William Kelly Major Works Commentary
For the LORD will have mercy on Jacob, and will yet choose Israel, and set them in their own land: and the strangers shall be joined with them, and they shall cleave to the house of Jacob.Isaiah Chapter 14
In the chapter before us the Spirit of God goes forward to Israel's deliverance. The connection is plain. The general character of the Burden becomes thus evident and most instructive. "For Jehovah will have compassion on Jacob, and will yet choose Israel, and rest them in their own land: and the stranger shall join himself with them, and they shall cleave to the house of Jacob. And the peoples shall take them, and bring them to their place; and the house of Israel shall possess them in the land of Jehovah for servants and for handmaids; and they shall take them captive, whose captives they were, and they shall rule over their oppressors" (vv. 1, 2). The overthrow of Babylon involves the emancipation of Israel. It has thus much greater importance than the history of any ordinary power; and the past Babylon is simply a type of the fall of the greater power, its final heir, which is to the last the enslaver of the Jews, the would-be protector but master of the holy city. Israel are yet to have as their servants the very persons who formerly enslaved them themselves. Expecting this glory for Israel, and this mighty deliverance for the people of the Jews, one can understand their exulting tone.
"And it shall come to pass in the day that Jehovah shall give thee rest from thy sorrow, and from thy trouble, and from the hard service wherein thou wast made to serve, that thou shalt take up this parable against the king of Babylon, and say, How hath the oppressor ceased, the golden city ceased! Jehovah hath broken the staff of the wicked, the sceptre of the rulers. He that smote the peoples in wrath with a continual stroke, that ruled the nations in anger, hath a persecution without restraint. The whole earth is at rest - is quiet: they break forth into singing. Yea, the cypresses rejoice at thee, the cedars of Lebanon, [saying,] Since thou art laid down, no feller is come up against us. Sheol from beneath is moved for thee to meet [thee] at thy coming; it stirreth up the giants for thee, all the chief ones (or, he-goats) of the earth, raising up from their thrones all the kings of the nations. All of them shall answer and say unto thee, Art thou also become weak as we? art thou become like unto us? Thy pomp is brought down to Sheol, the noise of thy lyres: the worm is spread under thee, and vermin covereth thee. How art thou fallen from heaven, O day-star, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, that didst lay low the nations! And thou saidst in thine heart, I will ascend into the heavens, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; and I will sit upon the mount of assembly, in the recesses of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the Most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to Sheol, to the recesses of the pit. They that see thee shall narrowly look upon thee, they shall consider thee, [saying,] [Is] this the man that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms; [that] made the world as a wilderness, and overthrew the cities thereof; [that] let not loose his prisoners to their home? All kings of the nations, all of them, lie in glory, every one in his own house. But thou art cast out from thy sepulchre like an abominable branch, clothed with the slain - those thrust through with the sword, that go down to the stones of the pit; as a carcass trodden under foot. Thou shalt not be joined with them in burial, because thou hast destroyed thy land, thou hast slain thy people: the seed of evil-doers shall not be named for ever. Prepare ye slaughter for his children because of the iniquity of their fathers; that they rise not up and possess the earth, nor fill the face of the world with cities. And I will rise up against them, saith Jehovah of hosts, and cut off from Babylon name and remnant, and son and son's son, saith Jehovah. I will also make it a possession for the porcupine, and pools of water; and I will sweep it with the besom of destruction, saith Jehovah of hosts" (vv.3-23).
The king of Babylon sets forth no other than the last head of the Beast, just as Nebuchadnezzar was the first of that line. We must distinguish the imperial chief of the last days from the religious head of the antichrist; and the more carefully, because, having a similar policy and being confederates in evil, they are very generally confounded by ancients and moderns. Although the king of Babylon typifies the person who will finally have the Jews as his vassals, it would be a great mistake to conceive that it is to be a king of the Babylon in Shinar. We refer to this now merely to show that it rests upon a wrong principle. Some have the thought that there will be a re-establishment of oriental Babylon in the last days. They suppose there will be a literal city in the plain of Shinar. This appears to be fundamentally false.
The New Testament points out by evident marks what the future one will be; and, in order apparently to guard against that illusion, even contrasts the Apocalyptic Babylon in some respects with that of the Chaldees. The Babylon of the old world was built upon a plain; the future Babylon is characterized by the seven mountains it sits on. Thus every one of common information would distinguish the scene of Chaldean pride, and understand the locality of the future Babylon. There is but one city that has had universally and proverbially this title attached to it among Gentiles, Jews, and Christians. Other cities may include seven or more hills, but everywhere Rome has acquired a designation from the circumstance; so that if you speak of the seven-hilled city, there was, there is, hardly an educated child but would answer, "It must be the famous city on the banks of the Tiber." So every one must have known in apostolic days. This is the city which is to occupy in the last days the same kind of importance that Babylon had in the beginning of Gentile times. It began then and ends with the person that is called in the Book of Revelation, "the Beast." There were four Beasts in Daniel, but one is by St. John called "the Beast," as indeed only the last then existed; and if it had to become imperially extinct, it was also to rise again and be present once more before its judgement.
Here then God makes the old enemy to be a type of the new one that menaces them. The final holder of the power of Babylon thus naturally is a type of him who will wield imperial power against the glory of God in the last days. So in Revelation 17 the general principle is exceeding clear, without the violent supposition of a literal metropolis in Chaldea; where man would have not merely to build the city, but, first of all, to create seven hills. Another thing the Spirit of God speaks of is the reigning of the city over the kings of the earth, not of the control exercised over the empire, but far beyond, under the symbol of the harlot riding the beast; she sits too on "the waters."
The Apocalyptic Babylon will finally shift from a papal heathen character, as it did from an openly heathen beginning, to final utter corruption. What we have in Isaiah furnishes the groundwork for that which meets us in the Revelation. Thus the strong language in verses 9-14 could scarcely be said to have been exhausted in Nebuchadnezzar or Belshazzar. There was pride and self-exaltation in the one, and most degrading and profane luxury in the other; but what we have here will be fully verified in the last days and not before. After taking this place of power, the lofty one is to be thus abased as no Babylonish monarch ever was historically.
We do not enter into the rest of the chapter farther than to point out another declaration in verses 24, 25. Some suppose that the king of Babylon and the Assyrian are one and the same person; it is a common mistake, and particularly among men of learning. But it is clear that the later statement is something added to the fall of Babylon's king, who has been already judged. Then the Assyrian follows, who is dealt with summarily in Jehovah's land. This agrees perfectly with what may be gathered from other parts of God's word as to the future. "Jehovah of hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass, and as I have purposed, it shall stand: to break the Assyrian in my land; and on my mountains I will trample him; and his yoke shall depart from off them, and his burden from off their shoulders: this the purpose [that is] purposed concerning the whole earth, and this the hand [that is] stretched out over all the nations. For Jehovah of hosts hath purposed, and who shall frustrate [it]? and his hand [is] stretched out, and who shall turn it back?" (vv. 24-27)
But, if we look at the past history of Israel, the Assyrian came up first; his army was destroyed, and himself sent back into his own land, there to be slain by his rebellious sons in the house of his god. The astonishing destruction of his host was typical of the fall of "the Assyrian" in the last days, but only an earnest of it. This was considerably before Babylon was allowed of God to become supreme. It was after the disappearance of Nineveh that Babylon sprang up into the first place. The Assyrian never gained the supremacy of the world, but Babylon did, as a sovereign grant from God, after the royal house of David had become the helper on of idolatry, following the Jewish people in their love for the abominations of the heathen. Then, not before, God told (as it were) the king of Babylon to take the whole world to himself. Babylon was always most conspicuous for its many idols; but as the chosen witness had become idolatrous, the worst might as well have supremacy as another. Babylon was thus exalted to the empire of the world, when Lo-Ammi (not-My-people) was written on all Israel, even on Judah. Its active enmity and idolatry could hardly be thought a claim on the true God, Jehovah; on the other hand, all this was not allowed to hinder its rise in God's sovereignty into the place of the government of the world. This was, in fact, subsequent to the destruction of the Assyrian, which we have seen before in other chapters (Isa. 8; Isa. 10) must besides contemplate the future.
Here, not as in previous history, Babylon is judged first; then the Assyrian comes up and is smitten in the land of God's people. Why is this? Because the Spirit of God is now taking the circumstances of the Assyrian as well as the king of Babylon, not as a history of the past, but as looking onward to the last days; and in the last days the king represented by Babylon will be destroyed first, when the power of the Assyrian will be broken last of all. This perfectly agrees with the scene as a typical or prophetic picture of the last days. Whereas, if you confine it to the past, it does not tally, and there could be no right understanding of it. While the Spirit of God speaks of the Assyrian subsequently to Babylon, it is certain that in past history the Assyrian fell first in order, then Babylon afterwards. By-and by Babylon will be smitten in the last holder of the Beast's power, and this in connection with the Jews; while the power then answering to the king of Assyria will come up after that, when God occupies Himself with the ten tribes of Israel. The Babylonian despot and the Assyrian, then, are two distinct enemies of the Lord, and types of two different powers in the last days, the one before, the other after, the Jews are in recognized relationship with Jehovah.
The Lord grant that we may be enabled to profit by all scripture, using it for instruction and warning, as well as refreshment and joy. All plans for worldly ease and honour will end only in destruction and bitter disappointment. Our business is to work out what God gives us now to do. He is saving souls to be the companions of Christ in heaven. Our responsibility meanwhile is to carry out His thoughts of mercy toward sinners, and His love to and in those that cleave to the name of His
The division of chapters is singularly unhappy here, for Isaiah 14:24-27 has a distinct place of its own to mark the future judgement of the Assyrian relatively to the "burden" of Babylon, which is to be the inverse of history. Also the last five verses of the chapter form a sub-section to themselves, though the whole appears to be connected. The two following chapters (Isa. 15 - Isa. 16) are but one subject, and a new one. What adds to the confusion is the insertion of the sign of the new paragraph at Isaiah 14:29; whereas Isaiah 14:28 really pertains to the new "burden" - not to Babylon or to the Assyrian, but to God's Judgement on the Philistines.
"In the year that king Ahaz died was this burden. Rejoice not thou, Philistia, all of thee, because the rod that smote thee is broken; for out of the serpent's root shall come forth a viper and his fruit [shall be] a fiery flying serpent. And the first-born of the poor shall feed, and the needy shall lie down in safety; but I will kill thy root with famine, and thy remnant shall be slain. Howl, O gate! cry, O city! dissolved, O Philistia, [is] the whole of thee; for out of the north cometh smoke, and none straggleth (or, standeth aloof) in his gatherings. And what shall [one] answer the messengers of the nation? That Jehovah hath founded Zion, and in it the afflicted of his people find refuge" (vv. 28-32).
The death of Ahaz might naturally excite the hopes of his neighbours, the Philistines, who had been put down by the strong hand of his grandfather Uzziah. Of him it is written in 2 Chronicles 26:4-8 that "he did that which was right in the sight of Jehovah according to all that his father Amaziah did. And he sought God in the days of Zechariah, who had understanding in the visions of God: and as long as he sought Jehovah, God made him to prosper. And he went forth and warred against the Philistines, and brake down the wall of Gath, and the wall of Jabneh, and the wall of Ashdod, and built cities in [the country of] Ashdod, and among the Philistines. And God helped him against the Philistines, and against the Arabians that dwelt in Gur-baal, and the Meunim. And the Ammonites gave gifts to Uzziah; and his name spread abroad even to the entering in of Egypt; for he strengthened [himself] exceedingly."
And now not only Uzziah but Ahaz were gone, "the rod [of him] that smote" the land of the Philistines was "broken." The enemy had learnt to despise Judah in the days of unworthy Ahaz. "For Jehovah brought Judah low because of Ahaz, king of Israel: for he made Judah naked and transgressed sore against Jehovah." Who was his son that they should fear him? Let them not rejoice, however; "for out of the serpent's root shall come forth a viper, and his fruit shall be a fiery flying serpent." The primary accomplishment of this was in the reign of Hezekiah, of whom it is recorded (2 Kings 18:8) that "he smote the Philistines, even unto Gaza, and the borders thereof from the tower of the watchmen to the fenced city."
But is there any reason whatever to suppose that this "burden" is an exception to the rest? Especially does the strength of the language point to a mightier destruction than what was inflicted by that pious king of Judah. Its proper fulfilment therefore awaits the latter day. And then to the full will be seen the twofold application of divine power, when, on the one hand, "the first-born of the poor shall feed and the needy shall lie down in safety"; and, on the other, Jehovah will not merely break the rod, but kill the root of Philistia with famine and slay its remnant (v. 30). In the next verse the prophet bursts forth with the utmost animation, calling on the gate to howl, and the city to cry out. "Howl, O gate! cry, O city! dissolved, O Philistia, the whole of thee; for out of the north cometh smoke, and none straggleth in his gatherings (i.e. of troops)." Thus an overwhelming and vigorously sustained force is threatened, which will sweep all before itself, as far as the Philistines are concerned. Here too the end is deliverance for the tried of His people. "And what shall one answer the messengers of the nation? That Jehovah hath founded Zion, and the afflicted of his people shall trust [or, find refuge] in it."
This forms a sufficiently distinct sub-section: Babylon judged; the Assyrian broken in Jehovah's land; Philistia melted away; and Zion founded by Jehovah as a refuge for the afflicted of His people.
It is instructive to observe that in the day that is coming Jehovah will deal with comparatively small powers as well as the greatest, according to their behaviour toward Israel. Thus, after Babylon and Assyria, we have now Philistia, as we shall have in their place Moab and Syria, the races and lands which surrounded the chosen people. It is in vain to argue that they are now unknown, or to assume that they are extinct. Whatever may have been in the past, these chapters look on to the future; and He, Who will before all the world bring forward distinctly Israel as compared with Judah, will not fail to single out the long hidden remnants of their neighbours for His retribution in the end of the age.
Nor can we have a more manifest evidence of divine prescience conveyed to God's people than that Babylon should take precedence of Assyria, then in its glory, while Babylon gave no sign of its eventual supremacy; unless indeed we add that, in contrast with history which testifies of Assyria's fall making way for Babylon's rise, we read in prophecy of Assyria to be trodden down on Jehovah's mountains after the desolation of Babylon has been set out to the utmost: a prophecy which awaits fulfilment.
This was feebly, or not at all, seen by the mass of interpreters of old and in modern times. Bishop Lowth expresses their vagueness when he remarks on v. 25 that "the Assyrians and Babylonians are the same people"; yet he refers to his father, W. Lowth, who, after giving a similarly uncertain sound, says, "I am apt to think that by the Assyrian may be meant some remarkable enemies of God's church (see note on Isaiah 11:14; Isaiah 32:16), and particularly those expressed by Gog and Magog (Ezek. 38), who, as the prophet there tells us (v. 17), were under several names "spoken of by the prophets of Israel"; and it is particularly said of them that they shall 'fall upon the mountains of Israel.'" This is at least better than his son's comment, and ought to have dispelled at once the confusion of Assyria with Babylon. It ought also to have shown without a doubt that our prophet was given to speak of a judgement which closes Jehovah's indignation against Israel (for "the church" of course is not in question) in the destruction of the last of their enemies, when His whole work is performed on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem. Even Dr. Driver confesses (Lit. of the Old Testament, 202) that "The prophecy has no connection with what precedes. It is directed against Assyria, not Babylon; and it anticipates, not the capture of the city of Babylon, but the overthrow of the hosts of Assyria in Judah." This witness is true; but, if true, it points to an immense intervention of God at the close of the age, no such overthrow having ever been in the past, whatever the earnest then given.
And the people shall take them, and bring them to their place: and the house of Israel shall possess them in the land of the LORD for servants and handmaids: and they shall take them captives, whose captives they were; and they shall rule over their oppressors.
And it shall come to pass in the day that the LORD shall give thee rest from thy sorrow, and from thy fear, and from the hard bondage wherein thou wast made to serve,
That thou shalt take up this proverb against the king of Babylon, and say, How hath the oppressor ceased! the golden city ceased!
The LORD hath broken the staff of the wicked, and the sceptre of the rulers.
He who smote the people in wrath with a continual stroke, he that ruled the nations in anger, is persecuted, and none hindereth.
The whole earth is at rest, and is quiet: they break forth into singing.
Yea, the fir trees rejoice at thee, and the cedars of Lebanon, saying, Since thou art laid down, no feller is come up against us.
Hell from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming: it stirreth up the dead for thee, even all the chief ones of the earth; it hath raised up from their thrones all the kings of the nations.
All they shall speak and say unto thee, Art thou also become weak as we? art thou become like unto us?
Thy pomp is brought down to the grave, and the noise of thy viols: the worm is spread under thee, and the worms cover thee.
How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!
For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.
Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.
They that see thee shall narrowly look upon thee, and consider thee, saying, Is this the man that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms;
That made the world as a wilderness, and destroyed the cities thereof; that opened not the house of his prisoners?
All the kings of the nations, even all of them, lie in glory, every one in his own house.
But thou art cast out of thy grave like an abominable branch, and as the raiment of those that are slain, thrust through with a sword, that go down to the stones of the pit; as a carcase trodden under feet.
Thou shalt not be joined with them in burial, because thou hast destroyed thy land, and slain thy people: the seed of evildoers shall never be renowned.
Prepare slaughter for his children for the iniquity of their fathers; that they do not rise, nor possess the land, nor fill the face of the world with cities.
For I will rise up against them, saith the LORD of hosts, and cut off from Babylon the name, and remnant, and son, and nephew, saith the LORD.
I will also make it a possession for the bittern, and pools of water: and I will sweep it with the besom of destruction, saith the LORD of hosts.
The LORD of hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand:
That I will break the Assyrian in my land, and upon my mountains tread him under foot: then shall his yoke depart from off them, and his burden depart from off their shoulders.
This is the purpose that is purposed upon the whole earth: and this is the hand that is stretched out upon all the nations.
For the LORD of hosts hath purposed, and who shall disannul it? and his hand is stretched out, and who shall turn it back?
In the year that king Ahaz died was this burden.
Rejoice not thou, whole Palestina, because the rod of him that smote thee is broken: for out of the serpent's root shall come forth a cockatrice, and his fruit shall be a fiery flying serpent.
And the firstborn of the poor shall feed, and the needy shall lie down in safety: and I will kill thy root with famine, and he shall slay thy remnant.
Howl, O gate; cry, O city; thou, whole Palestina, art dissolved: for there shall come from the north a smoke, and none shall be alone in his appointed times.
What shall one then answer the messengers of the nation? That the LORD hath founded Zion, and the poor of his people shall trust in it.