The burden of the valley of vision. What ails you now, that you are wholly gone up to the housetops?
I. THE PROPHET AS SPECTATOR. The valley of vision seems to mean Jerusalem as a whole, round about which are mountains (Psalm 125:2); the city is spoken of, when compared with the surrounding mountains, as the "inhabitant of the valley," otherwise as the "rock of the plain" (Jeremiah 21:13; comp. 17:3). If Isaiah is gazing from his house in the lower town, the city would appear as in a valley in relation to the mountains inside as much as those outside (Delitzsch). He sees the whole population crowded together on the house-tops, and the air is filled with the uproar of merriment. The house-tops were places of resort at festival-time (Judges 16:27; Nehemiah 8:16).
II. THE MIRTH OF DESPAIR. It was famine and pestilence which, forcing the people into despair, had brought about this mad rebound of hollow merriment. The slain of the city had not been slain upon the field; but the crowding in of fugitives from the country had occasioned the plague. The description reminds us of Zephaniah's picture of Nineveh: "This is the rejoicing city that dwelt carelessly, that said in her heart, I am, and there is none beside me" (Zephaniah 2:15). And again we think of scenes in connection with the plagues in the Italian cities of the Middle Ages, when revelry and story-telling are said to have gone on amongst groups who had withdrawn themselves from the horrors around them. How terrible the contrast between the dark background of calamity and this hollow feverish exhibition of merriment in the foreground! "I said of laughter, What is it?" Let us thank God for the precious gift of humor. Its light, lambently playing upon the sternest and most awful scenes and imagery of the mind, was given to relieve the tragedy of life. In melancholy minds the source of humor is deeply seated. But how different the cheerfulness which springs from the sense that the scheme of things is sound and right, that "God's in his heaven, all's right with the world," and that which confronts a hopeless future with mad defiance! There is something lurid, ominous, in the latter, full of foreboding; and the scene in Jerusalem may be dwelt upon as typical of the ill-timed mirth of the sinner when danger is impending, soon to be quenched in silence and night. The rulers have fled away from the devoted city; in the face of the enemy they have flung down their bows and yielded themselves prisoners. All is lost.
III. THE FORECAST OF DOOM.
1. The grief of type prophet. In warm patriotism he identifies himself with his city and his people, and gives way to bitter tears; a prototype of Jesus in later days, looking on the doomed city, perhaps, from some similar point of view. We are reminded also of Jeremiah, whose heart "fainted" under a similar sense of the miseries of the people, and who exclaims, "Oh that my head were full of waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might bewail the slain of my people!" (Jeremiah 4:31; Jeremiah 9:1). These are living examples of compassion, and of true patriotic feeling, including a true Church feeling. "We are altogether unworthy of being reckoned in the number of the children of God, and added to the holy Church, if we do not dedicate ourselves and all that we have to the Church in such a manner that we are not separate from it in any respect. Especially the ministers of the Word ought to be moved by this feeling of grief, because, being appointed to keep watch and to look at a distance, they ought also to groan when they perceive the tokens of approaching ruin" (Calvin).
2. The siege and capture. "We seem to see and hear the last hurrying stages of the siege and capture" (Cheyne). In one of the valleys the hosts of the enemy are seen thickly trampling and spreading dismay and confusion all around. As the undermining of the walls by the siege artillery goes on, cries of woe beat against the surrounding hills, and are echoed back again. The terrible famed bowmen of Elam (comp. Jeremiah 49:35)and the people of Kir, together forming, as it would seem, the vanguard of Assyria, are seen advancing. The valleys about the city, all teeming with associations of the past - Kedron, Gihon, Rephaim, Hinnom - are ploughed by hoofs of horses and wheels of chariots; and the foe is drawn up in column, ready to enter the "great gate," so soon as it shall be broken down by the battering-rams.
3. The state of the inhabitants. Jehovah draws aside the curtain from Judah. This may mean
(1) he exposes their weakness to the enemy; or
(2) he takes away the blindness of the people to their danger.
Probably the former. In either case the hand of an overruling Providence is recognized. The "forest house," or arsenal built by Solomon on Zion, is examined (1 Kings 7:2; 1 Kings 10:17; cf. Isaiah 39:2). The "city of David," i.e. the fortress on Mount Zion, is inspected by the leading men, and the numerous breaches in the walls are observed. They survey the houses, and take material from them to repair the wall. They concentrate the water-supply in one reservoir - the "lower pool," and form a basin between the two walls. These preparations may be compared with those of Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 32:2-5).
IV. FATAL FORGETFULNESS. All these precautions would be too late! A dreadful word! And why?
1. The Divine counsel has been forgotten. "Hast thou not heard long ago, how I have done it; and of ancient times, that I have formed it? now have I brought it to pass" (Isaiah 37:26). These harpers, and violinists, and tabret-players, and feasters have not "regarded the work of Jehovah, nor considered the operation of his hands" (Isaiah 5:12). Self-reliance may be religious, or it may mean an attempt to be independent of God, and so end in alienation from God. How feeble and how foolish policy must become if from the first it ignores the Divine will, and at the last only comes to acknowledge a destiny above human might and human calculation! The idea of all that will be exists in the mind of God; we may know something of his meaning by constantly consulting the "living oracles," by truthful thinking, by loyal acting - in a word, by communion with the living God. What can attention to ramparts and ditches and reservoirs avail, if men have not found their defense in God? If he be trusted, what is there to fear? If he be denied, what can shield from calamity? "The fate of Jerusalem is said to have been fashioned long ago in God, But Jerusalem might have averted its realization, for it was no absolute decree. It Jerusalem repented, that realization would be averted" (Delitzsch).
2. Divine warnings have been neglected. God had called - in that day; at every critical time. By many ways he speaks - by the living and passionate tones of prophet and brother man, by the general course of events, by the touch of sorrow, by the hints of personal experience. There is a time for everything under the sun; to know our opportunity makes the wisdom of the world; to know the "time of our visitation" is the wisdom of heaven. But, alas! the Jews knew it not; "rushing to the banquet-table with despair in their hearts, and wasting the provisions which ought to have been husbanded for the siege." "Let us cat and drink; for tomorrow we die." The sensualism of despair (Cheyne). When the light of life, bright faith and hope toward God, dies out, what remains but to counterfeit its glow by some artificial illumination, kindled from the tow of physical excitement? A love of life which scoffs at death (Delitzsch). 'Tis dangerous to scoff; to scoff at the great scoffer Death, what is this but the last extreme of self-abandonment? And does not despair imply the last sin we can commit? And is not recklessness its evidence? And follows there not upon all this the shadow of a state unforgiven, a mind eternally unreconciled? Who can but tremble as he meditates on these things? "Probably if the real feeling of the great mass of worldly men were expressed, they could not be better expressed than in the language of Isaiah: 'We must soon die, at all events; we cannot avoid that - it is the common doom of all. And since we have been sent into a dying world; since we have had no agency in being placed here; since it is impossible to prevent this doom, - we may as well enjoy life while it lasts, and give ourselves to pleasure and revelry. While we can, we will take our comfort, and, when death comes, we will submit to it, because we cannot avoid it'" (Barnes). But such argumentation cannot really satisfy the conscience. Blessed the Word which evermore, in the mercy of the Eternal, calls to repentance, and reminds us that "now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation!" - J.
Parallel VersesKJV: The burden of the valley of vision. What aileth thee now, that thou art wholly gone up to the housetops?