Isaiah 5:18
Woe to them that draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were with a cart rope:
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(18) That draw iniquity with cords of vanity.—The phrase is boldly figurative. Evil-doers are thought of as harnessing themselves as to the chariot of sin. The “cords of vanity”—i.e., of emptiness or ungodliness—are the habits by which they are thus bound. The “cart ropes,” thicker and stronger than the “cords,” represent the extreme stage, when such habits become irresistibly dominant. Probably the words may point to some idolatrous procession, in which the chariot of Baal or Ashtaroth was thus drawn by their worshippers, like that of Demêter or Cybele in Greece, or Juggernâth in India.

Isaiah 5:18-19. Wo unto them that draw iniquity — That are not only drawn to sin by the allurements of the world, or by the persuasions of wicked men, but are active and industrious in drawing sin to themselves, or themselves to sin: with cords of vanity — Or, of lying, as the word שׁואfrequently signifies; that is, with vain and deceitful arguments and pretences, whereby sinners generally draw themselves to sin, such as, That God does not regard human affairs; that many of the greatest sinners often go unpunished; that we see no proofs of the divine interposition, &c. See 2 Peter 3:3-4. And sin with a cart-rope — With all their might, as beasts that draw carts with ropes. That say, Let him make speed — Namely, God, in whose name thou and other prophets are always reproving and threatening us; and hasten his work, that we may see it — He only thinks to affright us, as if we were fools or children, with bugbears, or pretended evils: he either cannot, or will not, do us any harm. This was the plain language of their actions; they lived as if they were of this opinion. And let the counsel of the Holy One draw nigh — What you have declared to be his counsel, with regard to our going into captivity, and which, you say, his holiness obliges him to execute: they scornfully repeat the title of Holy One, usually given by the prophets to God. And come, that we may know it — We cannot believe that it will ever happen unless we see it with our eyes. Thus, “by a long progression in iniquity, and a continued accumulation of sin, men arrive at length to the highest degree of wickedness; bidding open defiance to God, and scoffing at his threatened judgments;” to which they cannot be persuaded to give any credit till they find them executed upon them.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.Wo unto them ... - This is a new denunciation. It introduces another form of sin, and threatens its appropriate punishment.

That draw iniquity with cords of vanity - The general idea in this verse and the next, is, doubtless, that of plunging deeper and deeper into sin. The word "sin" here, has been sometimes supposed to mean "the punishment" for sin. The word has that meaning sometimes, but it seems here to be taken in its usual sense. The word "cords" means strings of any kind, larger or smaller; and the expression "cords of vanity," is supposed to mean "small, slender, feeble" strings, like the web of a spider. The word vanity שׁוא shâv', May, perhaps, have the sense here of falsehood or deceit; and the cords of deceit may denote the schemes of evil, the plans for deceiving people, or of bringing them into a snare, as the fowler springs his deceitful snare upon the unsuspecting bird. The Chaldee translates it, 'Woe to those who begin to sin by little and little, drawing sin by cords of vanity; these sins grow and increase until they are strong, and are like a cart-rope.' The Septuagint renders it, 'Woe to those who draw sin with a long cable;' that is," one sin is added to another, until it comes to an enormous length, and the whole is drawn along together. Probably the true idea is that of the ancient interpretation of the rabbis, 'An evil inclination is at first like a fine hair string, but the finishing like a cart-rope.' At first, they draw sin with a slender cord, then they go on to greater deeds of iniquity that urge them on, and draw them with their main strength, as with a cart-rope. They make a strong "effort" to commit iniquity.

18. Third Woe—against obstinate perseverance in sin, as if they wished to provoke divine judgments.

iniquity—guilt, incurring punishment [Maurer].

cords, &c.—cart-rope—Rabbins say, "An evil inclination is at first like a fine hair-string, but the finishing like a cart-rope." The antithesis is between the slender cords of sophistry, like the spider's web (Isa 59:5; Job 8:14), with which one sin draws on another, until they at last bind themselves with great guilt as with a cart-rope. They strain every nerve in sin.


sin—substantive, not a verb: they draw on themselves "sin" and its penalty recklessly.

That draw iniquity; that are not only drawn to sin by the allurements of the world, or by the persuasions of wicked men, being surprised and overtaken by sin, as sometimes good men are, Galatians 6:1, but are active and industrious in drawing sin to themselves, or themselves to sin; that greedily and steadily pursue sill, and the occasions of it, and are not at rest till they have overtaken it; that sin wilfully, and resolvedly, and industriously.

With cords of vanity; or, with cords of lying, as the last word frequently signifies, i.e. with vain and deceitful arguments and pretences, whereby sinners generally draw themselves to sin; among which, one follows in the next verse, to wit, the impunity which they promise to themselves. Or these cords may note the means which they use to accomplish that iniquity which they have devised.

With a cart rope; with all their might, as beasts commonly do that draw carts with ropes. Woe unto them that draw iniquity with cords of vanity,.... The prophet returns to the wicked again, and goes on with the account of their sin and punishment; and here describes such, not that are drawn into sin unawares, through the prevalence of their own hearts' lusts and corruptions, through the temptations of Satan, the snares of the world, or the persuasions of others; but such who draw it to themselves, seek after it, and willingly commit it; who rush and force themselves into it; who solicit it, and seek and take all occasions and opportunities of doing it; and take a great deal of pains about it; and make use of all arguments, reasonings, and pretences they can devise, to engage themselves and others in the practice of it; which are all cords of vanity, fallacious and deceitful.

And sin as it were with a cart rope; using all diligence, wisdom, policy, and strength; labouring with all might and main to effect it. Some by "iniquity" and "sin" understand punishment, as the words used sometimes signify; and that the sense is, that such persons described by their boldness and impudence in sinning, by their impenitence and hardness of heart, and by adding sin to sin, draw upon themselves swift destruction, and the greater damnation. The Targum interprets it of such that begin with lesser sins, and increase to more ungodliness; paraphrasing it thus,

"woe to them that begin to sin a little, and they go on and increase until that they are strong, and "their" sins "are" as a cart rope;''

to which agrees that saying in the Talmud (g),

"the evil imagination or corruption of nature at first is like a spider's thread, but at last it is like to cart ropes; as it is said, "woe to them that draw iniquity", &c.''

(g) T. Bab. Succa, fol. 52. 1. & Sanhedrin, fol. 99. 2. Vid. Bereshit Rabba, sect. 22. fol. 19. 2.

Woe to them that draw iniquity with {y} cords of vanity, and sin as it were with a cart rope:

(y) Who use all allurements, opportunities and excuses to harden their conscience in sin.

18. The figure seems to express two ideas: (1) the determination with which these men set themselves to work iniquity, and (2) the inevitable connexion between sin and judgment. The idea of punishment is included in the words iniquity (or “guilt”) and sin.

18, 19. The third woe, against the mocking scepticism which leads men to harden themselves in sin. The men addressed do not believe in the prophet’s threats of a day of retribution yet all the while they are unconsciously doing their utmost to bring about their fulfilment.Verse 18. - Woe unto them, etc. We come here to the third woe, which is pronounced against those who openly pile up sin upon sin, and scoff at God. These men are represented as "drawing iniquity with cords of vanity," i.e. dragging after them a load of sin by cords that seem too weak; and then as "sinning with a cart-rope," which is a mere variant expression of the same idea. Mr. Cheyne quotes from the Rig-Veda, as a parallel metaphor, the phrase, "Undo the rope of sin." Isaiah 5:12 describes how they go on in their blindness with music and carousing: "And guitar and harp, kettle-drum, and flute, and wine, is their feast; but they regard not the work of Jehovah, and see not the purpose of His hands." "Their feast" is so and so (משׁתּיהם is only a plural in appearance; it is really a singular, as in Daniel 1:10, Daniel 1:16, and many other passages, with the Yod of the primary form, משׁתּי equals משׁתּה, softened: see the remarks on עלה at Isaiah 1:30, and עשׂיה at Isaiah 22:11); that is to say, their feast consisted or was composed of exciting music and wine. Knobel construes it, "and there are guitar, etc., and wine is their drink;" but a divided sentence of this kind is very tame; and the other expression, based upon the general principle, "The whole is its parts," is thoroughly Semitic (see Fleischer's Abhandlungen ber einige Arten der Nominalapposition in den Sitzungsberichten der schs. Gesellschaft der Wissenschaft, 1862). Cinnor (guitar) is a general name for such instruments as have their strings drawn (upon a bridge) over a sounding board; and nebel (the harp and lyre) a general name for instruments with their strings hung freely, so as to be played with both hands at the same time. Toph (Arab. duff) is a general name for the tambourin, the drum, and the kettle-drum; Chaill (lit. that which is bored through) a general name for the flute and double flute. In this tumult and riot they had no thought or eye for the work of Jehovah and the purpose of His hands. This is the phrase used to express the idea of eternal counsel of God (Isaiah 37:26), which leads to salvation by the circuitous paths of judgment (Isaiah 10:12; Isaiah 28:21; Isaiah 29:23), so far as that counsel is embodied in history, as moulded by the invisible interposition of God. In their joy and glory they had no sense for what was the most glorious of all, viz., the moving and working of God in history; so that they could not even discern the judgment which was in course of preparation at that very time.
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