Isaiah 52:4
For thus saith the Lord GOD, My people went down aforetime into Egypt to sojourn there; and the Assyrian oppressed them without cause.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(4) My people went down . . .—Stress is laid on the unprovoked character of the oppression in the case both of Egypt and the Assyrian invaders Sargon and Sennacherib. It is possible that Assyria may be used in its wider sense as including Babylon. If so, the fact tends to the conclusion that the book was written at a time when the kings of Assyria included Babylon in their titles. Probably, however, the prophet refers to the deliverance from the army of Sennacherib as a pledge of the deliverance from Babylon.

Isaiah 52:4-6. My people went down into Egypt — Where they had protection and sustenance, and therefore owed subjection to the king of Egypt. And yet when he oppressed them I punished him severely, and delivered them out of his hands. And the Assyrian oppressed them — The king of Babylon, who is called the king of Assyria, (2 Kings 23:29,) as also the Persian emperor is called, (Ezra 6:22,) because it was one and the same empire which was possessed, first by the Assyrians, then by the Babylonians, and afterward by the Persians. Without cause — Without any real ground or colour, by mere force invading their land, and carrying them away into captivity, Now therefore what have I here — Why (speaking after the manner of men) do I sit still here, and not go to Babylon to punish the Babylonians, and to deliver my people? Or, What honour have I by suffering this injury to be done to my people? That my people is taken away for naught — Were carried away captive by the Babylonians, without any provocation or pretence of right? They that rule over them make them to howl — By their tyrannical and unmerciful usage of them; and my name continually is blasphemed — The Babylonians blaspheme me, as if I wanted either power or goodwill to save my people out of their hands. Therefore my people shall know my name — They shall have sensible experience of my infinite power and goodness in fighting for them. They shall know in that day — When I shall redeem them; which work was begun by the return of the Jews from Babylon, and afterward carried on, and at last perfected, by the coming of the Messiah; that I am he that doth speak — That these promises are not the words of a weak, or fickle, or deceitful man, but of him who is omnipotent, unchangeable, and a covenant-keeping God.

52:1-12 The gospel proclaims liberty to those bound with fears. Let those weary and heavy laden under the burden of sin, find relief in Christ, shake themselves from the dust of their doubts and fears, and loose themselves from those bands. The price paid by the Redeemer for our salvation, was not silver or gold, or corruptible things, but his own precious blood. Considering the freeness of this salvation, and how hurtful to temporal comfort sins are, we shall more value the redemption which is in Christ. Do we seek victory over every sin, recollecting that the glory of God requires holiness in every follower of Christ? The good news is, that the Lord Jesus reigns. Christ himself brought these tidings first. His ministers proclaim these good tidings: keeping themselves clean from the pollutions of the world, they are beautiful to those to whom they are sent. Zion's watchmen could scarcely discern any thing of God's favour through the dark cloud of their afflictions; but now the cloud is scattered, they shall plainly see the performance. Zion's waste places shall then rejoice; all the world will have the benefit. This is applied to our salvation by Christ. Babylon is no place for Israelites. And it is a call to all in the bondage of sin and Satan, to use the liberty Christ has proclaimed. They were to go with diligent haste, not to lose time nor linger; but they were not to go with distrustful haste. Those in the way of duty, are under God's special protection; and he that believes this, will not hasten for fear.For thus saith the Lord God - In order to show them that he could redeem them without money, God reminds them of what had been done in former times. The numerous captives in Egypt, whose services were so valuable to the Egyptians, and whom the Egyptians were so unwilling to suffer to depart, he had rescued by his own power, and had delivered for ever from that bondage. The idea here is, that with the same ease he could rescue the captives in Babylon, and restore them to their own land without a price.

My people went down - That is, Jacob and his sons. The phrase 'went down,' is applied to a journey to Egypt, because Judea was a mountainous and elevated country compared with Egypt, and a journey there was in fact a descent to a more level and lower country.

To sojourn there - Not to dwell there permanently, but to remain there only for a time. They went in fact only to remain until the severity of the famine should have passed by, and until they could return with safety to the land of Canaan.

And the Assyrians oppressed them without cause - A considerable variety has existed in the interpretation of this passage. The Septuagint renders it, 'And to the Assyrians they were carried by force.' Some have supposed that this refers to the oppressions that they experienced in Egypt, and that the name 'Assyrian' is here given to Pharaoh. So Forerius and Cajetan understand it. They suppose that the name, 'the Assyrian,' became, in the apprehension of the Jews, the common name of that which was proud, oppressive, and haughty, and might therefore be used to designate Pharaoh. But there are insuperable objections to this. For the name 'the Assyrian' is not elsewhere given to Pharaoh in the Scriptures, nor can it be supposed to be given to him but with great impropriety. It is not true that Pharaoh was an Assyrian; nor is it true that the Israelites were oppressed by the Assyrians while they remained in Egypt. Others have supposed that this refers to Nebuchadnezzar and the Chaldeans in general, and that the name 'the Assyrian' is given them in a large and general sense, as ruling over that which constituted the empire of Assyria, and that the prophet here refers to the calamities which they were suffering in Babylon. But the objection to this is not the less decisive.

It is true that Babylon was formerly a part or province of Assyria, and true also that in the time of the Jewish captivity it was the capital of the kingdom of which the former empire of Assyria became a subject province. But the name Babylonian, in the Scriptures, is kept distinct from that of Assyrian, and they are not used interchangeably. Nor does the connection of the passage require us to understand it in this sense. The whole passage is in a high degree elliptical, and something must be supplied to make out the sense. The general design of it is, to show that God would certainly deliver the Jews from the captivity at Babylon without money. For this purpose, the prophet appeals to the former instances of his interposition when deliverance had been effected in that way. A paraphrase of the passage, and a filling up of the parts which are omitted in the brief and abrupt manner of the prophet, will show the sense. 'Ye have been sold for nought, and ye shall be ransomed without price.

As a proof that I can do it, and will do it, remember that my people went down formerly to Egypt, and designed to sojourn there for a little time, and that they were there reduced to slavery, and oppressed by Pharaoh, but that I ransomed them without money, and brought them forth by my own power. Remember, further, how often the Assyrian has oppressed them also, without cause. Remember the history of Sennacherib, Tiglath-pileser, and Salmaneser, and how they have laid the land waste, and remember also how I have delivered it from these oppressions. With the same certainty, and the same ease, I can deliver the people from the captivity at Babylon.' The prophet, therefore, refers to different periods and events; and the idea is, that God had delivered them when they had been oppressed alike by the Egyptian, and by the Assyrians, and that he who had so often interposed would also rescue them from their oppression in Babylon.

4. My people—Jacob and his sons.

went down—Judea was an elevated country compared with Egypt.

sojourn—They went there to stay only till the famine in Canaan should have ceased.

Assyrian—Sennacherib. Remember how I delivered you from Egypt and the Assyrian; what, then, is to prevent Me from delivering you out of Babylon (and the mystical Babylon and the Antichrist in the last days)?

without cause—answering to "for naught" in Isa 52:5; it was an act of gratuitous oppression in the present case, as in that case.

My people went down aforetime into Egypt to sojourn there; where they had protection and sustenance, and therefore owed subjection to the king of Egypt. And yet when he oppressed them I punished him severely, and delivered them out of his hands. Which is easily understood from the following words. And; or, but; for here is an opposition made between these two cases.

The Assyrian; the king of Babylon, who is called the king of Assyria, 2 Kings 23:29, compared with Isaiah 24:7, as also the Persian emperor is called, Ezra 6:22, because it was one and the same empire, which was possessed, first by the Assyrians, then by the Babylonians, and afterwards by the Persians. Oppressed them without cause; without any such ground or valour, by mere force invading their land, and carrying them away into captivity. For although it be said that God gave this land and people into his hand, 2 Chronicles 36:11, by his counsel and providence; yet that was neither known to nor regarded by the king of Babylon, nor was it a good and lawful title, God’s word, and not his providence, being the rule by which men’s rights are determined; otherwise a robber hath a right to my purse, which he cannot take from me upon the highway without God’s providence.

For thus saith the Lord God,.... The Lord confirms what he had before said of redeeming his people without money, who had been sold for nothing, by past instances of his deliverance of them:

my people went down aforetime into Egypt to sojourn there; Jacob and his family went down there of their own accord, where they were supplied with food in a time of famine, and settled in a very fruitful part of it; but when they were oppressed, and cried to the Lord, he appeared for them, and delivered them:

and the Assyrian oppressed them without cause; which some understand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who they say was an Assyrian, or so called, because of his power and cruelty; or it being usual to call any enemy of the Jews an Assyrian: or rather the words may be rendered, "but the Assyrian", &c. Pharaoh had some pretence for what he did; the Israelites came into his country, he did not carry them captive; they received many benefits and favours there, and were settled in a part of his dominions, so that he might claim them as his subjects, and refuse to dismiss them; but the Assyrians had nothing to do with them; could not make any pretence why they should invade them, and oppress them; and therefore if the Lord had delivered them from the one, he would also deliver them from the other. This may be understood of the several invasions and captivities by Pul, Tiglathpileser, Shalmaneser, Sennacherib, and even Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; Babylon having been the metropolis of Assyria, and a branch of the Assyrian empire, though now translated to the Chaldeans: or the sense is, and the Assyrians also oppressed Israel, as well as the Egyptians, without any just reason, and I delivered them out of their hands; and so I will redeem my church and people out of antichristian bondage and slavery.

For thus saith the Lord GOD, My people went {d} down in times past into Egypt to sojourn there; and the Assyrian {e} oppressed them without cause.

(d) When Jacob went there in times of famine.

(e) The Egyptians might pretend some reason to oppress my people because they went there and remained among them, but the Assyrians have no title to excuse their tyranny by, and therefore I will punish them more than I did the Egyptians.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
4. For aforetime render with R.V. at the first, at the outset of its history.

without cause] i.e. probably, “for nought,” without having acquired any right over Israel by services rendered to Jehovah. The meaning can hardly be that Israel suffered innocently.

Verse 4. - My people went down... into Egypt ... the Assyrian oppressed them. Israel had experienced three captivities. They "went down" voluntarily into Egypt, on invitation, to sojourn, and were there cruelly and unjustly reduced to a servile condition (Exodus 1:13, 14). They (or a great part of them) were violently carried into captivity by the Assyrian kings, Tiglath-Pileser (2 Kings 15:29), Sargon (2 Kings 17:6), and Sennacherib (2 Kings 18:13; 'Eponym Canon,' p. 134), who, without cause, grievously "oppressed" them. Now they are suffering under a third captivity in Babylonia. What is to be the Divine action under these circumstances? Isaiah 52:4The reason for the address is now given in a well-sustained promise. "For thus saith Jehovah, Ye have been sold for nothing, and ye shall not be redeemed with silver. For thus saith the Lord Jehovah, My people went down to Egypt in the beginning to dwell there as guests; and Asshur has oppressed it for nothing. And now, what have I to do here? saith Jehovah: for my people are taken away for nothing; their oppressors shriek, saith Jehovah, and my name is continually blasphemed all the day. Therefore my people shall learn my name; therefore, in that day, that I am He who saith, There am I." Ye have been sold (this is the meaning of Isaiah 52:3); but this selling is merely a giving over to a foreign power, without the slightest advantage accusing to Him who had no other object in view than to cause them to atone for their sins (Isaiah 50:1), and without any other people taking their place, and serving Him in their stead as an equivalent for the loss He sustained. And there would be no need of silver to purchase the favour of Him who had given them up, since a manifestation of divine power would be all that would be required (Isaiah 45:13). For whether Jehovah show Himself to Israel as the Righteous One or as the Gracious One, as a Judge or as a Redeemer, He always acts as the Absolute One, exalted above all earthly affairs, having no need to receive anything, but able to give everything. He receives no recompense, and gives none. Whether punishing or redeeming, He always guards His people's honour, proving Himself in the one case to be all-sufficient, and in the other almighty, but acting in both cases freely from Himself.

In the train of thought in Isaiah 52:4-6 the reason is given for the general statement in Isaiah 52:3. Israel went down to Egypt, the country of the Nile valley, with the innocent intention of sojourning, i.e., living as a guest (gūr) there in a foreign land; and yet (as we may supply from the next clause, according to the law of a self-completing parallelism) there it fell into the bondage of the Pharaohs, who, whilst they did not fear Jehovah, but rather despised Him, were merely the blind instruments of His will. Asshur then oppressed it bephes, i.e., not "at last" (ultimo tempore, as Hvernick renders it), but (as אפס is the synonym of אין in Isaiah 40:17; Isaiah 41:2) "for nothing," i.e., without having acquired any right to it, but rather serving in its unrighteousness simply as the blind instrument of the righteousness of Jehovah, who through the instrumentality of Asshur put an end first of all to the kingdom of Israel, and then to the kingdom of Judah. The two references to the Egyptian and Assyrian oppressions are expressed in as brief terms as possible. But with the words "now therefore" the prophecy passes on in a much more copious strain to the present oppression in Babylon. Jehovah inquires, Quid mihi hic (What have I to do here)? Hitzig supposes pōh (here) to refer to heaven, in the sense of, "What pressing occupation have I here, that all this can take place without my interfering?" But such a question as this would be far more appropriate to the Zeus of the Greek comedy than to the Jehovah of prophecy. Knobel, who takes pōh as referring to the captivity, in accordance with the context, gives a ridiculous turn to the question, viz., "What do I get here in Babylonia, from the fact that my people are carried off for nothing? Only loss." He observes himself that there is a certain wit in the question. But it would be silly rather than witty, if, after Jehovah had just stated that He had given up His people for nothing, the prophet represented Him as preparing to redeem it by asking, "What have I gained by it?" The question can have no other meaning, according to Isaiah 22:16, than "What have I to do here?" Jehovah is thought of as present with His people (cf., Genesis 46:4), and means to inquire whether He shall continue this penal condition of exile any longer (Targum, Rashi, Rosenmller, Ewald, Stier, etc.). The question implies an intention to redeem Israel, and the reason for this intention is introduced with kı̄. Israel is taken away (ablatus), viz., from its own native home, chinnâm, i.e., without the Chaldeans having any human claim upon them whatever. The words יהיליילוּ משׁליו (משׁלו) are not to be rendered, "its singers lament," as Reutschi and Rosenmller maintain, since the singers of Israel are called meshōrerı̄m; nor "its (Israel's) princes lament," as Vitringa and Hitzig supposed, since the people of the captivity, although they had still their national sârı̄m, had no other mōshelı̄m than the Chaldean oppressors (Isaiah 49:7; Isaiah 14:5). It is the intolerable tyranny of the oppressors of His people, that Jehovah assigns in this sentence as the reason for His interposition, which cannot any longer be deferred. It is true that we do meet with hēlı̄l (of which we have the future here without any syncope of the first syllable) in other passages in the sense of ululare, as a cry of pain; but just as הריע, רנן, רזח signify a yelling utterance of either joy or pain, so heeliil may also be applied to the harsh shrieking of the capricious tyrants, like Lucan's laetis ululare triumphis, and the Syriac ailel, which is used to denote a war-cry and other noises as well. In connection with this proud and haughty bluster, there is also the practice of making Jehovah's name the butt of their incessant blasphemy: מנּאץ is a part. hithpoel with an assimilated ת and a pausal ā for ē, although it might also be a passive hithpoal (for the ō in the middle syllable, compare מגאל, Malachi 1:7; מבהל, Esther 8:14). In Isaiah 52:6 there follows the closing sentence of the whole train of thought: therefore His people are to get to learn His name, i.e., the self-manifestation of its God, who is so despised by the heathen; therefore lâkhēn repeated with emphasis, like כּעל in Isaiah 59:18, and possibly min in Psalm 45:9) in that day, the day of redemption, (supply "it shall get to learn") that "I am he who saith, Here am I," i.e., that He who has promised redemption is now present as the True and Omnipotent One to carry it into effect.

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