Isaiah 7:20
In the same day shall the Lord shave with a razor that is hired, namely, by them beyond the river, by the king of Assyria, the head, and the hair of the feet: and it shall also consume the beard.
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(20) Shall the Lord shave with a razor that is hired.—Better, “with the razor.” The words find a parallel in the “made him naked” of 2Chronicles 28:19. The term “hired” applies to the tribute which Ahaz was about to pay to Tilgath-pilneser. He thought that he was securing an ally: he was but hiring a razor (there is, perhaps, the implied thought that the razor is in other hands than his) that should sweep away all the signs of strength, and leave him an open shame and scorn to all who looked on him. (2Samuel 10:4). From head to foot, not sparing even the beard, to maltreat which was the last extreme of Oriental outrage, he and his kingdom should be laid bare and naked to his enemies. Possibly there may be an allusive reference (Kay) to Leviticus 14:9. The nation, leprous in its guilt (Isaiah 1:6), needs the treatment which was prescribed for the leper.

(21:22) A man shall nourish a young cow, and two sheep . . .—Better, two ewes. Not only should cultivation cease, but the flocks and herds that had before been counted by hundreds or thousands should be counted now by units, two ewes and a heifer for a man’s whole stock, and yet (we note the prophet’s irony once more in the use of the word “abundance”) even that should be enough for a population reduced in proportion. There should be “milk and honey” for the scattered remnant. They should have that, and nothing but that, to eat, ad nauseam usque. The words are grouped together with a grim irony as reminding men of the proverbial words of praise which spoke of Canaan as “a land of milk and honey” (Exodus 3:17).

Isaiah 7:20. The Lord shall shave — Shall utterly spoil, as shaving takes away the hair; with a razor that is hired — Hired by Ahaz; for he purchased the aid of the Assyrians with large sums of silver and gold, 2 Kings 16:7-8. And so the prophet signifies the just judgment of God, in scourging them with a rod of their own making. By them beyond the river — Euphrates, called the river, by way of eminence, beyond which Assyria lay. By the king of Assyria — By the successive kings of the Assyrian empire, Sennacherib, Esar-haddon, and especially by Nebuchadnezzar, who, having subdued the Assyrian monarchy, from thenceforth was king of Assyria as well as of Chaldea. The head and the hair of the feet, &c. — This highly parabolical mode of expression is used to denote “the utter devastation of the country from one end to the other, and the plundering of the people from the highest to the lowest. The hairs of the head are those of the highest order in the state; those of the feet, or lower parts, are the common people: the beard is the king, the high-priest, the very supreme in dignity and majesty: for the eastern people have always held the beard in the highest veneration, and have been extremely jealous of its honour.”7:17-25 Let those who will not believe the promises of God, expect to hear the alarms of his threatenings; for who can resist or escape his judgments? The Lord shall sweep all away; and whomsoever he employs in any service for him, he will pay. All speaks a sad change of the face of that pleasant land. But what melancholy change is there, which sin will not make with a people? Agriculture would cease. Sorrows of every kind will come upon all who neglect the great salvation. If we remain unfruitful under the means of grace, the Lord will say, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforth for ever.In the same day ... - The idea in this verse is the same as in the preceding, though presented in a different form. The meaning is, that "God" would bring upon them this punishment, but that he would make use of the Assyrian as an "instrument" by which to do it.

Shave - The act of shaving off the hair denotes punishment or disgrace; compare 2 Samuel 10:4 : 'Hanun took David's servants, and shaved off one half of their beards;' 1 Chronicles 19:4.

With a razor - Using them as an instrument. God here claims the power of directing them, and regards them as employed by him; see Isaiah 10:5-7.

That is hired - This is an allusion to the custom of hiring soldiers, or employing mercenary armies. Thus Great Britain employed mercenary troops, or hired of the Germans bodies of Hessians to carry on the war in America. The meaning here is, that God would employ the Assyrians as his instruments, to effect his purposes, as though they were hired and paid by the plunder and spoil of the nation.

By them beyond the river - The river Euphrates. The Euphrates is usually meant in the Scriptures where 'the river' is mentioned without specifying the name; Psalm 72:8; Psalm 80:2. This was the river which Abraham had passed; and this, perhaps, was, for a long time, the eastern boundary of their geographical knowledge; see the note at Isaiah 11:15.

The head - The hair of the head.

The hair of the feet - Or the other parts of the body; of the lower parts of the body.

Shall consume the beard - Shall cut off the beard. This was esteemed particularly disgraceful among the Jews. It is, at this day, among all Eastern nations. The beard is regarded as a distinguished ornament; among the Mahometans, it is sworn by, and no higher insult can be offered than to treat the beard with indignity; compare the note at Isaiah 50:6. The meaning is here, that God would employ the Assyrian as his instrument to lay waste the land.

20. razor—The Assyrians are to be God's instrument of devastating Judea, just as a razor sweeps away all hair before it (Isa 10:5; Eze 29:19, 20).

hired—alluding to Ahaz' hiring (2Ki 16:7, 8) Tiglath-pileser against Syria and Israel; namely,

by them beyond the river—namely, the Euphrates; the eastern boundary of Jewish geographical knowledge (Ps 72:8); the river which Abram crossed; the Nile also may be included (Isa 7:18) [G. V. Smith]. Gesenius translates, "With a razor hired in the parts beyond the river."

head … feet—the whole body, including the most honored parts. To cut the "beard" is the greatest indignity to an Easterner (Isa 50:6; 2Sa 10:4, 5; Eze 5:1).

Shave with a razor, i.e. utterly spoil and destroy, as shaving takes away all the hair, and leaves not any thing of it visible, as there is when the hair is only cut or polled. Hired; either,

1. By Ahaz, who did hire them, 2 Kings 16:7,8. And so the prophet notes the just judgment of God, in scourging them with a rod of their own making; and by this threatening he endeavours to prevent that wicked design which then was on foot, of hiring Assyrian succours. Or,

2. By God, who did stir them up, and send them upon his errand against Judah, as he threatens, Isaiah 10:6, and paid them liberally for that service, as he did Nebuchadnezzar, of which see Jeremiah 25:9 27:6,7 Da 2:37,38.

The river Euphrates, called the river, by way of eminency, Psalm 72:8 Jeremiah 2:18, beyond which Assyria lay.

By the king of Assyria; by the successive kings of the Assyrian empire, Sennacherib, 2 Kings 18:13, &c., Esarhaddon, 2 Chronicles 33:11, and especially by Nebuchadnezzar, who having subdued the Assyrian monarchy, from thenceforth was king of Assyria as well as of Chaldea. And the prophet rather mentions Assyria than Chaldea or Babylon, partly because the Assyrian began and continued to execute this judgment, although the Babylonian completed it; and partly to inform them that they laid the foundation of their own ruin, by opening the door to the Assyrian, who afterwards entered at his pleasure, and left it open for Nebuchadnezzar.

The hair of the feet; of the lower or secret parts, which come under that name, Ezekiel 16:7,25, and elsewhere, as it hath been noted again and again; and which the Jewish writers affirm to have been shaved in the purification of lepers and Levites, Leviticus 14:8,9 Num 8:7.

The beard, which they highly esteemed, as a great ornament. By these metaphorical expressions he signifies the total destruction of their state, from head to foot, from the highest to the lowest. In the same day shall the Lord shave with a razor that is hired,.... Meaning the Assyrian monarch, whom he would use as an instrument in his hand to spoil and cut off the people of the Jews; who is compared to a "razor" for sharpness; and for the thorough work, and utter ruin and destruction, he should be the means of; and called a "hired" one, either in reference to the present Ahaz sent to the king of Assyria, by which he prevailed upon him to come and help him against the kings of Syria and Israel, 2 Kings 16:7 or to a reward given by the Lord to Nebuchadnezzar for the service in which he employed him, see Ezekiel 29:18,

namely, by them beyond the river; not Nile, but Euphrates; even the Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Babylonians, who lived on the other side that river; which, with what follows, explains the simile of the razor:

by the king of Assyria; who ruled over those beyond the river:

the head, and the hair of the feet; and it shall also consume the beard; signifying that as a razor cuts off the hair entirely where it is applied, and leaves nothing behind, whether of the head, beard, or feet, or privy parts, which are meant by the latter; so the king of Assyria should carry all clean off captive out of the land of Judea; king, princes, nobles, and common people; those of the highest, and of the middling, and of the lowest class. The Targum is,

"in that time the Lord shall slay them as one is slain by a sharp sword, by clubs, and by saws, by those beyond the river, and by the king of Assyria; the king, and his army, and even his rulers, together shall he destroy.''

So Jarchi explains it. Several of the Jewish writers, as Aben Ezra, Abarbinel, and Kimchi (k), explain this of the Angel of the Lord destroying Sennacherib's army, when before Jerusalem, in Hezekiah's time; so the latter interprets it: "the head"; the heads of his armies: "the hair of the feet"; the multitude of the people: "the beard"; the king, who died, not in the camp, but was killed by his sons in his own land; but this is not a prophecy of the destruction of the Assyrian army, but of the Jewish people by it; and the whole denotes the mean and low condition, the state of slavery and bondage, the Jews should be brought into; of which the shaving of the hair is the symbol; it was usual to shave the head and hair of such as were taken captive, as a sign of reproach and servitude; see 2 Samuel 10:4 (l).

(k) Vid. T. Bab. Sanhedrin, fol. 95. 2. and 96. 1.((l) Vid. Lydium de re militari, l. 6. c. 6. p. 238, 239. & Noldium, No. 937.

In the same day shall the Lord shave with a razor that is hired, namely, by them beyond the river, by the king of Assyria, the head, and the hair of the {t} feet: and it shall also consume the beard.

{t} That is, that which is from the belly downward meaning that he would destroy both great and small.

20. A new figure for the degradation and impoverishment of Judah at the hands of Assyria. In the same day] In that day.

with a rasor … river] Better: with the razor hired beyond the river (Euphrates). There may possibly be here an allusion to the “hiring” of Assyria by Ahaz (2 Kings 16:7 f.); if so the prophecy is almost certainly later than Isaiah 7:1-17.

the king of Assyria] see on Isaiah 7:17.

and it shall also consume the beard] and even the beard (the symbol of manly dignity) it shall take away.Verse 20. - Shall the Lord shave with a razor that is hired; rather, with the hired razor; i.e. the razor that Ahaz will have hired (2 Kings 16:8). The metaphor well expresses the stripping of the land bare by plunder and exaction (comp. Ezekiel 5:1, 12, and 2 Chronicles 28:19-21). God would use Tiglath-Pileser as his instrument to distress Ahaz. By them beyond the river; or, in the parts beyond the river (comp. 1 Chronicles 19:16). "The river" is undoubtedly the Euphrates, and they who dwell beyond it the Assyrians. By the King of Assyria. Once more a gloss is suspected, as in ver. 17. The meaning would certainly be sufficiently plain without the clause. The head... the hair of the feet... the beard. These three represent all the hair on any part of the body. Judah is to be completely stripped. "Therefore the Lord, He will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin conceives, and bears a son, and calls his name Immanuel. Butter and honey will he eat, at the time that he knows to refuse the evil and choose the good." In its form the prophecy reminds one of Genesis 16:11, "Behold, thou art with child, and wilt bear a son, and call his name Ishmael." Here, however, the words are not addressed to the person about to bear the child, although Matthew gives this interpretation to the prophecy;

(Note: Jerome discusses this diversity in a very impartial and intelligent manner, in his ep. ad Pammachium de optimo genere interpretandi.)

for קראת is not the second person, but the third, and is synonymous with קראה (according to Ges. 74. Anm. 1), another form which is also met with in Genesis 33:11; Leviticus 25:21; Deuteronomy 31:29, and Psalm 118:23.

(Note: The pointing makes a distinction between קראת (she calls) and קראת, as Genesis 16:11 should be pointed (thou callest); and Olshausen (35, b) is wrong in pronouncing the latter a mistake.)

Moreover, the condition of pregnancy, which is here designated by the participial adjective הרה (cf., 2 Samuel 11:5), was not an already existing one in this instance, but (as in all probability also in Judges 13:5, cf., Judges 13:4) something future, as well as the act of bearing, since hinnēh is always used by Isaiah to introduce a future occurrence. This use of hinneh in Isaiah is a sufficient answer to Gesenius, Knobel, and others, who understand hâ‛almâh as referring to the young wife of the prophet himself, who was at that very time with child. But it is altogether improbable that the wife of the prophet himself should be intended. For if it were to her that he referred, he could hardly have expressed himself in a more ambiguous and unintelligible manner; and we cannot see why he should not much rather have said אשׁתּי or הנּביאה, to say nothing of the fact that there is no further allusion made to any son of the prophet of that name, and that a sign of this kind founded upon the prophet's own family affairs would have been one of a very precarious nature.

And the meaning and use of the word ‛almâh are also at variance with this. For whilst bethulâh (from bâtthal, related to bâdal, to separate, sejungere) signifies a maiden living in seclusion in her parents' house and still a long way from matrimony, ‛almâh (from ‛âlam, related to Châlam, and possibly also to אלם, to be strong, full of vigour, or arrived at the age of puberty) is applied to one fully mature, and approaching the time of her marriage.

(Note: On the development of the meanings of ‛âlam and Châlam, see Ges. Thes., and my Psychol. p. 282 (see also the commentary on Job 39:4). According to Jerome, alma was Punic also. In Arabic and Aramaean the diminutive form guleime, ‛alleimtah, was the favourite one, but in Syriac ‛alı̄mto (the ripened).)

The two terms could both be applied to persons who were betrothed, and even to such as were married (Joel 2:16; Proverbs 30:19 : see Hitzig on these passages). It is also admitted that the idea of spotless virginity was not necessarily connected with ‛almâh (as in Genesis 24:43, cf., Genesis 24:16), since there are passages - such, for example, as Sol 6:8 - where it can hardly be distinguished from the Arabic surrı̄je; and a person who had a very young-looking wife might be said to have an ‛almah for his wife. But it is inconceivable that in a well-considered style, and one of religious earnestness, a woman who had been long married, like the prophet's own wife, could be called hâ‛almâh without any reserve.

(Note: A young and newly-married wife might be called Callâh (as in Homer νύμφη equals nubilis and nupta; Eng. bride); and even in Homer a married woman, if young, is sometimes called κουριδίη ἄλοχος, but neither κούρη nor νεῆνις.)

On the other hand, the expression itself warrants the assumption that by hâ‛almâh the prophet meant one of the ‛alâmoth of the king's harem (Luzzatto); and if we consider that the birth of the child was to take place, as the prophet foresaw, in the immediate future, his thoughts might very well have been fixed upon Abijah (Abi) bath-Zechariah (2 Kings 18:2; 2 Chronicles 29:1), who became the mother of king Hezekiah, to whom apparently the virtues of the mother descended, in marked contrast with the vices of his father. This is certainly possible. At the same time, it is also certain that the child who was to be born was the Messiah, and not a new Israel (Hofmann, Schriftbeweis, ii. 1, 87, 88); that is to say, that he was no other than that "wonderful" heir of the throne of David, whose birth is hailed with joy in chapter 9, where even commentators like Knobel are obliged to admit that the Messiah is meant. It was the Messiah whom the prophet saw here as about to be born, then again in chapter 9 as actually born, and again in chapter 11 as reigning - an indivisible triad of consolatory images in three distinct states, interwoven with the three stages into which the future history of the nation unfolded itself in the prophet's view. If, therefore, his eye was directed towards the Abijah mentioned, he must have regarded her as the future mother of the Messiah, and her son as the future Messiah. Now it is no doubt true, that in the course of the sacred history Messianic expectations were often associated with individuals who did not answer to them, so that the Messianic prospect was moved further into the future; and it is not only possible, but even probable, and according to many indications an actual fact, that the believing portion of the nation did concentrate their Messianic wishes and hopes for a long time upon Hezekiah; but even if Isaiah's prophecy may have evoked such human conjectures and expectations, through the measure of time which it laid down, it would not be a prophecy at all, if it rested upon no better foundation than this, which would be the case if Isaiah had a particular maiden of his own day in his mind at the time.

Are we to conclude, then, that the prophet did not refer to any one individual, but that the "virgin" was a personification of the house of David? This view, which Hofmann propounded, and Stier appropriated, and which Ebrard has revived, notwithstanding the fact that Hofmann relinquished it, does not help us over the difficulty; for we should expect in that case to find "daughter of Zion," or something of the kind, since the term "virgin" is altogether unknown in a personification of this kind, and the house of David, as the prophet knew it, was by no means worthy of such an epithet.

No other course is left, therefore, than to assume that whilst, on the one hand, the prophet meant by "the virgin" a maiden belonging to the house of David, which the Messianic character of the prophecy requires; on the other hand, he neither thought of any particular maiden, nor associated the promised conception with any human father, who could not have been any other than Ahaz. The reference is the same as in Micah 5:3 ("she which travaileth," yōlēdah). The objection that hâ‛almâh (the virgin) cannot be a person belonging to the future, on account of the article (Hofmann, p. 86), does not affect the true explanation: it was the virgin whom the spirit of prophecy brought before the prophet's mind, and who, although he could not give her name, stood before him as singled out for an extraordinary end (compare the article in hanna‛ar in Numbers 11:27 etc.). With what exalted dignity this mother appeared to him to be invested, is evident from the fact that it is she who gives the name to her son, and that the name Immanuel. This name sounds full of promise. But if we look at the expression "therefore," and the circumstance which occasioned it, the sign cannot have been intended as a pure or simple promise. We naturally expect, first, that it will be an extraordinary fact which the prophet foretells; and secondly, that it will be a fact with a threatening front. Now a humiliation of the house of David was indeed involved in the fact that the God of whom it would know nothing would nevertheless mould its future history, as the emphatic הוּא implies, He (αὐτός, the Lord Himself), by His own impulse and unfettered choice. Moreover, this moulding of the future could not possibly be such an one as was desired, but would of necessity be as full of threatening to the unbelieving house of David as it was full of promise to the believers in Israel. And the threatening character of the "sign" is not to be sought for exclusively in Isaiah 7:15, since both the expressions "therefore" (lâcēn) and "behold" (hinnēh) place the main point of the sign in Isaiah 7:14, whilst the introduction of Isaiah 7:15 without any external connection is a clear proof that what is stated in Isaiah 7:14 is the chief thing, and not the reverse. But the only thing in Isaiah 7:14 which indicated any threatening element in the sign in question, must have been the fact that it would not be by Ahaz, or by a son of Ahaz, or by the house of David generally, which at that time had hardened itself against God, that God would save His people, but that a nameless maiden of low rank, whom God had singled out and now showed to the prophet in the mirror of His counsel, would give birth to the divine deliverer of His people in the midst of the approaching tribulations, which was a sufficient intimation that He who was to be the pledge of Judah's continuance would not arrive without the present degenerate house of David, which had brought Judah to the brink of ruin, being altogether set aside.

But the further question arises here, What constituted the extraordinary character of the fact here announced? It consisted in the fact, that, according to Isaiah 9:5, Immanuel Himself was to be a פּלא (wonder or wonderful). He would be God in corporeal self-manifestation, and therefore a "wonder" as being a superhuman person. We should not venture to assert this if it went beyond the line of Old Testament revelation, but the prophet asserts it himself in Isaiah 9:5 (cf., Isaiah 10:21): his words are as clear as possible; and we must not make them obscure, to favour any preconceived notions as to the development of history. The incarnation of Deity was unquestionably a secret that was not clearly unveiled in the Old Testament, but the veil was not so thick but that some rays could pass through. Such a ray, directed by the spirit of prophecy into the mind of the prophet, was the prediction of Immanuel. But if the Messiah was to be Immanuel in this sense, that He would Himself be El (God), as the prophet expressly affirms, His birth must also of necessity be a wonderful or miraculous one. The prophet does not affirm, indeed, that the "‛almâh," who had as yet known no man, would give birth to Immanuel without this taking place, so that he could not be born of the house of David as well as into it, but be a gift of Heaven itself; but this "‛almâh" or virgin continued throughout an enigma in the Old Testament, stimulating "inquiry" (1 Peter 1:10-12), and waiting for the historical solution. Thus the sign in question was, on the one hand, a mystery glaring in the most threatening manner upon the house of David; and, on the other hand, a mystery smiling with which consolation upon the prophet and all believers, and couched in these enigmatical terms, in order that those who hardened themselves might not understand it, and that believers might increasingly long to comprehend its meaning.

In Isaiah 7:15 the threatening element of Isaiah 7:14 becomes the predominant one. It would not be so, indeed, if "butter (thickened milk) and honey" were mentioned here as the ordinary food of the tenderest age of childhood (as Gesenius, Hengstenberg, and others suppose). But the reason afterwards assigned in Isaiah 7:16, Isaiah 7:17, teaches the very opposite. Thickened milk and honey, the food of the desert, would be the only provisions furnished by the land at the time in which the ripening youth of Immanuel would fall. חמאה (from המא, to be thick) is a kind of butter which is still prepared by nomads by shaking milk in skins. It may probably include the cream, as the Arabic semen signifies both, but not the curds or cheese, the name of which (at least the more accurate name) if gebı̄nâh. The object to ידע is expressed in Isaiah 7:15, Isaiah 7:16 by infinitive absolutes (compare the more usual mode of expression in Isaiah 8:4). The Lamed prefixed to the verb does not mean "until" (Ges. 131, 1), for Lamed is never used as so definite an indication of the terminus ad quem; the meaning is either "towards the time when he understands" (Amos 4:7, cf., Leviticus 24:12, "to the end that"), or about the time, at the time when he understands (Isaiah 10:3; Genesis 8:11; Job 24:14). This kind of food would coincide in time with his understanding, that is to say, would run parallel to it. Incapacity to distinguish between good and bad is characteristic of early childhood (Deuteronomy 1:39, etc.), and also of old age when it relapses into childish ways (2 Samuel 19:36). The commencement of the capacity to understand is equivalent to entering into the so-called years of discretion - the riper age of free and conscious self-determination. By the time that Immanuel reached this age, all the blessings of the land would have been so far reduced, that from a land full of luxuriant corn-fields and vineyards, it would have become a large wooded pasture-ground, supplying milk and honey, and nothing more. A thorough devastation of the land is therefore the reason for this limitation to the simplest, and, when compared with the fat of wheat and the cheering influence of wine, most meagre and miserable food. And this is the ground assigned in Isaiah 7:16, Isaiah 7:17. Two successive and closely connected events would occasion this universal desolation.

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