Isaiah 63:18
The people of your holiness have possessed it but a little while: our adversaries have trodden down your sanctuary.
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(18) The people of thy holiness . . .—Better, For a little while have they possessed thy sanctuary, or, with a various reading, thy holy mountain. The plea is addressed to Jehovah, on the ground of His promise that the inheritance was to be an everlasting one. Compared with that promise, the period of possession, from Joshua and David to the fall of the monarchy, was but as a “little while.” (Comp. Psalm 90:4.) The seeming failure of the promise was aggravated by the fact that the enemies of Israel had trodden down the sanctuary.

63:15-19 They beseech him to look down on the abject condition of their once-favoured nation. Would it not be glorious to his name to remove the veil from their hearts, to return to the tribes of his inheritance? The Babylonish captivity, and the after-deliverance of the Jews, were shadows of the events here foretold. The Lord looks down upon us in tenderness and mercy. Spiritual judgments are more to be dreaded than any other calamities; and we should most carefully avoid those sins which justly provoke the Lord to leave men to themselves and to their deceiver. Our Redeemer from everlasting is thy name; thy people have always looked upon thee as the God to whom they might appeal. The Lord will hear the prayers of those who belong to him, and deliver them from those not called by his name.The people of thy holiness - The people who have been received into solemn covenant with thee.

Have possessed it but a little while - That is, the land meaning that the time during which they had enjoyed a peaceable possession of it, compared with the perpetuity of the promise made, was short. Such is the idea given to the passage by our translators. But there is considerable variety in the interpretation of the passage among expositors. Lowth renders it:

It is little, that they have taken possession of thy holy mountain;

That our enemies have trodden down thy sanctuary.

Jerome renders it, 'It is as nothing (quasi nihilum), they possess thy holy people; our enemies have trodden down thy sanctuary.' The Septuagint renders it, 'Return on account of thy servants, on account of the tribes of thine inheritance, that we may inherit thy holy mountains for a little time' ἵνα μικρὸν κληρονομήσωμεν τοῦ ὄρους τοῦ ἁγίου hina mikron klēronomēsōmen tou orous tou hagiou). It has been generally felt that there was great difficulty in the place. See Vitringa. The sense seems to be that which occurs in our translation. The design is to furnish an argument for the divine interposition, and the meaning of the two verses may be expressed in the following paraphrase: 'We implore thee to return unto us, and to put away thy wrath. As a reason for this, we urge that thy temple thy holy sanctuary - was possessed by thy people but a little time. For a brief period there we offered praise, and met with our God, and enjoyed his favor. Now thine enemies trample it down. They have come up and taken the land, and destroyed thy holy place Isaiah 64:11. We plead for thine interposition, because we are thy covenant people. Of old we have been thine. But as for them, they were never thine. They never yielded to thy laws. They were never called by thy name. There is, then, no reason why the temple and the land should be in their possession, and we earnestly pray that it may be restored to the tribes of thine ancient inheritance.'

Our adversaries - This whole prayer is supposed to be offered by the exiles near the close of their captivity. Of course the language is such as they would then use. The scene is laid in Babylon, and the object is to express the feelings which they would have then, and to furnish the model for the petitions which they would then urge. We are not, therefore, to suppose that the temple when Isaiah 54ed and wrote was in ruins, and the land in the possession of his foes. All this is seen in vision; and though a hundred and fifty years would occur before it would be realized, yet, according to the prophetic manner, he describes the scene as actually passing before him (see the Introduction, Section 7; compare the notes at Isaiah 64:11).

18. people of … holiness—Israel dedicated as holy unto God (Isa 62:12; De 7:6).

possessed—namely, the Holy Land, or Thy "sanctuary," taken from the following clause, which is parallel to this (compare Isa 64:10, 11; Ps 74:6-8).

thy—an argument why God should help them; their cause is His cause.

The people of thy holiness; or, thy holy people, as being set apart for his servants; holiness being to be understood for a covenant separation from other people.

But a little while. i.e.

1. Comparatively to the promise, which was for ever, though they had possessed it about one thousand four hundred years. Or,

2. It seeming to them so, as things, especially such as are desirable, seem when they are past, Job 9:25,26 Psa 90 4. Or,

3. They enjoyed but small spaces of time in quietness, so they had small enjoyment of it. Or,

4. It may respect the temple, which stood but four hundred years.

Have trodden down thy sanctuary; the temple, called the sanctuary from the holiness of it; this our adversaries the Babylonians have trodden down, 2 Chronicles 36:19; and this also implies their ruining of their whole ecclesiastical policy. The people of thy holiness have possessed it but a little while,.... Either the land of Canaan, which the Jews, the Lord's holy people, whom he had separated from others, possessed about fourteen hundred years, which was but a little while in comparison of "for ever", as was promised; or they enjoyed it but a little while in peace and quiet, being often disturbed by their neighbours; or else the sanctuary, the temple, as it is to be supplied from the next clause, which stood but little more than four hundred years:

our adversaries have trodden down thy sanctuary; the temple; the first temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar; and the second temple by the Romans; and Antiochus, and Pompey, and others, profaned it, by treading in it.

The people of thy holiness have possessed it but a little {x} while: our adversaries have trodden down thy sanctuary.

(x) That is, in respect to the promise, which is perpetual: even though they had now possessed the land of Canaan for 1400 years: and thus they lament, to move God rather to remember his covenant, than to punish their sins.

18. The people … while] The want of an acc. to the verb excites suspicion, for it is hardly possible to take “thy sanctuary” as the obj. common to the two clauses. The text of the LXX., which reads “mountain” instead of “people” and has the verb in the first pers. plu., is perhaps to be preferred: For a little while have we possessed Thy holy mountain. Comp. ch. Isaiah 57:13.

The second part of the verse speaks of a desecration of the Temple, which apparently followed the possession of the land. The difficulty of reconciling these two facts has been pointed out in the Introductory Note above. If any destruction of the second Temple were known to have taken place about the time of Ezra, the circumstances would be explained. But the stronger statements in Isaiah 64:10-11 make it unlikely that if such a calamity had really happened it should not have been expressly mentioned, even in the meagre historical records which have been preserved of that period.Verse 18. - The people of thy holiness; or, thy holy people (comp. Isaiah 62:9; Isaiah 63:15: 64:11). Some critics read har, "mountain," instead of ' am, "people," and translate, "But for a little while have they" (i.e. thy servants) "had possession of thy holy mountain." The general meaning is the same in either case. "Israel, God's people, has held Palestine but for a little while" - a few centuries - and now the heathen have been allowed to make themselves masters of it, (comp. Ezra 10:8). Israel being brought to a right mind in the midst of this state of punishment, longed fro the better past to return. "Then His people remembered the days of the olden time, of Moses: Where is He who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherd of his flock? where is He who put the spirit of His holiness in the midst of them; who caused the arm of His majesty to go at the right of Moses; who split the waters before them, to make Himself an everlasting name: who caused them to pass through abysses of the deep, like the horse upon the plain, without their stumbling? Like the cattle which goeth down into the valley, the Spirit of Jehovah brought them to rest: thus hast Thou led Thy people, to make Thyself a majestic name." According to the accentuation before us, Isaiah 63:11 should be rendered thus: "Then He (viz., Jehovah) remembered the days of the olden time, the Moses of His people" (lxx, Targ., Syr., Jerome). But apart from the strange expression "the Moses of His people," which might perhaps be regarded as possible, because the proper name mōsheh might suggest the thought of its real meaning in Hebrew, viz., extrahens equals liberator, but which the Syriac rejects by introducing the reading ‛abhdō (Moses, His servant), we have only to look at the questions of evidently human longing which follow, to see that Jehovah cannot be the subject to ויּזכּר (remembered), by which these reminiscences are introduced. It is the people which begins its inquiries with איּה, just as in Jeremiah 2:6 (cf., Isaiah 51:9-10), and recals "the days of olden time," according to the admonition in Deuteronomy 32:7. Consequently, in spite of the accents, such Jewish commentators as Saad. and Rashi regard "his people" (‛ammō) as the subject; whereas others, such as AE, Kimchi, and Abravanel, take account of the accents, and make the people the suppressed subject of the verb "remembered," by rendering it thus, "Then it remembered the days of olden time, (the days) of Moses (and) His people," or in some similar way. But with all modifications the rendering is forced and lame. The best way of keeping to the accents is that suggested by Stier, "Then men (indef. man, the French on) remembered the days of old, the Moses of His people."

But why did the prophet not say ויּזכּרוּ, as the proper sequel to Isaiah 63:10? We prefer to adopt the following rendering and accentuation: Then remembered (zakeph gadol) the days-of-old (mercha) of Moses (tiphchah) His people. The object stands before the subject, as for example in 2 Kings 5:13 (compare the inversions in Isaiah 8:22 extr., Isaiah 22:2 init.); and mosheh is a genitive governing the composite "days of old" (for this form of the construct state, compare Isaiah 28:1 and Ruth 2:1). The retrospect commences with "Where is He who led them up?" etc. The suffix of המּעלם (for המעלם, like רדם in Psalm 68:28, and therefore with the verbal force predominant) refers to the ancestors; and although the word is determined by the suffix, it has the article as equivalent to a demonstrative pronoun (ille qui sursum duxit, eduxit eos). "The shepherd of his flock" is added as a more precise definition, not dependent upon vayyizkōr, as even the accents prove. את is rendered emphatic by yethib, since here it signifies un cum. The Targum takes it in the sense of instar pastoris gregis sui; but though עם is sometimes used in this way, את never is. Both the lxx and Targum read רעה; Jerome, on the other hand, adopts the reading רעי, and this is the Masoretic reading, for the Masora in Genesis 47:3 reckons four רעה, without including the present passage. Kimchi and Abravanel also support this reading, and Norzi very properly gives it the preference. The shepherds of the flock of Jehovah are Moses and Aaron, together with Miriam (Psalm 77:21; Micah 6:4). With these (i.e., in their company or under their guidance) Jehovah led His people up out of Egypt through the Red Sea. With the reading רעי, the question whether beqirbô refers to Moses or Israel falls to the ground. Into the heart of His people (Nehemiah 9:20) Jehovah put the spirit of His holiness: it was present in the midst of Israel, inasmuch as Moses, Aaron, Miriam, the Seventy, and the prophets in the camp possessed it, and inasmuch as Joshua inherited it as the successor of Moses, and all the people might become possessed of it. The majestic might of Jehovah, which manifested itself majestically, is called the "arm of His majesty;" an anthropomorphism to which the expression "who caused it to march at the right hand of Moses" compels us to give an interpretation worthy of God. Stier will not allow that תּפארתּו זרע is to be taken as the object, and exclaims, "What a marvellous figure of speech, an arm walking at a person's right hand!" But the arm which is visible in its deeds belongs to the God who is invisible in His own nature; and the meaning is, that the active power of Moses was not left to itself, but he overwhelming omnipotence of God went by its side, and endowed it with superhuman strength. It was by virtue of this that the elevated staff and extended hand of Moses divided the Red Sea (Exodus 14:16). בּוקע has mahpach attached to the ב, and therefore the tone drawn back upon the penultimate, and metheg with the tsere, that it may not be slipped over in the pronunciation. The clause וגו לעשׂות affirms that the absolute purpose of God is in Himself. But He is holy love, and whilst willing for Himself, He wills at the same time the salvation of His creatures. He makes to Himself an "everlasting name," by glorifying Himself in such memorable miracles of redemption, as that performed in the deliverance of His people out of Egypt. According to the general order of the passage, Isaiah 63:13 apparently refers to the passage through the Jordan; but the psalmist, in Psalm 106:9 (cf., Psalm 77:17), understood it as referring to the passage through the Red Sea. The prayer dwells upon this chief miracle, of which the other was only an after-play. "As the horse gallops over the plain," so did they pass through the depths of the sea יכּשׁלוּ לא (a circumstantial minor clause), i.e., without stumbling. Then follows another beautiful figure: "like the beast that goeth down into the valley," not "as the beast goeth down into the valley," the Spirit of Jehovah brought it (Israel) to rest, viz., to the menūchâh of the Canaan flowing with milk and honey (Deuteronomy 12:9; Psalm 95:11), where it rested and was refreshed after the long and wearisome march through the sandy desert, like a flock that had descended from the bare mountains to the brooks and meadows of the valley. The Spirit of God is represented as the leader here (as in Psalm 143:10), viz., through the medium of those who stood, enlightened and instigated by Him, at the head of the wandering people. The following כּן is no more a correlate of the foregoing particle of comparison than in Isaiah 52:14. It is a recapitulation, and refers to the whole description as far back as Isaiah 63:9, passing with נהגתּ into the direct tone of prayer.

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