Isaiah 8
Pulpit Commentary
Moreover the LORD said unto me, Take thee a great roll, and write in it with a man's pen concerning Mahershalalhashbaz.
Verses 1-4. - THE SIGN OF MAHER-SHALAL-HASH-BAZ. The sign of Immanuel was recondite. In its more spiritual sense it appealed to faith in an event far distant. Even in its literal import, it was not calculated to cheer and encourage more than a few, since neither the maiden nor the child was pointed out with any distinctness. A fresh sign was therefore given by God's goodness to reassure the mass of the people - a sign about which there was nothing obscure or difficult. Isaiah himself should have a son born to him almost immediately, to whom he should give a name indicating the rapid approach of the spoiler, and before this child should be able to utter the first words which childhood ordinarily pronounces, "Father," "Mother," Damascus and Samaria should be despoiled. Verse 1. - Take thee a great roll; rather, a large tablet. The word is the same as that used for "mirror" in Isaiah 3:23. Write in it with a man's pen; i.e. "write upon it with the pen used by ordinary men" - in opposition to the implements of an engraver. The tablet was probably to be hung up to view in a public place (comp. Isaiah 30:8), so that all might read, and the writing was therefore to be such as was in ordinary use. Concerning Maher-shalal-hash-baz. These were the words which were to be written on the tablet, which was to be otherwise left blank. They would naturally excite curiosity, like the strange names placarded in modern streets. The name is literally, "Plunder speeds, spoil hastens." It has been imitated by Goethe in his "Habebald-Eilebeute" ('Faust,' act 4. sc. 3).
And I took unto me faithful witnesses to record, Uriah the priest, and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah.
Verse 2. - And I took unto me; rather, and I will have taken for me. It is still God who is speaking. Uriah the priest. Probably the high priest of the time, mentioned in 2 Kings 16:10-16, as the ready tool of Ahaz at a later date. Though a bad man, he may have been a trustworthy witness to a fact. Zechariah. Perhaps the father of Abi or Abijah, Ahaz's queen (2 Kings 18:2; 2 Chronicles 29:1). It would serve to call public attention still more to the tablet, if it bore the names of two such eminent persons as witnesses.
And I went unto the prophetess; and she conceived, and bare a son. Then said the LORD to me, Call his name Mahershalalhashbaz.
Verse 3. - The prophetess. It is not necessary to suppose that the wife of Isaiah must have uttered prophecies because she is called "the prophetess." Titles were given in the East to the wives, daughters, etc., of officials, which merely reflected the dignity of their husbands, fathers, etc. Even Miriam seems to be called a "prophetess" (Exodus 15:20) from her close relationship to Moses, rather than from any supernatural power that she had. In the Mishna, a priest's wife or daughter is called "priestess" (Cheyne). Call his name. There is no reason for doubting that the name was actually given. Other Israelites had such names as Jushab-hosed (1 Chronicles 3:20), Haah-ashtari (1 Chronicles 4:6), Romamti-ezer (1 Chronicles 25:4), Machnadebai (Ezra 10:40), and the like. Assyrian names were even longer; e.g., As-shur-bel-nisi-su, Asshur-kinat-ili-kain, etc. In ordinary parlance, names of this type were commonly shortened, "Shalman-eser' becoming "Shalmau" (Hosea 10:14), "Sennacherib Jareb" (Hosea 10:6), and the like.
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.
Verse 4. - My father... my mother. "Abi," "Immi," would have been among the first utterances of childhood - simple sounds, combinations of primary vowels with labials, corresponding in easiness of utterance to "Pappy," "Mammy," rather than to the expressions of the text. A child commonly utters such sounds when it is about a year old. The riches of Damascus. The position of Damascus lay in the direct path of the main trade that was carried on between the West and East, which was conducted by the merchants of Tyro chiefly, and passed from the Syrian coast by way of Damascus and Tadmor to Nineveh and Babylon. This commerce greatly enriched the cities lying upon its route. "Damascus," says Ezekiel, addressing Tyre, "was thy merchant in the multitude of the wares of thy making, for the multitude of all riches; in the wine of Helbon, and white wool" (Ezekiel 27:18). The "palaces of Benhadad" seem to have been noted for their magnificence (Jeremiah 49:27; Amos 1:4). The spoil of Samaria shall be taken away before the King of Assyria. Scripture does not record the fulfillment of this prophecy, which makes the same Assyrian king carry off the spoil of Samaria and the spoil of Damascus, fixing also the time of the carrying off as within a few years of the time when the prophecy was given. But the inscriptions of Tiglath-Pileser himself supply the deficiency. They state that this monarch "sent the population, the goods of the people of Beth-Omri, and their furniture to the land of Assyria;" after which he "appointed Husih (Hoshea) to the dominion ever them," and fixed their annual tribute at two talents of gold and a thousand talents of silver (see 'Records of the Past,' vol. 5. p. 52).
The LORD spake also unto me again, saying,
Verses 5-10. - THE FLOOD OF ASSYRIAN INVASION WILL PASS FROM SYRIA AND SAMARIA INTO JUDAEA, BUT WILL THERE BE ARRESTED. Syria and Samaria were barriers, breakwaters, so placed as to stem the tide of invasion, and be a defense to Judaea against Assyrian attack. When once they were overwhelmed, the waters would have free course, and the submersion of Judaea was certain. It might be delayed by the Divine favor, and would be, so long as the people, or even a remnant of them, remained faithful, but only through the might of the name Immanuel, "God with us."
Forasmuch as this people refuseth the waters of Shiloah that go softly, and rejoice in Rezin and Remaliah's son;
Verse 6. - Forasmuch as this people. It is a question which people is intended, Judah or Israel. Ewald supposes Judah, and draws the conclusion that there was a strong party in Jerusalem which favored "the son of Tabeal." Dr. Kay does the same, but understands the charge against Judah to be, not that it sympathized with Rezin, but that it fell into the same sins. Other commentators suggest that Israel is the people intended (as in Isaiah 9:16), the sense being carried on from ver. 4, where the word "Samaria" is suggestive of the Israelite people. Refuseth the waters of Shiloah. The "pool of Siloah" (Nehemiah 3:15) was the tank or reservoir at the southwestern foot of Ophel, which is supplied with water by a narrow conduit cut through the limestone rock for a distance of 1750 feet from the "Pool of the Virgin" on the opposite side of Ophel, in the Kedron valley. This pool itself is fed from reservoirs under the temple area, which have not yet been fully explored. It is probable that Isaiah uses the expression "waters of Shiloah" in a general sense for the streams, springs, reservoirs, conduits, which supplied the temple, and were connected with its service. "Refusing the waters of Shiloah" would then be, without any violent metaphor, refusing the temple service and worship, which was exactly what the Israelites had done from the time of Jeroboam. That go softly. In contrast with the "waters of the river, strong and many," of the next verse. They who refused the mild and gentle government of Jehovah should experience the impetuous and torrent-like rush of the Assyrian armies. Rejoice in Rezin; rather, rejoice with Rezin; i.e. sympathize with him, rejoice when he rejoices.
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:
Verse 7. - The waters of the river, strong and many. "The river" is, of course, the Euphrates, as in Isaiah 7:20. In its lower course the Euphrates often overflows its banks, and inundates the adjacent districts, causing vast damage to crops, and some-limes threatening to break down the walls of cities (Loftus, 'Chaldea and Susiana,' p. 7). It is scarcely likely, however, that Isaiah had any acquaintance with this fact. His experience would probably have been limited to the "swellings of Jordan" (Jeremiah 12:5; comp. Joshua 3:15). All his glory (comp. Isaiah 10:12, 16, 18, etc.). He shall come up over all his channels. A graphic description of the swelling of rivers in the East. These, when they are low, contract their waters from the many channels, in which they ordinarily flow, into some one or two, leaving the others dry. The first effect of a flood is to fill all the channels, after which it may proceed further and overflow the 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.
Verse 8. - And he shall pass through Judah; rather, he shall pass on into Judah ("He shall sweep onward into Judah," Revised Version). The Assyrians will not be content with invading Syria and Samaria; they will "pass on into Judaea." It is not clear whether this is to be done immediately by Tiglath-Pileser, or by one of his successors at a later date. There is reason to believe from Tiglath-Pileser's inscriptions that he used the territory of Ahaz for the passage of his armies as those of a vassal king, but did not ravage them. He shall reach even to the neck. The Assyrian attacks on Judaea shall stop short of destroying it. The flood shall not submerge the head, but only rise as high as the neck. This prophecy was fulfilled, since it was not Assyria, but Babylon, which destroyed the Jewish kingdom. The stretching out of his wings shall fill the breadth of thy land. The Assyrian armies shall visit every part of the land. The sudden change of metaphor is in the manner of Isaiah (see Isaiah 1:30, 31; Isaiah 5:24, 30, etc.). O Immanuel. On the importance of this address, as indicating the kingly, and so (probably) the Divine character of Immanuel, see the notes on Isaiah 7:14. Isaiah could not speak of the land as belonging to his own infant son.
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.
Verse 9. - Associate yourselves. It is impossible to obtain this meaning from the existing Hebrew text, which must be translated, "Be ahoy," or "Rage" ("Make an uproar," Revised Version). The prophet passes from the consideration of the opposition offered to Jehovah by Israel, Syria, and Assyria, to a general consideration of all the nations of the earth. He challenges them to the combat against Jehovah, and confidently predicts their defeat. O ye people; rather, O ye peoples (compare the corresponding expression in the next clause, "All ye of far countries").
Take counsel together, and it shall come to nought; speak the word, and it shall not stand: for God is with us.
Verse 10. - Take counsel together; literally, devise a device; i.e. form some plan, even the cleverest possible, against God's people, and the result will be utter failure. It shall not stand (comp. Isaiah 7:7). For God is with us. In the Hebrew, ki 'immanu-El, "for with us (is) God" words declarative of the true meaning of the name which God had made a sign to his people (Isaiah 7:14). It was his being "with them" that could alone save them from their enemies.
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,
Verses 11-16. - THE GROUNDS OF ISAIAH'S CONFIDENCE. Having declared his absolute confidence, not only that the attack of Pekah and Rezin will fail (vers. 1-4), but that Assyria also (ver. 8), nay, that all the nations of the earth (ver. 9) will fail, and bring destruction upon themselves, if they "devise devices" against God's true people, the prophet explains the ground of his confidence by relating a special "instruction" which he had received from God some time previously, he had been bidden to separate himself from the mass of his countrymen in thought and feeling, and to cling only to Jehovah, who would "be for a Sanctuary" (ver. 14) to his own, but "for a Stone of stumbling and a Rock of offence" to all others. Verse 11. - For the Lord. Mr. Cheyne regards this passage as "a short oracle, complete in itself," and entirely unconnected with what has preceded. But the initial ki, "for," is in that case inexplicable. Spake thus to me with a strong hand; literally, with strength of hand - i.e. laying a strong grasp upon him; and, as it were, constraining him to attend (comp. Ezekiel 1:3; Ezekiel 3:14, 22, etc.). That I should not walk in the way of this people. Isaiah was bidden not to "follow a multitude to evil" (Exodus 23:2). It was not merely idolatry against which he was warned, but the whole spirit and tone of the society of his day. He was not to entertain their suspicions, or to hope their hopes, or to fear their fears. He was to take a line of his own, to fear God and him only; then God would be "for a Sanctuary" to him.
Say ye not, A confederacy, to all them to whom this people shall say, A confederacy; neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid.
Verse 12. - Say ye not. The transition from the singular to the plural is noticeable. It implies that Isaiah did not stand alone, but had followers - a "little flock," it may be - but still enough to give him the support of sympathy (comp. ver. 16). A confederacy; rather, treason, or conspiracy (see 2 Samuel 15:12; 1 Kings 16:20; 2 Kings 11:12; 2 Kings 12:20; Jeremiah 11:9; Ezekiel 22:25, etc.). The command is, not to call a course of conduct treasonable simply because the people generally so call it. Jeremiah was charged with treason for preaching the hopelessness of offering resistance to Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 20:1; Jeremiah 26:8-11). Those who opposed an Assyrian alliance were probably now taxed with treason. To all them to whom; rather, everything which. Translate the entire clause thus: Call ye not conspiracy everything which this people shall call conspiracy. Neither fear ye their fear. They feared man (Isaiah 7:2). Isaiah and his disciples are commanded to fear no one but God.
Sanctify the LORD of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.
Verse 13. - Sanctify the Lord of hosts. God was sanctified by being believed in (Numbers 20:12). They who feared Rezin and Pekah, despite of God's assurances that their design should fail, did not believe in him, and so did not "sanctify" him.
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.
Verse 14. - He shall be for a Sanctuary (comp. Ezekiel 11:16, "Yet will I be to them as a little Sanctuary"). A sanctuary is "a refuge" (Psalm 90:1; Psalm 91:9), and something more. It is a holy refuge, a place which is a refuge because of its holiness. Its material counterpart in the Mosaic system is, not "the city of refuge," but the altar (1 Kings 1:50; 1 Kings 2:28). Both the houses of Israel; i.e. "the two reigning houses of Samaria and Judaea," both of which were Israelite. Both the "houses" would ultimately forsake Jehovah, and find in him a "Snare" and a "Rock of offense."
And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken.
Verse 15. - Many among them (so the Vulgate, Ewald, Delitzsch, and Knobel). But most others translate, "Many shall stumble thereon,"i.e. on the stone and the rock (Rosenmüller, Gesenius, Vance Smith, Kay, Cheyne). Fall, and be broken. The effect of stumbling against a stone (Matthew 21:44; Luke 20:18). Be snared, and be taken. The effect of being caught in a gin (Psalm 9:15, 16).
Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples.
Verse 16. - Bind up the testimony, etc. The words are still those of Jehovah, addressed to his servant Isaiah. God commands that the prophecy shall be written in a roll, which is then to be carefully tied with a string and sealed, for future use. Seal the Law; rather, the instruction - the advice given in vers. 12-15 (comp. Daniel 12:4).
And I will wait upon the LORD, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him.
Verses 17, 18. - ISAIAH DEFINES HIS OWN ATTITUDE AND THAT OF HIS CHILDREN. It is questioned whether something has not fallen out between vers. 16 and 17. The transition is exceedingly abrupt, undoubtedly; but perhaps not more abrupt than elsewhere in Isaiah and the prophets contemporary with him. The Divine "instruction" comes to an end in ver. 16; and Isaiah might have been expected to comment on it, or enforce its teaching; but he does neither. He simply states what his own attitude will be under the coming calamity (ver. 8). He will "wait for the Lord and look to him" (ver. 17), and consider himself and his children as doing a work for God in being "signs" (ver. 18) - signs to which the rest of Israel may look, and from which they may derive sufficient hope and confidence to carry them through the dark time which is approaching. Verse 17. - I will wait upon the Lord; rather, I will wait for the Lord; i.e. "await the time of his relenting" (see Isaiah 30:18; Isaiah 64:4, etc.). That hideth his face from the house of Jacob (compare the threats in Deuteronomy 31:17; Deuteronomy 32:20). The light of God's countenance is to the spiritual what that of the sun is to the material world. All life, health, joy, happiness, proceed from it. This light was now to be withdrawn for a time on account of the people's sins. But Isaiah would "wait" for its reappearance.
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.
Verse 18. - I and the children... are for signs. Isaiah's children seem to have been "for signs," especially in respect of their names. Shear-Jashub meant "A remnant shall return" (Isaiah 10:21), and thus held out two hopes; one that a remnant of Israel would return to God and become his true servants, another that a remnant would return from the captivity that had been prophesied (Isaiah 5:13). Maher-shalal-hash-baz - "Plunder speeds, spoil hastens" - was a "sign" of a different kind. Primarily, his name referred to the spoiling of Damascus and Samaria (vers. 3, 4); but it may further have indicated a time of general disturbance, plunder, and ravage. It is not quite clear in what respects Isaiah was a "sign." Perhaps he, too, in his name, which meant "(Our) salvation is Jehovah" - certainly also in his symbolical acts (Isaiah 20:3), and possibly in the firmness of his faith, which never wavered. From the Lord of hosts; literally, from by the Lord of hosts - an expression like the French de chez. God had supernaturally appointed the sign in one case (vers. 1-4), but in the other two had merely brought them about by the secret working of his providence. But the prophet treats all three as coming equally from him. Which dwelleth in Mount Zion. Hero, again, is encouragement. God has not quitted Zion. The Shechinah still rests between the cherubim in the holy of holies. While this is so, God is still with his people (Immanuel).
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?
Verses 19-22. - ISAIAH RECOMMENDS LOOKING TO GOD AND THE REVEALED WORD RATHER THAN TO NECROMANCY. AFFLICTION WILL BRING ISRAEL TO GOD. Isaiah returns, in ver. 19, to the consideration of his disciples. In the terrible times impending, they will be recommended to have recourse to necromancy; he urges that they should look to God and the Law. He then further suggests that, in the coming affliction which he describes (vers. 21, 22), men will generally turn for relief to the same quarter (ver. 20). Verse 19. - Seek unto them that have familiar spirits. In times of great distress the Israelites seem always to have been tempted to consult those among them who pretended to magic and divination. So Saul in the Philistine war resorted to the witch of Endor (1 Samuel 28:7-20); Manasseh, threatened by Esar-haddon, "used enchantments, and dealt with familiar spirits and wizards" (2 Kings 21:6). Israel generally, oppressed by Syria and Assyria, "used divination and enchantments" (2 Kings 17:17). There was the same inclination now on the part of many Jews. The vexed question of the actual powers possessed by such persons cannot be discussed within the limits of a footnote. It has, moreover, already been treated in the present Commentary, in connection with Leviticus 19:31. Wizards that peep, and that mutter; rather, that chirp and mutter. Tricks of the ventriloquists, probably, who disguised their voices, and represented that they were the voices of ghosts (comp. Isaiah 29:4). The natural speech of some tribes has been compared to the "chirping of birds" (Herod., 4:183; Hornemann, 'Travels,' p. 119). Should not a people, etc.? Very abrupt and elliptical Isaiah means to say, "Do not attend to them; but answer, Should not a people," etc.? For the living. This may either mean "instead of the living," or "on behalf of the living seek to the dead?" or, Would not that be plainly preposterous?
To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.
Verse 20. - To the Law and to the testimony. A sort of watchword or battle-cry, to be used by the faithful when God's enemies assailed them. Compare Gideon's cry (Judges 7:18), "For the Lord and for Gideon." If they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them; rather, Surely they will speak according to this word, when there is no dawn for them; i.e. when they are plunged in darkness (ver. 22) and distress, and see no prospect of better days, surely they - the people generally - will rally to this cry, and repeat it, "For the Law and for the testimony." They will not always trust in necromancy.
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.
Verses 21, 22 are supposed by some to be cut of place, and to belong properly to the description of the Assyrian invasion, given in vers. 7, 8. But this bold solution of a difficulty is scarcely to be commended, there being no limit to its use. An order followed in all the manuscripts should not be disturbed, if it gives any tolerable sense. Such a sense can, it is thought, be found here by regarding the two verses as exegetical of the last clause of ver. 20 - "when there is no dawn for them." Verse 21. - They shall pass through it. "It," which is feminine, must mean "the land." The Jews left in it shall wander about it (comp. Isaiah 7:21-25), seeking pasture for the remnant of their cattle. They shall fret themselves; rather, they shall be deeply angered (Cheyne). And curse their king and their God. As the causes of their sufferings. And look upward. Not in hope, but in rage and defiance.
And they shall look unto the earth; and behold trouble and darkness, dimness of anguish; and they shall be driven to darkness.
Verse 22. - They shall look unto the earth. For necessary nutriment, or simply as the place to which downcast and despairing eyes are turned naturally. They shall be driven to darkness. So Kay, who thinks the Captivity is meant; but it seems better to render the whole passage, with Mr. Cheyne, "They shall look to earth, and behold, distress and darkness, gloom of affliction, and thick darkness driven (upon them)." The darkness is spoken of as if it were a thing palpable, like rain or snow (comp. Exodus 10:21).

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