Isaiah 7:2
And it was told the house of David, saying, Syria is confederate with Ephraim. And his heart was moved, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind.
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(2) Syria is confederate with Ephraim.—Literally, rests upon . . . Ephraim stands, of course, as often elsewhere, for the northern kingdom of Israel as a whole.

His heart was moved.—There was a general panic. King and people alike asked, How could they resist? Would it not be better to join the confederacy, and take their chance with it in attacking the king of Assyria? The image of the trees is generic, but suggests something like the quivering of the aspen leaves.

(2) The other interpretation sets out from an entirely different starting-point. The words of Matthew 1:23 are taken as, once for all, deciding the entire meaning of the Immanuel prophecy. The prophet is supposed to have passed into a state of ecstasy in which he sees clearly, and with a full consciousness of its meaning, the history of the incarnation and the marvel of the travail-pangs of the Virgin mother. The vision of the future Christ thus presented to his mind, colours all his after-thoughts, and forms the basis of his whole work. The article emphasises the definiteness of his visions. He sees “the virgin mother” of the far-off future. And the prophet learns to connect the vision with the history of his own time. The growth of that Christ-child in the far-off future serves as a measure of time for the events that were passing, or about to pass, within the horizon of his earthly vision. Before the end of an interval not longer than that which separates youth from manhood, the Syro-Ephraiminitic confederacy should be broken up. So far, here also, we have a coherent and consistent view. It is attended, however, by some serious difficulties. A “sign,” in the language of Hebrew prophets, is that which proves to the person to whom it is offered that there is a supernatural power working with him who gives it. If a prediction, it is one which will speedily be tested by a personal experience, the very offer of which implies in the prophet the certainty of its fulfilment. He stakes, as it were, his reputation as a prophet on the issue. (Comp. Isaiah 37:30; Isaiah 38:7; Exodus 4:8-14; 1Samuel 12:16.) But how could the prediction of a birth in the far-off distance, divided by several centuries from Isaiah’s time, be a sign to Ahaz or his people? And what would be the meaning, we may ask again, of the words “butter and honey shall he eat,” as applied to the Christ-child? Do not the words “Before the child shall know to refuse the evil . . .” point, not to a child seen as afar in vision, but to one who was to be born and grow up among the men of that generation? Should we not have expected, if the words had implied a clear revelation of the mystery of the virgin-birth, that Isaiah himself would have dwelt upon it elsewhere, that later prophets would have named it as one of the notes of the Messiah, that it would have become a tradition of the Jewish schools of interpretation? As a matter of fact, no such allusion is found in Isaiah, nor in the prophets that follow him (see Note on Jeremiah 31:22, for the only supposed, one cannot say even “apparent,” exception); the Jewish interpreters never include this among their notes of the Christ. It is indeed, as has been said in the New Testament portion of this Commentary, one of the strongest arguments for the historical, non-mythical character of the series of events in Matthew 1, Luke 1, 2, that they were contrary to prevailing expectation. (See Note on Matthew 1:23.)

A truer way of interpretation than either of those that have been thus set forth, is, it is believed, open to us. We may remember (1) as regards St. Matthew’s interpretation of Isaiah’s prophecy, that two other predictions cited, as by the Evangelist himself, in the history of the Nativity, in Matthew 1, 2 are, as it were, detached from their position, in which they had a distinct historical meaning, and a new meaning given to them (see Notes on Matthew 2:15; Matthew 2:18). and that this holds good of other prophecies cited by him elsewhere (see Notes on Matthew 21:5; Matthew 27:9). It was not, as some have thought, that facts were invented or imagined that prophecies might appear to be fulfilled, but that the facts being given, prophecies were shown to have a meaning which was fulfilled in them, though that meaning may not have been present to the prophet’s own mind. In this case the use of the word for “virgin” in the LXX. version may have determined St. Matthew’s interpretation of the words. Here, in the history which had come to him attested by evidence which satisfied him, he found One who, in the truest and highest sense, was the “Immanuel” of Isaiah’s prophecy. We must not forget (2) the limits within which the prophets lived and moved, as they are stated in 1Peter 1:10. They “enquired and searched diligently” as to the time and manner of the fulfilment of their hopes; but their normal state (the exceptions being only enough to prove the rule) is one of enquiry and not of definite assurance. They had before them the ideal of a righteous king, a righteous sufferer, of victory over enemies and sin and death, but the “times and the seasons” were hidden from them, as they were afterwards from the apostles, and they thought of that ideal king as near, about to burst in upon the stage that was filled with the forms of Assyria, Syria, Ephraim, Judah, as the apostles appear to have thought afterwards that the advent of the Lord would come upon the stage of the world’s history that was filled with the forms of Emperors and rebellious Jews and perverse heretics and false prophets (1Thessalonians 4:15; 1Corinthians 15:51; 2Thessalonians 2:3-4; 1Peter 4:7; 1Timothy 4:1-3; 1John 2:18). And neither prophets nor apostles, though left to the limitations of an imperfect knowledge, were altogether wrong. Prophecy has, in Bacon’s words, its “springing and germinant accomplishments.” The natural birth of the child Immanuel was, to the prophet and his generation, a pledge and earnest of the abiding presence of God with His people. The overthrow of Assyria, and Babylon, and Jerusalem were alike forerunners of the great day of the Lord in which the ultimate and true Immanuel, the name at last fulfilled to the uttermost, shall be at once the Deliverer and the Judge.

Isaiah 7:2. And it was told the house of David — Ahaz and his royal relations and courtiers. He calls them the house of David, to intimate that the following comfortable message was sent to Ahaz, not for his own sake, but only for the sake of his worthy progenitor David, to whom God had promised an everlasting kingdom. Syria is confederate with Ephraim — With the kingdom of the ten tribes, commonly called Ephraim, because that tribe was by far the most numerous and potent of them. And his heart was moved — Namely, the heart of Ahaz; and the heart of his people — With excessive fear, arising partly from a consciousness of their own guilt, whereby they had put themselves out of God’s protection; and partly from the consideration of the great strength and power of their enemies.7:1-9 Ungodly men are often punished by others as bad as themselves. Being in great distress and confusion, the Jews gave up all for lost. They had made God their enemy, and knew not how to make him their friend. The prophet must teach them to despise their enemies, in faith and dependence on God. Ahaz, in fear, called them two powerful princes. No, says the prophet, they are but tails of smoking firebrands, burnt out already. The two kingdoms of Syria and Israel were nearly expiring. While God has work for the firebrands of the earth, they consume all before them; but when their work is fulfilled, they will be extinguished in smoke. That which Ahaz thought most formidable, is made the ground of their defeat; because they have taken evil counsel against thee; which is an offence to God. God scorns the scorners, and gives his word that the attempt should not succeed. Man purposes, but God disposes. It was folly for those to be trying to ruin their neighbours, who were themselves near to ruin. Isaiah must urge the Jews to rely on the assurances given them. Faith is absolutely necessary to quiet and compose the mind in trials.And it was told the house of David - That is, the royal family; or the king and princes; the government. Ahaz was the descendant and successor of David.

Syria is confederate with Ephraim - Ephraim was one of the tribes of Israel, and the kingdom of Israel was often called "Ephraim," or the kingdom of Ephraim; in the same way as the tribes of Judah and Benjamin were called the kingdom of Judah. The phrase, 'is confederate with,' is in Hebrew 'resteth on;' see the margin. The meaning is, that Syria was "supported by" Ephraim, or was allied with Ephraim. The kingdom of Israel, or Ephraim, was situated "between" Syria and Jerusalem. Of course, the latter could not be attacked without marching through the former, and without their aid. In this sense it was that Syria, or the Arameans, relied or "rested" on Ephraim. Though Syria was by far the stronger power, yet it was not strong enough to attack Jerusalem had the kingdom of Israel been opposed to it.

And his heart - The heart of the king - of Ahaz.

Was moved as the trees of the wood - This is a very beautiful and striking image. It expresses universal trembling, consternation, and alarm, as the trees are moved "together" when the wind passes violently over them. A similar expression is found in Ovid - in "Canaces," Epist. xi. ver. 76, 77.

Ut quatitur tepido fraxina virga noto

Sic mea vibrari pallentia membra videres.

2. is confederate with—rather, is encamped upon the territory of Ephraim [Maurer], or better, as Rezin was encamped against Jerusalem, "is supported by" [Lowth] Ephraim, whose land lay between Syria and Judah. The mention of "David" alludes, in sad contrast with the present, to the time when David made Syria subject to him (2Sa 8:6).

Ephraim—the ten tribes.

as … trees of … wood—a simultaneous agitation.

The house of David; Ahaz, and his royal relations and courtiers. He calls them the house of David, to intimate that the following comfortable message was sent to Ahaz, not for his own sake, but only for the sake of his worthy progenitor, David, to whom God had promised an everlasting kingdom.

Ephraim; the kingdom of the ten tribes, commonly called Ephraim, as Isaiah 28:1 Hosea 12:1, because that was far the most numerous and potent of’ all of them.

Was moved with excessive fear, arising partly from the conscience of their own guilt, whereby they had put themselves out of God’s protection; and partly from the consideration of the great strength and power of his enemies, who having prevailed against him severally, 2 Chronicles 28:5,8, and having now united their threes, he, having no faith in God, nor confidence to desire or expect his help, concluded his case desperate and deplorable. And it was told the house of David,.... Ahaz, and his family, the princes of the blood, his court and counsellors; who had intelligence of the designs and preparations of the Syrians and Israelites against them:

saying, Syria is confederate with Ephraim; the ten tribes; or the kingdom and king of Israel. Some render it, "Syria led"; that is, its army "unto Ephraim" (y); marched it into the land of Israel, and there joined the king of Israel's army; others, as the Vulgate Latin version, "Syria rests upon Ephraim" (z); depends upon, trusts in, takes heart and encouragement from Ephraim, or the ten tribes, being his ally. The Septuagint version is, "Syria hath agreed with Ephraim"; entered into a confederacy and alliance with each other; which is the sense of our version; and is confirmed by the Targum, which is,

"the king of Syria is joined with the king of Israel:''

and his heart was moved, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind; the metaphor denotes the strength and force of the confederate armies, comparable to a strong, blustering, boisterous wind; see Isaiah 32:2 and the weakness of the king and people of Judah, who were like to trees shaken by the wind; and also the fear they were possessed with, partly through consciousness of guilt, and partly through distrust of divine power and Providence; and also on account of what they had suffered already from these powerful enemies, when they attacked them singly; and therefore might much more dread them, as they were combined together against them; see 2 Chronicles 28:5.

(y) "duxit exercitum", Tigurine version. (z) "Syria quievit super Ephraim", Forerius, Cocceius; "Syria acquiescit in Ephraimo", Piscator.

And it was told the house of {b} David, saying, Syria is confederate with {c} Ephraim. And his heart was {d} moved, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the forest are moved with the wind.

(b) Meaning, the kings house.

(c) That is, Israel, because that tribe was the greatest, Ge 48:19.

(d) For fear.

2. the house of David] (Cf. Isaiah 7:13; Isaiah 7:17) either the court (ch. Isaiah 22:22) or the royal family (1 Samuel 20:16, &c.), which must have formed a numerous and powerful caste, and must have exercised a considerable influence on the government under a weak king like Ahaz. This was probably the first time that the Davidic dynasty had been menaced by a serious danger.

Syria is confederate with Ephraim] lit. Syria has alighted upon Ephraim (R.V. marg. “resteth”). The idea seems to be that the Syrian armies already occupy the Ephraimitish territory (settling there like a swarm of locusts, v. Isaiah 19 : 2 Samuel 17:12) preparatory to the joint attack. The fine simile at the end of the verse is enough to prove that Isaiah himself is the narrator.Verse 2. - It was told the house of David. Before the actual siege began, news of the alliance reached Ahaz. It is said to have been" told the house of David," because the design was to supersede the family of David by another - apparently a Syrian - house (see note on ver. 6). Syria is confederate with Ephraim; literally, rests upon Ephraim. Under ordinary circumstances the kingdoms of Syria and Israel were hostile the one to the other (see 1 Kings 15:20; 1 Kings 20:1-3; 1 Kings 22:3-36; 2 Kings 5:2; 2 Kings 6:8-24; 2 Kings 8:29; 2 Kings 10:32; 2 Kings 13:3, 22, 25). But occasionally, under the pressure of a great danger, the relations were changed, and a temporary league was formed. The inscriptions of Shalmaneser II. show such a league to have existed in the time of Benhadad II. and Ahab ('Ancient Monarchies,' vol. it. pp. 103, 104). The invasion of Pul, and the threatening attitude of Tiglath-Pileser. It had now once more drown the two countries together. On the use of the word "Ephraim" to designate the kingdom of Israel, see Hosea, passim. His heart was moved; or, shook. If the two kings had each been able separately to inflict on him such loss (see the introductory paragraph), what must he not expect, now that both were about to attack him together? It is not clear whether Ahuz had as yet applied to Assyria for help or not. This is confirmed by the words in which his commission is expressed, and the substance of the message. "He said, Go, and tell this people, Hear on, and understand not; and look on, but perceive not. Make ye the heart of this people greasy, and their ears heavy, and their eyes sticky; that they may not see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and their heart understand, and they be converted, and one heal them." "This people" points back to the people of unclean lips, among whom Isaiah had complained of dwelling, and whom the Lord would not call "my people." It was to go to this people and preach to them, and therefore to be the prophet of this people, that he was called. But how mournful does the divine commission sound! It was the terrible opposite of that seraphic mission, which the prophet had experienced in himself. The seraph had absolved Isaiah by the burning coal, that he as prophet might not absolve, but harden his people by his word. They were to hear and see, and that continually as the gerundives imply (Ges. 131, 3, b; Ewald, 280, b), by having the prophet's preaching actu directo constantly before them; but not to their salvation. The two prohibitory expressions, "understand not" and "perceive not," show what the result of the prophet's preaching was to be, according to the judicial will of God. And the imperatives in v. 10 are not to be understood as simply instructing the prophet to tell the people what God had determined to do; for the fact that "prophets are often said to do what they announce as about to happen," in proof of which Jeremiah 1:10 is sometimes quoted (cf., Jeremiah 31:28; Hosea 6:5; Ezekiel 43:3), has its truth not in a rhetorical figure, but in the very nature of the divine word. The prophet was the organ of the word of God, and the word of God was the expression of the will of God, and the will of God is a divine act that has not yet become historical. For this reason a prophet might very well be said to perform what he announced as about to happen: God was the Causa efficiens principalis, the word was the Causa media, and the prophet the Causa ministerialis. This is the force of the three imperatives; they are three figurative expressions of the idea of hardening. The first, hishmin, signifies to make fat (pinguem), i.e., without susceptibility or feeling for the operations of divine grace (Psalm 119:70); the second, hicbı̄d, to make heavy, more especially heavy or dull of hearing (Isaiah 59:1); the third, השׁע or השׁע (whence the imperative השׁע or השׁע), to smear thickly, or paste over, i.e., to put upon a person what is usually the result of weak eyes, which become firmly closed by the hardening of the adhesive substance secreted in the night. The three future clauses, with "lest" (pen), point back to these three imperatives in inverse order: their spiritual sight, spiritual hearing, and spiritual feeling were to be taken away, their eyes becoming blind, and their ears deaf, and their hearts being covered over with the grease of insensibility.

Under the influence of these futures the two preterites לו ורפא שׁב affirm what might have been the result if this hardening had not taken place, but what would never take place now. The expression ל רפא is used in every other instance in a transitive sense, "to heal a person or a disease," and never in the sense of becoming well or being healed; but in the present instance it acquires a passive sense from the so-called impersonal construction (Ges. 137, 3), "and one heal it," i.e., "and it be healed:" and it is in accordance with this sense that it is paraphrased in Mark 4:12, whereas in the three other passages in which the words are quoted in the New Testament (viz., Matthew, John, and Acts) the Septuagint rendering is adopted, "and I should heal them" (God Himself being taken as the subject). The commission which the prophet received, reads as though it were quite irreconcilable with the fact that God, as the Good, can only will what is good. But our earlier doctrinarians have suggested the true solution, when they affirm that God does not harden men positive aut effective, since His true will and direct work are man's salvation, but occasionaliter et eventualiter, since the offers and displays of salvation which man receives necessarily serve to fill up the measure of his sins, and judicialiter so far as it is the judicial will of God, that what was originally ordained for men's salvation should result after all in judgment, in the case of any man upon whom grace has ceased to work, because all its ways and means have been completely exhausted. It is not only the loving will of God which is good, but also the wrathful will into which His loving will changes, when determinately and obstinately resisted. There is a self-hardening in evil, which renders a man thoroughly incorrigible, and which, regarded as the fruit of his moral behaviour, is no less a judicial punishment inflicted by God, than self-induced guilt on the part of man. The two are bound up in one another, inasmuch as sin from its very nature bears its own punishment, which consists in the wrath of God excited by sin. For just as in all the good that men do, the active principle is the love of God; so in all the harm that they do, the active principle is the wrath of God. An evil act in itself is the result of self-determination proceeding from a man's own will; but evil, regarded as the mischief in which evil acting quickly issues, is the result of the inherent wrath of God, which is the obverse of His inherent love; and when a man hardens himself in evil, it is the inward working of God's peremptory wrath. To this wrath Israel had delivered itself up through its continued obstinacy in sinning. And consequently the Lord now proceeded to shut the door of repentance against His people. Nevertheless He directed the prophet to preach repentance, because the judgment of hardness suspended over the people as a whole did not preclude the possibility of the salvation of individuals.

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