Isaiah 7:15
Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good.
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(15) Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know . . .—Better, till he know, or, when he shall know. . . .—By a strange inversion of the familiar associations of the phrase (Exodus 3:17; Deuteronomy 31:20), probably, as the prophet spoke them, not without a certain touch of the irony of paradox, the words describe a time, not of plenty, but of scarcity. (Comp. Isaiah 7:22.) Fields and vineyards should be left uncultivated (Isaiah 5:9), and instead of bread and meat, and wine and oil, the people, flying from their cities and taking refuge in caves and mountains, should be left to the food of a nomadic tribe, such, e.g., as the Kenites (Judges 5:25; 1Samuel 14:26; Matthew 3:4). The “butter” of the Bible here, as in Judges 5:25, is the clotted milk which has always been a delicacy with Arabs.

Isaiah 7:15. Butter and honey shall he eat — The common food of children in that country, where these articles were in great abundance, and of the best sort. The principal meaning of the verse seems to be, that this child, called Immanuel, should be brought up in the usual manner, “the same republic still continuing, and the cultivated fields, unoccupied by the enemy, abundantly supplying all necessary food; and that thus he should grow up to maturity.” The words, however, also signify, that though he should be miraculously conceived, and should be possessed of a nature truly divine, yet he should be also human, subject to all the infirmities of our nature, standing in need of food for his support as other children do, and by the help thereof growing up from childhood to manhood. That he may know — Or rather, till he know, as לדעתוmay be properly rendered; to refuse the evil and choose the good — That is, till his faculties be fully unfolded, or, as Bishop Lowth renders it, when he knows, &c.; when they are unfolded, and he is arrived at mature age. Both in childhood and in manhood, he shall be sustained by the usual diet of the country, which, being neither invaded nor distressed by any foreign enemy, shall yield food sufficient for all its inhabitants.7:10-16 Secret disaffection to God is often disguised with the colour of respect to him; and those who are resolved that they will not trust God, yet pretend they will not tempt him. The prophet reproved Ahaz and his court, for the little value they had for Divine revelation. Nothing is more grievous to God than distrust, but the unbelief of man shall not make the promise of God of no effect; the Lord himself shall give a sign. How great soever your distress and danger, of you the Messiah is to be born, and you cannot be destroyed while that blessing is in you. It shall be brought to pass in a glorious manner; and the strongest consolations in time of trouble are derived from Christ, our relation to him, our interest in him, our expectations of him and from him. He would grow up like other children, by the use of the diet of those countries; but he would, unlike other children, uniformly refuse the evil and choose the good. And although his birth would be by the power of the Holy Ghost, yet he should not be fed with angels' food. Then follows a sign of the speedy destruction of the princes, now a terror to Judah. Before this child, so it may be read; this child which I have now in my arms, (Shear-jashub, the prophet's own son, ver. 3,) shall be three or four years older, these enemies' forces shall be forsaken of both their kings. The prophecy is so solemn, the sign is so marked, as given by God himself after Ahaz rejected the offer, that it must have raised hopes far beyond what the present occasion suggested. And, if the prospect of the coming of the Divine Saviour was a never-failing support to the hopes of ancient believers, what cause have we to be thankful that the Word was made flesh! May we trust in and love Him, and copy his example.Butter and honey - The word rendered "butter" (חמאה chem'âh), denotes not butter, but thick and curdled milk. This was the common mode of using milk as an article of food in the East, and is still. In no passage in the Old Testament does butter seem to be meant by the word. Jarchi says, that this circumstance denotes a state of plenty, meaning that the land should yield its usual increase notwithstanding the threatened invasion. Eustatius on this place says, that it denotes delicate food. The more probable interpretation is, that it was the usual food of children, and that it means that the child should be nourished in the customary manner. That this was the common nourishment of children, is abundantly proved by Bochart; "Hieroz." P. i. lib. xi. ch. li. p. 630. Barnabas, in his epistle says, 'The infant is first nourished with honey, and then with milk.' This was done usually by the prescription of physicians.

Paulus says, 'It is fit that the first food given to a child be honey, and then milk.' So Aetius, 'Give to a child, as its first food, honey;' see "Bochart." Some have, indeed, supposed that this refers to the fact that the Messiah should be "man" as well as God, and that his eating honey and butter was expressive of the fact that he had a "human nature!" But against this mode of interpretation, it is hoped, it is scarcely needful now to protest. It is suited to bring the Bible into contempt, and the whole science of exegesis into scorn. The Bible is a book of sense, and it should be interpreted on principles that commend themselves to the sober judgment of mankind. The word rendered "honey" - דבשׁ debash - is the same word - "dibs" - which is now used by the Arabs to denote the syrup or jelly which is made by boiling down wine. This is about the consistence of molasses, and is used as an article of food. Whether it was so employed in the time of Isaiah, cannot now be determined, but the word here may be used to denote honey; compare the note at Isaiah 7:22.

That he may know - As this translation now stands, it is unintelligible. It would "seem" from this, that his eating butter and honey would "contribute" to his knowing good and evil. But this cannot be the meaning. It evidently denotes 'until he shall know,' or, 'at his knowing;' Nord. "Heb. Gram.," Section 1026. 3. He shall be no urished in the usual way, "until" he shall arrive at such a period of life as to know good from evil. The Septuagint renders it, Πρινη γνῶναι αὐτὸν Prinē gnōnai auton - 'before he knows.' The Chaldee, 'Until he shall know.'

To refuse the evil ... - Ignorance of good and evil denotes infancy. Thus, in Nineveh, it is said there were 'more than sixscore thousand perons that cannot discern between their right hand and left hand;' commonly supposed to denote infants; Jonah 4:11; compare Deuteronomy 1:39. The meaning is, that he should be nourished in the usual mode in infancy, and before he should be able to discern right from wrong, the land should be forsaken of its kings. At what particular period of life this occurs, it may not be easy to determine. A capability to determine, in some degree, between good and evil, or between right and wrong, is usually manifest when the child is two or three years of age. It is evinced when there is a capability of understanding "law," and feeling that it is wrong to disobey it. This is certainly shown at a very early period of life; and it is not improper, therefore, to suppose that here a time was designated which was not more than two or three years.

15. Butter—rather, curdled milk, the acid of which is grateful in the heat of the East (Job 20:17).

honey—abundant in Palestine (Jud 14:8; 1Sa 14:25; Mt 3:4). Physicians directed that the first food given to a child should be honey, the next milk [Barnabas, Epistle]. Horsley takes this as implying the real humanity of the Immanuel Jesus Christ, about to be fed as other infants (Lu 2:52). Isa 7:22 shows that besides the fitness of milk and honey for children, a state of distress of the inhabitants is also implied, when, by reason of the invaders, milk and honey, things produced spontaneously, shall be the only abundant articles of food [Maurer].

that he may know—rather, until He shall know.

evil … choose … good—At about three years of age moral consciousness begins (compare Isa 8:4; De 1:39; Jon 4:11).

Butter and honey; the common food of children in that Country, where they were in great abundance, and of the best sort.

He; the virgin’s Son last mentioned, who, though he be God blessed for ever, yet shall become man, and, to show the truth of his humanity, shall not only be conceived and brought forth, but also shall be nourished and brought up, by the same means and steps as other children; which is justly mentioned here as a stupendous and miraculous work of God.

That he may know; that by this food he may grow up, and so may know, &c. Or, until he know, as it is rendered by divers learned men, and, among others, by the Chaldee interpreter, who best knew the use of this particle among the Hebrews.

To refuse the evil, and choose the good; to discern between things morally good and evil; which children are capable of doing, in some measure, when they are five or six years old. Compare Deu 1:39, where young children are described by this character, that they had no knowledge between good and evil. Butter and honey shall he eat..... As the Messiah Jesus no doubt did; since he was born in a land flowing with milk and honey, and in a time of plenty, being a time of general peace; so that this phrase points at the place where, and the time when, the Messiah should be born, as well as expresses the truth of his human nature, and the manner of his bringing up, which was in common with that of other children. signifies the "cream of milk", as well as "butter", as Jarchi, in Genesis 18:8, observes; and milk and honey were common food for infants:

that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good; meaning not knowledge of good and bad food, so as to choose the one, and refuse the other; but knowledge of moral good and evil; and this does not design the end of his eating butter and honey, as if that was in order to gain such knowledge, which have no such use and tendency; but the time until which he should live on such food; namely, until he was grown up, or come to years of discretion, when he could distinguish between good and evil; so that as the former phrase shows that he assumed a true body like ours, which was nourished with proper food; this that he assumed a reasonable soul, which, by degrees, grew and increased in wisdom and knowledge; see Luke 2:52. should be rendered, "until he knows"; as in Leviticus 24:12 which the Chaldee paraphrase of Onkelos renders, "until it was declared to them"; and so the Targum here,

"butter and honey shall he eat, while or before the child knows not, or until he knows to refuse the evil, and choose the good.''

{n} Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good.

(n) Meaning that Christ is not only God, but man also, because he will be nourished as other men until the age of discretion.

15. Butter and honey shall he eat] This has to be explained by Isaiah 7:22, where the eating of butter (lit. “thick milk”) and (wild) honey is a symptom of the primitive simplicity to which human life is reduced by the cessation of agriculture. The meaning is that the youth of Immanuel will be spent amidst the privations of a land laid waste by foreign invaders.

that he may know] This is the rendering of the Vulgate and other ancient versions, and is maintained still by a few scholars. But the idea that eating butter and honey promotes the formation of ethical character is somewhat bizarre. Translate with R.V. when he knoweth (more precisely “towards the time when, &c.”). It must be admitted, however, that exact parallels to this use of the preposition cannot be produced (though cf. Genesis 24:63; Exodus 14:27). But what lapse of time is here indicated? The expression “refuse the evil and choose the good” must bear the same sense as in Isaiah 7:16, and from ch. Isaiah 8:4 we see that the event predicted in Isaiah 7:16 was expected to happen in a very short time,—within two or three years from the date of the interview with Ahaz. It would seem, therefore, that the phrase denotes the age at which a child begins to exercise intelligent choice between the pleasant and the painful (cf. 2 Samuel 19:35). Most commentators, it is true, explain it of the development of moral consciousness, and think of a period of 10 or 12 years or even longer. But this introduces a needless discrepancy between this sign and that of Isaiah 8:4. There is nothing improbable in the supposition that Isaiah expected the Assyrian invasion of Judah (which of course is presupposed by Isaiah 7:15) to happen simultaneously with the destruction of Samaria and Damascus."For head of Aram is Damascus, and head of Damascus Rezin, and in five-and-sixty years will Ephraim as a people be broken in pieces. And head of Ephraim is Samaria, and head of Samaria the son of Remalyahu; if ye believe not, surely ye will not remain." The attempt to remove Isaiah 7:8, as a gloss at variance with the context, which is supported by Eichhorn, Gesenius, Hitzig, Knobel, and others, is a very natural one; and in that case the train of thought would simply be, that the two hostile kingdoms would continue in their former relation without the annexation of Judah. But when we look more closely, it is evident that the removal of Isaiah 7:8 destroys both the internal connection and the external harmony of the clauses. For just as Isaiah 7:8 and Isaiah 7:8 correspond, so do Isaiah 7:9 and Isaiah 7:9. Ephraim, i.e., the kingdom of the ten tribes, which has entered into so unnatural and ungodly a covenant with idolatrous Syria, will cease to exist as a nation in the course of sixty-five years; "and ye, if ye do not believe, but make flesh your arm, will also cease to exist." Thus the two clauses answer to one another: Isaiah 7:8 is a prophecy announcing Ephraim's destruction, and Isaiah 7:9 a warning, threatening Judah with destruction, if it rejects the promise with unbelief. Moreover, the style of Isaiah 7:8 is quite in accordance with that of Isaiah (on בּעוד, see Isaiah 21:16 and Isaiah 16:14; and on מעם, "away from being a people," in the sense of "so that it shall be no longer a nation," Isaiah 17:1; Isaiah 25:2, and Jeremiah 48:2, Jeremiah 48:42). And the doctrinal objection, that the prophecy is too minute, and therefore taken ex eventu, has no force whatever, since the Old Testament prophecy furnishes an abundance of examples of the same kind (vid., Isaiah 20:3-4; Isaiah 38:5; Isaiah 16:14; Isaiah 21:16; Ezekiel 4:5., Isaiah 24:1., etc.). The only objection that can well be raised is, that the time given in Isaiah 7:8 is wrong, and is not in harmony with Isaiah 7:16. Now, undoubtedly the sixty-five years do not come out if we suppose the prophecy to refer to what was done by Tiglath-pileser after the Syro-Ephraimitish war, and to what was also done to Ephraim by Shalmanassar in the sixth year of Hezekiah's reign, to which Isaiah 7:16 unquestionably refers, and more especially to the former. But there is another event still, through which the existence of Ephraim, not only as a kingdom, but also as a people, was broken up - namely, the carrying away of the last remnant of the Ephraimitish population, and the planting of colonies from Eastern Asia by Esarhaddon.

(Note: The meaning of this king's name is Assur fratrem dedit (Asuṙacḣyiddin): vid., Oppert, Expedition, t. ii. p. 354.)

on Ephraimitish soil (2 Kings 17:24; Ezra 4:2). Whereas the land of Judah was left desolate after the Chaldean deportation, and a new generation grew up there, and those who were in captivity were once more enabled to return; the land of Ephraim was occupied by heathen settlers, and the few who were left behind were melted up with these into the mixed people of the Samaritans, and those in captivity were lost among the heathen. We have only to assume that what was done to Ephraim by Esarhaddon, as related in the historical books, took place in the twenty-second and twenty-third years of Manasseh (the sixth year of Esarhaddon), which is very probable, since it must have been under Esarhaddon that Manasseh was carried away to Babylon about the middle of his reign (2 Chronicles 33:11); and we get exactly sixty-five years from the second year of the reign of Ahaz to the termination of Ephraim's existence as a nation (viz., Ahaz, 14; Hezekiah, 29; Manasseh, 22; in all, 65). It was then that the unconditional prediction, "Ephraim as a people will be broken in pieces," was fulfilled (yēchath mē‛âm; it is certainly not the 3rd pers. fut. kal, but the niphal, Malachi 2:5), just as the conditional threat "ye shall not remain" was fulfilled upon Judah in the Babylonian captivity. נאמן signifies to have a fast hold, and האמין to prove fast-holding. If Judah did not hold fast to its God, it would lose its fast hold by losing its country, the ground beneath its feet. We have the same play upon words in 2 Chronicles 20:20. The suggestion of Geiger is a very improbable one, viz., that the original reading was בי תאמינו לא אם, but that בי appeared objectionable, and was altered into כּי. Why should it be objectionable, when the words form the conclusion to a direct address of Jehovah Himself, which is introduced with all solemnity? For this כּי, passing over from a confirmative into an affirmative sense, and employed, as it is here, to introduce the apodosis of the hypothetical clause, see 1 Samuel 14:39, and (in the formula עתּה כּי) Genesis 31:42; Genesis 43:10; Numbers 22:29, Numbers 22:33; 1 Samuel 14:30 : their continued existence would depend upon their faith, as this chi emphatically declares.

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