down, and used as follows.

(g) "corpus", Luke 3.22. 2Cor. x. 10. Castel. Lex. Polyglott. col. 627. So in the Chaldee language. (h) So, according to Schindler, signifies a body, Lex. Pentaglott. col. 347, 348.

He heweth him down cedars, and taketh the cypress and the oak, which he strengtheneth for himself among the trees of the forest: he planteth an ash, and the rain doth nourish it.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
14–17. The writer now goes back to the material of which this second kind of idol is made.

He heweth him down] The Heb. text, which reads “to hew down,” probably contains a mistake in the first letter.

strengtheneth for himself] must mean “allows to grow strong” in its native forest. Nay, in some cases the future deity has been actually planted by his worshipper, and nourished by the rain from heaven! The words tirzâh (“cypress”) and ’ôren (“ash”) occur only here in the O.T. The former, according to the Vulg. and the Greek Versions of Aquila and Theodotion, is the “holm-oak” (ilex); the latter may be translated “pine” (Vulg.); the corresponding word in Assyrian denotes the cedar.

Verse 14. - Cedars... cypress... oak. The second of the trees mentioned is more probably the ilex than the cypress, which does not grow either in Palestine or in Babylonia. Idols would be made of cedar on account of its fragrance, of flex and oak on account of their hardness and durability. Cedar was used as a material for carved figures in Egypt (Birch, 'Contents of British Museum,' p. 21). Which he strengtheneth for himself among the trees of the forest. The meaning is obscure. Dr. Kay translates, "and he encourages himself in the trees of the forest," which conveys no very distinct idea; Delitzsch, "and he chooses for himself among the trees," etc., which is sufficiently clear, but scarcely obtainable from the Hebrew text; Knobel, "he makes himself secure among the trees" (by putting a mark on those which he intends to have), which imparts an idea certainly not contained in the original. He planteth an ash. It is uncertain, and it does not greatly matter, what tree is intended. The point is that, before trees can grow up, they have to be planted, and that, for them to grow when planted, God's gift of rain is necessary (see the comment on ver. 13). Isaiah 44:14The prophet now traces the origin of the idols still further back. Their existence or non-existence ultimately depends upon whether it rains or not. "One prepares to cut down cedars, and takes holm and oak-tree, and chooses for himself among the trees of the forest. He has planted a fig, and the rain draws it up. And it serves the man for firing: he takes thereof, and warms himself; he also heats, and bakes bread; he also works it into a god, and prostrates himself; makes an idol of it, and falls down before it. The half of it he has burned in the fire: over the half of it he eats flesh, roasts a roast, and is satisfied; he also warms himself, and says, Hurrah, I am getting warm, I feel the heat. And the rest of it he makes into a god, into his idol, and says, Save me, for thou art my god." The subject of the sentence is not the carpenter of the previous verse, but "any one." ארזים apparently stands first, as indicating the species; and in the Talmud and Midrash the trees named are really described as ארזים מיני. But tirzâh (from târaz, to be hard or firm) does not appear to be a coniferous tree; and the connection with 'allōn, the oak, is favourable to the rendering ἀγριοβάλανος (lxx, A. Th.), ilex (Vulg.). On 'immēts, to choose, see Isaiah 41:10. ארן (with Nun minusculum), plur. ארונים (b. Ros-ha Sana 23a) or ארנים (Para iii. 8), is explained by the Talmud as ערי, sing. ערא, i.e., according to Aruch and Rashi, laurier, the berries of which are called baies. We have rendered it "fig," according to the lxx and Jerome, since it will not do to follow the seductive guidance of the similarity in sound to ornus (which is hardly equivalent to ὀρεινός).

(Note: The ἀρία of Theophrastus is probably quercus ilex, which is still called ἀρία; the laurus nobilis is now called βαΐηά, from the branches which serve instead of palm-branches.)

The description is genealogical, and therefore moves retrogressively, from the felling to the planting. והיה in Isaiah 44:15 refers to the felled and planted tree, and primarily to the ash. מהם (of such as these) is neuter, as in Isaiah 30:6; at the same time, the prophet had the עצים (the wood, both as produce and material) in his mind. The repeated אף lays emphasis upon the fact, that such different things are done with the very same wood. It is sued for warming, and fore the preparation of food, as well as for making a god. On the verbs of adoration, hishtachăvâh (root shach, to sink, to settle down) and sâgad, which is only applied to idolatrous worship, and from which mes'gid, a mosque, is derived, see Holemann's Bibelstudien, i. 3. למו may no doubt be take as a plural ( equals להם, as in Isaiah 30:5), "such things (taila) does he worship," as Stier supposes; but it is probably pathetic, and equivalent to לו, as in Isaiah 53:8 (compare Psalm 11:7; Ewald, 247, a). According to the double application of the wood mentioned in Isaiah 44:15, a distinction is drawn in Isaiah 44:16, Isaiah 44:17 between the one half of the wood and the other. The repeated chetsyō (the half of it) in Isaiah 44:16 refers to the first half, which furnishes not only fuel for burning, but shavings and coals for roasting and baking as well. And as a fire made for cooking warms quite as much as one made expressly for the purpose, the prophet dwells upon this benefit which the wood of the idol does confer. On the tone upon the last syllable of chammōthı̄, see at Job 19:17; and on the use of the word ראה as a comprehensive term, embracing every kind of sensation and perception, see my Psychologie, p. 234. Diagoras of Melos, a pupil of Democritus, once threw a wooden standing figure of Hercules into the fire, and said jocularly, "Come now, Hercules, perform thy thirteenth labour, and help me to cook the turnips."

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