Isaiah 8:4
For before the child shall have knowledge to cry, My father, and my mother, the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria shall be taken away before the king of Assyria.
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(4) For before the child shall have knowledge to cry . . .—Here then was another sign like that of Isaiah 7:14-16. The two witnesses of Isaiah 8:2 were probably summoned to the circumcision and naming of the child, and the mysterious name at which all Jerusalem had gazed with wonder was given to the new-born infant. The prediction is even more definite than before. Before the first cries of childhood (Heb. Abi, Ami) should be uttered, i.e., within a year of its birth, the spoils of the two capitals of the kings of the confederate armies should be carried to the king of Assyria. The conclusion of the period thus defined would coincide more or less closely with the longer period assigned at an earlier date (Isaiah 7:16). Historically the trans-Jordanic region and Damascus fell before Tiglath-pilneser; Samaria, besieged by Salmaneser, before his successor Sargon (2Kings 15:29; 2Kings 16:9; 2Kings 17:6).

Isaiah 8:4. Before the child shall have knowledge to cry, My father, &c. — To speak and know his parents; which is within the space of two years. And this agrees with the other prophecy, Isaiah 7:16. For it requires a longer time for a child to know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, than to distinguish his parents from strangers; and Shear-jashub, being born some years before this child, was capable of that higher degree of knowledge as soon as this was capable of the lower degree. The riches of Damascus, &c., shall be taken away — The kingdoms of Syria and Israel, here signified by their two capital cities, shall be stripped of their wealth and power, as they were by Tiglath-pileser, within the time here limited, 2 Kings 15:29.8:1-8 The prophet is to write on a large roll, or on a metal tablet, words which meant, Make speed to spoil, hasten to the prey: pointing out that the Assyrian army should come with speed, and make great spoil. Very soon the riches of Damascus and of Samaria, cities then secure and formidable, shall be taken away by the king of Assyria. The prophet pleads with the promised Messiah, who should appear in that land in the fulness of time, and, therefore, as God, would preserve it in the mean time. As a gentle brook is an apt emblem of a mild government, so an overflowing torrent represents a conqueror and tyrant. The invader's success was also described by a bird of prey, stretching its wings over the whole land. Those who reject Christ, will find that what they call liberty is the basest slavery. But no enemy shall pluck the believer out of Emmanuel's hand, or deprive him of his heavenly inheritance.For before ... - This must have occurred in a short time - probably before the expiration of three years. A child would usually learn to address his parents in that time. In fact, the event here predicted occurred in less than three years from the time when the prophecy was spoken; see the notes at Isaiah 7:16.

Before the king of Assyria - By the king, or by his conquests. By the spoil of Samaria here, is to be understood, not the plunder which should be carried away from the city, but from the kingdom of Samaria. In other places, the land is called by the name of the capital; compare 2 Kings 17:26; 2 Kings 23:19; Jeremiah 31:5. The city of Samaria was not plundered until eighteen years after the time mentioned here by the prophet; Isaiah 8:5-6. These verses introduce again what was predicted in Isaiah 7:17, following, respecting the invasion of the land by the king of Assyria. The cause of the invasion is specified, and the consequences are foretold.

4. before, &c.—within a year. To cry, My father, and my mother; to speak, and to know his parents; which is within the space of two years. And this agrees with the other prophecy, Isaiah 7:16,

Before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, which requires a longer time than to distinguish his parents from strangers; which suits well to Shear-jashub, who, being born some years before this, was capable of that further degree of knowledge as soon as this was capable of the lower degree.

The riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria shall be taken away; the kingdoms of Syria and Israel, here signified by their two capital cities, shall be stripped of their wealth and power, as they were by Tiglath-pileser, within the time here limited, 2 Kings 15:29.

Before the king of Assyria; in his presence, and by himself and his forces; for in Scripture use that is said to be before a man, which is in or is put into a man’s power, as Genesis 13:9 20:15, &c.; and men are said to be smitten before their enemies, when they are smitten by them, as Numbers 14:42 Deu 1:42 Judges 20:39, and oft elsewhere. Others refer this phrase to the ancient custom of conquerors, of sending or carrying their spoils before them into their own country. For before the child shall have knowledge to cry, my father, and my mother,.... Which are commonly the first words children learn to say; and so it signifies that what follows should happen in a year or two; as it did:

the riches of Damascus, and the spoil of Samaria, shall be taken away before the king of Assyria; or, "he shall take away the riches" (q), &c.; not the child, unless he is considered as the sign of taking them away; but the soldier, put for the whole Assyrian army, which carried off the riches and spoil of these places, in the presence, and by the order, of the king of Assyria; the first of these, namely, Damascus, the metropolis of Syria, with its riches, wealth, and army, were taken and carried away by Tilgathpilneser, king of Assyria, within the time here mentioned, 2 Kings 16:9 but the latter, Samaria, the metropolis of the kingdom of Israel, was not taken and spoiled until the sixth year of Hezekiah, and ninth of Hoshea, 2 Kings 17:6 but because the prophecy began to be fulfilled, and was fulfilled in part, within the time mentioned, the whole is attributed to it; though it should be observed, that before this, after Pekah the son of Remaliah was slain, and Hoshea reigned in his stead, the king of Assyria came up against him, and Hoshea became his servant, and gave him presents; which may be called the spoil of Samaria, 2 Kings 17:3.

(q) "asportabit, opulentiam----servus regis Assyriae", Junius & Tremellius "auferet opes----is qui stet coram facie regis Assyriae", Piscator.

For before the {e} child shall have knowledge to cry, My father, and my mother, the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria shall be taken away before the {f} king of Assyria.

(e) Before any child is able to speak.

(f) That is, the army of Assyria.

4. The period here indicated, about a year, is of course shorter than in ch. Isaiah 7:16, the date of the prediction being about a year later.Verse 4. - My father... my mother. "Abi," "Immi," would have been among the first utterances of childhood - simple sounds, combinations of primary vowels with labials, corresponding in easiness of utterance to "Pappy," "Mammy," rather than to the expressions of the text. A child commonly utters such sounds when it is about a year old. The riches of Damascus. The position of Damascus lay in the direct path of the main trade that was carried on between the West and East, which was conducted by the merchants of Tyro chiefly, and passed from the Syrian coast by way of Damascus and Tadmor to Nineveh and Babylon. This commerce greatly enriched the cities lying upon its route. "Damascus," says Ezekiel, addressing Tyre, "was thy merchant in the multitude of the wares of thy making, for the multitude of all riches; in the wine of Helbon, and white wool" (Ezekiel 27:18). The "palaces of Benhadad" seem to have been noted for their magnificence (Jeremiah 49:27; Amos 1:4). The spoil of Samaria shall be taken away before the King of Assyria. Scripture does not record the fulfillment of this prophecy, which makes the same Assyrian king carry off the spoil of Samaria and the spoil of Damascus, fixing also the time of the carrying off as within a few years of the time when the prophecy was given. But the inscriptions of Tiglath-Pileser himself supply the deficiency. They state that this monarch "sent the population, the goods of the people of Beth-Omri, and their furniture to the land of Assyria;" after which he "appointed Husih (Hoshea) to the dominion ever them," and fixed their annual tribute at two talents of gold and a thousand talents of silver (see 'Records of the Past,' vol. 5. p. 52). The prophet repeats this three times in Isaiah 7:23-25 : "And it will come to pass in that day, every place, where a thousand vines stood at a thousand silverlings, will have become thorns and thistles. With arrows and with bows will men go, for the whole land will have become thorns and thistles. And all the hills that were accustomed to be hoed with the hoe, thou wilt not go to them for fear of thorns and thistles; and it has become a gathering-place for oxen, and a treading-place for sheep." The "thousand silverlings" ('eleph ceseph, i.e., a thousand shekels of silver) recall to mind Sol 8:11, though there it is the value of the yearly produce, whereas here the thousand shekels are the value of a thousand vines, the sign of a peculiarly valuable piece of a vineyard. At the present time they reckon the worth of a vineyard in Lebanon and Syria according to the value of the separate vines, and generally take the vines at one piastre (from 2nd to 3rd) each; just as in Germany a Johannisberg vine is reckoned at a ducat. Every piece of ground, where such valuable vines were standing, would have fallen a prey to the briers. People would go there with bow and arrow, because the whole land had become thorns and thistles (see at Isaiah 5:12), and therefore wild animals had made their homes there. And thou (the prophet addresses the countryman thus) comest not to all the hills, which were formerly cultivated in the most careful manner; thou comest not thither to make them arable again, because thorns and thistles deter thee from reclaiming such a fallow. They would therefore give the oxen freedom to rove where they would, and let sheep and goats tread down whatever grew there. The description is intentionally thoroughly tautological and pleonastic, heavy and slow in movement. The writer's intention is to produce the impression of a waste heath, or tedious monotony. Hence the repetitions of hâyâh and yihyeh. Observe how great the variations are in the use of the future and perfect, and how the meaning is always determined by the context. In Isaiah 7:21, Isaiah 7:22, the futures have a really future sense; in Isaiah 7:23 the first and third yihyeh signify "will have become" (factus erit omnis locus), and the second "was" (erat); in Isaiah 7:24 יבוא means "will come" (veniet), and tihyeh "will have become" (facta erit terra); in Isaiah 7:25 we must render yē‛âdērūn, sarciebantur (they used to be hoed). And in Isaiah 7:21, Isaiah 7:22, and Isaiah 7:23, hâyâh is equivalent to fiet (it will become); whilst in Isaiah 7:25 it means factum est (it has become). Looked at from a western point of view, therefore, the future tense is sometimes a simple future, sometimes a future perfect, and sometimes an imperfect or synchronistic preterite; and the perfect sometimes a prophetic preterite, sometimes an actual preterite, but the sphere of an ideal past, or what is the same thing, of a predicted future.

This ends Isaiah's address to king Ahaz. He does not expressly say when Immanuel is to be born, but only what will take place before he has reached the riper age of boyhood - namely, first, the devastation of Israel and Syria, and then the devastation of Judah itself, by the Assyrians. From the fact that the prophet says no more than this, we may see that his spirit and his tongue were under the direction of the Spirit of God, who does not descend within the historical and temporal range of vision, without at the same time remaining exalted above it. On the other hand, however, we may see from what he says, that the prophecy has its human side as well. When Isaiah speaks of Immanuel as eating thickened milk and honey, like all who survived the Assyrian troubles in the Holy Land; he evidently looks upon and thinks of the childhood of Immanuel as connected with the time of the Assyrian calamities. And it was in such a perspective combination of events lying far apart, that the complex character of prophecy consisted. The reason for this complex character was a double one, viz., the human limits associated with the prophet's telescopic view of distant times, and the pedagogical wisdom of God, in accordance with which He entered into these limits instead of removing them. If, therefore, we adhere to the letter of prophecy, we may easily throw doubt upon its veracity; but if we look at the substance of the prophecy, we soon find that the complex character by no means invalidates its truth. For the things which the prophet saw in combination were essentially connected, even though chronologically separated. When, for example, in the case before us (chapters 7-12), Isaiah saw Asshur only, standing out as the imperial kingdom; this was so far true, that the four imperial kingdoms from the Babylonian to the Roman were really nothing more than the full development of the commencement made in Assyria. And when he spoke of the son of the virgin (chapter 7) as growing up in the midst of the Assyrian oppressions; this also was so far true, that Jesus was really born at a time when the Holy Land, deprived of its previous abundance, was under the dominion of the imperial power, and in a condition whose primary cause was to be traced to the unbelief of Ahaz. Moreover, He who became flesh in the fulness of time, did really lead an ideal life in the Old Testament history. He was in the midst of it in a pre-existent presence, moving on towards the covenant goal. The fact that the house and nation of David did not perish in the Assyrian calamities, was actually to be attributed, as chapter 8 presupposes, to His real though not His bodily presence. In this way the apparent discrepancy between the prophecy and the history of the fulfilment may be solved. We do not require the solution proposed by Vitringa, and recently appropriate by Haneberg - namely, that the prophet takes the stages of the Messiah's life out of the distant future, to make them the measure of events about to take place in the immediate future; nor that of Bengel, Schegg, Schmieder, and others - namely, that the sign consisted in an event belonging to the immediate future, which pointed typically to the birth of the true Immanuel; nor that of Hofmann, who regards the words of the prophet as an emblematical prediction of the rise of a new Israel, which would come to the possession of spiritual intelligence in the midst of troublous times, occasioned by the want of intelligence in the Israel of his own time. The prophecy, as will be more fully confirmed as we proceed, is directly Messianic; it is a divine prophecy within human limits.

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