Isaiah 47:2
Take the millstones, and grind meal: uncover thy locks, make bare the leg, uncover the thigh, pass over the rivers.
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(2) Take the millstones.—Always the most servile form of female labour (Exodus 11:5; Job 31:10; Matthew 24:41).

Uncover thy locks.—The picture of suffering is heightened by the fact that the female slave has to wade unveiled, and bare-legged, all sense of shame outraged, to the scene of her labours. The picture is, of course, to be taken symbolically, not literally.

47:1-6 Babylon is represented under the emblem of a female in deep distress. She was to be degraded and endure sufferings; and is represented sitting on the ground, grinding at the handmill, the lowest and most laborious service. God was righteous in his vengeance, and none should interpose. The prophet exults in the Lord of hosts, as the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel. God often permits wicked men to prevail against his people; but those who cruelly oppress them will be punished.Take the millstones, and grind meal - The design of this is plain. Babylon, that had been regarded as a delicately-trained female, was to be reduced to the lowest condition of poverty and wretchedness - represented here by being compelled to perform the most menial and laborious offices, and submitting to the deepest disgrace and ignominy. There is an allusion here to the custom of grinding in the East. The mills which were there commonly used, and which are also extensively used to this day, consisted of two stones, of which the lower one was convex on the upper side, and the upper one was concave on thee lower side, so that they fitted into each other. The hole for receiving the grain was in the center of the upper stone, and in the process of grinding the lower one was fixed, and the upper one was turned round, usually by two women (see Matthew 24:41), with considerable velocity by means of a handle. Watermills were not invented until a little before the time of Augustus Caesar; and windmills long after. The custom of using handmills is the primitive custom everywhere, and they are still in use in some parts of Scotland, and generally in the East. (See Mr. Pennant's "Tour to the Hebrides," and the Oriental travelers generally. Grinding was usually performed by the women, though it was often regarded as the work of slaves. It was often inflicted on slaves as a punishment.

Molendum in pistrino; vapulandum; habendae compedes.

Terent. Phormio ii. 1. 19.

In the East it was the usual work of female slaves see (Exodus 11:5, in the Septuagint) 'Women alone are employed to grind their corn.' (Shaw, "Algiers and Tunis," p. 297) 'They are the female slaves that are generally employed in the East at those handmills. It is extremely laborious, and esteemed the lowest employment in the house.' (Sir John Chardin, Harmer's Obs. i. 153) Compare Lowth, and Gesen. "Commentary uber Isaiah." This idea of its being a low employment is expressed by Job 31:10 : 'Let my wife grind unto another.' The idea of its being a most humble and laborious employment was long since exhibited by Homer:

A woman next, then laboring at the mill,

Hard by, where all his numerous mills he kept.

Gave him the sign propitious from within.

twelve damsels toiled to turn them, day by day

Meal grinding, some of barley, some of wheat,

Marrow of man The rest (their portion ground)

All slept, one only from her task as yet

Ceased not, for she was feeblest of them all;

She rested on her mill, and thus pronounced:

'Jove, Father, Governor, of heaven and earth!


2. millstones—like the querns or hand-mills, found in this country, before the invention of water mills and windmills: a convex stone, made by the hand to turn in a concave stone, fitted to receive it, the corn being ground between them: the office of a female slave in the East; most degrading (Job 31:10; Mt 24:41).

uncover thy locks—rather, "take off thy veil" [Horsley]: perhaps the removal of the plaited hair worn round the women's temples is included; it, too, is a covering (1Co 11:15); to remove it and the veil is the badge of the lowest female degradation; in the East the head is the seat of female modesty; the face of a woman is seldom, the whole head almost never, seen bare (see on [827]Isa 22:8).

make bare the leg—rather "lift up (literally, 'uncover'; as in lifting up the train the leg is uncovered) thy flowing train." In Mesopotamia, women of low rank, as occasion requires, wade across the rivers with stript legs, or else entirely put off their garments and swim across. "Exchange thy rich, loose, queenly robe, for the most abject condition, that of one going to and fro through rivers as a slave, to draw water," &c.

uncover … thigh—gather up the robe, so as to wade across.

Take the millstones; betake thyself to the millstones; as we commonly say, Take thy bed, or, Betake thyself to thy bed. The meaning is, Thou shalt be brought down to the basest kind of slavery, which grinding at the mill was esteemed; of which see on Exodus 11:5 Judges 16:21 Job 31:10 Lamentations 5:13. For this work was not performed by horses, as now it is, but by the labour of slaves and captives.

Grind meal; grind bread corn into meal for thy master’s use. Such metonymical expressions we find Isaiah 28:28 Hosea 8:7, and elsewhere. Uncover thy locks; or, thine hair. Take off the ornaments wherewith such women as were free and of good quality used to cover and dress their heads. This and the following passages, though delivered in the form of a command, are only predictions of what they should be forced to do or suffer, as appears from the next verse.

Make bare the leg, uncover the thigh; gird up thy garments close and short about thee, that thou mayst be fit for service, and for travelling on foot, and, as it follows, for passing over those rivers, through which thou wilt be constrained to wade, in the way to the land of thy captivity.

Take the millstones, and grind meal,.... Foretelling that the Chaldeans should be taken captives, and used as such, and sent to prison houses, where they should turn the mill, and grind corn into meal; a very servile work, and which used to be done by captives and slaves, even by female ones, Exodus 11:5. The Targum is,

"go into servitude;''

of which this was a sign:

uncover thy locks: the attire and dress of the head, by which the locks were bound up and kept together; but being taken off, would hang loose, and be dishevelled, as in captives and mourners. The Targum is,

"uncover the glory of thy kingdom:''

make bare the leg; or the shoulder, as the Vulgate Latin version, to be scourged by the Persians:

uncover the thigh, pass over the rivers: they are bid to tuck up their clothes so high, that they might pass over the rivers which lay between them and Persia, whither they were carried captives. The Targum is,

"thy princes are broken, the people of their army are scattered, they pass away as the waters of the river.''

Take the millstones, and {c} grind meal: uncover thy locks, {d} make bare the leg, uncover the thigh, pass over the rivers.

(c) You will be brought to most vile servitude: for to turn the mill was the office of slaves.

(d) The things in which she sets her greatest pride, will be made vile, even from the head to the foot.

2. Take the millstones &c.] The luxurious lady must betake herself to the occupation of the meanest female slaves in the household: Exodus 11:5; Job 31:10.

uncover thy locks] Rather: take off thy veil (Song of Solomon 4:1; Song of Solomon 4:3; Song of Solomon 6:7).

make bare the leg] remove the skirt. The last word does not occur elsewhere. pass over the rivers] Render: pass through streams, omitting the article. The words are commonly taken to describe the hardships of a journey into exile, but they may simply refer to the degradations which she would have to undergo in performing the drudgery of a common slave (so Dillmann).

Verse 2. - Take the millstones, and grind meal. Do the hard work commonly allotted to female slaves. Turn the heavy upper millstone all day long upon the nether one (comp. Exodus 11:5). Babylon having been personified as a female captive, the details have to be in unison. Uncover thy locks. Babylonian women are represented in the Assyrian sculptures as wearing closefitting caps upon their heads (see 'Ancient Monarchies,' vol. 2, p. 500). Make bare the leg... pass over the rivers. On the way from their own city to the land of their captivity, they would have to wade through streams, and in so doing to expose parts of their persons which delicacy required to be concealed. Isaiah 47:2From the gods of Babylon the proclamation of judgment passes onto Babylon itself. "Come down, and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter Babel; sit on the ground without a throne, O Chaldaeans-daughter! For men no longer call thee delicate and voluptuous. Take the mill, and grind meal: throw back they veil, lift up the train, uncover the thigh, wade through streams. Let thy nakedness be uncovered, even let thy shame be seen; I shall take vengeance, and not spare men. Our Redeemer, Jehovah of hosts is His name, Holy One of Israel." This is the first strophe in the prophecy. As v. 36 clearly shows, what precedes is a penal sentence from Jehovah. Both בּת in relation to בּתוּלת (Isaiah 23:12; Isaiah 37:22), and בּבל and כּשׂדּים in relation to בּת, are appositional genitives; Babel and Chaldeans (כשׂדים as in Isaiah 48:20) are regarded as a woman, and that as one not yet dishonoured. The unconquered oppressor is threatened with degradation from her proud eminence into shameful humiliation; sitting on the ground is used in the same sense as in Isaiah 3:26. Hitherto men have called her, with envious admiration, rakkâh va‛ânuggâh (from Deuteronomy 28:56), mollis et delicata, as having carefully kept everything disagreeable at a distance, and revelled in nothing but luxury (compare ‛ōneg, Isaiah 13:22). Debauchery with its attendant rioting (Isaiah 14:11; Isaiah 25:5), and the Mylitta worship with its licensed prostitution (Herod. i. 199), were current there; but now all this was at an end. תוסיפי, according to the Masora, has only one pashta both here and in Isaiah 47:5, and so has the tone upon the last syllable, and accordingly metheg in the antepenult. Isaiah's artistic style may be readily perceived both in the three clauses of Isaiah 47:1 that are comparable to a long trumpet-blast (compare Isaiah 40:9 and Isaiah 16:1), and also in the short, rugged, involuntarily excited clauses that follow. The mistress becomes the maid, and has to perform the low, menial service of those who, as Homer says in Od. vii. 104, ἀλετρεύουσι μύλης ἔπι μήλοπα καρπόν (grind at the mill the quince-coloured fruit; compare at Job 31:10). She has to leave her palace as a prisoner of war, and, laying aside all feminine modesty, to wade through the rivers upon which she borders. Chespı̄ has ĕ instead of ĭ, and, as in other cases where a sibilant precedes, the mute p instead of f (compare 'ispı̄, Jeremiah 10:17). Both the prosopopeia and the parallel, "thy shame shall be seen," require that the expression "thy nakedness shall be uncovered" should not be understood literally. The shame of Babel is her shameful conduct, which is not to be exhibited in its true colours, inasmuch as a stronger one is coming upon it to rob it of its might and honour. This stronger one, apart from the instrument employed, is Jehovah: vindictam sumam, non parcam homini. Stier gives a different rendering here, namely, "I will run upon no man, i.e., so as to make him give way;" Hahn, "I will not meet with a man," so destitute of population will Babylon be; and Ruetschi, "I will not step in as a man." Gesenius and Rosenmller are nearer to the mark when they suggest non pangam (paciscar) cum homine; but this would require at any rate את־אדם, even if the verb פּגע really had the meaning to strike a treaty. It means rather to strike against a person, to assault any one, then to meet or come in an opposite direction, and that not only in a hostile sense, but, as in this instance, and also in Isaiah 64:4, in a friendly sense as well. Hence, "I shall not receive any man, or pardon any man" (Hitzig, Ewald, etc.). According to an old method of writing the passage, there is a pause here. But Isaiah 47:4 is still connected with what goes before. As Jehovah is speaking in Isaiah 47:5, but Israel in Isaiah 47:4, and as Isaiah 47:4 is unsuitable to form the basis of the words of Jehovah, it must be regarded as the antiphone to Isaiah 47:1-3 (cf., Isaiah 45:15). Our Redeemer, exclaims the church in joyfully exalted self-consciousness, He is Jehovah of Hosts, the Holy One of Israel! The one name affirms that He possesses the all-conquering might; the other that He possesses the will to carry on the work of redemption - a will influenced and constrained by both love and wrath.
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