Isaiah 9:18
For wickedness burns as the fire: it shall devour the briers and thorns, and shall kindle in the thickets of the forest, and they shall mount up like the lifting up of smoke.
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(18) It shall devour the briers and thorns . . .—The words are obviously figurative for men who were base and vile, as in 2Samuel 23:6; but the figure may have been suggested by Isaiah 7:23-24. The outward desolation, with its rank growth of underwood, was to the prophet’s eye a type of the moral condition of his people. And for such a people sin becomes the punishment of sin, and burns like a fire in a forest thicket, leaving the land clear for fresh culture and a better growth. (Comp. Isaiah 33:11-12; James 3:5; Hebrews 6:8.)

Isaiah 9:18. For wickedness burneth as fire, &c. — Rageth like a fire, destroying and laying waste the nation. We have here the third great evil, on account of which divine vengeance was about to come upon them; namely, the power of reigning and barefaced impiety; the punishment whereof, denounced in the subsequent verses, is, as usual, assimilated to the vice, namely, destructive factions, which should overthrow their republic. Having rendered themselves hateful to God by their crimes, they shall be destroyed by those crimes, by their dissensions, animosities, divisions, tumults, insurrections, and civil broils, arising from the wickedness of their own dispositions, and issuing in their mutual destruction. Inflamed by envy, avarice, and impurity, they shall perish in this very fire let loose among them by the wrath of God, and permitted to rage uncontrolled, like fire among briers and thorns, Isaiah 9:19. The latter state of the Israelitish government abundantly proves the exactness of this prophet’s prediction, 2 Kings 15:10; 2 Kings 15:30; 2 Kings 17:1; 2 Kings 17:18-24.9:8-21 Those are ripening apace for ruin, whose hearts are unhumbled under humbling providences. For that which God designs, in smiting us, is, to turn us to himself; and if this point be not gained by lesser judgments, greater may be expected. The leaders of the people misled them. We have reason to be afraid of those that speak well of us, when we do ill. Wickedness was universal, all were infected with it. They shall be in trouble, and see no way out; and when men's ways displease the Lord, he makes even their friends to be at war with them. God would take away those they thought to have help from. Their rulers were the head. Their false prophets were the tail and the rush, the most despicable. In these civil contests, men preyed on near relations who were as their own flesh. The people turn not to Him who smites them, therefore he continues to smite: for when God judges, he will overcome; and the proudest, stoutest sinner shall either bend or break.For wickedness - This commences the third part of the prophecy, which continues to the end of the chapter. It is a description of prevailing impiety. The effects and prevalence of it are described by the image of a raging, burning flame, that spreads everywhere: first among the humble shrubbery - the briers and thorns, then in the vast forests, until it spreads over the land, and sends a mighty column of flame and smoke up to heaven.

Burneth as the fire - Spreads, rages. extends as fire does in thorns and in forests. In what respects it burns like the fire, the prophet immediately specifies. It spreads rapidly everywhere, and involves all in the effects. Wickedness is not unfrequently in the Scriptures compared to a fire that is shut up long, and then bursts forth with raging violence. Thus Hosea 7:6 :

Truly, in the inmost part of it, their heart is like an oven,

While they lie in wait;

All the night their baker sleepeth;

In the morning it burneth like a blazing star.

As an oven conceals the lighted fire all night, while the baker takes his rest, and in the morning vomits forth its blazing flame; so all manner of concupiscence is brooding mischief in their hearts, while the ruling faculties of reason and conscience are lulled asleep, and their wicked designs wait only for a fair occasion to break forth.' - Horsely on Hosea; see also Isaiah 50:2; Isaiah 65:5.

It shall devour - Hebrew, 'It shall eat.' The idea of devouring or eating, is one which is often given to fire in the Scriptures.

The briers and thorns - By the briers and thorns are meant, doubtless, the lower part of the population; the most degraded ranks of society. The idea here seems to be, first, that of impiety spreading like fire over all classes of people; but there is also joined with it, in the mind of the prophet, the idea of punishment. Wickedness would rage like spreading fire; but like fire, also, it would sweep over the nation accomplishing desolation and calamity, and consuming everything in the fire oft God's vengeance. The wicked are often compared to thorns and briers - fit objects to be burned up; Isaiah 33:12 :

And the people shall be as the burnings of lime;

As thorns cut up shall they be burned in the fire.

And shall kindle - Shall burn, or extend, as sweeping fire extends to the mighty forest.

In the thickets of the forests - The dense, close forest or grove. The idea is, that it extends to all classes of people - high as well as low.

And they shall mount up - The Hebrew word used here - יתאבכוּ yit'abekû from אבך 'âbak - occurs nowhere else. The image is that of a far-spreading, raging fire, sending columns of smoke to heaven. So, says the prophet, is the rolling, raging, consuming fire of the sins of the nation spreading over all classes of people in the land, and involving all in widespread desolation.

18-21. Third strophe.

burneth—maketh consumption, not only spreading rapidly, but also consuming like fire: sin is its own punishment.

briers … thorns—emblem of the wicked; especially those of low rank (Isa 27:4; 2Sa 23:6).

forest—from the humble shrubbery the flame spreads to the vast forest; it reaches the high, as well as the low.

mount up like … smoke—rather. "They (the thickets of the forest) shall lift themselves proudly aloft [the Hebrew is from a Syriac root, a cock, expressing stateliness of motion, from his strutting gait, Horsley], in (in passing into) volumes of ascending smoke" [Maurer].

Wickedness burneth, i.e. shall burn you, as it follows, shall devour. Your

iniquity shall be your ruin, as God threatens, Ezekiel 18:30.

The briers and thorns; either,

1. The wicked, who are oft compared to briers and thorns, as 2 Samuel 23:6 Isaiah 27:4; or rather,

2. The low and mean persons; for these are opposed to

the thickets of the forest, in the next clause. In the thickets of the forest; in the wood, where the trees are tall, and stand thick, having their boughs entangled together, which makes them more ready both to catch and to spread the fire.

Like the lifting up of smoke; sending up smoke like a vast furnace. Heb. with height or pride of smoke, i.e. with aspiring smoke, which in that case riseth high, and spreadeth far, and filleth all the neighbouring air. For wickedness burneth as the fire,.... That is, the punishment of their sins, as the Targum interprets it; the wrath of God for sin, which is poured out like fire, and consumes as that does; unless wicked men are meant, who are consumed with the fire of divine vengeance; the sense is the same:

it shall devour the briers and thorns; sinners and ungodly, so the Targum paraphrases it; and Aben Ezra observes, they are the wicked; who are compared to briers and thorns, for their unfruitfulness in themselves, harmfulness to others, and for their weakness to stand against the fury of incensed Deity, see 2 Samuel 23:6,

and shall kindle in the thickets of the forest. Kimchi thinks there is a gradation in these words, that as fire first begins to burn the thorns, and smaller wood, and then the greater; so wickedness consumes first the little ones, who are the thorns, and after that it kindles in the thickets of the forest, who are the great ones; so the commonwealth of Israel is compared to a forest; and the thorns, briers, and thickets, may denote the common people and their governors, who all being guilty of wickedness, should not escape the vengeance of God:

and they shall mount up like the lifting up of smoke: or lift up themselves, or be lifted up; so Aben Ezra and Kimchi interpret the word; but Jarchi thinks it has the signification of "to be perplexed": and gives the sense of it thus; they are perplexed, and shut up with the strength of smoke that burns: others take it to be a word of the same meaning with and render it, "they shall pulverize", or "go into dust in the lifting up of smoke" (d); and denotes the dissolution of the commonwealth; but perhaps it may be better rendered, "though they shall walk proudly" (or behave haughtily), their "pride" shall be as "smoke", which soon vanishes away; since the word, which is only here used, in the Syriac language signifies to walk proudly, as a cock with two crests (e).

(d) "et epulverabitur erectione fumi", Cocceius; "adeo ut in minutissimum pulverem abeant elato fumo, vel elatione fumi", Junius & Tremellius, Piscator. (e) "Et superbient, (fastuose se gerent,) at superbia (vel quorum superbia) fumus, h. e. fumi instar, evanescit, interibit, quod etiam Armenis indigiat, isfud vacobulum `Abac', Syr. galus, gallinaceus, superbo gradu incedens et bicristatus", Castel. Lexicon Polyglott. Colossians 12.

For wickedness {p} burneth as the fire: it shall devour the briers and thorns, and shall kindle in the thickets of the forest, and they shall mount up like the rising of smoke.

(b) Wickedness as a bellows kindles the fire of God's wrath which consumes all his obstinate enemies.

18. The smouldering embers of wickedness burst out in a raging fire: see Hosea’s image of the oven, Isaiah 7:4; Isaiah 7:6.

For wickedness … thickets] Render, For wickedness burned like a fire that consumes thorns and thistles, and it set fire to the thickets, &c., cf. Isaiah 10:17-18. Both wickedness and the punishment of it are likened to an unquenchable fire; Job 31:12; Deuteronomy 32:22. First the thorns and thistles are kindled, then the fire catches the trees.

they shall mount … smoke] and they roll upward in a pillar of smoke; lit. “a lifting up of smoke.” The word for “roll upward” does not occur again; it contains an alliteration with that for “thickets.”

18–21. Third strophe. As in ch. Isaiah 3:1-7, the removal of the pillars of the state is followed by wild confusion and civil war. The state of things alluded to can be partly realised from passages in the book of Hosea, e.g. Isaiah 4:2, Isaiah 5:11 f., Isaiah 6:8 f., Isaiah 7:7, Isaiah 10:3; Isaiah 10:13; and cf. 2 Kings 15:23-25.Verse 18. - Wickedness burneth as the fire; i.e. the contagion of wickedness overspreads a whole nation in the same rapid way that fire spreads over a field of stubble or a forest. They shall mount up like the lifting up of smoke; rather, they - i.e., the forest thickets - shall be whirled upward with the uplifting of smoke. The burning thickets shall mount up with the volumes of smoke into the air, and hang there as a murky but lurid pall. The flames of wickedness give no light to a land, but lunge it in heavy, hopeless gloom. The great light would not arise till the darkness had reached its deepest point. The gradual increase of this darkness is predicted in this second section of the esoteric addresses. Many difficult questions suggest themselves in connection with this section. 1. Is it directed against the northern kingdom only, or against all Israel? 2. What was the historical standpoint of the prophet himself? The majority of commentators reply that the prophet is only prophesying against Ephraim here, and that Syria and Ephraim have already been chastised by Tiglath-pileser. The former is incorrect. The prophet does indeed commence with Ephraim, but he does not stop there. The fates of both kingdoms flow into one another here, as well as in Isaiah 8:5., just as they were causally connected in actual fact. And it cannot be maintained, that when the prophet uttered his predictions Ephraim had already felt the scourging of Tiglath-pileser. The prophet takes his stand at a time when judgment after judgment had fallen upon all Israel without improving it. And one of these past judgments was the scourging of Ephraim by Tiglath-pileser. How much or how little of the events which the prophet looks back upon from this ideal standpoint had already taken place, it is impossible to determine; but this is a matter of indifference so far as the prophecy is concerned. The prophet, from his ideal standing-place, had not only this or that behind him, but all that is expressed in this section by perfects and aorists (Ges. 129, 2, b). And we already know from Isaiah 2:9; Isaiah 5:25, that he sued the future conversive as the preterite of the ideal past. We therefore translate the whole in the present tense. In outward arrangement there is no section of Isaiah so symmetrical as this. In chapter 5 we found one partial approach to the strophe in similarity of commencement, and another in chapter 2 in similarity of conclusion. But here Isaiah 5:25 is adapted as the refrain of four symmetrical strophes. We will take each strophe by itself.

Strophe 1. Isa 9:8-12 "The Lord sends out a word against Jacob, and it descends into Israel. And all the people must make atonement, Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria, saying in pride and haughtiness of heart, 'Bricks are fallen down, and we build with square stones; sycamores are hewn down, and we put cedars in their place.' Jehovah raises Rezin's oppressors high above him, and pricks up his enemies: Aram from the east, and Philistines from the west; they devour Israel with full mouth. For all this His anger is not turned away, and His hand is stretched out still." The word (dâbâr) is both in nature and history the messenger of the Lord: it runs quickly through the earth (Psalm 147:15, Psalm 147:18), and when sent by the Lord, comes to men to destroy or to heal (Psalm 107:20), and never returns to its sender void (Isaiah 55:10-11). Thus does the Lord now send a word against Jacob (Jacob, as in Isaiah 2:5); and this heavenly messenger descends into Israel (nâphal, as in Daniel 4:28, and like the Arabic nazala, which is the word usually employed to denote the communication of divine revelation), taking shelter, as it were, in the soul of the prophet. Its immediate commission is directed against Ephraim, which has been so little humbled by the calamities that have fallen upon it since the time of Jehu, that the people are boasting that they will replace bricks and sycamores (or sycamines, from shikmin), that wide-spread tree (1 Kings 10:27), with works of art and cedars. "We put in their place:" nachaliph is not used here as in Job 14:7, where it signifies to sprout again (nova germina emittere), but as in Isaiah 40:31; Isaiah 41:1, where it is construed with כּח (strength), and signifies to renew (novas vires assumere). In this instance, when the object is one external to the subject, the meaning is to substitute (substituere), like the Arabic achlafa, to restore. The poorest style of building in the land is contrasted with the best; for "the sycamore is a tree which only flourishes in the plain, and there the most wretched houses are still built of bricks dried in the sun, and of knotty beams of sycamore."

(Note: Rosen, Topographisches aus Jerusalem.)

These might have been destroyed by the war, but more durable and stately buildings would rise up in their place. Ephraim, however, would be made to feel this defiance of the judgments of God (to "know," as in Hosea 9:7; Ezekiel 25:14). Jehovah would give the adversaries of Rezin authority over Ephraim, and instigate his foes: sicsēc, as in Isaiah 19:2, from sâcac, in its primary sense of "prick," figere, which has nothing to do with the meanings to plait and cover, but from which we have the words שׂך, סך, a thorn, nail, or plug, and which is probably related to שׂכה, to view, lit., to fix; hence pilpel, to prick up, incite, which is the rendering adopted by the Targum here and in Isaiah 19:2, and by the lxx at Isaiah 19:2. There is no necessity to quote the talmudic sicsēc, to kindle (by friction), which is never met with in the metaphorical sense of exciting. It would be even better to take our sicsēc as an intensive form of sâcac, used in the same sense as the Arabic, viz., to provide one's self with weapons, to arm; but this is probably a denominative from sicca, signifying offensive armour, with the idea of pricking and spearing - a radical notion, from which it would be easy to get at the satisfactory meaning, to spur on or instigate. "The oppressors of Rezin" tzâr Retzı̄n, a simple play upon the words, like hoi goi in Isaiah 1:4, and many others in Isaiah) are the Assyrians, whose help had been sought by Ahaz against Rezin; though perhaps not these exclusively, but possibly also the Trachonites, for example, against whom the mountain fortress Rezı̄n appears to have been erected, to protect the rich lands of eastern Hauran. In Isaiah 9:12 the range of vision stretches over all Israel. It cannot be otherwise, for the northern kingdom never suffered anything from the Philistines; whereas an invasion of Judah by the Philistines was really one of the judgments belonging to the time of Ahaz (2 Chronicles 28:16-19). Consequently by Israel here we are to understand all Israel, the two halves of which would become a rich prize to the enemy. Ephraim would be swallowed up by Aram - namely, by those who had been subjugated by Asshur, and were now tributary to it - and Judah would be swallowed up by the Philistines. But this strait would be very far from being the end of the punishments of God. Because Israel would not turn, the wrath of God would not turn away.

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