Isaiah 5:12
And the harp, and the viol, the tabret, and pipe, and wine, are in their feasts: but they regard not the work of the LORD, neither consider the operation of his hands.
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(12) The harp, and the viol.—Here again the fashions of Judah followed those of Samaria, so closely indeed that Isaiah addresses the rulers of his own city as “the drunkards of Ephraim” (Isaiah 28:1; Amos 6:5). The list of instruments is fairly represented by the English words, but lute (or hand-harp), cymbal, timbrel (or tambourine), and flute would come somewhat closer to the Hebrew.

They regard not the work of the Lord.—The life of luxury was then, as ever, one of practical atheism. Those who so lived did not see, never do see, any Divine plan or order in the world around them. They anticipated, in their swine-like greed, the baser types of the school of Epicurus.

5:8-23 Here is a woe to those who set their hearts on the wealth of the world. Not that it is sinful for those who have a house and a field to purchase another; but the fault is, that they never know when they have enough. Covetousness is idolatry; and while many envy the prosperous, wretched man, the Lord denounces awful woes upon him. How applicable to many among us! God has many ways to empty the most populous cities. Those who set their hearts upon the world, will justly be disappointed. Here is woe to those who dote upon the pleasures and the delights of sense. The use of music is lawful; but when it draws away the heart from God, then it becomes a sin to us. God's judgments have seized them, but they will not disturb themselves in their pleasures. The judgments are declared. Let a man be ever so high, death will bring him low; ever so mean, death will bring him lower. The fruit of these judgments shall be, that God will be glorified as a God of power. Also, as a God that is holy; he shall be owned and declared to be so, in the righteous punishment of proud men. Those are in a woful condition who set up sin, and who exert themselves to gratify their base lusts. They are daring in sin, and walk after their own lusts; it is in scorn that they call God the Holy One of Israel. They confound and overthrow distinctions between good and evil. They prefer their own reasonings to Divine revelations; their own devices to the counsels and commands of God. They deem it prudent and politic to continue profitable sins, and to neglect self-denying duties. Also, how light soever men make of drunkenness, it is a sin which lays open to the wrath and curse of God. Their judges perverted justice. Every sin needs some other to conceal it.The prophet proceeds to state still further the extent of their crimes. This verse contains an account of their dissipated habits, and their consequent forgetfulness of God. That they commonly had musical instruments in their feasts, is evident from many passages of the Old Testament; see Amos 6:5-6. Their feasts, also, were attended with songs; Isaiah 24:8-9.

The harp - - כנור kinnôr. This is a well-known stringed instrument, employed commonly in sacred music. It is often mentioned as having been used to express the pious feelings of David; Psalm 32:2; Psalm 43:4; Psalm 49:5. It is early mentioned as having been invented by Jubal; Genesis 4:21. It is supposed usually to have had ten strings (Josephus, "Ant." B. x. ch. xii. Section 3). It was played by the hand; 1 Samuel 16:23; 1 Samuel 18:9. The "root" of the word כנור kinnôr, is unknown. The word "kinnor" is used in all the languages cognate to the Hebrew, and is recognized even in the Persian. It is probable that the instrument here referred to was common in all the oriental nations, as it seems to have been known before the Flood, and of course the knowledge of it would be extended far. It is an oriental name and instrument, and from this word the Greeks derived their word κινύρα kinura. The Septuagint renders it κιθάρα kithara and κινύρα kinura.

Once they substitute for it ὄργανον organon, Psalm 136:2; and five times ψαλτήριον psaltērion, Genesis 4:20; Psalm 48:4; Psalm 80:2; Psalm 149:3; Ezekiel 26:13. The harp - כנור kinnôr - is not only mentioned as having been invented by Jubal, but it is also mentioned by Laban in the description which be gives of various solemnities, in regard to which he assures the fleeing Jacob that it had been his wish to accompany him with all the testimonials of joy - 'with music - תף tôph and כנור kinnôr;' Genesis 31:27. In the first age it was consecrated to joy and exultation. Hence, it is referred to as the instrument employed by David to drive away the melancholy of Saul 1 Samuel 16:16-22, and is the instrument usually employed to celebrate the praises of God; Psalm 33:1-2; Psalm 43:4; Psalm 49:5; Psalm 71:22-23. But the harp was not only used on sacred occasions. Isaiah also mentions it as carried about by courtezans Isaiah 23:16, and also refers to it as used on occasions of gathering in the vintage, and of increasing the joy of the festival occasion.

So also it was used in military triumphs. Under the reign of Jehoshaphat, after a victory which had been gained over the Moabites, they returned in triumph to Jerusalem, accompanied with playing on the כנור kinnôr;" 2 Chronicles 20:27-28. The harp was generally used on occasions of joy. Only in one place, in Isaiah Isa 16:11, is it referred to as having been employed in times of mourning. There is no ancient figure of the כנור kinnôr that can be relied on as genuine. We can only say that it was an instrument made of sounding wood, and furnished with strings. Josephus says that it was furnished with ten strings, and was played with the plectrum ("Ant." B. viii. ch. x.) Suidas, in his explanation of it, makes express mention of strings or sinews (p. 318); and Pollux speaks of goats' claws as being used for the plectrum. David made it out of the ברושׁ berôsh, or fir, and Solomon out of the almug. Pfeiffer supposes, that the strings were drawn over the belly of a hollow piece of wood, and that it had some resemblance to our violin. But it is more probable that the common representation of the harp as nearly in the form of a triangle, with one side or the front part missing, is the correct one. For a full discussion of the subject, see Pfeiffer on the Music of the ancient Hebrews, "Bib. Repos." vol. vi. pp. 366-373. Montfaucon has furnished a drawing of what was supposed to be the ancient כנור kinnôr, which is represented in the book. But, after all, the usual form is not quite certain.

Bruce found a sculpture of a harp resembling that usually put into the hands of David, or nearly in the form of a triangle, and under circumstances which led him to suppose that it was as old as the times of Sesostris.

And the viol - נבל nebel. From this word is derived the Greek word νάβλα nabla, and the Latin nablium and nabla. But it is not very easy to form a correct idea of this instrument. The derivation would lead us to suppose that it was something in the shape of a "bottle," and it is probable that it had a form in the shape of a leather bottle, such as is used in the East, or at least a vessel in which wine was preserved; 1 Samuel 10:3; 1 Samuel 25:18; 2 Samuel 16:1. It was at first made of the ברושׁ berôsh or fir; afterward it was made of the almug tree, and occasionally it seems to have been made of metal; 2 Samuel 6:5; 1 Chronicles 13:8. The external parts of the instrument were of wood, over which strings were drawn in various ways. Josephus says it had twelve strings ("Ant." B. viii. ch. x.) He says also that it was played with the fingers. - "Ibid." Hesychius and Pollux reckon it among stringed instruments. The resonance had its origin in the vessel or the bottom part of the instrument, upon which the strings were drawn. According to Ovid, this instrument was played on with both hands:

Quaravis mutus erat, voci favisse putatur

Piscis, Aroniae fabula nora lyrae.

Disce etiam duplice genialia palma


De Arte Amandi, lib. iii.327.

According to Jerome, Isodorus, and Cassiodorus, it had the form of an inverted Greek Delta δ d. Pfeiffer supposes that this instrument was probably the same as is found represented on ancient monument. The belly of the instrument is a wooden bowl, having a small hole in the under part, and is covered over with a stretched skin, which is higher in the middle than at the sides. Two posts, which are fastened together at the top by a cross piece, pass obliquely through this skin. Five strings pass over this skin, having a bridge for their support on the cross piece. The instrument has no pins or screws, but every string is fastened by means of some linen wound with it around this cross piece. The description of this instrument is furnished by Niebuhr ("Thess." i. p. 179). It is played on in two ways, either by being struck with the finger, or by a piece of leather, or perhaps a quill hung at its side and drawn across the strings. It cannot with certainty be determined when this instrument was invented, or when it came into use among the Hebrews. It is first mentioned in the time of Saul 1 Samuel 10:5, and from this time onward it is frequently mentioned in the Old Testament. It was used particularly in the public worship of God; 2 Samuel 6:5; 1 Kings 10:12; 2 Chronicles 20:28; 2 Chronicles 29:25; 1 Chronicles 15:16; 1 Chronicles 16:5. It was usually accompanied with other instruments, and was also used in festivals and entertainments; see "Bib. Repos." vol. vi. pp. 357-365. The usual form of representing it is shown in the preceding cut, and is the form in which the lyre appears on ancient monuments, in connection with the statues of Apollo.

The drawing in the book is a representation of a lyre from a Jewish shekel of the time of Simon Maccabeus, and may have been, not improbably, a form in frequent use among the Jews.


12. Music was common at ancient feasts (Isa 24:8, 9; Am 6:5, 6).

viol—an instrument with twelve strings [Josephus, Antiquities, 8.10].

tabret—Hebrew, toph, from the use of which in drowning the cries of children sacrificed to Moloch, Tophet received its name. Arabic, duf. A kettle drum, or tambourine.

pipe—flute or flageolet: from a Hebrew root "to bore through"; or else, "to dance" (compare Job 21:11-15).

regard not … Lord—a frequent effect of feasting (Job 1:5; Ps 28:5).

work … operation—in punishing the guilty (Isa 5:19; Isa 10:12).

They give up themselves wholly to luxury, and that in a very unseasonable time, as it follows.

But they regard not the work of the Lord; what God hath lately done, and is yet doing, and about to do among them; his grievous judgments, partly inflicted, and partly threatened, which required another course of life, even to give themselves to fasting, and prayer, and reformation, that so they might remove the incumbent, and prevent the approaching calamities. And the harp, and the viol, the tabret, and pipe,.... Instruments of music; some struck with a bow or quill, or touched with the fingers; and others blown with the mouth:

and wine are in their feasts; so that they lived jovially and merrily, like sons of Bacchus, more than like the people of God:

but they regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operation of his hands; meaning not the law, as the Targum and Kimchi, which was the work of the Lord, and the writing of his hands; rather, as Aben Ezra, the punishment inflicted on the ten tribes being carried into captivity; or else the works of creation and providence, and the daily mercies of life; or, best of all, the great work of redemption by Christ, and the conversion of sinners, both among Jews and Gentiles, by the preaching of his Gospel; for this refers to the Jews in the times of Christ and his apostles, which immediately preceded their utter destruction; and those sins here mentioned were the cause of it. See Psalm 28:5.

And the harp, and the viol, the tabret, and pipe, and wine, are in their feasts: but they regard not the {r} work of the LORD, neither consider the operation of his hands.

(r) They do not regard the provident care of God over them, nor for what end he has created them.

12. Cf. Amos 6:5-6. And the harp … feasts] better, And guitar and harp, tambourine and flute, and wine constitute their banquet;—as if to drown the voice of conscience and destroy the sense of Jehovah’s presence and working in their midst.

the work of the Lord … the operation of his hands] i.e. the crowning work of judgment which he is about to execute, and of which there were many ominous warnings for those who could discern the signs of the times: “opus aliquod illustre futurum … quod Deus hoc ipso tempore iam moliebatur” (Vitr.). Cf. Isaiah 5:19, ch. Isaiah 10:12, Isaiah 28:21; Psalm 28:5. A similar thought is expressed in Amos 6:6, where the luxurious nobles are charged with insensibility to the “ruin of Joseph.”Verse 12. - The harp and the viol, the tabret and pipe. It is difficult to identify the Hebrew instruments of music with modern names; but there seems to be no doubt that the kinnor was a sort of harp, and the khalib a sort of pipe. The nebel, generally rendered by "psaltery," but here and in Isaiah 14:11 by "viol," was a stringed instrument played with the fingers (Josephus); perhaps a lyre, perhaps a sort of dulcimer. The toph, here translated "tabret," and elsewhere often "timbrel," was most likely a tambourine. All four instruments had in the earlier times been dedicated to the worship of Jehovah (1 Samuel 10:5); now they were employed to inflame men's passions at feasts. They regard not the work of the Lord. The "work of Jehovah" is his manifestation of himself in history, more especially in the history of his chosen people (Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalm 92:4; Psalm 111:3, etc.). A pious Israelite was ever marveling at all that God had done for his nation (Deuteronomy 32:7-14; Joshua 24:2-13; 1 Chronicles 16:12-22; Ezra 9:7-9; Nehemiah 9:7-31; Psalm 68:7-28; Psalm 78:10-72; Psalm 105:5-45; Psalm 106:7-46; Psalm 136:5-24, etc.). The men of Isaiah's generation had ceased to care for things of the past, and devoted themselves to enjoying the present. Neither consider, etc. (comp. Isaiah 1:3, "My people doth not consider"). The verb used is not, however, the same in the Hebrew. This puts an end to the unthankful vineyard, and indeed a hopeless one."And I will put an end to it: it shall not be pruned nor digged, and it shall break out in thorns and thistles; and I will command the clouds to rain no rain over it." "Put an end:" bâthâh ( equals battâh : Ges. 67, Anm. 11) signifies, according to the primary meaning of bâthath (בּוּת, בּהת, see at Isaiah 1:29), viz., abscindere, either abscissum equals locus abscissus or praeruptus (Isaiah 7:19), or abscissio equals deletio. The latter is the meaning here, where shı̄th bâthâh is a refined expression for the more usual כלה עשׂה, both being construed with the accusative of the thing which is brought to an end. Further pruning and hoeing would do it no good, but only lead to further disappointment: it was the will of the Lord, therefore, that the deceitful vineyard should shoot up in thorns and thistles (âlâh is applied to the soil, as in Isaiah 34:13 and Proverbs 24:31; shâimr vâshaith, thorns and thistles, are in the accusative, according to Ges. 138, 1, Anm. 2; and both the words themselves, and also their combination, are exclusively and peculiarly Isaiah's).

(Note: Cassel associates shâmir as the name of a plant (saxifraga) with σμὐρις, and shaith with sentis, ἄκανθα; but the name shâmir is not at all applicable to those small delicate plants, which are called saxifraga (stone-breakers) on account of their growing out of clefts in the rock, and so appearing to have split the rock itself. Both shâmir vâshaith and kōts v'dardar, in Genesis 3:18, seem rather to point to certain kinds of rhamnus, together with different kinds of thistles. The more arid and waste the ground is, the more does it abound, where not altogether without vegetation, in thorny, prickly, stunted productions.)

In order that it might remain a wilderness, the clouds would also receive commandment from the Lord not to rain upon it. There can be no longer any doubt who the Lord of the vineyard is. He is Lord of the clouds, and therefore the Lord of heaven and earth. It is He who is the prophet's beloved and dearest one. The song which opened in so minstrel-like and harmless a tone, has now become painfully severe and terribly repulsive. The husk of the parable, which has already been broken through, now falls completely off (cf., Matthew 22:13; Matthew 25:30). What it sets forth in symbol is really true. This truth the prophet establishes by an open declaration.

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