Isaiah 8
Keil and Delitzsch OT Commentary
Moreover the LORD said unto me, Take thee a great roll, and write in it with a man's pen concerning Mahershalalhashbaz.
In the midst of the Syro-Ephraimitish war, which was not yet at an end, Isaiah received instructions from God to perform a singular prophetic action. "Then Jehovah said to me, Take a large slab, and write upon it with common strokes, 'In Speed Spoil, Booty hastens;' and I will take to me trustworthy witnesses, Uriyah the priest, and Zecharyahu the son of Yeberechyahu." The slab or table (cf., Isaiah 3:23, where the same word is used to signify a metal mirror) was to be large, to produce the impression of a monument; and the writing upon it was to be "a man's pen" (Cheret 'enōsh), i.e., written in the vulgar, and, so to speak, popular character, consisting of inartistic strokes that could be easily read (vid., Revelation 13:18; Revelation 21:17). Philip d'Aquin, in his Lexicon, adopts the explanation, "Enosh-writing, i.e., hieroglyphic writing, so called because it was first introduced in the time of Enosh." Luzzatto renders it, a lettere cubitali; but the reading for this would be b'cheret ammath 'ish. The only true rendering is stylo vulgari (see Ges. Thes. s.v. 'enosh). The words to be written are introduced with Lamed, to indicate dedication (as in Ezekiel 37:16), or the object to which the inscription was dedicated or applied, as if it read, "A table devoted to 'Spoil very quickly, booty hastens;' " unless, indeed, l'mahēr is to be taken as a fut. instans, as it is by Luzzatto - after Genesis 15:12; Joshua 2:5; Habakkuk 1:17 - in the sense of acceleratura sunt spolia, or (what the position of the words might more naturally suggest) with mahēr in a transitive sense, as in the construction לבערּ היה, and others, accelerationi spolia, i.e., they are ready for hastening. Most of the commentators have confused the matter here by taking the words as a proper name (Ewald, 288, c), which they were not at first, though they became so afterwards. At first they were an oracular announcement of the immediate future, accelerant spolia, festinat praeda (spoil is quick, booty hastens). Spoil; booty; but who would the vanquished be? Jehovah knew, and His prophet knew, although not initiated into the policy of Ahaz. But their knowledge was studiously veiled in enigmas. For the writing was not to disclose anything to the people. It was simply to serve as a public record of the fact, that the course of events was one that Jehovah had foreseen and indicated beforehand. And when what was written upon the table should afterwards take place, they would know that it was the fulfilment of what had already been written, and therefore was an event pre-determined by God. For this reason Jehovah took to Himself witnesses. There is no necessity to read ואעידה (and I had it witnessed), as Knobel and others do; nor והעידה (and have it witnessed), as the Sept., Targum, Syriac, and Hitzig do. Jehovah said what He would do; and the prophet knew, without requiring to be told, that it was to be accomplished instrumentally through him. Uriah was no doubt the priest (Urijah), who afterwards placed himself at the service of Ahaz to gratify his heathenish desires (2 Kings 16:10.). Zechariah ben Yeberechyahu (Berechiah) was of course not the prophet of the times after the captivity, but possibly the Asaphite mentioned in 2 Chronicles 29:13. He is not further known to us. In good editions, ben is not followed by makkeph, but marked with mercha, according to the Masora at Genesis 30:19. These two men were reliable witnesses, being persons of great distinction, and their testimony would weigh with the people. When the time should arrive that the history of their own times solved the riddle of this inscription, these two men were to tell the people how long ago the prophet had written that down in his prophetic capacity.

And I took unto me faithful witnesses to record, Uriah the priest, and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah.
And I went unto the prophetess; and she conceived, and bare a son. Then said the LORD to me, Call his name Mahershalalhashbaz.
But something occurred in the meantime whereby the place of the lifeless table was taken by a more eloquent and living one. "And I drew near to the prophetess; and she conceived, and bare a son: and Jehovah said to me, Call his name In-speed-spoil-booty-hastens (Maher-shalal-hash-baz): for before the boy shall know how to cry, My father, and my mother, they will carry away the riches of Damascus, and the spoil of Samaria, before the king of Asshur." To his son Shear-yashub, in whose name the law of the history of Israel, as revealed to the prophet on the occasion of his call (Isaiah 6:1-13), viz., the restoration of only a remnant of the whole nation, had been formulated, there was now added a second son, to whom the inscription upon the table was given as a name (with a small abbreviation, and if the Lamed is the particle of dedication, a necessary one). He was therefore the symbol of the approaching chastisement of Syria and the kingdom of the ten tribes. Before the boy had learned to stammer out the name of father and mother, they would carry away (yissâ, not the third pers. fut. niphal, which is yinnâsē, but kal with a latent, indefinite subject hannōsē': Ges. 137, 3) the treasures of Damascus and the trophies (i.e., the spoil taken from the flying or murdered foe) of Samaria before the king of Asshur, who would therefore leave the territory of the two capitals as a conqueror. It is true that Tiglath-pileser only conquered Damascus, and not Samaria; but he took from Pekah, the king of Samaria, the land beyond the Jordan, and a portion of the land on this side. The trophies, which he took thence to Assyria, were no less the spoil of Samaria than if he had conquered Samaria itself (which Shalmanassar did twenty years afterwards). The birth of Mahershalal took place about three-quarters of a year later than the preparation of the table (as the verb vâ'ekrab is an aorist and not a pluperfect); and the time appointed, from the birth of the boy till the chastisement of the allied kingdoms, was about a year. Now, as the Syro-Ephraimitish war did not commence later than the first year of the reign of Ahaz, i.e., the year 743, and the chastisement by Tiglath-pileser occurred in the lifetime of the allies, whereas Pekah was assassinated in the year 739, the interval between the commencement of the war and the chastisement of the allies cannot have been more than three years; so that the preparation of the table must not be assigned to a much later period than the interview with Ahaz. The inscription upon the table, which was adopted as the name of the child, was not a purely consolatory prophecy, since the prophet had predicted, a short time before, that the same Asshur which devastated the two covenant lands would lay Judah waste as well. It was simply a practical proof of the omniscience and omnipotence of God, by which the history of the future was directed and controlled. The prophet had, in fact, the mournful vocation to harden. Hence the enigmatical character of his words and doings in relation to both kings and nation. Jehovah foreknew the consequences which would follow the appeal to Asshur for help, as regarded both Syria and Israel. This knowledge he committed to writing in the presence of witnesses. When this should be fulfilled, it would be all over with the rejoicing of the king and people at their self-secured deliverance.

But Isaiah was not merely within the broader circle of an incorrigible nation ripe for judgment. He did not stand alone; but was encircled by a small band of believing disciples, who wanted consolation, and were worthy of it. It was to them that the more promising obverse of the prophecy of Immanuel belonged. Mahershalal could not comfort them; for they knew that when Asshur had done with Damascus and Samaria, the troubles of Judah would not be over, but would only then be really about to commence. To be the shelter of the faithful in the terrible judicial era of the imperial power, which was then commencing, was the great purpose of the prediction of Immanuel; and to bring out and expand the consolatory character of that prophecy for the benefit of believers, was the design of the addresses which follow.

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.
The LORD spake also unto me again, saying,
The heading or introduction, "And Jehovah proceeded still further to speak to me, as follows," extends to all the following addresses as far as Isaiah 12:1-6. They all finish with consolation. But consolation presupposes the need of consolation. Consequently, even in this instance the prophet is obliged to commence with a threatening of judgment. "Forasmuch as this people despiseth the waters of Siloah that go softly, and regardeth as a delight the alliance with Rezin and the son of Remalyahu, therefore, behold! the Lord of all bringeth up upon them the waters of the river, the mighty and the great, the king of Asshur and all his military power; and he riseth over all his channels, and goeth over all his banks." The Siloah had its name (Shiloach, or, according to the reading of this passage contained in very good MSS, Shilloach), ab emittendo, either in an infinitive sense, "shooting forth," or in a participial sense, with a passive colouring, emissus, sent forth, spirted out (vid., John 9:7; and on the variations in meaning of this substantive form, Concord. p. 1349, s.). Josephus places the fountain and pool of Siloah at the opening of the Tyropoeon, on the south-eastern side of the ancient city, where we still find it at the present day (vid., Jos. Wars of the Jews, v. 4, 1; also Robinson, Pal. i. 504). The clear little brook - a pleasant sight to the eye as it issues from the ravine which runs between the south-western slope of Moriah and the south-eastern slope of Mount Zion

(Note: It is with perfect propriety, therefore, that Jerome sometimes speaks in the fons Siloe as flowing ad radices Montis Zion, and at other times as flowing in radicibus Montis Moria.)

(V. Schulbert, Reise, ii. 573) - is used here as a symbol of the Davidic monarchy enthroned upon Zion, which had the promise of God, who was enthroned upon Moriah, in contrast with the imperial or world kingdom, which is compared to the overflowing waters of the Euphrates. The reproach of despising the waters of Siloah applied to Judah as well as Ephraim: to the former because it trusted in Asshur, and despised the less tangible but more certain help which the house of David, if it were but believing, had to expect from the God of promise; to the latter, because it had entered into alliance with Aram to overthrow the house of David; and yet the house of David, although degenerate and deformed, was the divinely appointed source of that salvation, which is ever realized through quiet, secret ways. The second reproach applied more especially to Ephraim. The 'eth is not to be taken as the sign of the accusative, for sūs never occurs with the accusative of the object (not even in Isaiah 35:1), and could not well be so used. It is to be construed as a preposition in the sense of "and (or because) delight (is felt) with (i.e., in) the alliance with Rezin and Pekah." (On the constructive before a preposition, see Ges. 116, 1: sūs 'ēth, like râtzâh ‛im.) Luzzatto compares, for the construction, Genesis 41:43, v'nâthōn; but only the inf. abs. is used in this way as a continuation of the finite verb (see Ges. 131, 4, a). Moreover, משׂושׂ is not an Aramaic infinitive, but a substantive used in such a way as to retain the power of the verb (like מסּע in Numbers 10:2, and מספר in Numbers 23:10, unless, indeed, the reading here should be ספר מי). The substantive clause is preferred to the verbal clause ושׂשׂ, for the sake of the antithetical consonance of משׂושׂס with מאס. It is also quite in accordance with Hebrew syntax, that an address which commences with כי יען should here lose itself in the second sentence "in the twilight," as Ewald expresses it (351, c), of a substantive clause. Knobel and others suppose the reproof to relate to dissatisfied Judaeans, who were secretly favourable to the enterprise of the two allied kings. But there is no further evidence that there were such persons; and Isaiah 8:8 is opposed to this interpretation. The overflowing of the Assyrian forces would fall first of all upon Ephraim. The threat of punishment is introduced with ולכן, the Vav being the sign of sequence (Ewald, 348, b). The words "the king of Asshur" are the prophet's own gloss, as in Isaiah 7:17, Isaiah 7:20.

Forasmuch as this people refuseth the waters of Shiloah that go softly, and rejoice in Rezin and Remaliah's son;
Now therefore, behold, the Lord bringeth up upon them the waters of the river, strong and many, even the king of Assyria, and all his glory: and he shall come up over all his channels, and go over all his banks:
And he shall pass through Judah; he shall overflow and go over, he shall reach even to the neck; and the stretching out of his wings shall fill the breadth of thy land, O Immanuel.
Not till then would this overflowing reach as far as Judah, but then it would do so most certainly and incessantly."And presses forward into Judah, overflows and pours onward, till it reaches to the neck, and the spreading out of its wings fill the breadth of thy land, Immanuel." The fate of Judah would be different from that of Ephraim. Ephraim would be laid completely under water by the river, i.e., would be utterly destroyed. And in Judah the stream, as it rushed forward, would reach the most dangerous height; but if a deliverer could be found, there was still a possibility of its being saved. Such a deliverer was Immanuel, whom the prophet sees in the light of the Spirit living through all the Assyrian calamities. The prophet appeals complainingly to him that the land, which is his land, is almost swallowed up by the world-power: the spreadings out (muttoth, a hophal noun: for similar substantive forms, see Isaiah 14:6; Isaiah 29:3, and more especially Psalm 66:11) of the wings of the stream (i.e., of the large bodies of water pouring out on both sides from the main stream, as from the trunk, and covering the land like two broad wings) have filled the whole land. According to Norzi, Immanul is to be written here as one word, as it is in Isaiah 7:14; but the correct reading is Immân El, with mercha silluk (see note on Isaiah 7:14), though it does not therefore cease to be a proper name. As Jerome observes, it is nomen proprium, non interpretatum; and so it is rendered in the Sept., Μεθ ̓ ἡμῶν ὁ Θεός.

Associate yourselves, O ye people, and ye shall be broken in pieces; and give ear, all ye of far countries: gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces; gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces.
The prophet's imploring look at Immanuel does not remain unanswered. We may see this from the fact, that what was almost a silent prayer is changed at once into the jubilate of holy defiance. "Exasperate yourselves, O nations, and go to pieces; and see it, all who are far off in the earth! Gird yourselves, and go to pieces; gird yourselves, and go to pieces! Consult counsel, and it comes to nought; speak the word, and it is not realized: for with us is God." The second imperatives in Isaiah 8:9 are threatening words of authority, having a future signification, which change into futures in Isaiah 8:19 (Ges. 130, 2): Go on exasperating yourselves רעוּ( with the tone upon the penultimate, and therefore not the pual of רעה, consociari, which is the rendering adopted in the Targum, but the kal of רעע, malum esse; not vociferari, for which רוּע, a different verb from the same root, is commonly employed), go on arming; ye will nevertheless fall to pieces (Chōttu, from Châthath, related to Câthath, Confringi, Consternari). The prophet classes together all the nations that are warring against the people of God, pronounces upon them the sentence of destruction, and calls upon all distant lands to hear this ultimate fate of the kingdom of the world, i.e., of the imperial power. The world-kingdom must be wrecked on the land of Immanuel; "for with us," as the watchword of believers runs, pointing to the person of the Savour, "with us is God."

Take counsel together, and it shall come to nought; speak the word, and it shall not stand: for God is with us.
For the LORD spake thus to me with a strong hand, and instructed me that I should not walk in the way of this people, saying,
There then follows in Isaiah 8:11 an explanatory clause, which seems at first sight to pass on to a totally different theme, but it really stands in the closest connection with the triumphant words of Isaiah 8:9, Isaiah 8:10. It is Immanuel whom believers receive, constitute, and hold fast as their refuge in the approaching times of the Assyrian judgment. He is their refuge and God in Him, and not any human support whatever. This is the link of connection with Isaiah 8:11, Isaiah 8:12 : "For Jehovah hath spoken thus to me, overpowering me with God's hand, and instructing me not to walk in the way of this people, saying, Call ye not conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy; and what is feared by it, fear ye not, neither think ye dreadful." היד, "the hand," is the absolute hand, which is no sooner laid upon a man than it overpowers all perception, sensation, and though: Chezkath hayyâd (viz., âlai, upon me, Ezekiel 3:14) therefore describes a condition in which the hand of God was put forth upon the prophet with peculiar force, as distinguished from the more usual prophetic state, the effect of a peculiarly impressive and energetic act of God. Luther is wrong in following the Syriac, and adopting the rendering, "taking me by the hand;" as Chezkath points back to the kal (invalescere), and not to the hiphil (apprehendere). It is this circumstantial statement, which is continued in v'yissereni ("and instructing me"), and not the leading verb âmar ("he said"); for the former is not the third pers. pret. piel, which would be v'yisserani, but the third pers. fut. kal, from the future form yissōr (Hosea 10:10, whereas the fut. piel is v'yassēr); and it is closely connected with Chezkath hayyâd, according to the analogy of the change from the participial and infinitive construction to the finite verb (Ges. 132, Anm. 2). With this overpowering influence, and an instructive warning against going in the way of "this people," Jehovah spake to the prophet as follows. With regard to the substance of the following warning, the explanation that has been commonly adopted since the time of Jerome, viz., noli duorum regum timere conjurationem (fear not the conspiracy of the two kings), is contrary to the reading of the words. The warning runs thus: The prophet, and such as were on his side, were not to call that kesher which the great mass of the people called kesher (cf., 2 Chronicles 23:13, "She said, Treason, Treason!" kesher, kesher); yet the alliance of Rezin and Pekah was really a conspiracy - a league against the house and people of David. Nor can the warning mean that believers, when they saw how the unbelieving Ahaz brought the nation into distress, were not to join in a conspiracy against the person of the king (Hofmann, Drechsler); they are not warned at all against making a conspiracy, but against joining in the popular cry when the people called out kesher. The true explanation has been given by Roorda, viz., that the reference is to the conspiracy, as it was called, of the prophet and his disciples ("sermo hic est de conjuratione, quae dicebatur prophetae et discipulorum ejus"). The same thing happened to Isaiah as to Amos (Amos 7:10) and to Jeremiah. Whenever the prophets were at all zealous in their opposition to the appeal for foreign aid, they were accused and branded as standing in the service of the enemy, and conspiring for the overthrow of the kingdom. In such perversion of language as this, the honourable among them were not to join. The way of God was now a very different one from the way of that people. If the prophet and his followers opposed the alliance with Asshur, this was not a common human conspiracy against the will of the king and nation, but the inspiration of God, the true policy of Jehovah. Whoever trusted in Him had no need to be afraid of such attempts as those of Rezin and Pekah, or to look upon them as dreadful.

Say ye not, A confederacy, to all them to whom this people shall say, A confederacy; neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid.
Sanctify the LORD of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.
The object of their fear was a very different one. "Jehovah of hosts, sanctify Him; and let Him be your fear, and let Him be your terror. So will He become a sanctuary, but a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence (vexation) to both the houses of Israel, a snare and trap to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble, and shall fall; and be dashed to pieces, and be snared and taken." The logical apodosis to Isaiah 8:13 commences with v'hâhâh (so shall He be). If ye actually acknowledge Jehovah the Holy One as the Holy One (hikdı̄sh, as in Isaiah 29:23), and if it is He whom ye fear, and who fills you with dread (ma‛arı̄tz, used for the object of dread, as mōrah is for the object of fear; hence "that which terrifies" in a causative sense), He will become a mikdâsh. The word mikdâsh may indeed denote the object sanctified, and so Knobel understands it here according to Numbers 18:29; but if we adhere to the strict notion of the word, this gives an unmeaning apodosis. Mikdâsh generally means the sanctified place or sanctuary, with which the idea of an asylum would easily associate itself, since even among the Israelites the temple was regarded and respected as an asylum (1 Kings 1:50; 1 Kings 2:28). This is the explanation which most of the commentators have adopted here; and the punctuators also took it in the same sense, when they divided the two halves of Isaiah 8:14 by athnach as antithetical. And mikdâsh is really to be taken in this sense, although it cannot be exactly rendered "asylum," since this would improperly limit the meaning of the word. The temple was not only a place of shelter, but also of grace, blessing, and peace. All who sanctified the Lord of lords He surrounded like temple walls; hid them in Himself, whilst death and tribulation reigned without, and comforted, fed, and blessed them in His own gracious fellowship. This is the true explanation of v'hâyâh l'mikdâs, according to such passages as Isaiah 4:5-6; Psalm 27:5; Psalm 31:21. To the two houses of Israel, on the contrary, i.e., to the great mass of the people of both kingdoms who neither sanctified nor feared Jehovah, He would be a rock and snare. The synonyms are intentionally heaped together (cf., Isaiah 28:13), to produce the fearful impression of death occurring in many forms, but all inevitable. The first three verbs of Isaiah 8:15 refer to the "stone" ('eben) and "rock" (tzūr); the last two to the "snare" (pach), and "trap" or springe (mōkēsh).

(Note: Malbim observes quite correctly, that "the pach catches, but does not hurt; the mokesh catches and hurts (e.g., by seizing the legs or nose, Job 40:24): the former is a simple snare (or net), the latter a springe, or snare which catches by means of a spring" (Amos 3:5).)

All who did not give glory to Jehovah would be dashed to pieces upon His work as upon a stone, and caught therein as in a trap. This was the burden of the divine warning, which the prophet heard for himself and for those that believed.

And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken.
Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples.
The words that follow in Isaiah 8:16, "Bind up the testimony, seal the lesson in my disciples," appear at first sight to be a command of God to the prophet, according to such parallel passages as Daniel 12:4, Daniel 12:9; Revelation 22:10, cf., Daniel 8:26; but with this explanation it is impossible to do justice to the words "in my disciples" (b'ilmmudâi). The explanation given by Rosenmller, Knobel, and others, viz., "by bringing in men divinely instructed" (adhibitis viris piis et sapientibus), is grammatically inadmissible. Consequently I agree with Vitringa, Drechsler, and others, in regarding Isaiah 8:16 as the prophet's own prayer to Jehovah. We tie together (צרר, imperf. צור equals צר) what we wish to keep from getting separated and lost; we seal (Châtam) what is to be kept secret, and only opened by a person duly qualified. And so the prophet here prays that Jehovah would take his testimony with regard to the future, and his instruction, which was designed to prepare for this future - that testimony and thorah which the great mass in their hardness did not understand, and in their self-hardening despised - and lay them up well secured and well preserved, as if by band and seal, in the hearts of those who received the prophet's words with believing obedience (limmūd, as in Isaiah 50:4; Isaiah 54:13). For it would be all over with Israel, unless a community of believers should be preserved, and all over with this community, if the word of God, which was the ground of their life, should be allowed to slip from their hearts. We have here an announcement of the grand idea, which the second part of the book of Isaiah carries out in the grandest style. It is very evident that it is the prophet himself who is speaking here, as we may see from Isaiah 8:17, where he continues to speak in the first person, though he does not begin with ואני.

And I will wait upon the LORD, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him.
Whilst offering this prayer, and looking for its fulfilment, he waits upon Jehovah. "And I wait upon Jehovah, who hides His face before the house of Jacob, and hope for Him." A time of judgment had now commenced, which would still last a long time; but the word of God was the pledge of Israel's continuance in the midst of it, and of the renewal of Israel's glory afterwards. The prophet would therefore hope for the grace which was now hidden behind the wrath.

Behold, I and the children whom the LORD hath given me are for signs and for wonders in Israel from the LORD of hosts, which dwelleth in mount Zion.
His home was the future, and to this he was subservient, even with all his house. "Behold, I and the children which Jehovah hath given me for signs and types in Israel, from Jehovah of hosts, who dwelleth upon Mount Zion." He presents himself to the Lord with his children, puts himself and them into His hands. They were Jehovah's gift, and that for a higher purpose than every-day family enjoyment. They subserved the purpose of signs and types in connection with the history of salvation. "Signs and types:" 'oth (sign) was an omen or prognostic (σημεῖον) in word and deed, which pointed to and was the pledge of something future (whether it were in itself miraculous or natural); mopheth was either something miraculous (τέρας) pointing back to a supernatural cause, or a type (τύπος, prodigium equals porridigium) which pointed beyond itself to something future and concealed, literally twisted round, i.e., out of the ordinary course, paradoxical, striking, standing out (Arab. aft, ift, res mira, δεινόν τι), from אפת (related to הפך, אבך) equals מאפת, like מוסר equals מאסר. His children were signs and enigmatical symbols of the future, and that from Jehovah of hosts who dwelt on Zion. In accordance with His counsel (to which the עם in מעם points), He had selected these signs and types: He who could bring to pass the future, which they set forth, as surely as He was Jehovah of hosts, and who would bring it to pass as surely as He had chosen Mount Zion for the scene of His gracious presence upon earth. Shear-yashub and Mahershalal were indeed no less symbols of future wrath than of future grace; but the name of the father (Yesha'hâhu) was an assurance that all the future would issue from Jehovah's salvation, and end in the same. Isaiah and his children were figures and emblems of redemption, opening a way for itself through judgment. The Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 2:13) quotes these words as the distinct words of Jesus, because the spirit of Jesus was in Isaiah - the spirit of Jesus, which in the midst of this holy family, bound together as it was only to the bands of "the shadow," pointed forward to that church of the New Testament which would be found together by the bands of the true substance. Isaiah, his children, and his wife, who is called "the prophetess" (nebi'ah) not only because she was the wife of the prophet but because she herself possessed the gift of prophecy, and all the believing disciples gathered round this family - these together formed the stock of the church of the Messianic future, on the foundation and soil of the existing massa perdita of Israel.

And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead?
It is to this ecclesiola in ecclesia that the prophet's admonition is addressed. "And when they shall say to you, Inquire of the necromancers, and of the soothsayers that chirp and whisper:-Should not a people inquire of its God? for the living to the dead?" The appeal is supposed to be made by Judaeans of the existing stamp; for we know from Isaiah 2:6; Isaiah 3:2-3, that all kinds of heathen superstitions had found their way into Jerusalem, and were practised there as a trade. The persons into whose mouths the answer is put by the prophet (we may supply before Isaiah 8:19, "Thus shall ye say to them;" cf., Jeremiah 10:11), are his own children and disciples. The circumstances of the times were very critical; and the people were applying to wizards to throw light upon the dark future. 'Ob signified primarily the spirit of witchcraft, then the possessor of such a spirit (equivalent to Baal ob), more especially the necromancer. Yidd‛oni, on the other hand, signified primarily the possessor of a prophesying or soothsaying spirit (πύθων or πνεῦμα τοῦ πύθωνος), Syr. yodūa‛ (after the intensive from pâ‛ul with immutable vowels), and then the soothsaying spirit itself (Leviticus 20:27), which was properly called yiddâ'ōn (the much knowing), like δαίμων, which, according to Plato, is equivalent to δαήμων. These people, who are designated by the lxx, both here and elsewhere, as ἐγγαστρόμυθοι, i.e., ventriloquists, imitated the chirping of bats, which was supposed to proceed from the shadows of Hades, and uttered their magical formulas in a whispering tone.

(Note: The Mishnah Sanhedrin 65a gives this definition: "Baal'ob is a python, i.e., a soothsayer ('with a spirit of divination'), who speaks from his arm-pit; yidd‛oni, a man who speaks with his mouth." The baal ob, so far as he had to do with the bones of the dead, is called in the Talmud obâ temayya', e.g., the witch of Endor (b. Sabbath 152b). On the history of the etymological explanation of the word, see Bttcher, de inferis, 205-217. If 'ob, a skin or leather bottle, is a word from the same root (rendered "bellows" by the lxx at Job 32:19), as it apparently is, it may be applied to a bottle as a thing which swells or can be blown out, and to a wizard of spirit of incantation on account of this puffing and gasping. The explanation "le revenant," from אוּב equals Arab. âba, to return, has only a very weak support in the proper name איוב equals avvâb (the penitent, returning again and again to God: see again at Isaiah 29:4).)

What an unnatural thing, for the people of Jehovah to go and inquire, not of their won God, but of such heathenish and demoniacal deceivers and victims as these (dârash 'el, to go and inquire of a person, Isaiah 11:10, synonymous with shâ'ar b', 1 Samuel 28:6)! What blindness, to consult the dead in the interests of the living! By "the dead" (hammēthim) we are not to understand "the idols" in this passage, as in Psalm 106:28, but the departed, as Deuteronomy 18:11 (cf., 1 Samuel 28) clearly proves; and בּעד is not to be taken, either here or elsewhere, as equivalent to tachath ("instead of"), as Knobel supposes, but, as in Jeremiah 21:2 and other passages, as signifying "for the benefit of." Necromancy, which makes the dead the instructors of the living, is a most gloomy deception.

To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.
In opposition to such a falling away to wretched superstition, the watchword of the prophet and his supporters is this. "To the teaching of God (thorah, Gotteslehre), and to the testimony! If they do not accord with this word, they are a people for whom no morning dawns." The summons, "to the teaching and to the testimony" (namely, to those which Jehovah gave through His prophet, Isaiah 8:17), takes the form of a watchword in time of battle (Judges 7:18). With this construction the following אם־לא (which Knobel understands interrogatively, "Should not they speak so, who, etc.?" and Luzzatto as an oath, as in Psalm 131:2, "Surely they say such words as have no dawn in them") has, at any rate, all the presumption of a conditional signification. Whoever had not this watchword would be regarded as the enemy of Jehovah, and suffer the fate of such a man. This is, to all appearance, the meaning of the apodosis שׁהר אין־לו אשׁר. Luther has given the meaning correctly, "If they do not say this, they will not have the morning dawn;" or, according to his earlier and equally good rendering, "They shall never overtake the morning light," literally, "They are those to whom no dawn arises." The use of the plural in the hypothetical protasis, and the singular in the apodosis, is an intentional and significant change. All the several individuals who did not adhere to the revelation made by Jehovah through His prophet, formed one corrupt mass, which would remain in hopeless darkness. אשׁר is used in the same sense as in Isaiah 5:28 and 2 Samuel 2:4, and possibly also as in 1 Samuel 15:20, instead of the more usual כּי, when used in the affirmative sense which springs in both particles out of the confirmative (namque and quoniam): Truly they have no morning dawn to expect.

(Note: Strangely enough, Isaiah 8:19 and Isaiah 8:20 are described in Lev. Rabba, ch. xv, as words of the prophet Hosea incorporated in the book of Isaiah.)

And they shall pass through it, hardly bestead and hungry: and it shall come to pass, that when they shall be hungry, they shall fret themselves, and curse their king and their God, and look upward.
The night of despair to which the unbelieving nation would be brought, is described in Isaiah 8:21, Isaiah 8:22 : "And it goes about therein hard pressed and hungry: and it comes to pass, when hunger befals it, it frets itself, and curses by its king and by its God, and turns its face upward, and looks to the earth, and beyond distress and darkness, benighting with anguish, and thrust out into darkness." The singulars attach themselves to the לו in Isaiah 8:19, which embraces all the unbelievers in one mass; "therein" (bâh) refers to the self-evident land ('eretz). The people would be brought to such a plight in the approaching Assyrian oppressions, that they would wander about in the land pressed down by their hard fate (niksheh) and hungry (râ'eb), because all provisions would be gone and the fields and vineyards would be laid waste. As often as it experienced hunger afresh, it would work itself into a rage (v'hithkazzaqph with Vav apod. and pathach, according to Ges. 54, Anm.), and curse by its king and God, i.e., by its idol. This is the way in which we must explain the passage, in accordance with 1 Samuel 14:43, where killel bēholim is equivalent to killel b'shēm elohim, and with Zephaniah 1:5, where a distinction is made between an oath layehovâh, and an oath b'malcâm; if we would adhere to the usage of the language, in which we never find a בּ קלל corresponding to the Latin execrari in aliquem (Ges.), but on the contrary the object cursed is always expressed in the accusative. We must therefore give up Psalm 5:3 and Psalm 68:25 as parallels to b'malco and b'lohâi: they curse by the idol, which passes with them for both king and God, curse their wretched fate with this as they suppose the most effectual curse of all, without discerning in it the just punishment of their own apostasy, and humbling themselves penitentially under the almighty hand of Jehovah. Consequently all this reaction of their wrath would avail them nothing: whether they turned upwards, to see if the black sky were not clearing, or looked down to the earth, everywhere there would meet them nothing but distress and darkness, nothing but a night of anguish all around (me‛ūph zūkâh is a kind of summary; mâ‛ūph a complete veiling, or eclipse, written with ū instead of the more usual ō of this substantive form: Ewald, 160, a). The judgment of God does not convert them, but only heightens their wickedness; just as in Revelation 16:11, Revelation 16:21, after the pouring out of the fifth and seventh vials of wrath, men only utter blasphemies, and do not desist from their works. After stating what the people see, whether they turn their eyes upwards or downwards, the closing participial clause of Isaiah 8:22 describes how they see themselves "thrust out into darkness' (in caliginem propulsum). There is no necessity to supply הוּא; but out of the previous hinnēh it is easy to repeat hinno or hinnennu (en ipsum). "Into darkness:" ăphēlâh (acc. loci) is placed emphatically at the head, as in Jeremiah 23:12.

And they shall look unto the earth; and behold trouble and darkness, dimness of anguish; and they shall be driven to darkness.
Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch [1857-78].
Text Courtesy of Internet Sacred Texts Archive.

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