Behold, the LORD maketh the earth empty, and maketh it waste, and turneth it upside down, and scattereth abroad the inhabitants thereof.
Verses 1-20. - GOD'S JUDGMENTS ON THE WORLD AT LARGE. From special denunciations of woe upon particular nations - Baby-loll, Assyria, Philistia, Moab, Syria of Damascus, Egypt and Ethiopia, Arabia, Judea, Tyre - the prophet passes to denunciations of a broader character, involving the future of the whole world. This section of his work extends from the commencement of Isaiah 24. to the conclusion of Isaiah 27, thus including four chapters. The world at large is the general subject of the entire prophecy; but the "peculiar people" still maintains a marked and prominent place, as spiritually the leading country, and as one in whose fortunes the world at large would be always vitally concerned (see especially Isaiah 24:23; Isaiah 25:6-8; Isaiah 26:1-4; Isaiah 27:6, 9, 13). Verse 1. - Behold, the Lord maketh the earth empty. Several critics (Lowth, Ewald, Gesenius, Knobel) prefer to render, "maketh the land empty;" but the broader view, which is maintained by Rosenmüller, Kay, Cheyne, and others, seems preferable. The mention of "the world" in ver. 4, and of "the-kings of the earth" in ver. 21, implies a wider field of survey than the Holy Land. Of course the expression, "maketh empty," is rhetorical, some remarkable, but not complete, depopulation being pointed at (comp. ver. 6). Turneth it upside down (comp. Ezekiel 21:27). Scattereth abroad the inhabitants. The scanty population left is dispersed, and not allowed to collect into masses.
And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priest; as with the servant, so with his master; as with the maid, so with her mistress; as with the buyer, so with the seller; as with the lender, so with the borrower; as with the taker of usury, so with the giver of usury to him.
Verse 2. - It shall be, as with the people, so with the priest, etc. There shall be "no respect of persons" - no favor shown to men of any particular rank or station. All shall suffer equally. The author is obliged to take as examples distinctions of rank known to him; but he carefully selects such as are of almost universal occurrence. There was scarcely any nation of antiquity in which there were not "priests and people," "masters and slaves," "buyers and sellers," "lenders and borrowers," "takers and givers of usury." By "usury" is meant, not exorbitant interest, but interest simply, of whatever amount.
The land shall be utterly emptied, and utterly spoiled: for the LORD hath spoken this word.
Verse 3. - The land; rather, the earth. The same word is used as in ver. I (arets). Utterly spoiled; i.e. "wasted by rival armies, which have carried fire and sword over the whole of it." Compare the declaration of our Lord, "Ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.., all these are the beginning of sorrows" (Matthew 24:6-8).
The earth mourneth and fadeth away, the world languisheth and fadeth away, the haughty people of the earth do languish.
Verse 4. - The earth... fadeth away. As a flower that fades and withers up (comp. Isaiah 1:30; Isaiah 28:1, 4; Isaiah 34:4, etc.; Psalm 1:3; Psalm 37:2). The world. Tabel has never any narrower sense than the entire "world," and must be regarded as fixing the meaning of arets in passages where (as here) the two are used as synonymous. The haughty people; or, the high ones. All the great are brought down, and laid low, that "the Lord alone may be exalted in that day" (cf. Isaiah 2:11-17).
The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant.
Verse 5. - The earth also is defiled. Hitherto the prophet has been concerned with the mere fact of a terrible judgment to be sent by God upon the whole world. Now he sets forth the cause of the fact. It is the old cause, which has reduced so many lauds to desolation, and which in the far-off times produced the Flood, viz. the wickedness of man (Genesis 6:5-13). The earth is "defiled" or "polluted" by the sins of its inhabitants, and has to be purged from the defilement by suffering. They have transgressed the laws. Apart from both Judaism and Christianity, all mankind have been placed by God under a double law:
1. The "law written in their hearts" (Romans 2:15), which speaks to them through their consciences, and lays them under an obligation that cannot be gainsaid.
2. The law of positive commands, given to the entire human race through the common progenitors, Adam and Noah, which is obligatory upon all to whom it has been traditionally handed down; but which has been only very partially handed down, and it is not generally felt as obligatory. Mankind has in all ages largely transgressed both laws, and both would seem to be pointed at in the present passage. The transgression of the "law written in the heart" is doubtless that which especially calls down God's vengeance, and makes him from time to time execute wrath on the whole world. Changed the ordinance; rather, broken, violated. Transgression in act is intended, not formal abrogation of the Divine ordinances. Broken the everlasting covenant. Mr. Cheyne supposes an allusion to the covenant made with Noah (Genesis 9:16); but it seems better to understand that "everlasting covenant" which exists between God and man, in virtue of the nature wherewith God has endowed man, and of the laws which he Ires impressed upon man's con. science. Sophocles well says of these laws, that they are
ὑψίποδες οὐρανίαν δι αἰθέρὰΝΛ´τεκνοθέντες ῶν Ὄλυμπος
πατὴρ μόνος οὐδέ νιν θνατὰ
φύσις αηνέρων ἔτικτεν οὐδὲ
μήν ποτε λάθα κατακοιμάσει Or -
"Laws that walk on high, begot and bred
In upper air, whose only sire is Heaven;
Nor did the race of mortals give them birth,
Nor will oblivion ever cause them sleep."
Therefore hath the curse devoured the earth, and they that dwell therein are desolate: therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men left.
Verse 6. - The curse; rather, a curse. God has pronounced a curse upon the earth on account of man's perversity; and hence the calamities which the earth is about to suffer. Are desolate; rather, are held as guilty (see Zechariah 11:5; and compare the marginal rendering of Psalm 5:10; Psalm 34:21). Are burned; or, scorched - shriveled up by the "burning anger" (Isaiah 30:27)and "fiery indignation" (Hebrews 10:27) of Jehovah.
The new wine mourneth, the vine languisheth, all the merryhearted do sigh.
Verse 7. - The new wine mourneth. Even when the joyous time of the vintage comes round, the earth is still sad, cannot shake off its depression or wake up to merriment. Even those most disposed to be "merry. hearted," under the dismal circumstances of the time can do nothing but "sigh."
The mirth of tabrets ceaseth, the noise of them that rejoice endeth, the joy of the harp ceaseth.
Verse 8. - The mirth of tabrets... of the harp ceaseth (comp. Isaiah 5:12). The feasting, and the drinking-songs, and the musical accompaniment, common at the vintage season, are discontinued. All is dismay and wretchedness - desolation in the present, worse desolation expected in the future.
They shall not drink wine with a song; strong drink shall be bitter to them that drink it.
Verse 9. - They shall not drink wine with a song. Men will still drink; they will seek to drown their care in wine; but they will not have the heart to attempt a song as they drink. Even in their cups they will be silent. Strong drink shall be bitter. By "strong drink" (shekar) seems to be meant any intoxicating liquor whatever, including wine. Many such liquors were drunk in Palestine (see 'Dict. of the Bible,' vol. 1. pp. 458, 459). All were more or less pleasant to the taste; but they would taste bitter to those who were warped and soured by the calamities of the time, which would prevent all enjoyment.
The city of confusion is broken down: every house is shut up, that no man may come in.
Verse 10. - The city of confusion is broken down. No special city seems to be intended. "Est urbis nomen collective capiendum" (Rosenmüller). Chaos (tohu) reigns in the cities, where there is no civic life, no government, no order, nothing but confusion. Every house is shut up; bolted and barred against intruders. There is no confidence, no friendly intercourse, no visiting.
There is a crying for wine in the streets; all joy is darkened, the mirth of the land is gone.
Verse 11. - There is a crying for wine in the streets. Wine, though still manufactured (see vers. 7, 9) is scarce, but is much sought after. Men clamor for it at the doors of the wine-shops, but are unable to obtain it. They crave for its exhilarating effects, or perhaps for the oblivion which it brings when drunk to excess. If they could obtain it, they would act as the Jews in the siege of Jerusalem (Isaiah 22:13). But they cannot. Hence even the factitious merriment, which wine is capable of producing, is denied now to the inhabitants of the earth, with whom all joy is darkened, from whom all mirth is gone.
In the city is left desolation, and the gate is smitten with destruction.
Verse 12. - The gate is smitten with destruction. The very gates of the towns, generally guarded with such care, are broken down and lie in ruins.
When thus it shall be in the midst of the land among the people, there shall be as the shaking of an olive tree, and as the gleaning grapes when the vintage is done.
Verse 13. - When thus it shall be; rather, for so shall it be. In the time described the condition of the earth shall be like to that of an olive-ground when the beating is done, or of a vineyard when (he grapes are gathered. That is, a small and scattered remnant of inhabitants shall alone be left, like the few grapes and olives that were the portion of the gleaners (cf. Isaiah 17:6). There shall be. These words are not needed, and should be erased. The nexus is, "so it shall be as the shaking [rather, 'beating'] of an olive tree."
They shall lift up their voice, they shall sing for the majesty of the LORD, they shall cry aloud from the sea.
Verse 14. - They shall lift up their voice. Even in this time of depression and ruin there shall he a "remnant," which will be faithful to God, and which, from the midst of the sufferings and calamities of the period, will "lift up its voice," in songs of adoration and praise, to Jehovah, and sing, or "send forth a cry." This chorus of praise will go forth - to a large extent - from the sea; i.e. from the Mediterranean.
Wherefore glorify ye the LORD in the fires, even the name of the LORD God of Israel in the isles of the sea.
Verse 15. - Wherefore glorify ye the Lord in the fires. The reading baiyyim, "in the fires," is doubtful. If it be regarded as sound, we must understand the "fiery trials" which were coming on the faithful remnant. But the LXX. seems to have had the reading baiyyim, "in the islands" or "in the coasts;" and so Lowth, Hitzig, and Mr. Oheyne.
From the uttermost part of the earth have we heard songs, even glory to the righteous. But I said, My leanness, my leanness, woe unto me! the treacherous dealers have dealt treacherously; yea, the treacherous dealers have dealt very treacherously.
Verse 16. - Glory to the righteous. The righteous remnant perceive that the calamities which have come upon the earth are ushering in a time of honor and glory for themselves; and they console themselves by making this fact the burden of some of their songs. Their honor, it must be remembered, is bound up with God's glory; which will not shine forth fully till their salvation is complete, and they "reign with him" in glory (2 Timothy 2:12). But I said, My leanness. The thought of this joyful time, when the saints shall reign with their Lord in a new heaven and a new earth, recalls the prophet (contrast being one of the laws of the association of ideas) to the misery of the present, and his own participation therein. A time of suffering, of wasting, and pining away must be endured - for how long he knows not - before the joyous consummation, towards which he stretches in hope and confident expectancy, can be reached. This is the period of his "leanness." The treacherous dealers, or ungodly of the earth, will bear sway during this period, and will deal treacherously and cruelly with God's saints, persecuting them incessantly in a thousand ways. Have dealt. The perfect of prophetic certainty.
Fear, and the pit, and the snare, are upon thee, O inhabitant of the earth.
Verse 17. - Fear, and the pit, and the snare, are upon thee. Man will be like a hunted animal, flying from pursuit, and in danger at each step of falling into a pit or being caught in a snare (comp. Jeremiah 48:43, 44, where the idea is borrowed from this place, and applied to a particular nation).
And it shall come to pass, that he who fleeth from the noise of the fear shall fall into the pit; and he that cometh up out of the midst of the pit shall be taken in the snare: for the windows from on high are open, and the foundations of the earth do shake.
Verse 18. - The noise of the fear; i.e. the sound of the pursuers. Hunters pursued their game with shouts and cries. The windows from on high are open (comp. Genesis 7:11). It is not actually another flood that is threatened, but it is a judgment as sweeping and destructive as the Flood.
The earth is utterly broken down, the earth is clean dissolved, the earth is moved exceedingly.
Verse 19. - The earth is utterly broken down. The material globe itself breaks up and perishes. It is "the crack of doom." Mr. Cheyne remarks that "the language imitates the cracking and bursting with which the present world shall pass away." The Authorized Version is very feeble compared to the original.
The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard, and shall be removed like a cottage; and the transgression thereof shall be heavy upon it; and it shall fall, and not rise again.
Verse 20. - The earth... shall be removed like a cottage; rather, sways to and fro like a hammock, Rosenmüller observes, "Alludit ad pensiles lectos, quos, metu ferrarum, in arboribus sibi parare solent, istis in terris, non custodes solum hortorum camporumve, sed et iter facientes." The transgression thereof shall be heavy upon it; i.e. the earth perishes on account of men's sins. It shall fall, and not rise again. The present earth is to disappear altogether, and to be superseded by "a new heaven and a new earth" (Revelation 21:1).
And it shall come to pass in that day, that the LORD shall punish the host of the high ones that are on high, and the kings of the earth upon the earth.
Verses 21-23. - THE SUPRAMUNDANE JUDGMENT, AND FINAL ESTABLISHMENT OF GOD'S KINGDOM. Upon the destruction of the world there is to supervene a visitation of those who have been specially instrumental in producing the great wickedness that has brought the world to an end. These most guilty ones are classified under two heads: they consist of
(1) the host of the high ones that are on high (literally, "the host of the height in the height"); and
(2) the kings of the earth upon the earth. These are to be "gathered together in the pit," and "shut up in the prison," and finally, after a long imprisonment, punished (vers. 21, 22). Then the visible reign of the Lord of hosts is to be established "in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem," and he is to rule in the presence of his "ancients" in glory (ver. 23). Verse 21. - In that day. About that time - in connection with the series of events just related. The Lord shall punish the host of the high ones. It is generally allowed that these high ones, set m contrast as they are with the "kings of the earth," must belong to the class of supramundane intelligences, spiritual beings of a high order. Some have inclined to identify them with the "patron-spirits of nations," spoken of by Daniel (Daniel 10:13, 20, 21); but those "patron-spirits" are among the elect and unfallen angels; they protect nations, but do not lead them into sin or wickedness; they have no need to be "visited," and will certainly not be "shut up in prison" with the wicked kings of the earth. The spirits here spoken of must belong to the class of fallen spirits - they must be included among those "principalities and powers," of whom St. Paul speaks (Ephesians 6:12), whom he calls "the rulers of the darkness of this world," and to whom he ascribes "spiritual wickedness in high places." The punishment of such spirits is, perhaps, shadowed forth in the eighty-second psalm; it was distinctly taught in the Book of Enoch; and it is glanced at by St. Jude in his Epistle (ver. 6). And the kings. Kings, especially kings in the Oriental sense, have an enormous influence over the nations which they govern, and therefore a heavy responsibility. The kings of the nations are viewed here as having brought about the general corruption and wickedness which has necessitated the destruction of the earth.
And they shall be gathered together, as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and shall be shut up in the prison, and after many days shall they be visited.
Verse 22. - In the pit; literally, in a dungeon. Mr. Cheyne suggests that sheol, or "hell," is meant; but the context points to some narrower confinement. In the prison; rather, in prison (comp. 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 1:6). After many days. In the Revelation (Revelation 20:2) Satan is bound "a thousand years;" i.e. an indefinite term. The imprisonment of the present passage is scarcely the same, but it is analogous. God's purposes require sometimes long periods of inaction. Shall they be visited; or, published. The word is the same as that translated "punish" in ver. 21. "Visiting" for good is scarcely to be thought of.
Then the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, when the LORD of hosts shall reign in mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, and before his ancients gloriously.
Verse 23. - The moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed. Some interpret this in the light of Joel 2:31; Joel 3:15; Matthew 24:29; Revelation 6:12, as pointing to that physical change, real or phenomenal, in the shining of the sun and moon, which is to be one of the antecedent signs of Christ's coming at the last day. But the expressions used suggest rather a contrast between the dazzling splendor of Christ's actual appearance and the normal brightness of sunlight and moonlight. The greater and lesser lights will "pale their ineffectual fires" before the incomparable brightness of the "Sun of Righteousness" (Malachi 4:2). When the Lord of hosts shall reign in Mount Zion, and in Jerusalem. The spiritual Zion and the heavenly Jerusalem can alone be meant, since the earth is no more (ver. 20). (On these, see Revelation 21, 22.) Before his ancients; or, his elders. Four and twenty elders, clothed in white raiment, with crowns of gold upon their heads, are represented in the Apocalypse as sitting round about the throne of God perpetually (Revelation 4:4), and worshipping God and the Lamb (Revelation 4:10; Revelation 5:8, 14).