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Commentary on Isaiah 13-23.

By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons) London DD.

Isaiah’s Oracles Against The Nations (13-23).

Introduction.

In this series of oracles against the nations, interspersed with other prophecies, which are to be seen as in contrast with the glorious song of triumph in chapter 12, Isaiah reveals his awareness of God’s sovereignty over the nations. He is revealing that while His people will finally triumph, the nations of the known world must also all finally bow before Him in one way or another. The future of all of them is in His hands. In the end every knee will bow to Him, and every tongue confess to God.

But the second lesson that is also continually prominent, is what folly it would be for Israel to rely on these nations for their security. It is made clear that they cannot even deliver themselves, how then can they be relied on to deliver others? For it will be noted that the specific ‘burdens’ all concern peoples who in one way or another sought to influence Israel/Judah to rebel against Assyria. By seeking to influence God’s people in ways not conducive to faith in Yahweh they came within God’s notice.

Israel/Judah lived in an international world, with the constant to and fro of information and trade, and the constant attempts by some to enter into alliances with others to further their own aims. This was partly the cause of their downfall, for it regularly meant that they took their eyes off God, preferring to trust in others. Thus they forgot that they had been separated out to be a holy nation, to be God’s own people, so that they could be a kingdom of priests to the people. And at this time nothing was more relevant.

The oracles outline a number of ‘burdens’. The word is expressive. It was not easy to be a prophet of Yahweh, and the burden of the judgment that Isaiah proclaimed was heavy on him, even though it was followed sometimes by promises of deliverance. These burdens are stated to be: of Babylon (13.1); of Philistia (14.28); of Moab (15.1); of Damascus, but including northern Israel (17.1); of Egypt (19.1); of the wilderness of the sea - to do with the fall of Babylon (21.1); of Dumah (21.11); on Arabia (21.13); of the valley of vision, concerning Judah (22.1); and of Tyre (23.1), ten in all, a number indicating completeness. Apart from Babylon, and, of course, themselves, these were the nations that surrounded Israel and Judah and all without exception, including Babylon, suffered at the hands of Assyria.

The ten can be divided into two sequences of five, each significantly headed by Babylon as the most ominous of them all. Note that northern Israel comes fourth in the first five (although humiliatingly being included under Damascus as the one on whom they relied, a judgment in itself) and Judah fourth in the second five. Egypt, the power to the south ends the first five, Tyre the maritime power to the north ends the second five. Thus the series is carefully patterned.

We note immediately that Assyria is not mentioned in the list, for the list is of those opposed to Assyria, and the resulting consequences for them. But its looming presence is made clear (20.1-6), and it is Assyria along with Egypt will enjoy the future blessing of God (19.23-25). Besides, Isaiah has already declared judgment on Assyria in 10.12-19, 33-34, and that is confirmed in 14.24-27. But that was not a ‘burden’ because they were the ones who afflicted the nations and would deserve all that they received. What came to them would be due to their behaviour towards the world and especially towards God’s people. The burden was with regard to what would happen to these other nations in the future, mainly through Assyria. Assyria will briefly receive further mention in 14.24-27, but having already received its sentence of judgment from Yahweh (10.12-19) it is no longer important from that point of view. Isaiah’s thoughts have turned more towards the future of those who oppose Assyria and seek to influence Judah. But among all these nations engaged in conspiracy against Assyria one stands out, and that is Babylon whose destruction is mentioned twice. We will therefore now consider Babylon.

Babylon.

It should be noted that Babylon is mentioned twice, and is first in each group. That is because Isaiah sees it as above all others the great enemy of God. It looms large over all the others, and is depicted as the essence of evil. But it should be noted that it is numbered among the ten and is not described as though it was a large empire. Indeed Isaiah never mentions Babylon in such terms. Always he is speaking of the city and its immediate locality.

No one who reads chapters 13-23 can fail to notice the difference between the first burden, and the remaining nine burdens. All the others (including the second one on Babylon) speak of devastation by the enemy who is coming with no thought of it being permanent. But the first burden is clearly pronounced in apocalyptic terms (13.9-13) and results in eternal destruction (13.19-20). In none of the others is their king mentioned, but in the first the king of Babylon is described in supernatural terms (14.12-14). It can be seen as parallel with the similar picture of world destruction in chapter 24.

Babylon is thus mentioned initially because he saw it as the epitome of evil. It alone faces a future without hope (13.20). This was possibly accentuated for Isaiah because he saw that it was largely Babylon who would seek to influence God’s people against Assyria (39.1-8), and foresaw that it would be a great threat to Israel/Judah in the future (39.6-7). But in the final analysis it is important to him because behind that threat he sees the Babylon which is the great earthly rival of God (Once he begins to deal with the question of Babylon he recognises that he is dealing with something which is not just of the ordinary. That is why Babylon is dealt with twice, firstly as the primeval enemy (13-14), and then secondly as one of the rebels (21.1-10).

To Isaiah Babylon expressed all that opposed God. It was the Babel of old which from the beginning had sought to conquer and establish an empire under Nimrod (Genesis 10.9-11). It was the dreaded Babel that had sought to build a tower up to Heaven and had caused the nations to be scattered, the primeval enemy (Genesis 11.1-9). It was the leader of the enemies of Abraham who had invaded Canaan and had carried Lot off captive (as Shinar - Genesis 14.1). It was the great centre of the occult with its huge quantities of magicians and soothsayers (chapter 47). It was the Babylon whose great traditions of the past and whose impact on history were well known through extant literary works. It was the great city Babylon that was known throughout the world, and had been known for centuries past, for its corrupt splendour, and for its mysterious and mystical knowledge off the gods. It was the city that lorded itself, through its king, above the stars, even to heaven itself (14.12-14). It was the city that called itself ‘the Beauty’, ‘the glory of the kingdoms’ (13.19; compare 2 Samuel 1.19 and the use of the word in Deuteronomy 26.19; Psalm 96.6; Isaiah 62.3). It was the ultimate enemy of God (14.13-14).

To see this as a prophecy of the later defeat of the Babylonian empire would be to miss the point. Isaiah is not concerned with that (he nowhere suggests that he knows of it). He is concerned with Babylon because of what it is. It is a symbol. For to him Babylon was no ordinary nation. This is demonstrated by the way in which the description of the judgment he pronounces on them is given in very general, even apocalyptic, terms, demonstrating how he views them. In the end he sees Babylon as the great apocalyptic threat to the world, and to Yahwism, a threat that must be destroyed, an idea taken up in Revelation.

A glance at chapter 13 brings out that the description of the judgment on Babylon is seen as specifically orchestrated by God, and is because of their overweening pride and grandiose, universal claims, and it is mainly anonymous. It is only in verse 17 that the passage becomes more specific, and in that verse there is reference to attack by the Medes. But that is not because the Medes are seen as the sole attackers, for they are only one among many gathered nations, mainly anonymous (13.4-5). Indeed in 21.2 they are paralleled with Elam in the attack on Babylon. It is because the Medes are seen as particularly voracious opponents. And we immediately gain from the passage the firm impression that Babylon is to be seen as the enemy of the whole world, and as doomed by God. It is the Great Enemy. There is therefore no morsel of hope for Babylon. This is in contrast with all the other nations mentioned. (Although it will also later be true of Edom in chapter 34, who are seen as the great Betrayer).

Note that Babylon is said to be attacked by ‘the nations’, and the point is made that Babylon is doomed because of its overweening pride (verse 11) and because of what it is, not because of its treatment of Judah and Jerusalem, or because of any empire it may gain. It is God’s enemy waiting to be destroyed. For it is the great subversive. And the passage then leads on to describe Babylon’s final and ultimate doom. So Isaiah foresees the attacks of the anonymous nations on Babylon as because they are God’s ultimate enemy who must be destroyed.

In considering this we must recognise the purpose of prophecy. Prophecy was not primarily in order that people might later say, ‘look, the prophecy has been fulfilled. How marvellous!’ (although that often followed and is regularly called on as evidence later in Isaiah). It was in order to declare what God was going to do, and in some way bring it about. So the point in these two chapters is not to ‘foretell the future’ about Babylon in specific terms, it is to bring out what Babylon essentially is and to emphasise the fact that Babylon’s fate will be at the hands of God and to render it inevitable.

But why should Babylon be so important, and why should it become so prominent in Isaiah’s thinking at this time?

The answer to the first question lies in the very nature of Babylon. From its very foundation it was the enemy of the world (Genesis 10.9-11), and within a short time it had tried to invade Heaven itself (Genesis 11.1-9). Furthermore when invaders arrived in Abraham’s Canaan, Shinar (Babylon) was prominent among them (Genesis 14.1), while in contemporary history Babylon was renowned throughout the world for its splendour and its interest in the occult.

The answer to the second question may lie in chapter 39. Merodach Baladan, king of Babylon, which had also at this time been under Assyria’s domination, and had broken free, or was considering doing so, had sent ambassadors to Hezekiah, king of Judah, seeking to arouse him to take part in a conspiracy against Assyria. Hezekiah had responded with willingness, and had shown all his resources and treasures to the ambassadors. But when Isaiah learned of it his heart grew cold. He was wise enough to know that such powerful nations, and especially Babylon the primeval empire builder, were not safe allies for smaller nations, and God showed to Isaiah the dreadful significance of this willingness to trust in Babylon rather than in Yahweh. Just as Israel had been smitten and taken into exile because it had trusted in Rezin and Syria (5.13; 8.5-7) so would Judah be smitten, and the sons of David be taken into exile, because it had trusted in the king of Babylon and had revealed to him its riches (39.6-7 compare 6.11-12). Thus did Babylon come to his immediate attention, bringing back to him all that he knew about Babylon..

That is no doubt why, at the news of appeals from and possible association with Babylon, Isaiah was so horrified. Other treaties were bad enough, but a treaty with Babylon by the people of God? It could not be condoned. For as we have seen his dread reached back further in time. Did Hezekiah not realise what Babylon was? Did he not know that it was from ancient times the rabid empire builder? That it was the Babel of old which from the beginning had sought to conquer and establish an empire under Nimrod (Genesis 10.9-11)? That it was Babel who had sought to build a tower up to Heaven and had caused the nations to be scattered, the primeval enemy (Genesis 11.1-9)? That it was the prime enemy of Abraham, an enemy which had invaded Canaan and had carried Lot off captive (as Shinar - Genesis 14)? That it was the great centre of the occult with its great quantities of magicians and soothsayers (chapter 47)? That it was the city that lorded itself, through its king, above the stars, even to heaven itself (14.12-14)? That it was the city that called itself ‘the Beauty’, ‘the glory of the kingdoms’ (13.19; compare 2 Samuel 1.19 and the use of the word in Deuteronomy 26.19; Psalm 96.6; Isaiah 62.3)? That it was the ultimate enemy of God (14.13-14).

And that is why this prophecy against Babylon is given in universal terms. The picture is of the whole of the known world round about raised up against Babylon. Here Babylon was not part of a conspiracy. It was not an empire controlling many nations. It was itself the enemy of the nations. For Isaiah wanted it recognised that Babylon was doomed of God at the hands of the world because of what it represented, ultimate rebellion against God (this picture is again brought out in Revelation 17-18). Let Judah take note. Babylon was no safe refuge, for it was the enemy of all men.

That end would not in fact come immediately, although Isaiah would not have known it. Time was not his to determine. What he was called on to do was reveal God’s final intentions regardless of time. He nowhere speaks of it as a world empire. We have no reason to think that he thought of it in that way. Assyria was the world empire, seeking to control the world. But Babylon was worse than that. It stood out stark and alone. It was the primeval enemy of God. It was all that was worst in the idea of ‘the City’ in its opposition to God (compare 24.10; 25.2, 3; 26.5).

Babylon and Babylonia were in fact invaded by the nations any number of times before the final cessation of Babylon as a city. It had been constantly in the past, for it was constantly seeking to rid itself of the Assyrian yoke. Indeed it often enjoyed periods of full independence (and succeeded in the end) and Isaiah himself was witness of the time when Sargon II of Assyria, having for a time lost control of Babylonia, finally invaded and sacked Babylon, accompanied by the Medes over whom he had established his authority. And Sargon actually described its demise in Assyrian annals in similar terms to here. Some of its inhabitants were transported to Samaria, while Israelites were transported to Media (2 Kings 17.6), which confirms the prominent participation of the Medes in the general events. So this ‘burden’ may very well come on Isaiah around that time.

Babylon rebelled again when Sargon died, only again to be defeated, but in a later rebellion a decade later they were more successful and did at one stage defeat Sennacherib’s army. But only for Sennacherib to return and exact his revenge. It was at that stage that he removed the gods of Babylon and took them back to Assyria as described in 46.1-2. Some think that it was because he was aware that Sennacherib would return with an even larger army that the overtures to Hezekiah by Merodach Baladan of Babylon (39.1), which Isaiah condemned (39.4-7), occurred around this time, although most relate these overtures to Hezekiah to the first rebellion. Either way the overtures were certainly connected with one of the Babylonian rebellions against Assyria.

However, in spite of Isaiah’s warning Hezekiah appears to have joined wholeheartedly in revolt in response to Babylon’s approach. Assyrian inscriptions tell us that he imprisoned Padi, king of Ekron in Jerusalem because Padi wanted to remain loyal to Sennacherib. This may well be when Babylon first especially imprinted itself in Isaiah’s mind. Sennacherib of Assyria then moved against Babylon and sacked it, assisted by Medan bowmen as mercenaries (21.2). The Medes were a fierce people and coveted as mercenaries. In the later sacking he removed from it its sacred statues (46.1-2). Meanwhile he supplemented the attack by also attacking Judah and Jerusalem.

But the magnetism of Babylon continued. It was restored by Esarhaddon of Assyria, who gave it prime importance, and, after further rebellion, taken once more by Ashurbanipal when it was severely damaged by fire. After that it rose to glory, defeating the Assyrians with the help of the Medes, and established a great empire (although there is no reference to such in Isaiah). But then it was later taken by the Medo-Persian empire in the time of Cyrus II, who also made it a capital city. And it was even later destroyed by Xerxes of Persia, inevitably accompanied by the ever present Medes, and then partly restored again, until ultimately it fell into final disrepair and ruin. All these attacks would have been accompanied by widespread devastation of the surrounding area. All contributed to its final end. And in most, if not all, the feared Medes were involved.

Thus the ‘day of Yahweh’ on Babylon may be seen as including any or all of these sackings. It is depicting all the future enmity of the nations against Babylon. They are all the result of Yahweh’s assault, and possibly chapter 13 is to be seen simply as describing all attacks which would take place on Babylon until it finally ceased to exist. It is Babylon’s fate, and how it is brought about, that is Isaiah’s concern, not the detail of how it would happen. His message was that Babylon must be destroyed.

Yahweh’s ‘day’ is not to be seen as necessarily limited in time. It is a set purpose not a time limit. It symbolises God’s activity against Babylon once He has determined its final end, however long it takes, His day will go on until that end is finalised. If this oracle followed Isaiah’s warning to Hezekiah, then the sacking by Sennacherib must be favoured as one initial fulfilment of it, but it may equally have been given earlier and have included reference to the previous sacking by Sargon with his Medan allies, whom Isaiah may have mentioned specifically because of their effective bow work. However, it also included the whole of Babylon’s future, for it would not be finally fulfilled until Babylon was no more.

It may, however, be asked, if the reference has in mind sackings by the Assyrians, why is the credit given to the Medes (13.17)? The answer is that it is not. The credit is given to a huge gathering of the nations under an unnamed leader who establishes his tent on the bare mountain (13.2). It is deliberately anonymous. It covers all the anger of the nations against Babylon. The specific mention of the Medes is to strike terror into men’s hearts. They above all nations were feared because of their warlike ferocity and their wildness. To have the Medes stirred up against them was the one thing all nations feared. (It was the ancient equivalent of having the dogs set on them). And it may also have been because of the major part the Medes always played in attacks with their superb bowmanship. But it is the awed fear in which they were held which is the reason why their part in it is singled out. The invasion will not only be by the nations of the known world, it will include the dreaded Medes in particular, stirred up by God. When you looked from your city walls and saw the Medes, you were filled with terror. Their bows could strike you down even where you stood. Nothing escaped the Medan bowmen.

Indeed if the Medes were at the time seen as acting as mercenaries, or in promise of reward, it would certainly explain why an attempt was made to buy the Medes off (13.17), an attempt which they refused. They liked warfare, and knew that they could do better from the booty. Thus they could not be bought off. The ‘kingdoms of the nations’ (13.4) could well initially signify the Assyrian confederacy, composed of many nations, and the little mention of Assyria in the oracles seems to be a deliberate ploy. Isaiah appears to be mainly ignoring them. He had declared their fate in 10.12-19 and would do so again in 14.24-27, but as far as he was concerned their doom had been pronounced. They were no longer important to him. It was the world of nations that was against Babylon.

Babylon was an enigma. Every sacking of Babylon might have seemed to be the last, but it would not die. It kept rising again. Thus further attacks became necessary. But of one thing Isaiah was certain. One day the nations of the world would ensure the completion of what they had begun. All the humiliation that it suffered from Babylon’s claims would only hasten that final end.

In fact the later capture of Babylon by the Medes and Persians in 539 BC does not fit into the picture outlined here. For it did not result in the sacking of the city, nor in the taking away of their gods (46.1-2). At that time it was taken by surprise with little fighting and the priests of Marduk may well have welcomed the invaders in view of the ‘apostasy’ of Nabonidus and Belshazzar, who had turned to strange gods. On the other hand it would certainly have resulted in the devastation of Babylonia, which is probably to be seen as included in the term ‘Babylon’. All that is described here would to some extent have been experienced by Babylonia at that time, as it would be before and since. That therefore may also be seen as part of the picture, but it is not primarily in view in the prophecy, any more than is its later capture by Xerxes the Persian.

So to Isaiah Babylon represented all that was evil, all that opposed God, and it had to be wiped out. Assyria might be the rod of God’s anger, and very powerful, but Babylon was nothing other than the primeval enemy. Thus we can understand why the appearance of their ambassadors and Hezekiah’s willingness to listen to them (chapter 39) would have come as the most unpleasant of shocks to him. He could not believe his ears. How could the son of David listen to a nation which had such a past, which had made such great and blasphemous claims and which by its own claims denied Yahweh’s very power?

But in chapter 13 he is looking both before that and beyond that, and even beyond the return of the world-wide exiles. He is looking at the whole future of Babylon until its final eclipse. However, while he is certainly concerned with the certain judgment of God on Babylon here, in 15-23 he is concerned with God’s judgment on all the nations who have afflicted and sought to embroil His people, of whom Babylon is one. And thus, as a result of his prophecies, in all their tribulations His people will be able to comfort themselves in this, that things have not got out of God’s control. All those mentioned are seen as suffering in ways of which God was already aware, and which He had declared beforehand. However, it should be noted that while for these nations hope for the future is not excluded, and is even emphasised for Egypt and Assyria, none is posited for Babylon, for it symbolised all that was against God. It would share the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah (13.19).

Commentary.

Oracle Against Babylon

Yahweh Raises His Forces For The Destruction of Babylon

The first burden borne by Isaiah was the burden of Babylon, a heavy burden indeed. And it begins with the calling together of a world army to destroy Babylon once and for all. This great symbol of all that is evil must be destroyed. It is not describing a particular point in history (although Isaiah may have thought so) but a kind of apocalyptic judgment levelled at Babylon which in earthly terms will come about over the period of time necessary for Babylon to be finally destroyed. While it would take time for it to happen, from this point on Babylon is doomed.

Analysis of 13.1-5.

  • The burden of Babylon which Isaiah the son of Amoz did see. Set yourselves up an ensign on the bare mountains, lift up the voice to them, wave the hand, that they may go into the gate of the princes (1-2).
  • I have commanded my consecrated ones (‘holy ones’), yes, I have called my mighty men for my anger, my proudly exulting ones (3).
  • The noise of a multitude in the mountains, like as of a great people, the noise of a tumult of the kingdoms, of the nations gathered together (4a).
  • Yahweh of hosts musters the host for battle. They come from a far country, from the uttermost part of heaven, even Yahweh and the weapons of his indignation, to destroy the whole land (earth) (4b-5).

In ‘a’ Yahweh calls on His chosen leader to set up his banner on the bare mountains calling together his forces together under their princes, while in the parallel it is Yahweh of hosts Who is mustering them for battle, calling them together from the farthest parts of the earth as the weapons of His indignation. In ‘b’ those called to fulfil Yahweh’s anger are both consecrated and highly exultant, and in the parallel they gather in the mountains in a great noise of tumult of nations gathered together.

13.1 ‘The burden of Babylon which Isaiah the son of Amoz did see.’

The fact that Babylon comes first in the list emphasises Isaiah’s growing awareness that the Babel of old (Genesis 10.8-10; 11.1-9), God’s old enemy, was raising its head again as the leader of the attempted conspiracy. The ogre had again taken charge. He was aware from Scripture of the place of Babel in the scheme of things as the great enemy of freedom and truth, and proponent of world disintegration as revealed in Genesis 10-11; 14. And the burden had come on him that Babylon must be destroyed.

This awareness of the old traditions of Babylon’s one time greatness, and its present proud boasting made him aware that this nation, which was at this point already again demonstrating its rising power, would continue to be the great enemy of God’s people and the instrument of His great judgment on them (39.6-7). It had to be. For was not Babel traditionally the symbol of all that was proud and evil (Genesis 11.1-9), the great challenger of God (13.19; 14.13-14), and even in Isaiah’s day, the great boaster about its future, and its past?

But he was now being made aware that, as in Genesis, Babel/Babylon was doomed, even before it began its present meteoric rise. For God’s judgment had been pronounced on it from the beginning. This was all part of the burden that lay on Isaiah’s heart as he prophesied against Babylon, aware of what it had been, knowing what it was, recognising what it was becoming, surmising what it would do to God’s people, and declaring the end that must finally result, its ultimate destruction, because God was against it. (As with the destruction of the Amalekites promised in Exodus 17.14, 16, which took generations to unfold, it would happen in God’s time).

Babylon is truly spoken of here in apocalyptic terms. Much of the language used here will reappear in speaking of the end times. And similar language is used of the other arch-enemy of God’s people, the Edomites (chapter 34). Yet although it may be the great enemy of God, Isaiah roots Babylon firmly in history. For while it might be portentous, there was nothing mythical about it. The rising again of Babylon was to be curtailed as a result of ‘world’ forces gathered against them (13.4-5), and these included the dreadful Medes (13.17), who would continually be set on them like a man sets his dog on an intruder. And its final destruction would inevitably follow, although how much later Isaiah did not know.

As with all the prophets he saw the future as one whole. The purpose of prophecy was to declare what God was going to do, not when. He foresaw the assaults by the nations that must take place on Babylon; and in its continuing devastations, following its risings again (which he would witness at least twice under Sargon and Sennacherib), he saw the prospect of its final desolation. How they would all fit together he did not know. It was not his concern. That was in God’s hands.

13.2

‘Set yourselves up an ensign on the bare mountains,
Lift up the voice to them,
Wave the hand,
That they may go into the gate of the princes.’

The nations are called together against Babylon to a perpetual, unceasing battle. A banner is to be set up where all can see it, on the bare mountains (compare 18.3). The banner may well be seen as over an overlord’s tent, from which the orders go out to the nations, both by voice and a directing motion of the arm. The mountains are bare to stress the starkness of the picture. The whole picture is deliberately anonymous. It is the whole world that is being summoned to destroy the monster Babylon.

‘That they may go into the gate of the princes, (or ‘of those who are willing’).’ This was in order that they might enrol under their chosen leaders, or in order to align themselves with the willing volunteers. The gate was always the place of assembly, for the public square, such as it was, would be there. Thus they go there in order to enrol under their leaders, or as willing volunteers. (‘Nadib’ can mean either those who are willing, or the nobility, those willing to take responsibility. Either is possible here). All nations will willingly volunteer to go against Babylon.

13.3 ‘I have commanded my consecrated ones (‘holy ones’), yes, I have called my mighty men for my anger, my proudly exulting ones.’

These are a people consecrated to Yahweh’ purposes (although they probably do not know it). They are His mighty men, there to reveal His anger against Babylon. They are men of great pride and of warlike demeanour. They are joined together with one purpose, the destruction of Babylon, the enemy of the ages. They have been set apart by God for this sacred task.

We are not to see them as particularly morally righteous. Their status lies in the fact that God is using them to fulfil His purpose, (just as ungodly Assyria had previously been described as the rod of God’s anger (10.5)), and not because of what they are. But they are not just one nation. They are all nations from the ends of the world. (All would participate in it at different times, or will do one day in its reproduction in Revelation, for Babylon was not only a city it was an idea)

13.4-5

‘The noise of a multitude in the mountains,
Like as of a great people,
The noise of a tumult of the kingdoms,
Of the nations gathered together.
Yahweh of hosts musters the host for battle.
They come from a far country,
From the uttermost part of heaven,
Even Yahweh and the weapons of his indignation,
To destroy the whole land (earth).’

Anyone who reads and listens can hear the sound in the mountains of an army, a great international army, gathered together and inevitably noisy as the different nations expressed themselves, for it is Yahweh ‘of hosts’ who has mustered ‘the host’ to battle. And He has mustered them from a distant country, from the farthest parts, and they have come as the weapons of His anger to destroy the land of Babylon. Such a host would be necessary against the Babylon of Isaiah’s visions.

This could equally describe either an Assyrian confederacy, with its widespread alliances, or the later Medo-Persian army which would include forces from far afield, for prior to attacking Babylon they had expanded to the east, and even the later Persian army under Xerxes. Indeed in the end it was describing all of them. Isaiah does not name the leader of the adversaries. He is not told who it is. It is the one appointed by God to do His bidding. But he knows that such world forces will rise and humiliate Babylon, and will not cease until the task is fulfilled. The fulfilment of this would in fact occur over the centuries until at last the task was complete and Babylon was no more thus it is describing events that occurred more than once. (And Revelation indicates that the idea of Babylon would continue, and would also have to be destroyed). Chapter 13 thus covers a continuous process until the fate of Babylon is accomplished (compare again how God in the same way decreed the end of the Amalekites (Exodus 17.14, 16; Numbers 24.20; Deuteronomy 25.19), even though it was to take many centuries, and how in chapter 34, He decrees the end of Edom in similar language to here. Babylon, the Amalekites and Edom were all symbols of what was totally rejected by God). This burden cannot be strictly compared with the burdens that follow, for they will be ‘temporary’ in the particular historical situation, but this one is unswerving and final.

There are no particular grounds for seeing anything here as referring specifically to behaviour towards Judah, although they would be seen as being caught up in the general overall picture (see 14.1-3). They were a part of the whole, even if an exclusive part. Furthermore as the account goes on all the nations surrounding Judah will be mentioned, north, south, east and west. So in one sense Judah is in the middle of it. But Babylon’s doom goes beyond all that. It has been necessary almost from the beginning of history. And many nations will be involved in it.

The Apocalyptic Destruction of Babylon (13.6-16).

The forces having been gathered by Yahweh on the remoteness of the bare mountain, they are to be unleashed in ‘the Day of Yahweh’, and it will seem as though the whole earth is involved.

Analysis of 13.6-15.

  • a Howl, for the day of Yahweh is at hand. As the destruction from the Almighty (Shaddai) will it come. Therefore will all hands be feeble, and every heart of man will melt, and they will be dismayed.
  • b Pangs and sorrows will take hold of them. They will be in pain like a woman in labour. They will be amazed at one another. Their faces will be faces of flame
  • c Behold, the day of Yahweh comes, cruel with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation, and to destroy its sinners out of it (9).
  • d For the stars of heaven and its constellations will not give their light, the sun will be darkened in its going forth, and the moon will not cause her light to shine (10).
  • d And I will punish the world for evil, and the wicked for their iniquity, and I will cause the arrogance of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible. I will make a man more rare (’oqir) than fine gold, even a man than the pure gold of Ophir (’ophir) (11-12).
  • c Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken out of her place, in the wrath of Yahweh of hosts, and in the day of His fierce anger (13).
  • b And it will come about that as the hunted roe, and as the sheep that no man gathers, they will turn every man to his own people, and will flee every man to his own (14).
  • a Every man who is found will be thrust through, and everyone who is taken will fall by the sword. Their infants will be dashed in pieces before their eyes, their houses will be spoiled, and their wives ravished (15-16).

In ‘a’ the Day of Yahweh is at hand (compare verse 9), coming as destruction from the Almighty, so that all hands will be feeble and ‘every heart of man’ melt, and in the parallel ‘every man’ will be thrust through, infants will be dashed in pieces, houses will be despoiled, wives will be ravished. In ‘b’ pangs and sorrows will take hold of them, they will be in pain like a woman in labour, they will be amazed at one another and their faces will be faces of flame, and in the parallel they will turn and flee to their own countries and their own kindred like hunted animals. In ‘c’ the day of Yahweh comes, cruel with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation, and to destroy its sinners out of it, and in the parallel He will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken out of her place, in the wrath of Yahweh of hosts, and in the day of His fierce anger. In ‘d’ the stars of heaven and its constellations will not give their light, the sun will be darkened in its going forth, and the moon will not cause her light to shine, and in the parallel he will punish the world for evil, and the wicked for their iniquity, and will cause the arrogance of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible. He will make a man more rare than fine gold, even a man than the pure gold of Ophir.

13.6-8

‘Howl, for the day of Yahweh is at hand.
As the destruction from the Almighty (Shaddai) will it come.
Therefore will all hands be feeble,
And every heart of man will melt.
And they will be dismayed.
Pangs and sorrows will take hold of them.
They will be in pain like a woman in labour.
They will be amazed at one another.
Their faces will be faces of flame.’

The day that is coming and is in view will be Yahweh’s day. ‘The day of Yahweh’ means that period in which He reveals His power in judgment, whenever it is, as He carries forward His purposes, so that through history there are different ‘days of Yahweh’. (Thus various such days are to be seen in Daniel’s description of the four empires, as one follows another into destruction, although there not mentioned as such). But it would eventually, as a result of such writings as this, come to signify a great final day when God and His opponents would, as it were, come face to face in one last great war, before the everlasting kingdom was established. That is how John in Revelation saw it, a city that represented what Babylon symbolised, although it was not necessarily the literal Babylon. That had been destroyed long before (Revelation 14.8; 17-18).

‘At hand.’ This refers to space rather than time. It is near in the sense that it was within striking distance. All would inevitably be caught up in it, first their neighbours and then themselves. It would be unavoidable.

The command is to ‘howl’ (plural). Compare Amos 5.16-17. All are to howl for it will inevitably be a day of destruction. Both the Almighty and the world are here exacting vengeance on Babylon and what it stands for, and this series of events will inevitably concern Jerusalem/Judah, or what remains of them. The destruction will be like the descriptions of the destruction of Jerusalem and Judah, but on a vaster scale. The whole world will be shaking. The descriptions are of people in panic and terror, in fear and perplexity, their faces burning with horror and dismay. No one knows when, but Babylon is doomed. Such things would in fact happen time and again as Babylon was on its way to its destruction. Through Babylon great suffering would come on men.

‘Destruction from the Almighty’ (sod mi ssadday). Note the assonance. Isaiah constantly uses assonance to emphasise his meaning and make it memorable. In all that would happen men were to recognise that this came from Yahweh as judgment on men’s sins.

13.9

‘Behold, the day of Yahweh comes,
Cruel with wrath and fierce anger,
To make the land a desolation,
And to destroy its sinners out of it.’

The moral purpose behind what is happening is here described. It is the day of Yahweh when He steps in to put right particular situations. Note the stress on His ‘anger’, His revulsion against their sin. Babylon has sinned against Judah and Jerusalem, it has sinned against the nations, it has sinned against God. It had once proudly asserted itself against God (Genesis 11). It would do so again and again (14.13-14). Thus His anger towards it, and thus the reason why His day will come on it. As it desolated the land of others, so its own land will be desolated. Its sinners would be destroyed.

13.10-11

‘For the stars of heaven and its constellations,
Will not give their light,
The sun will be darkened in its going forth,
And the moon will not cause her light to shine,
And I will punish the world for evil,
And the wicked for their iniquity,
And I will cause the arrogance of the proud to cease,
And will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible.’

In a world where the heavenly bodies were seen as gods and goddesses, and natural phenomenon were interpreted astrologically, it was inevitable that the destruction of such a nation would be seen in heavenly terms, especially in the case of a city so imbued with the occult as Babylon (chapter 47). What was happening to Babylon was happening to its gods. Bel was bowing down, Nebo was stooping (46.1). Furthermore, as the smoke welled up from burning fields and cities, and the skies became distorted, and blood and smoke filled men’s eyes, natural phenomena would take on an eerie look. The stars would become hidden, the sun dark, the moon unshining. Astrologers would search the heavens and find in them portents of what was happening. Thus the very heavens themselves would be seen as involved.

Isaiah had earlier described God’s judgment on Israel in terms of darkness and distress (5.30), how much more so the judgment on Babylon. We can compare here how when God was punishing Egypt one of the plagues was a plague of thick darkness which resulted when Moses stretched his hand towards heaven (Exodus 10.21-23) when exactly this situation would have been true. All of heaven would have been invisible.

And inevitably so, for Yahweh the Creator would be punishing the world for its evil and the wicked for their iniquity. Men had put light for darkness, and darkness for light (5.20). God would do so too. The lights would go out for Babylon. He was humbling the proud, and bringing low the haughty, especially the ‘haughtiness of the terrible’. (Note that the literal events are those happening on earth). Something of this haughtiness comes out in 14.12-14. Kings of Babylon, terrible in the eyes of the world, and especially of a small nation like Judah, saw themselves as exalted above the stars of God. Thus the very stars themselves must be blotted out (compare Daniel 8.10; 11.36).

13.12

‘I will make a man more rare (’oqir) than fine gold,
Even a man than the pure gold of Ophir.’

In the day of Babylon’s doom in its continual occurrences the land would appear deserted as populations melted away from before the invading forces. They would seemingly disappear, until the enemy had moved on. The armies would search and find no one. All would have fled, in some cases leaving their gold behind. That could still be found. Note the play on words in ’oqir and ’ophir, they would be ‘more oqir than ophir’. Ophir has not been identified (Arabia, East Africa and India have all been suggested) but was famous for its gold (1 Kings 9.28; 1 Chronicles 29.4; 2 Chronicles 8.18; Job 22.24; 28.16; Psalm 45.9).

13.13

‘Therefore I will make the heavens tremble,
And the earth will be shaken out of her place,
In the wrath of Yahweh of hosts,
And in the day of his fierce anger.’

Note how this is paralleled with verse 9. It is the Day of Yahweh, the day of His fierce anger, the time for dealing with sin. The continuing destruction of Babylon is to be an earthshaking event. Even the heavens will tremble. For it is Yahweh revealing His wrath against the pride of rebellious man from the beginning. Similar language was used by great kings as they described their progress in warfare. In their arrogance they saw the world shaking before them. But in Yahweh’s case it would regularly be true, and it would be true for Babylon.

Here the term ‘Yahweh of hosts’ is particularly poignant, for His anger is revealed in ‘the hosts’ He has gathered together against Babylon whose continual activity will bring Babylon down (again and again).

13.14-16

‘And it will come about that as the hunted roe,
And as the sheep that no man gathers,
They will turn every man to his own people,
And will flee every man to his own land.
Every man who is found will be thrust through,
And everyone who is taken will fall by the sword.
Their infants will be dashed in pieces before their eyes,
Their houses will be spoiled, and their wives ravished.’

Here are described man’s experiences during that Day. The hunted roe and the wild sheep are unprotected and vulnerable. They are on their own. And so it will be with the people who gather to Babylon, drawn by the magnet of the pomp and glory that draws all men. Now they are to be left without a protector, and will have to flee to their homelands. And those who are caught will be summarily slain, for to be involved with the sinful is to be sinful and to be punished with them. The consequences in infant deaths, houses ravaged, and women raped are the normal consequences of war, when men lose control of themselves. The vivid language has become very realistic. This is war as it was known. What happened in detail was not God’s purpose, it was the consequence of the kind of instruments He had to use.

A Vivid Picture of Babylon’s Future And Its End (13.17-22).

Having depicted the destruction of Babylon in apocalyptic terms Isaiah brings it down to earth. He partly does it in terms of the Medes. The Medes participated in a number of invasions of Babylon from Sargon II onwards and were very much feared. They founded their own empire and up to around the time of Cyrus II (whose father was Persian and whose mother was Medan) were the senior partners of the Medo-Persian alliance. While they sometimes had to pay tribute to a particularly powerful Assyrian king, (and at one stage to the Scythians), they were never really subjugated, and in the end assisted in the destruction of first Assyria, and then Babylonia. They were wild fighters of Indo-Iranian origin who came from the north and settled in the Near East and were expert bowmen, and they were feared by all. Sargon spoke of them as ‘madaia dannuti’ (‘the mighty Medes’). No one wanted to see the Medes approaching their city. It struck a cold chill to the heart.

Analysis of 13.17-22.

  • a Behold I will stir up the Medes against them, who will not regard silver, and as for gold, they will not delight in it (17).
  • b And their bows will dash the young men in pieces, and they will have no pity on the fruit of the womb. Their eye will not spare children (18).
  • c And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldeans’ pride, will be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah (19).
  • c It will never be inhabited, nor will it be dwelt in from generation to generation, nor will the Arabian pitch tent there, nor will shepherds make their flocks to lie down there (20).
  • b But the wild beasts of the wilderness will lie there, and their houses will be full of howling creatures, and ostriches will dwell there, and he-goats (‘goat-satyrs’) will dance there (21).
  • a And wolves will howl in their castles, and jackals in the pleasant palaces, and her time is near to come, and her days will not be prolonged (22).

These parallels are significant in the understanding of the reputation of the Medes. In ‘a’ the Medes who cannot be bought off will be stirred up against Babylon and in the parallel wolves and jackals will dwell there, and her time is near to come, and her days will not be prolonged. In ‘b’ Medan bows will dash young men in pieces, and the Medes are totally merciless as regards children, and in the parallel the ruins of Babylon will be inhabited by wild beasts, howling creatures, and ‘goat-satyrs’, bringing out the reputation of the Medes. In ‘c’ glorious Babylon will become like Sodom and Gomorrah, a desolate and forgotten heap, and in the parallel it will never be inhabited and it will be avoided by men.

13.17-18

‘Behold I will stir up the Medes against them,
Who will not regard silver,
And as for gold,
They will not delight in it.
And their bows will dash the young men in pieces,
And they will have no pity on the fruit of the womb.
Their eye will not spare children.’

If we would interpret Scripture truly we have no right to rip this verse from its context. Here we are told quite clearly that what has been described, ‘the burden of Babylon’ (verse 1), is to occur at the hands of the nations, and partly, but only partly, at the hands of the Medes, those fearsome peoples from beyond Babylon.

In view of what we know of history the temptation for us here is to assume that this refers to the taking of Babylon in 539 BC by the Medes and the Persians. But it is important to note that the total emphasis here is on the Medes alone, and the Medes were a constant threat to Babylon from the very moment of their arrival from the steppes, even though spasmodically ‘controlled’ by Assyria. There is no mention, or even hint, here of the Persians. The point here is that the Medes will be let loose on them, those dreadful Medes whose bows shoot a man to pieces. But while they were to be specially feared they would only be one invader among many (verse 4). Humanly speaking the fierce Medes would be an obvious ally for any attack on Babylon. They loved warfare and were just waiting there on its eastern borders, looking for their opportunity. Isaiah’s prophecies were enlightened common sense inspired by God. And the Medes would certainly be closely involved in most of Babylon’s downfalls. Thus there is no reason for reading a Medo-Persian conflict here.

But when the Medes struck, said Isaiah, it would be because God had stirred them up. They would not be able to be bought off by bribery or offers of gold. They would be ‘under divine orders’. And the bows for which they were famous would destroy the enemy, and the usual consequences of war would then follow, for the Medes would particularly have no pity. It is unusual to see a bow as ‘dashing in pieces’ but the words are picked up from verse 16. In mind, however, may be the picture of someone torn apart by arrows, the idea being of the multitude of arrows that the Medes would let loose.

13.19 ‘And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldeans’ pride, will be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.’

‘The glory of kingdoms, the Beauty.’ These were probably descriptions that Babylon was applying to itself in its connections with Judah (39.1). As they boasted of their wealth and success, in order to impress Hezekiah, this would be the kind of language that they had used, and Isaiah takes it up and mocks it. He is angry because they are depicting themselves in terms that challenge Yahweh’s supremacy. That is what makes him realise that Babel/Babylon has not changed. And he is angry that Hezekiah has yielded to it. But such boasting would explain why Hezekiah felt it necessary to reveal his own comparatively puny treasures, comparatively puny but of which he was so proud (39.2). No doubt the Babylonian embassy had brought large gifts in their hands.

So Babylon even now saw itself as ‘the glory of kingdoms’. It was the ‘Beauty’ of which the Chaldeans were so proud. They gloried in themselves though the centuries, and no nation boasts like the resurrected nation. The ‘Chaldeans’ were a prominent group in southern Babylonia and the term was later used of all Babylonians, as here. Babylon was recognised throughout the known world for its splendour. Even Nineveh could not compare with it and its ancient civilisation. And their pride in the fact knew no bounds.

But the same words ‘glory’ and ‘beauty’ were used of the ‘sprouting of Yahweh’ in 4.2 and of Yahweh Himself in 28.5. Thus Isaiah saw Babylon as exalting itself to the same status as God and His ways. It was the Anti-God. And in its blasphemy it would suffer the same fate as Sodom and Gomorrah, which were bywords for sinfulness.

‘Will be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.’ This is Babylon’s final destiny. Isaiah sees it as clearly as if it were in his own day. The Medes will continue to be a thorn in their sides, and would be a part of the alliances that would continually and finally break them, until they would in the end be nothing but a ruin on a mound of earth.

It is the genius of the Hebrew prophets that they prophesied of trends and purposes which in the end became more true than they at first realised. These words of Isaiah are a good example of this. He did not know that the Medan impact on Babylon would be far greater than he realised, nor at this stage did he realise quite how great Babylon would become in the not too distant future. That was a realisation that possibly grew on him as he contemplated that future. For once he knew that Assyria’s end was ‘near’, he may possibly have begun to see Babylon as the obvious candidate for rising to prominence and then have come to recognise what the consequences for Israel/Judah would be. And then this prophecy would be even more true. But if so that would come later when he realised that the Assyrian venture against Babylon had not been the final end for Babylon, in respect of a future that he knew must come.

13.20-22

‘It will never be inhabited,
Nor will it be dwelt in from generation to generation,
Nor will the Arabian pitch tent there,
Nor will shepherds make their flocks to lie down there.
But the wild beasts of the wilderness will lie there,
And their houses will be full of howling creatures,
And ostriches will dwell there,
And he-goats (‘goat-satyrs’) will dance there.
And wolves will howl in their castles,
And jackals in the pleasant palaces,
And her time is near to come,
And her days will not be prolonged.’

For its end would inevitably come. The ‘world’ invasions would do their work. The contrast here is with its glory and its beauty. It will become a ghost town, a deserted city, an eerie place. The fact that the wandering Arab, the caravanners, or shepherd will not pitch tent or settle their sheep there may suggest the idea that it would be seen as cursed or haunted. And this is borne out by the following description.

These descriptions parallel the mention of the Medes. They bring out just how much the Medes were feared, and how they were looked on. The ruined castles and palaces will become homes for wild beasts and ghostly creatures, places where wolves and jackals will be king, and mysterious presences, howling creatures and goat-satyrs, the invention of fevered minds, will wander. Paradoxically we too do not need to believe in ghosts to be conscious of ghostly presences in such a situation.

This was to be the final end of ancient Babylon, as today we know it was. It did happen eventually, and the Medes would have a big hand in it, and that is all that Isaiah foresaw and was prophesying. The fact that it did not happen quite as simply as portrayed is proof that it is genuine prophecy.

‘And her time is near to come, and her days will not be prolonged.’ This desolation of Babylon, ‘the glory of the kingdoms’, described throughout the chapter, is neither dated nor specifically connected with Israel and Judah. And there is no mention of the exile. It is thus quite possible that it was the coming of the ambassadors from Babylon that set up this train of thought, and resulted in this burden, with its certainty of Babylon’s final total destruction. Thus Isaiah warns that Babylon’s time is coming, and that, in divine terms, in the not too distant future. In spite of all her boasting her future glory will only be temporary, for among her enemies will be the dreaded Medes.

Chapter 14 Exiled Israel Will Be Restored. Further Judgments on the King of Babylon. Judgment on Assyria and The Rejection of Philistine Ambassadors.

Having depicted the demise of Babylon Isaiah now looks more closely at more of its causes. She would humiliate Israel and Judah and her king would exalt himself to heaven.

Despite Their Exile, Israel’s Cause Is Not Lost (14.1-2).

Typical of Isaiah is that in the midst of the burden of Babylon, and the descriptions of its downfall, come promises of restoration for Israel and Judah. In the midst of it all Yahweh has not forgotten His people.

Analysis.

  • a For Yahweh will have compassion on Jacob, and will yet choose Israel (1a).
  • b And set them in their own land, and the stranger will join himself with them (1b).
  • c And they will cleave to the house of Jacob (1c).
  • c And the peoples will take them and bring them to their place (2a).
  • b And the house of Israel will possess them in the land of Yahweh, for servants and for handmaids (2b).
  • a And they will take them captive whose captives they were, and they will rule over their oppressors (2c).

In ‘a’ Yahweh will yet have compassion on Israel and again set His choice on them, and in the parallel the result will be that their situation will be overturned, and they will make captive their captors, and will rule over their oppressors. In ‘b’ He will set them in their own land and foreigners will join with them, and in the parallel the foreigners will be possessed in the land of Yahweh for servants and for handmaids. In ‘c’ these foreigners will cleave to the house of Jacob, and they will bring them to their place.

14.1-2

‘For Yahweh will have compassion on Jacob,
And will yet choose Israel,
And set them in their own land,
And the stranger will join himself with them,
And they will cleave to the house of Jacob,
And the peoples will take them and bring them to their place,
And the house of Israel will possess them in the land of Yahweh,
For servants and for handmaids,
And they will take them captive whose captives they were,
And they will rule over their oppressors.’

One guarantee of the shortlived nature of any Babylonian glory is the fact that God is to restore His people to spiritual greatness. Having witnessed the devastation of Samaria and the dragging of the cream of Israel’s leaders into captivity, Isaiah promises that one day they will be restored. Yahweh will yet have compassion on them, and again choose them. Their loss of status before God is only temporary. They are His beloved people, beloved because He has chosen to love them (Deuteronomy 7.7-8). They will be re-established in the land which God had given them as an inheritance centuries before, ‘the land of Yahweh’, and they will be set there by Him to enjoy His rest (see Deuteronomy 12.10; 2 Samuel 7.1) and aliens will join themselves with them and seek to become part of them.

Indeed God will turn the tables on the world. Those who had oppressed them will assist in their deliverance and become their servants and captives, for they will come under Israel’s rule. Thus is given the guarantee of the final triumph of God’s people, although, as often stressed elsewhere, it will be of but a remnant. And other nations will share in that triumph by their connection with them. Compare 45.14-25; 49.22-26; 60; 66.19-24.

We must not see this latter as the demeaning of the nations. This was the conception of the time of the way in which an empire was established, with the leading nation having under it the subsidiary nations who served them and provided servants.

There was partial fulfilment of this after the later exile of Judah. Israel and Judah were re-established in the land and their power and area of authority grew, with many reversals, so that in the century or so prior to the time of Jesus the Jews had widespread rule with erstwhile enemies under them. Thus it had a literal, though partial, earthly fulfilment. Then it was partly fulfilled as the Jewish Christian Apostles and teachers went out into the world, winning men to Christ, and the nations, including those who had oppressed Israel, submitted to the Apostolic authority, captured by love. But in the end the coming Davidic kingdom must be in mind here, the everlasting kingdom described in earthly terms, when all nations would be gathered in the new Jerusalem (66.23) in the other world.

We must ever remember that to Isaiah and the prophets both Israel and Judah were still within the promises of God. Thus the final triumph under the Davidic king was promised to both.

The Demise of Babylon And Humiliation of Its Boastful Kings (14.3-23).

The coming of the Babylonian ambassadors to Hezekiah had had a profound influence on Isaiah. As he thought on the future, with the Assyrians seen as a doomed empire because of what God had revealed to him, he began to realise that Babylon, the permanent enemy of God, the city with great ambitions, of which he was keenly aware through their recent visit, would take advantage of it, and again rise to prominence. Great Babel would rise again to seek to restore its glorious past and would in turn crush the people of God, as God had revealed to him (39.6-7), and entangle them in what Babylon stood for (which is why later he would warn them to flee from it - 48.20). It was an idea that took possession of him with all its consequences, so much so that later he would seek to prepare God’s people for those consequences. Others no doubt thought that he had become obsessed with the idea. But if so his obsession was of God. And included in that obsession was the certainty that Babylon must finally be destroyed.

He had already prophesied Babylon’s downfall (chapter 13). But now he was beginning to realise that its final downfall, although finally certain, would not be yet. This might well partly have resulted from the fact that although Babylon was defeated by the Assyrians, first under Sargon II, and then under Sennacherib, it became clear that it was not the final downfall of which God had assured him. Thus he began to realise that there would have to come a further rise in power and glory before its final fall. And he clearly began to link that with the downfall of Assyria (14.24-27).

The result was that he even perhaps began to visualise something of Babylon’s future greatness, (although he never depicts it as in quite the league of Assyria) of which there were already traces in its pride and boasting, and the devastation it would then wreak on the world of those days, as the pride and arrogance of Assyria had before it. He had the example of Assyria to go by, and it was not an encouraging one. And he knew that the judgment that was to come on Judah (6.10-11) would be at the hands of the very kings of Babylon to whom Hezekiah was looking for support. That indeed is what he informed Hezekiah quite clearly (39.6-7). And as all he knew of great conquering overlords was gleaned from his knowledge of Assyria and their ways, he foresaw the inevitable carrying away into exile of people from Judah, as spoils for the king of Babylon.

Thus he felt it necessary to issue this declaration that any coming greatness of Babylon should not be seen as too great a concern as it would be only temporary. It would be followed by God’s certain judgment. Babel could not, and would not, be allowed to prosper permanently.

Analysis of 14.3-23.

  • a And it will come about in the day that Yahweh will give you rest from your sorrow, and from your trouble, and from the hard service with which you were made to serve (3).
  • b That you will take up this parable against the king of Babylon, and say, “How has the oppressor ceased, how has the exactor (or ‘place of gold’) ceased” (4).
  • c Yahweh has broken the staff of the wicked, the sceptre of the rulers, (5).
  • d Who smote the peoples in wrath with a continual stroke, who ruled the nations in anger with a persecution that none restrained (6).
  • e The whole earth is at rest and is quiet, they break out into singing. Yes, the fir trees rejoice at you, and the cedars of Lebanon, saying, “Since you are laid down, no feller has come up against us” (7-8).
  • f Sheol from beneath is moved for you, to meet you at your coming. It stirs up the shades (Rephaim) for you, even all the he-goats of the earth. It has raised up from their thrones the kings of the nations (9).
  • g They all will answer and say to you, “Are you also become as weak as us? Have you become like us?” (10).
  • h Your pomp is brought down to Sheol, and the noise of your harps. The worm is spread under you, and worms cover you (11).
  • i How are you fallen from heaven, O day-star (helel), son of the morning (shahar - dawn). How are you cut down to the ground, who laid low the nations (12).
  • j And you said in your heart, “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God” (13a).
  • j “I will sit on the mount of the assembly in the uttermost parts of the north” (13b).
  • i “I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High” (14).
  • h Yet you will be brought down to Sheol, to the uttermost parts of the pit (15).
  • g Those who see you will look on you narrowly, they will consider you, saying, “Is this the man who made the earth to tremble? Who shook kingdoms?” (16).
  • f “Who made the world as a wilderness, and overthrew its cities. Who did not loose his prisoners to their home?” (17).
  • e All the kings of the nations, all of them sleep in glory, every one in his own house, but you are cast out, away from your sepulchre, like an abominable branch, clothed with the slain who are thrust through with the sword, who go down to the stones of the pit, as a carcass trodden underfoot (18-19).
  • d You will not be joined with them in burial, because you have destroyed your land, you have slain your people. The seed of evildoers will not be named for ever (20).
  • c Prepare slaughter for his children, because of the iniquity of their fathers, that they rise not up nor possess the earth, and fill the face of the world with cities (21).
  • b “And I will rise up against them,” says Yahweh of hosts, “And cut off from Babylon name and remnant, and son and son’s son,” says Yahweh (22).
  • a “And I will also make it a possession for the hedgehog, and pools of water, and I will sweep it with the broom of destruction,” says Yahweh of hosts. (23).

In ‘a’ in the day that Yahweh will give them rest from their sorrow, and from their trouble, and from the hard service with which they were made to serve, that in the parallel He will make Babylon a possession for the hedgehog, and pools of water, and will sweep it with the broom of destruction (He will perform His hard service on Babylon). In ‘b’ they were to take up this parable against the king of Babylon, and say, “How has the oppressor ceased, how has the exactor (or ‘place of gold’) ceased”, and in the parallel their oppressor has ceased and his son, and his son’s son. Even their name has been cut off.

In ‘c’ Yahweh has broken the staff of the wicked, the sceptre of the rulers (of Babylon), and in the parallel He has prepared slaughter for his children because of their father’s iniquity so that they may not rise up or possess the earth or fill the face of the world with cities. In ‘d’ the tyrant had smitten the peoples in wrath with a continual stroke, and ruled the nations in anger with a persecution that none restrained, and in the parallel, it was precisely because the tyrants had destroyed their land, and slain their people that they would not be joined with them in burial, and would not be named for ever.

In ‘e’ The whole earth is at rest and is quiet, the people break out into singing, the fir trees rejoice at him, and the cedars of Lebanon, saying, “Since you are laid down, no feller has come up against us”, (all is at peace), and in the parallel all the kings of the nations, all of them sleep in glory, every one in his own house, (all are at peace), while in contrast the Babylonian tyrants are cast out, away from their sepulchre, like an abominable branch, clothed with the slain, thrust through with the sword, and go down to the stones of the pit, as a carcass trodden underfoot.

In ‘f’ Sheol (the grave world) from beneath is moved to meet the tyrant at his coming. It stirs up the shades (Rephaim) for him, even all the he-goats (chief men) of the earth, and has raised up from their ‘thrones’ the kings of the nations, in order to challenge him and in the parallel we are told why they are stirred up, it is because he had made their world as a wilderness, and overthrew its cities, and did not loose his prisoners to their home, (which is one reason why they want to challenge him). In ‘g’ they ask him “Are you also become as weak as us? Have you become like us?” while in the parallel they look on him narrowly, and consider him, saying, “Is this the man who made the earth to tremble? Who shook kingdoms?”

In ‘h’ his pomp is brought down to Sheol, and the noise of his harps. The worm is spread under him, and worms cover him, and in the parallel he is brought down to Sheol, to the uttermost parts of the pit. In ‘i’ the prophet says, “How are you fallen from heaven, O day-star (helel), son of the morning (shahar - dawn)? How are you cut down to the ground, who laid low the nations?” and in the parallel he had said “I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High”. In ‘j’ he had said in his heart, “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God”, and in the parallel he had said “I will sit on the mount of the assembly in the uttermost parts of the north”.

It is quite clear that some of these parallels cannot possibly be written off as a coincidence. There is on the whole a remarkable equation between them.

14.3 ‘And it will come about in the day that Yahweh will give you rest from your sorrow, and from your trouble, and from the hard service with which you were made to serve, that you will take up this parable against the king of Babylon, and say, “How has the oppressor ceased, how has the exactor (or ‘place of gold’) ceased.” ’

There is no thought here of exile. However, at the time of the visiting ambassadors from Babylon Isaiah had informed Hezekiah of the fate that awaited Judah as a result of Hezekiah’s folly. Everything that he and Judah had would be carried off to Babylon along with his sons and the nobles of their people, and they would become slaves in Babylon (39.6-7). Thus now he seeks to bring some comfort on the back of his warning, both on behalf of those who would be taken (he had no conception of the full exile) and on behalf of those who would be hardly treated in Judah itself.

Isaiah must have been well aware that any return of Israel/Judah from Assyrian territory would not happen until Assyrian domination has ceased (Assyria would not allow it), that Assyria would be limited in its treatment of Judah because of Yahweh’s help (37.6-7, 33-35), and that on Assyria being weakened Babylon would inevitably rise again. Or perhaps he is just seeing Babylon as exerting itself in its periods of independence. Either way he knows that both Israel and Judah will at some stage suffer under the hand of Babylon, and that if any royal exiles are to return from Babylon (as opposed to returning from elsewhere) it will have to be connected in some way with the demise of Babylon, for such royal exiles were to be the direct consequence of Hezekiah’s action, and they would also result from Babylon’s belligerence (39).

Note that in fact in context here no mention is made of any other exiles from Judah, but even though not exiled they were still under bondage to Assyria and, once freed from Assyria would be to Babylon (for that was the implication of the royal exiles being taken). On the other hand Isaiah may have seen what would happen to Judah as simply a continuation of what had happened to Israel, seeing all as the one people of God, and thus have connected exiles from Israel with Judah. This would explain further why he realises that the return of all exiles cannot happen until Babylon’s future power is broken.

He speaks of the tribulation that Israel/Judah are going through. They are enduring sorrow (see 1 Chronicles 4.9) including painful toil (compare Genesis 3.16; 5.29), great trouble (inner fear and rage) and oppressive bondage in their ‘service’. But this will be removed. (But there is no mention of exile).

He puts words about the king of Babylon into their mouths because he knows that by the time deliverance from oppression comes it is Babylon who will be responsible for oppression, as he had told Hezekiah (39.6-7). Although not mentioned here Judah will be included in the punishment. For Judah must be punished for relying on Babylon, and the exiles of Israel will share in that punishment because Babylon has taken over as their oppressor because they are connected with Judah (compare 11.12). Thus it is from Babylon overlordship that they will finally have to be delivered. And anyway in Isaianic terms in the end all who would be redeemed must be redeemed from ‘Babylon’, for Babylon is the great enemy of God who must rise at the end prior to its doom.

The word for ‘parable’ is mashal meaning a parable, a saying, a way of expressing things. Thus this is an expression of what the king of Babylon is seen to be. He is an oppressor and an exactor. The latter word is of unknown meaning. Some take it as from the root thhb (gold) and read ‘place of gold’ (RV ‘golden city’). In that case there would be an ironic contrast, the place of oppression and the golden place. But the stress is undoubtedly on oppression.

14.5-6

‘Yahweh has broken the staff of the wicked,
The sceptre of the rulers,
Who smote the peoples in wrath with a continual stroke,
Who ruled the nations in anger with a persecution that none restrained.’

The exultation is in the fact that Yahweh has stepped in to act. He has broken the staff of the wicked. The staff was broken when a man was removed from office, as a sign that his authority was over and done with, and here it was the wicked ruler’s sceptre that was broken. Thus here in vision the king of Babylon’s power has been broken. He has been removed from office.

He is described in strong terms. He had beaten the people continually and unmercifully, he had persecuted the peoples without restraint, and all because of the anger that bubbled up within him. He is seen as a raging tyrant. No wonder then that the nations rejoiced at his removal from power. Thus we have here his presentiment that Babylon will yet seek to lord it over the nations. In view of how he saw Babylon it was inevitable.

Later he will make clear that in fact Yahweh will ensure that the very names of these tyrants will be wiped out, with the further guarantee that their sons will be prevented from following in their footsteps (verses 21-22).

14.7-8

‘The whole earth is at rest and is quiet,
They break out into singing.
Yes, the fir trees rejoice at you,
And the cedars of Lebanon, saying,
“Since you are laid down,
No feller has come up against us.” ’

All creation (the known world) will rest and relax, and rejoice at the tyrant’s downfall. ‘Laid down’ here signifies the sleep of death. Now that the Babylonian tyrant has been dealt with the world can be spared God’s wrath. This suggested comparison sees the feller as God’s instrument of judgment as in 10.33-34. Others however consider the feller to be descriptive of oppressive kings, and their rejoicing to be because now that he is dead there is no oppressor.

14.9-10

‘Sheol from beneath is moved for you,
To meet you at your coming.
It stirs up the shades (Rephaim) for you,
Even all the he-goats of the earth.
It has raised up from their thrones the kings of the nations.
They all will answer and say to you,
“Are you also become as weak as us?
Have you become like us?” ’

Sheol is the world of the grave, the shadowy underworld where life is not real life but a half-life as a shadow. The dead kings have thrones but they are not reigning. Their thrones are but the identifying shadows of what once was.

So the idea is that the shadowy world of Sheol is all that awaits him. Sheol is depicted here as moving in order to welcome the king of Babylon. It stirs up the shadows, but only in order to ask the question which demonstrates that he too has become like them, a shadow without reality (they could not imagine nothingness). Could such a king become but a shadow? The answer expected was ‘yes’. It was a way of emphasising just what he had become.

Later in verse 16 the question will be, ‘Is this the man who made the earth tremble?’ as they see in his present state his total lack of any power.

‘He-goats’. With their fierceness and strength and vigour these are often used to depict powerful leaders.

This is not to be seen as an accurate picture of the world beyond the grave. It was rather the picture given by those who could not imagine such a world, to whom death was really the end, but who also could not imagine nothingness. The recognition and conversation is but a way of getting over the message. We may gather from it the idea of future life and future recognition, but it is doubtful if Israel saw it in that way. Their point was that the only world left to them after this life was the shadowy world of the grave.

14.11

‘Your pomp is brought down to Sheol,
And the noise of your harps.
The worm is spread under you,
and worms cover you.’

The picture is sarcastic. The king so splendid and gorgeously arrayed in life had as it were brought his pomp down to the tomb, but it was a pomp of worms. And his ears still rang with the sound of the musical instruments that had comforted him on earth, but what crawled over him was worms. Now the maggots covered him, crawling over him both above and below in his cold, unwelcoming tomb. All his oils and his perfumes went for nothing here. Compare here Ezekiel 32.18-31. It was a world of graves.

14.12

‘How are you fallen from heaven,
O day-star (helel), son of the morning (shahar - dawn).
How are you cut down to the ground,
Who laid low the nations.’

While on earth the unidentified king of Babylon had depicted himself as semi-divine. He had seen himself as the equivalent of Helel, the day-star, the shining one. Helal, the son of Shahar (the Dawn) is known from the Ugaritic texts, and the whole account is based on the myth of the lesser deity who seeks to depose the chief gods only to be hurled from the heavens. The comment is sarcastic. The king’s claims to semi-deity are revealed as nonsense by his descent into the grave. He had not really ‘fallen from heaven’, that was sarcasm, he had rather fallen from earth into his grave.

It is possible that we are to see Isaiah here as representing the king’s false claims in terms of a Canaanite myth known to his readers, rather than as the king actually claiming to be that particular god. The king would think in terms of his own gods. But whichever way it was the point is clear. All his claims to any kind of divinity have proved false.

More realistic was his claim to have laid low the nations. But now this too has collapsed about him for he himself is laid low.

14.13-14

‘And you said in your heart,
“I will ascend into heaven,
I will exalt my throne above the stars of God,
I will sit on the mount of the assembly in the uttermost parts of the north,
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds,
I will be like the Most High.’

The king’s fivefold claims are indicative of a false covenant, for five is the number of covenant. They are in contrast with the five titles of Immanuel (9.6). Note the continual ‘I’. He has eyes only for himself. He is his own god. First we find the king’s decision to ‘ascend into heaven’, to become a wonder. This is followed by placing his throne above the lesser deities, to become the counsellor. Then he ascends further to the ‘mount of the assembly in the uttermost parts of the north’, which was a description of the home and gathering of the gods as described in the Ugaritic texts, thus becoming the mighty god. Then he ascends above the heights of the clouds which surround the chief gods, seeking to be the everlasting father. And in the end he challenges the chief god himself, he seeks to be the great prince. Thus this is a depiction of the gradual climb of the ambitious ‘semi-deity’ towards his ultimate goal of being the chief god, before being cast down for his presumption. Isaiah sets it in a context where his challenge is to the Most High God Himself.

It may well be that this was to some extent acted out ritually in the temple of Marduk, but men were expected to see beyond the depiction and recognise a greater ‘reality’, just as the Egyptians were expected to accept that the visible Pharaoh was Horus. The picture is thus drawn by Isaiah of the overweening pride of the kings of Babylon, and the proof of their falsehood in the fact of their deaths and descent into the grave.

It should be noted here that there are no Scriptural grounds for referring this description to Satan, although certainly we may consider that it is an apt picture of rebellion against God, and as such illustrative of how Satan might have behaved. But we can go no further than that.

14.15-17

‘Yet you will be brought down to Sheol,
To the uttermost parts of the pit.
Those who see you will look on you narrowly,
They will consider you, saying,
“Is this the man who made the earth to tremble?
Who shook kingdoms?
Who made the world as a wilderness, and overthrew its cities.
Who did not loose his prisoners to their home?” ’

Here it is made clear that the king is but a man. Isaiah has no time at all for his false claims. Rather than reaching ‘to the uttermost parts of the north’, he will be brought down to Sheol, to ‘the uttermost parts of the pit’. ‘The pit’ is one name for Sheol which reflects its worst aspect. And it puts his career into perspective. He had been great on earth, and his greatness is emphasised in question form, but now he had been levelled by the great leveller. Note the five questions which deliberately contrast with the king’s own five statements of intent. Their basis was that, rather than rising to be with the gods, had he not in reality caused trouble on earth? Had he not made the earth tremble, had he not shaken kingdoms, had he not turned the world into a wilderness, had he not overthrown its cities, had he not refused to release the prisoners so that they could return to their own countries? The criticism is of that which is earthly, destructive and evil, revealing his real nature as a tyrant, not as a god. The nations do not see him as a god. But he had so shocked by his cruelty even these men of war, who were used to violence, that he was seen as a destroyer and as utterly callous.

14.18-20

‘All the kings of the nations,
All of them sleep in glory.
But you are cast out, away from your sepulchre,
Like an abominable branch,
Clothed with the slain who are thrust through with the sword,
Who go down to the stones of the pit.
As a carcass trodden underfoot.
You will not be joined with them in burial,
Because you have destroyed your land,
You have slain your people.
The seed of evildoers will not be named for ever.’

And because of his life of shame he will not be allowed proper burial. All the kings whom he defeated and who slavishly served him will be buried in honour and ‘sleep in glory’, in the gorgeous clothing and jewels in which kings were buried, and in their great mausoleums, their splendid buildings for the important dead. But he is to be cast out, his clothing to be that of the bodies of the slain killed with the sword, their blood testifying to his evil ways and his lust for conquest. And he himself will be tossed into the bottom of a forgotten pit to be trodden underfoot because men have forgotten where he is buried.

‘Because you have destroyed your land, you have slain your people.’ This was why his fate was as it was. He had brought destruction on his own people. Possibly the thought includes that he is to so be humiliated because he has tried to ensure that his chosen heirs inherited the throne, resulting in a failed civil war. Or it may simply mean that he brought destruction on his people and land because of his own warlike ways, and the arousing of the enmity of others. But either way he who thought of himself as so successful had failed as a king and destroyed his own people.

‘Like an abominable branch.’ He is the total opposite of the righteous branch of 11.1. Instead of being righteous and introducing righteousness like the righteous branch, he will introduce evil and do iniquity, encouraging others to do the same.

We are not necessarily to see here any particular king of Babylon. It is the kingship as a whole that is being described, with its continued arrogance through the centuries, and its final shame and ignominy that is being emphasised. It is not necessarily a specific, real burial that is in mind, but the picturing of a worthy end for such a tyrant, (although Isaiah may have known more than we do).

‘Because you have destroyed your land, you have slain your people. The seed of evildoers will not be named for ever.’ What he has brought on his own land means that his seed must be wiped out, not even to be named. This may suggest that the reason why he does not have a proper burial is due to the practise of kings, who sought to ensure the appointment to the throne of their chosen heirs by getting rid of rivals towards the end of their reign, which often involved civil war. It may possibly be suggesting that he had attempted that here and had failed, being usurped by a rival, and that his own ignominious death and the death of his children had resulted (compare 2 Kings 10.1-14). The final comment is then Isaiah’s comment on the situation, amplified in the next verse. His chosen descendants will lose even their name because he has been so evil in his deeds that Yahweh has determined that his seed will not inherit.

On the other hand the suggestion may simply be that by his activities each king has brought destruction and suffering on his own people. Their grandiose ideas had ended again and again in misery for their people. Thus God will not allow their dynasty to continue.

14.21

‘Prepare slaughter for his children,
Because of the iniquity of their fathers,
That they rise not up nor possess the earth,
And fill the face of the world with cities.’

In any successful rebellion not only would the king be disposed of, but any possible heirs would also be slaughtered. There was always the possibility that such might rally support and rebuild Babylon. Thus to ensure that they did not seek to take possession of the land or to build strong cities in order to establish their position, they too would be put to death. They suffered for the sins of their fathers as well as for their own. We should always remember that what we do with our lives and the way we behave often affects our children’s destiny.

Or this may simply be a general statement that God’s sentence is on all related to the kings of Babylon. They are doomed by the sins of their fathers which they share. The result being that Babylon will never finally rise again to possess the earth or build its fortresses.

‘And fill the face of the world with cities.’ There may well here be a reference to Genesis 10.11-12.

14.22

‘ “And I will rise up against them,”
Says Yahweh of hosts,
“And cut off from Babylon name and remnant,
And son and son’s son,” says Yahweh.’

Yahweh was determined to ensure that the dynasty in Babylon could never rise again. Their name would be cut off by removing all traces of the royal house. Every last remnant would be removed. The point being made here is that God would make so sure that the end of Babylon really was the end of Babylon, that no sons of the royal house would be allowed to survive so as to restore it. In no other way could it be ensured that Babylon would not rise again.

14.23

‘ “And I will also make it a possession for the hedgehog,
And pools of water,
And I will sweep it with the broom of destruction,”
Says Yahweh of hosts.’

Babylon would finish up as waste ground where the hedgehog would live in holes, and pools of water would form in hollows, because God had swept it clean with the broom of destruction. The picture of the broom sweeping clean emphasises the completeness of the judgment. This picture of God hard at work ‘spring cleaning’ Babylon parallels the hard labour that Israel and Judah had performed for Babylon (14.3). Babylon’s extraction of labour from Yahweh’s people was now receiving its own reward.

It is clear from all this how infamously special Babylon was seen to be. It was seen as the great enemy of God. It was a picture of all that was bad in the world, and its end was in accordance with the picture. It illustrated all sinfulness and was a warning of what sinfulness would bring men to. And in the end, although it would take many centuries, all was fulfilled. But in all that is written here we should note that there is no hint of Judah’s exile in Babylon.

Judgment on Assyria (14.24-27).

But the reader is asking, what of Assyria? Thus Assyria is dealt with briefly and for the last time judgmentwise in this section. To Isaiah it is of no more consequence. But the picture of the destruction of Babylon reminds him that Assyria must also be destroyed. Its days are numbered (even though its empire would last for another hundred years) until it is ready to worship Yahweh (19.23-24).

Analysis of 14.24-27.

  • a Yahweh of hosts has sworn saying, “Surely as I have thought, so will it come about, and as I have purposed, so will it stand” (24).
  • b “That I will break the Assyrian in my land, and on my mountain tread him under foot” (25a).
  • b Then his yoke will depart from off them, and his burden depart from off their shoulder (25b).
  • a This is the purpose which is purposed on the whole earth (or ‘land’), and this is the hand that is stretched out on all the nations. For Yahweh of hosts has purposed, and who will disannul it, and His hand is stretched out and who will turn it back?

In ‘a’ Yahweh’s purpose is stated, and in the parallel the fact that He has purposed it and it is His purpose is repeated threefold stressing that it is so. In ‘b’ the Assyrian is to be broken and trodden underfoot, and the result will be that that his yoke is removed from them, and the burden of him removed from His people’s shoulders.

14.24-25 ‘Yahweh of hosts has sworn saying,

“Surely as I have thought, so will it come about,
And as I have purposed, so will it stand,
That I will break the Assyrian in my land,
And on my mountain tread him under foot.
Then his yoke will depart from off them,
And his burden depart from off their shoulder.”

Isaiah now declares God’s thoughts and purpose for Assyria, certain because sworn by an oath. What God thinks concerning Assyria will become fact, what God purposes will become a reality. The thought (or plan) refers to the initial idea, the purpose to its worked out fulfilment. And His thought and purpose are that He is about to break the Assyrian in His own land, in Judah. Assyria had presumptuously invaded God’s land and trodden on His mountain (the central highlands are regularly called ‘the mountain’ in Scripture - e.g. Exodus 15.17; Psalm 78.54). Now God would break him and tread him underfoot, and it would be in His land because of his effrontery in so behaving towards God’s land. Thus would Judah’s burden be removed, the yoke would be removed from his shoulder (compare 10.27). They would no longer be subservient to Assyria.

In about 701 BC this was fulfilled when Assyria’s might was indeed broken in God’s land by the mysterious death of a large proportion of its army as they were investing Jerusalem and Libnah (37.36) which resulted in the Assyrian retreat. So much for their previous derision about what Yahweh could do (36.18-20).

14.26-27

‘This is the purpose which is purposed on the whole earth (or ‘land’),
And this is the hand that is stretched out on all the nations.
For Yahweh of hosts has purposed, and who will disannul it,
And his hand is stretched out and who will turn it back?’

As he does regularly Isaiah now speaks universally (that is, universally in the terms of his day). God is not just concerned for His own land. The whole earth is His. Thus all the known earth will be affected, and His hand will be stretched out on all nations. Thus Assyria is doomed and will finally be totally broken. No one can prevent it for it is Yahweh’s purpose and will be accomplished by His hand which no one can turn back once it has begun to act. And that will be the end of Assyria.

Note ‘the purpose which is purposed -- for Yahweh has purposed’, a threefold emphasis on the fact that this is the purpose of Yahweh. His people need not fear. Assyria may appear invulnerable, but not in the face of Yahweh’s purposing.

The brevity of this whole declaration emphasises its certainty. Assyria is already doomed, and can be dismissed in a couple of sentences.

The Burden of Philistia (14.28-32).

This comes ‘in the year that King Ahaz died’. Thus it is probable that we are to see some connection between the death and the oracle. Philistia are told that they must not rejoice at the breaking of ‘the rod’, for another will arise to continue their harassment, and they will also experience famine and further invasion.

Philistia had often experiened subjugation by the house of David. They were subdued by David (2Sam 5:17-25; 21:15) and still paid tribute in the reign of Jehoshaphat (2Chron 17:11), but rebelled against Jehoram (2Chron 21:16, 17), were again subdued by Uzziah (2Chron 26:6), and again shook off the yoke in the reign of Ahaz (2Chron 28:18).

Analysis of 14.28-32.

  • a This burden was in the year that King Ahaz died. ‘Do not rejoice, O Philistia, all of you, because the rod that smote you is broken, for out of the snake’s root will come forth a viper, and his fruit will be a fiery flying snake (28-29).
  • b And the firstborn of the poor will feed, and the needy will lie down in safety, and I will kill your root with famine, and your remnant will be slain (30).
  • b Howl, O gate, cry, O city, you are melted away (demoralised), Philistia, all of you. For there comes a smoke out of the north, and none stands aloof at his appointed times.
  • a What then shall one answer the messengers of the nation? That Yahweh has founded Zion, and in her will the afflicted of her people seek refuge.

In ‘a’ Philistia are seen as rejoicing over the death of Ahaz because his loyalty to Assyria had been a hindrance to the anti-Assyrian confederacy, and being warned that Hezekiah will not be any better for them, because he will not join with their plans and will prove more than a match for any aggressors, while in the parallel the assurance is given the Yahweh has founded Zion which will be a strength to those who seek refuge in her, a further warning not to meddle with Judah. In ‘b’ they are assured that under Hezekiah the nation will again prosper after the bad days at the end of Ahaz’s reign when they were under siege by their neighbours, while Philistia will suffer famine and slaughter, while in the parallel has only punishment from Assyria to look forward to, and they will not be able to stand aloof from it.

14.28 ‘This burden was in the year that King Ahaz died.’

Again we have the strange indication of time given on the basis of a king’s death. (Normally reference would be to the next king’s accession). Thus we would expect some connection with what follows.

14.29

‘Do not rejoice, O Philistia, all of you,
Because the rod that smote you is broken,
For out of the snake’s root will come forth a viper,
And his fruit will be a fiery flying snake.’

The most obvious explanation of the breaking of the rod is the death of Ahaz, ‘the rod’ thereby being broken. This has been objected to on the grounds that he was not in a position to hurt Philistia. But as a vassal of the king of Assyria he may well have been provided with Assyrian troops under an Assyrian commander, so that they could mingle with his own and be used to punish Philistia for some infraction against them or, it may be that with Assyrian soldiers temporarily stationed in Judah with his approval, he had at some stage been a rod to keep Philistia in line. Thus he could have been a rod to them.

Others see ‘the rod that smote you’ as referring to David, and thus by inference to the Davidic house. For David and his descendants were certainly a rod to Philistia. Ahaz is then seen as ‘the broken rod’ because he had lost his independence and had become a mere vassal king. This again ties the rod in with Ahaz. In this case Isaiah is telling Philistia not to rejoice that the Davidic house has lost its independence.

These words were possibly spoken when an embassy came from Philistia with proposals for a rebellion. It is not likely that this was on the death of a king of Assyria (rebellions regularly occurred when kings died) for none fit the timing, but it may well have been a rebellion fomented by Egypt which Ahaz’s loyalty to Assyria had previously thwarted. Thus Ahaz’s death might have been seen by them as increasing the possibility of support from Judah, and their hopes may thus have been placed in the new young king Hezekiah. If so Isaiah clearly disapproved of it, as we would expect, for he would be urging Hezekiah to trust in Yahweh alone. Indeed it may have been their subsequent punitive expedition to punish Hezekiah for observing Isaiah’s request that resulted in Hezekiah’s defeat of them in the fourth year of his reign (2 Kings 18.8).

‘All of you.’ This would be the combined force of Philistine cities, Gaza, Ashkelon, Gath and Ashdod. (The king of Ekron was loyal to Assyria which was why Hezekiah at some stage imprisoned him in Jerusalem). They were constantly seeking opportunities to break free from Assyria. In 734 BC Gath refused to pay tribute and was sacked. In 720 BC Gaza, Ashkelon and Gath all sided with Egypt against Assyria, and when the Egyptian forces were defeated at Gaza found themselves again defeated and occupied. In 711 BC Ashdod played a major part in a joint rebellion with west Palestine states and it too was defeated. Thus this attempt was one among many.

The idea of the rod becoming a snake comes from the Exodus narrative (4.2-3; 7.10-12). The snake’s root may be Assyria. The viper in their midst is then not identified but would be far worse for them than Ahaz and would bring on them the might of Assyria, pictured in terms of the snake which as it struck with amazing speed appeared as if to fly (compare 30.6). If a rebellion did arise it was certainly crushed.

But the idea may equally be that Ahaz was the rod which became the snake’s root producing the viper Hezekiah who became a flying serpent to rout Philistia as mentioned above.

14.30

‘And the firstborn of the poor will feed,
And the needy will lie down in safety,
And I will kill your root with famine,
And your remnant will be slain.’

This would suggest that the last part of Ahaz’s reign was a time of shortage, possibly due to Philistine retaliation once the Assyrian forces had gone, so that the poor had seen their firstborn die of starvation and the needy and undefended had lived precariously. The satisfactory feeding of the firstborn was a measure of general prosperity. The firstborn would be the first to receive food after the parents because of his status, thus if the firstborn did not feed neither did the others. This demonstrates that the times had indeed been desperate. But the accession of Hezekiah has produced better days so that their firstborn now have sufficient food and the needy sleep soundly. So God will now return the compliment and bring famine and warfare on the Philistines. While the root of the Davidic house will prosper, the root of the Philistines will starve.

14.31-32

‘Howl, O gate, cry, O city,
You are melted away (demoralised), Philistia, all of you.
For there comes a smoke out of the north,
And none stands aloof at his appointed times.
What then shall one answer the messengers of the nation?
That Yahweh has founded Zion, and in her will the afflicted of her people seek refuge.’

We know from 2 Kings 18.7 that Hezekiah had broken with Assyria. Thus Philistia may well have done so at the same time. Both therefore await ‘the smoke from the north’, that is the dust clouds raised by the advancing Assyrians. But while Hezekiah will be confident in Yahweh the Philistines will all be demoralised for they have no one to look to, and they are desperately seeking allies. Therefore they will howl. The gate was the point of attack for any advancing army. That is why the howl will come from the gate as the army approaches.

‘None stands aloof at his appointed times.’ This must refer to the fact that none can evade what is coming. None can stand back and pretend not to be part of it. For when their appointed time comes they will be forced to face the invading army whatever happens, or alternatively to surrender and face the consequences in excessive tribute and severe punishment.

In view of this how should Hezekiah respond to the Philistine approaches? What answer should he give to the messenger from the allied nations? Isaiah’s answer is simple. It is Yahweh Who has founded Zion and thus it is Zion which is a safe place of refuge at this time when He still looks with favour on it. So as the armies approach the people can flee for refuge into the city that is God’s foundation, which He has established and will therefore protect, and there they will be secure. They therefore have no need of alliances with foreign nations. We are always safest when our reliance is on God.

Chapter 15 Judgment on Moab.

Isaiah’s next burden is that the Assyrians will advance on Moab as an easy target (‘within three years’ - see 16.14). Their cities will rapidly be defeated one by one, and laid waste, and the whole nation will weep in anguish. Chapter 15 is a vivid picture of a whole land in turmoil and fleeing for its survival before advancing hordes, described as though it had happened because it is a certainty in the mind of God. They have no reliable god to trust in. They are not therefore the kind of people in whom the kings of Israel can put their confidence.

The chapter is a warning to us also not to put our trust in things that can only fail us. For if we do one day we will see them in chaos in a similar way to Moab.

Analysis:

  • a The burden of Moab. For in a night Ar of Moab is laid waste, it is brought to nought. For in a night Kir of Moab is laid waste, it is brought to nought (1).
  • b He is gone up to Bayith, and to Dibon, to the high places to weep. Moab howls over Nebo, and over Medeba. On all their heads is baldness, every beard is cut off (2).
  • c In their streets they gird themselves with sackcloth. On their housetops and in their broad places, everyone howls, weeping abundantly (literally ‘going down in weeping’) (3).
  • d And Heshbon cries out, and Elealeh. Their voice is heard even to Jahaz. Therefore the armed men of Moab cry aloud, his soul trembles within him (4).
  • d My heart cries out for Moab, her nobles flee to Zoar, to Eglath-Shelishiyah, for by the ascent of Luhith they go up with weeping, for in the way of Horonaim they raise up a cry of destruction (5).
  • c For the waters of Nimrim will be desolate, for the grass is withered away, the tender grass fails, there is no green thing (6).
  • b Therefore such wealth as they have accumulated, and that which they have laid up, they will carry away, to the Brook of the Willows, for the cry is gone round the borders of Moab, its howling to Eglaim, and its howling to Beer-elim (7-8).
  • a For the waters of Dimon are full of blood, for I will bring yet more on Dimon. A lion on him who escapes of Moab, and on the remnant of the land (9).

In ‘a’ the cities are dually laid waste and brought to nought, and in the parallel the waters of Dimon are full of blood, and will be so even more, and the escapee wil be taken by a lion. In ‘b’ there is weeping and howling, and in the parallel crying out and howling. In ‘c’ they are girded with sackcloth, and in the parallel the waters are desolate, and the grass withered and failing. In ‘d’ Heshbon cries out and the armed men cry aloud with trembling, and in the parallel the prophet cries out over Moab, go up weeping and raise a cry of destruction.

15.1-2 ‘The burden of Moab.

For in a night Ar of Moab is laid waste,
It is brought to nought.
For in a night Kir of Moab is laid waste.
It is brought to nought.
He is gone up to Bayith, and to Dibon,
To the high places to weep.
Moab howls over Nebo,
And over Medeba.
On all their heads is baldness,
Every beard is cut off.’

In chapter 14 Isaiah ended with the approaching dust clouds of the Assyrian army, and the failing hearts of the Philistines. Now he moves on to their actual approach on one of the rebel nations, on Moab. The inevitable is described. Assyria’s power is such that nothing human can stand before their armies. So effective is their siege expertise that the cities of Ar and Kir are both laid waste in a single night. Both are brought to nought.

However Kir means ‘city’. Thus the idea may be of ‘each city’ rather than one particular city, that is, a number of cities. Indeed Nebo and Medeba have fallen. The cities are mentioned in the main from south to north. ‘He’ is probably Moab. So the idea is that the Moabites go to Bayith and Debir to weep before their gods in the high places. The whole of Moab weeps. They make themselves bald and cut off their beards, both evidences of severe mourning.

15.3-4

‘In their streets they gird themselves with sackcloth.
On their housetops and in their broad places,
Everyone howls,
Weeping abundantly (literally ‘going down in weeping’).
And Heshbon cries out, and Elealeh.
Their voice is heard even to Jahaz.
Therefore the armed men of Moab cry aloud,
His soul trembles within him.’

All the land fall to weeping. They wear sackcloth, a sign of mourning. They go to their housetop shrines, and gather in the open spaces to weep. This is the price for opposing Assyria, for their soldiers will show little mercy. Heshbon was the capital city, on the northern border, Elealeh another associated city. But their cries would reach even down to Jahaz in the south. And as the armed men waited for the Assyrian armies to reach them, each of them too would tremble deep within and cry aloud.

15.5

‘My heart cries out for Moab, her nobles flee to Zoar,
To Eglath-Shelishiyah,
For by the ascent of Luhith they go up with weeping,
For in the way of Horonaim they raise up a cry of destruction.’

Panic has seized the whole of Moab. The nobles flee to the Dead Sea area, to Zoar, and to Eglath-Shelishiyah. The people stream to the ascent of Luhith, weeping as they climb. They take the highway of Horonaim in their desperation to get away, crying out concerning the destruction of Moab. The whole of Moab are refugees.

‘My heart cries out for Moab.’ This may be Isaiah, or it may be God speaking (compare verse 9). He does not find judgment easy to bear.

Some read ‘Eglath Shelishiyah’ as referring to ‘a heifer of the third year’, and see it as indicating that Moab is like an untamed heifer now being subjected to the yoke.

15.6

‘For the waters of Nimrim will be desolate,
For the grass is withered away,
The tender grass fails,
There is no green thing.’

Nimrim is possibly the Wadi Numeirah, which flows into the Dead Sea near its southern end, a dry river bed which floods in the rainy season. But there is no water now at which they can quench their thirst, the grass has withered, no new sproutings take place, all is dry and dead.

15.7

‘Therefore such wealth as they have accumulated,
And that which they have laid up,
They will carry away,
To the Brook of the Willows.’

Their only hope is escape across the border. This is the sad sight of a stream of refugees carrying all their earthly possessions as they stumble on their way to the south hoping to find refuge. The Brook of the Willows (or ‘Ravine of the Poplars’) is probably the Brook Zered on the southern border (compare Amos 6.14 - ‘the Brook of the Arabah’).

15.8-9

‘For the cry is gone round the borders of Moab,
Its howling to Eglaim, and its howling to Beer-elim.
For the waters of Dimon are full of blood,
For I will bring yet more on Dimon,
A lion on him who escapes of Moab,
And on the remnant of the land.’

The whole of the border area with its different cities is filled with weeping people as they stream to the border for what they hope will be safety. Dimon may be a local variant of Dibon (Dibon is read by the Isaiah scroll Qa at Qumran). There is to be no let up. The waters of Dimon will flow with blood, and more and more so as the advance continues.

‘I will bring yet more on Dimon.’ God allows the Assyrian action to build up. He does not prevent it. He does not intervene in world affairs. He allows them to follow a direction based on the way He has made the world. Thus in that sense it is seen as God’s action. The ‘lion’ represents lion-like soldiers, eager for the prey. They will attack the fleeing refugees and those who have remained to fight a rearguard action.

Chapter 16 Moab, Her Refugees In Desperate Straits, Seek Refuge in Edom And Consider Refuge in Judah, But Decide Against It.

God was ready to provide Moab with a safe shelter in Judah, but they preferred remaining in Edom rather than having to submit to the requirements of Yahweh.

Moab’s Consideration of An Appeal to the King of Judah (16.1-5).

Analysis of 16.1-5.

  • a Send the lambs, for the ruler of the land, from Sela which is towards the wilderness, to the mount of the daughter of Zion (1).
  • b For it will be that, as wandering birds, as a scattered nest, so will the daughters of Moab be, at the fords of Arnon (2).
  • c Give counsel, exercise justice (make a just decision), make your shadow as the night, in the midst of the noonday (3a).
  • d Hide the outcasts, do not betray the wanderer (3b).
  • d Let my outcasts dwell with you (4a).
  • c As for Moab, be a covert to him, from the face of the spoiler
  • b For the extortioner is brought to nothing, spoiling ceases, those who tread down, are consumed out of the land (4b).
  • a And a throne will be established in covenant love, and one will sit (or ‘one sits’) on it in truth, in the tent of David, judging and seeking justice, and swift to do righteousness (5).

In ‘a’ gifts are to be sent to the ruler who rules over the land of Judah and over mount Zion, and in the parallel the just and righteous ruler is described in glowing terms. In ‘b’ the daughters of Moab are in a hapless state, defenceless and hopeless, while in Judah righteousness rules, none are ‘spoiled’ or tread down the weak. In ‘c’ a plea is made to Judah for their shadow to cover the fleeing Moabites, and in the parallel the request is made for them to be a covert to him from the face of the spoiler. In ‘d’ the request is that their outcasts may be hidden in Judah and not betrayed, and in the parallel that they may dwell with them (in safety).

16.1-2

‘Send the lambs,
For the ruler of the land
From Sela which is towards the wilderness,
To the mount of the daughter of Zion.
For it will be that, as wandering birds,
As a scattered nest,
So will the daughters of Moab be,
At the fords of Arnon.’

Having fled into Edom (Sela is in Edom) for refuge the decision is taken to appeal to Judah for help, to ‘the mount of the daughter of Zion’, sending a gift of lambs, a payment for the privilege asked for (compare 2 Kings 3.4). Alternately it may indicate submission to the Davidic kingship. They had been subdued and rendered tributary by David (2Sam 8:2), and when the kingdom was divided, they continued in subjection to the ten tribes till the death of Ahab, paying yearly, or perhaps at the accession of every new king, a tribute of a hundred thousand lambs and as many rams with the wool (2Ki 3:4,5). Thus the point here may be the renewal of tribute in return for protection. Alternatively the gift might have been seen as necessary so that national pride could be maintained at all costs. The appeal will go to the ruler of the land. In mind especially is the hapless state of the young women of Moab still seeking to cross the fords of Arnon in numbers, looking back in fear at the advancing Assyrian soldiery. Whereas the daughter of Zion prospers, the daughters of Moab are in a hapless state.

The young women are always the ones who suffer most in such circumstances. They are a prey to the enemy and unable to defend themselves. They are like birds that have become separated from the flock, like helpless nestlings when the nest has been destroyed.

Note the vague ‘ruler of the land’ and the way Jerusalem is described. Both avoid specifics. They do not speak of the anointed Davidic king, or refer to the Mount of Yahweh. They do not want to be seen as submitting to the son of David or to the God of Judah. They prefer to put themselves at the mercy of the people without wanting any deep involvement.

16.3-4a

‘Give counsel,
Exercise justice (make a just decision),
Make your shadow as the night,
In the midst of the noonday,
Hide the outcasts,
Do not betray the wanderer.
Let my outcasts dwell with you.
As for Moab, be a covert to him,
From the face of the spoiler.’

The appeal to Judah is put into words. Let the leaders of Judah discuss the matter and come to a conclusion, let them make a just decision. Let the daughter of Zion act as a shadow to Moab from the heat of the Assyrian sun, let them shelter the outcasts and not hand back the refugees to the advancing Assyrians. Let them give them a place where they can settle as resident aliens for a time until the crisis is past. Let them be a place of refuge from the spoiler.

16.4b-5

‘For the extortioner is brought to nothing,
Spoiling ceases,
Those who tread down,
Are consumed out of the land,
And a throne will be established in covenant love,
And one will sit (or ‘one sits’) on it in truth,
In the tent of David, judging and seeking justice,
And swift to do righteousness.’

Some see this as Zion’s conditional acceptance speech, a declaration that Moab must recognise the terms on which they can come. They must recognise that Judah is a well ruled land, ruled by one who sits on a throne established in covenant love and truth, sitting in the tent of David and ruling justly. Therefore there must be no misbehaviour, for all who misbehave will be severely dealt with. They must be willing to obey the Law of righteousness as expressed in the covenant. (‘Will be’ and ‘will sit’ then simply refer to what they will find when they come. Hebrew verb tenses must not be pressed timewise. They refer rather to completed or incompleted action).

Others see this as the flattery that follows the appeal. The Moabite leaders know about the hopes of Israel and define the ruler of the land to whom they are appealing in those terms. They know that he is a just king, they say, whose righteous reign has rid Judah of extortioners, of spoilers, of oppressors, who sits on a throne of mercy, who deals honestly, who is of the Davidic house, honourable like David was, judging fairly, seeking justice, quick to do what is right. The implication therefore is that he will not refuse their request.

Even others, however, see verse 5 as spoken by Isaiah or God, and therefore a glimpse into the future Messianic reign, but as a direct reference this sits ill with what follows and seems out of context, although they would argue that Isaiah is deliberately seeking to bring in a reference to Immanuel as a reminder of what will be. What,. however, would seem more acceptable is the idea that this a description of an idealistic king which was applied rather hopefully to the house of David, and thus in that sense foreshadows the Messiah.

This stability and security of Judah is seen to be in direct contrast with the sad state of the daughters of Moab, and the description of the king ruling in strength and justice thus provides hope for the refugees.

The Request To Judah Is Never Actualised Because of the Pride of Moab, With Sad Results (16.6-14).

Analysis of 16.6-14.

  • a We have heard of the pride of Moab, (he is very proud), even of his arrogance, and his pride and his wrath. His boastings are nothing
  • b Therefore will Moab howl for Moab. Everyone will howl. You will mourn for the raisin cakes of Kir-hareseth, utterly stricken
  • c For the fields of Heshbon languish, and the vine of Sibmah. The lords of the nations, have broken down its choice plants. They reached even to Jazer, they wandered into the wilderness. Her branches were spread abroad, they passed over the sea
  • c Therefore I will weep with the weeping of Jazer, for the vine of Sibmah, I will water you with my tears, O Heshbon and Elealeh, for on your summer fruits and on your harvest, the shout has failed, and gladness is taken away, and joy out of the fruitful field, and in the vineyards there will be no singing, nor joyful noise, no treader will tread out wine in the presses. I have made the shout to cease
  • b For which reason My bowels sound like a harp for Moab, and my inward parts for Kir-heres. And it will come about that when Moab presents himself, when he wearies himself on the high place, and will come to his sanctuary to pray, he will not prevail
  • a This is the word that Yahweh spoke concerning Moab in time past. But now Yahweh has spoken saying, “Within three years, as the years of a hired servant, and the glory of Moab will be brought into contempt, with (in spite of) all his great multitude, and the remnant will be very few and not mighty (13-14).

In ‘a’ the pride of Moab and his boastings are spoken of, and in the parallel their boastings will prove in vain for they will be brought into contempt and become few in number. In ‘b’ the result will be that Moab will howl, and mourn for the lack of their religious rites, and in the parallel Yahweh’s heart will sound like a doleful harp, for when Moab wear themselves out on their high places and come to their sanctuary to pray, they will not prevail. In ‘c’ there is weeping because the fields of Heshbon and the vine of Sibmah fail, and the choice plants that reached to Jazer will be broken down, While in the parallel, following the reverse order, there is weeping in Jazer, and the vine of Sibmah and Heshbon will be watered with their tears because the harvest of grain and vine has failed and there is no joy in harvest there.

16.6-7

‘We have heard of the pride of Moab.
He is very proud.
Even of his arrogance, and his pride and his wrath.
His boastings are nothing.
Therefore will Moab howl for Moab.
Everyone will howl.
You will mourn for the raisin cakes of Kir-hareseth,
Utterly stricken.’

On the basis of the first interpretation above this is Isaiah’s comment on why Moab do not take up the offer. Their pride is offended. They do not want to submit to the son of David. They do not want to put their trust in the covenant. They would prefer to stay in Edom where they are appreciated and there are no strict requirements, in spite of it not being as secure or pleasant as in Judah. Thus, says Isaiah, they will suffer for their pride and continue to howl and mourn. They might have had covenant love, righteousness, truth and justice. Instead they cling to their pride, their arrogance and their wrath, although their boastings are really worth nothing. The fact is that in the end they do not want to submit to Yahweh.

On the basis of the second interpretation above this would appear to be a rejection of their pleas by Judah. The grounds are then based on Moab’s behaviour in the past, the pride, arrogance and anger that they have previously shown towards Judah. And they had boasted against Judah, but now their boasting has come to nothing. Therefore they will be left to howl and to make do as they can. We must remember that to shelter the Moabites would be to offend the king of Assyria and to risk invasion.

‘The raisin cakes of Kir-hareseth.’ Raisin cakes may refer to an important aspect of the worship of their gods (Hosea 3.1 compare Jeremiah 44.19). The suggestion might be that they have refused submission to Yahweh, but now have nowhere else to turn. Or the raisin cakes may have been a recognised delicacy for which Kir-hareseth was famous (compare 1 Chronicles 12.40).

16.8

‘For the fields of Heshbon languish,
And the vine of Sibmah.
The lords of the nations,
Have broken down its choice plants.
They reached even to Jazer,
They wandered into the wilderness.
Her branches were spread abroad,
They passed over the sea.’

Moab has cause to howl because the fields of their capital city languish as do the choice vine of Sibmah. This is because ‘the lords of the nations’ (compare 13.4), Assyrian allied leaders, have broken down their choice plants.

‘They reached even to Jazer, they wandered into the wilderness. Her branches were spread abroad, they passed over the sea.’ This presumably refers to how choice the plants were. Jazer was beyond the northern border, with the wilderness to the east, and the sea to the west. The picture is of the vine spreading in all directions, signifying the export of its produce. But now there will be no more exports. Their means of prosperity has gone.

(An alternative translation is ‘her choice plants have broken down the lords of the nations’, that is, made them drunk and helpless, referring to local neighbouring royalty. But the above seems more likely).

16.9-10

‘Therefore I will weep with the weeping of Jazer,
For the vine of Sibmah,
I will water you with my tears,
O Heshbon and Elealeh,
For on your summer fruits and on your harvest,
The shout has failed,
And gladness is taken away,
And joy out of the fruitful field,
And in the vineyards there will be no singing,
Nor joyful noise,
No treader will tread out wine in the presses.
I have made the shout to cease.’

God is here pictured as weeping along with those who no longer receive the wine because of Moab’s loss. Although judgment has come on Moab, God has no pleasure in it. He feels for those who must suffer. The shouting and gladness and rejoicing has failed. There will be no singing or joyful noise or treading of the wine. For Yahweh has made the shout to cease. The depth of Moab’s loss is emphasised, both in wealth and in happiness, and is emphasised in threefold repetitions. And it is Yahweh Who has done it, for He does all things. But it was with sad heart.

Note the reverse order of the names to verse 8, Jazer, Sibmah, Heshbon, a favourite device of Isaiah. Elealeh was closely related to Heshbon (see 15.4).

16.11-12

‘For which reason my bowels sound like a harp for Moab,
And my inward parts for Kir-heres.
And it will come about that when Moab presents himself,
When he wearies himself on the high place,
And will come to his sanctuary to pray,
He will not prevail.’

The genuineness of Yahweh’s grief for Moab is emphasised. His very inner being is like the doleful sound of the harp because of Moab’s misfortune. They had had their opportunity to come within the covenant and had rejected it. All that is now open to them is fruitless prayer to false gods. They will weary themselves pleading with their gods, both in the high places and in their temples, but it will achieve nothing. They will not prevail. Their gods will not hear. (This is in contrast with Yahweh Who will deliver Jerusalem).

16.13-14 ‘This is the word that Yahweh spoke concerning Moab in time past. But now Yahweh has spoken saying, “Within three years, as the years of a hired servant, and the glory of Moab will be brought into contempt, with (in spite of) all his great multitude, and the remnant will be very few and not mighty.’

The prophetic vision of the destruction of Moab has been given previously, now the time of its fulfilment is determined. Yahweh has spoken and within three years all that Moab gloried in will be brought into contempt, and this in spite of his great numbers of people. Those who remain will be few and weak. So much for the pride of Moab.

‘As the years of a hired servant.’ The length of time is fixed by contract and is certain to the day. He does not want ‘three years’ to have its usual significance of an indeterminate period of time.

It is clear from all this that Moab would not have been a safe people to rely on. It is further clear that having had the opportunity of trusting Yahweh they have refused to do so. Therefore their fate is sealed.

Chapter 17 The Judgment on Damascus.

In this chapter we see how Isaiah’s burdens concerning the nations have very much in mind His actions concerning His people, for most of this burden is taken up with the impact of the behaviour and powerlessness of Damascus on His people. The indictment on Israel is devastating. Because they have allied themselves with Damascus, and have trusted in them, they will share the fate of Damascus, and are included in the oracle against them. Because they have trusted in Damascus they no longer count sufficiently to have their own oracle. It is Isaiah’s way of demonstrating how far they have fallen.

He then goes on to illustrate this faithlessness in comparison with their similar faithlessness with regard to Canaanite gods and probably also with regard to ‘foreign’ Syrian gods. And yet as he regularly does, Isaiah also includes within his denunciation a message of hope for the remnant (verses 7, 13-14).

Initial Declaration Concerning Syria (Incorporating Israel) (17.1-3)

Analysis.

  • The Burden of Damascus. “Behold Damascus is taken away from being a city, and it will be a ruinous heap (1).
  • The cities of Aroer are forsaken. They will be for flocks who will lie down, and none will make them afraid (2).
  • The fortress also will cease from Ephraim, and the kingdom from Damascus (3a).
  • And as for the remnant of Syria, they will be as the glory of the children of Israel,” Says Yahweh of hosts (3b).

In ‘a’ Damascus (which represents Syria) is to be destroyed, while in the parallel Syria is to have its glory so dimmed that it will be like that of (northern) Israel. In ‘b and parallel cities, fortress and kingdom will be forsaken and will cease, along with those of Israel (Ephraim).

17.1-3 ‘The Burden of Damascus.

“Behold Damascus is taken away from being a city,
And it will be a ruinous heap.
The cities of Aroer are forsaken.
They will be for flocks who will lie down,
And none will make them afraid.
The fortress also will cease from Ephraim,
And the kingdom from Damascus,
And as for the remnant of Syria.
They will be as the glory of the children of Israel,”
Says Yahweh of hosts.’

This oracle was probably given prior to the sacking of Damascus around 735/4 BC. In it Isaiah links Damascus and Syria, with Ephraim (Israel) and the cities of Aroer. Assuming these to be the cities of Aroer in Moabite territory they had once belonged to the Syrian empire (2 Kings 10.33), and also previously to Israel (Joshua 13.9, 16; Judges 11.26; 1 Chronicles 5.8). That may be why they are linked here. They were the furthest reaches of Syria’s one time empire, and of the old Israel. This then links this passage back to the previous chapter and indicates that the destruction will go as far down as the Arnon in Transjordan, where Moabite territory begins. On the other hand it is always possible that there were other ‘cities of Aroer’. But it may well be that Syria still saw the cities as theirs even though the Moabites had snatched them back.

The prophecy indicates that Damascus will be sacked and cease to be a city, becoming a ruinous heap; that the cities of Aroer (wherever they were) will become deserted and occupied only by sheep, who will be left alone there with no human beings around to disturb them; that Ephraim (Israel) will cease having fortified cities, having totally lost their independence; that Damascus will have lost kingship; and that Syria will become minuscule.

‘They will be as the glory of the children of Israel, says Yahweh of hosts.’ The ‘glory’ of a nation represented what resources it possessed and what status it had (see Isaiah 8.7; 10.3; 17.4; 22.18; 60.13; Ezekiel 25.9). Israel will have been minimalised in both departments. Its ‘glory’ will be little. Thus what is left of Syria too will have little status. And all this will be brought about as a result of Yahweh’s word.

The Future That Israel Can Look Forward To (17.4-11).

Israel’s future is bleak, but it will make them set their eyes on their Maker, the Holy One of Israel.

Analysis of 17.4-12.

  • a And it will come about in that day that the glory of Jacob will be made thin, and the fatness of his flesh will wax lean, and it will be as when the harvester gathers the standing corn, and his arms reap the ears. Yes, it will be as when one gleans ears, in the valley of Rephaim (4-5).
  • b “Yet there will be left there in gleanings, as the beating of an olive tree, two or three berries at the top of the uppermost bough, four or five in the outmost branches of a fruitful tree,” Says Yahweh, the God of Israel (6).
  • c In that day will a man look to his Maker, and his eyes will have respect to the Holy One of Israel (7).
  • d And he will not look to the altars, to the work of his hands, nor will he have respect to what his fingers have made, either the Asherim or the sun-images (8).
  • d In that day will his strong cities be as the forsaken places in the wood and on the mountain top, which were forsaken from before the children of Israel, and it will be a desolation (9).
  • c For you have forgotten the God of your deliverance, and have not been mindful of the rock of your strength (‘your strong rock’) (10).
  • b Therefore you plant ‘desirable’ plants (or ‘plants of the desirable one’), and set it with strange (‘foreign’) slips (11a).
  • a In the day of your planting you hedge it in, and in the morning you make your seed to blossom, but the harvest flees away in the day of grief and desperate sorrow (11b).

In ‘a’ the future is bleak for Israel, and its harvests will be thin, and in the parallel whatever their efforts they will not enjoy the benefit of their harvests. In ‘b’ even the gleaning will be sparse, and in the parallel it is because they plant foreign plants linked with idolatry. In ‘c’ this will turn their eyes on their Maker, on the Holy One of Israel, and in the parallel this will be necessary because they have forgotten the God of their deliverance, and have not had in mind the Rock of their strength. In ‘d’ they will cease to trifle with the gods who have failed them, for in the parallel their strong cities will be like ancient ruins.

17.4-5

‘And it will come about in that day that the glory of Jacob will be made thin,
And the fatness of his flesh will wax lean,
And it will be as when the harvester gathers the standing corn,
And his arms reap the ears.
Yes, it will be as when one gleans ears,
In the valley of Rephaim.’

If their glory being like that of Israel had raised hopes in Syria, they are now dashed, for here we have confirmation of the reducing of ‘Jacob’s’ glory, the glory of the children of Israel. In the day when God acts it will be made sparse, and much of Israel’s wealth and fruitfulness will disappear. In the same way as the flesh disappears from a very sick man as he lies there in his illness, so will they be lean.

The second picture is of shortage so that the harvester ensures by use of his arms that he drops very little, while the gleaners can thus gather almost nothing. The valley of Rephaim was probably infamous for its poor harvests. It was a place favoured by the Philistine armies when they attacked Israel, possibly suggesting its comparative bareness. And such sparse gleanings from a sparse harvest are a picture of what ‘Jacob’ (Israel) will have to survive on.

17.6

‘And there will be left there in gleanings,
As the beating of an olive tree,
Two or three berries at the top of the uppermost bough,
Four or five in the outmost branches of a fruitful tree,
Says Yahweh, the God of Israel.’

When the olive tree is beaten with sticks to bring down its berries there are always a few that are resistant. In this case what will be left will be only two or three at the top, four or five in the outmost branches. Those are the gleanings (what is left for the poor after harvesting). And that scarcity of gleanings is a picture of Israel’s desperate straits. The gleanings will be almost non-existent because of the poverty of the harvest.

17.7-8

‘In that day will a man look to his Maker,
And his eyes will have respect to the Holy One of Israel.
And he will not look to the altars,
To the work of his hands,
Nor will he have respect to what his fingers have made,
Either the Asherim or the sun-images.’

But suddenly, out of the blue, good comes out of bad. This is typical of Isaiah (compare 10.20-22). He now describes the holy stock (6.13). The result of this chastening will be that some, the remnant, will look to their Maker, and will give due regard to the Holy One of Israel, for there will be nowhere else to look. Their eyes will be turned and fixed on Him, and they will look to Him constantly in their daily lives and have due regard to His covenant. For their idols will have failed them and they will turn to God from idols and serve the living and true God, and wait for the promised Immanuel. They will turn away from hand-made altars, and man-fashioned idols, whether Asherim (wooden poles or images representing the goddess of the fertility cult) or sun-images. Thus it is clear that the worship of the sun-images and of the Asherah-images was at this time predominant in Israel.

Note the stark contrast between God the Maker (compare 44.2; 51.13; 54.5) and man His creation on the one hand (man will look to his Maker), with man the maker, and the gods of his creation on the other (he will not look to his own handywork or to what his fingers have made). They should note that there is only one God Who is never fashioned and shaped by man, the One Who Himself created all things and can never be represented by an acceptable image. He is thus saying, do not look to the altars and their gods but look at them and see what they really are, the works of men’s hands, merely a part of creation and the product of men’s minds and fingers.

17.9 ‘In that day will his strong cities be as the forsaken places in the wood and on the mountain top, which were forsaken from before the children of Israel, and it will be a desolation.’

But while some will be pleasing to God the righteousness of the righteous will not deliver the majority in the day when God acts. Their strong, fortified cities will be deserted. They will become like the well known ruins of ancient Canaanite cities in the forest, or on mountain tops, where no one went any longer, cities that had been deserted because of the arrival of the children of Israel in the power of Yahweh. What had been done by His power when they were faithful to the covenant, would be done to them now that they had broken the covenant and lost His power. They were now as sinful as the Canaanites had been for they had copied their ways. Thus the whole land would be a desolation.

17.10-11

‘For you have forgotten the God of your deliverance,
And have not been mindful of the rock of your strength (‘your strong rock’).
Therefore you plant ‘desirable’ plants (or ‘plants of the desirable one’),
And set it with strange (‘foreign’) slips.
In the day of your planting you hedge it in,
And in the morning you make your seed to blossom,
But the harvest flees away in the day of grief and desperate sorrow.’

This is in parallel with verse 7. All this will happen to them because they had forgotten God the deliverer. The contrast is between the God of Deliverance (Who is also God their Maker), even the Strong Rock, Who had destroyed those Canaanite cities through His once faithful people, and their present feeble attempts, the product of turning to the ways of the Canaanites, to affect nature by force-growing plants dedicated to a ‘desirable’ god, (a beautiful image), and slips from foreign plants which had similar religious significance, and putting them in pots or baskets and making them grow unnaturally quickly so as to stimulate nature, all feeble attempts to stimulate life. They would discover that it would be useless. They would die just as quickly as they grew (compare Matthew 13.5-6). Thus when the day of grief and desperate sorrow comes the harvest from their efforts will be unable to help them. It flees away in helplessness and embarrassment.

The slips from foreign plants were also a hint of what they were seeking to do in seeking help and alliances from foreign nations. Those too would flee away in the day of trouble.

So the charge is that they have forgotten God their Maker, and they have forgotten the Delivering God Who had delivered them from Egypt, and from many foes since; the Delivering God Who had delivered up the cities of the Canaanites to them; the God Who is a strength-giving Rock; the God Who has proved Himself by His actions, and they have turned to nature gods who have no power, who cannot deliver or protect them, who failed the Canaanites, and who cannot strengthen in the hour of need.

But as a result of all that will befall them those who are left will turn and look to Him. The emphasis on their looking to God as their Maker and the Holy One of Israel may suggest the thought that they are having to go right back to basics. They turn to Him as the One Who had made them, and as the One Who had specially favoured Israel by His own choice. They have lost their right to Him as the Deliverer.

A Glimpse of Hope For The Future (17.12-14).

Having depicted the dark future for Israel, apart from the remnant, Isaiah now goes on to encourage all of God’s people who will listen. No earthly power is all-powerful. They are subject to the Creator. So if His people are willing to trust in Him then just as He rebuked the waters at creation, so will He now rebuke the overflowing waters of the enemy so that they will quickly recede before Him.

Analysis.

  • a Ah, the uproar of many peoples, who roar like the roaring of the seas, and the rushing of nations, who rush like the rushing of mighty waters (12).
  • b The nations will rush like the rushing of many waters, but He will rebuke them and they will flee far off (13a).
  • b And they will be chased as the chaff of the mountains before the wind, and like the swirling dust before the storm (13b).
  • a At eventide, behold, terror. Before the morning they are not. This is the portion of those who spoil us, and the lot of those who rob us (14).

In ‘a’ the nations come on with a great rush, seemingly invincibly, but in the parallel terror strikes them, and before the morning they are not. This is the lot of those who attack God’s people. It was illustrated most powerfully in what happened to Sennacherib’s forces before Jerusalem (37.36). In ‘b’ the nations will rush like the rushing of many waters, but He will rebuke them and they will flee far off, and thus in the parallel they will be chased as the chaff of the mountains before the wind, and like the swirling dust before the storm.

17.12-13

‘Ah, the uproar of many peoples,
Who roar like the roaring of the seas,
And the rushing of nations,
Who rush like the rushing of mighty waters.
The nations will rush like the rushing of many waters,
But he will rebuke them and they will flee far off,
And will be chased as the chaff of the mountains before the wind,
And like the swirling dust before the storm.’

We have again here Isaiah’s vision of many nations (compare 13.4-5), a picture of the tumult and restlessness among such nations, and of their racing to overflow the people of God, only to be driven back by God’s rebuke. At this they will disappear, fleeing as chaff before the wind. The picture is partly based on poetic conceptions of creation when the waters obeyed the voice of Yahweh (Psalm 104.7). Men always seek to overwhelm, but they are subject to Him just as the waters were, for He is the Creator.

That Assyria, which regularly gathered conquered nations under its banner, is largely in mind we cannot doubt. And Isaiah is thus assuring God’s people that if they trust in Him God will finally rebuke them and they will flee, as indeed they did from Jerusalem in the siege of 701 BC (37.36). But he is deliberately keeping his thoughts general, for he wants them to know that this will not only be true of Assyria but of all who come against God’s trusting people. If only they would trust Him this is what would happen.

And through history many nations would roar like a tempestuous sea, and rush in like the raging tide, seeking to swamp Israel, but always in the end they would have to retreat at God’s rebuke. This was Isaiah’s vision. God had not forgotten them. He would preserve His true people, His remnant, through all. And in the end those nations would disappear, blown like chaff across the mountains, like the swirling dust caught up in a storm, scattered and landing no one knows where (except God), while God’s own people will be preserved.

17.14

‘At eventide, behold, terror.
Before the morning they are not.
This is the portion of those who spoil us,
And the lot of those who rob us.’

The question here is whether the reference to terror is in respect of Israel’s terror in the face of their enemies, or is God’s terror revealed against their adversaries. Isaiah knew that trust in God did not mean that there would be no trials. There would indeed be times which would arouse terror in many of their hearts, and His people would be spoiled and robbed. But just as evening, and gathering night, soon become morning, so would disappear the dark night of the enemies of God’s people who spoiled and robbed them. Their portion is to disappear at the approach of light.

But Yahweh was also a Terror to their enemies, and this may have in mind especially what happened to the forces of Sennacherib as a picture of God’s continually protecting hand over His people and revealing His terror against their enemies..

Note the inference that those who are evil always seek to do their work in the dark, they are children of darkness. But they disappear when daylight approaches for they are afraid of the light. And in the same way, however dark the night, God always finally brings morning for His people.

If Isaiah had the creation story in mind in his description of the rebuking of the waters, he may well also have it in mind here. The evening comes first, and then the morning, and by morning God’s work is completed. (This would serve to confirm the parabolic nature of the description in Genesis of the cessation of His work). For a similar idea compare Psalm 30.5.

So having delivered his oracle Isaiah adds this appendix to encourage his hearers (‘us’). They need not be afraid, for the One Who brought light out of darkness, the light of the world, the controller of the raging seas, is with them (compare Psalm 46.5).

Chapter 18 Ambassadors Come From Cush and Egypt.

Prior to his burden in respect of Egypt (19.1) Isaiah’s thought now turn towards that land. This was the result of Cushite ambassadors arriving in Jerusalem with the usual purpose, to entangle God’s people in their plots and schemes. The Cushites (Nubians) then ruled Egypt. Whether this was a preliminary enquiry, which was not followed up with action, or a genuine attempt to stir up rebellion with the intention of giving full support depends on the date of the visit. If the former it was sufficient to persuade a number of allies to take on the might of Assyria. If the latter it proved finally ineffective. But it was because the Cushites sought to have contact with God’s people that the burden came on Isaiah, as it had in different ways with Babylon, Philistia, Moab and Syria. Once nations sought to influence God’s people they came under the eye of God, and their attempts to lure God’s people into worldly alliance were his constant burden.

Throughout the whole of these chapters 13-23 we see what is ever true for God’s people, that there will always be those who seek to wean them away from God by any means they can. The world at that time was a hotbed of intrigue, and there were always those who would seek to draw God’s people into it. But Isaiah’s constant message was that Israel must not look to them, but must trust in God.

Analysis of 18.1-7.

  • a Ah, the land of the whirring of wings, which is beyond the rivers of Cush, which sends messengers by the sea, even in vessels of papyrus on the waters. “Go you swift messengers to a people tall and smooth (or ‘spread out and ready for action’), to a people terrible from their beginning onwards, a nation which metes out and treads down, whose land the rivers divide” (1-2).
  • b “All you inhabitants of the world, and you dwellers on the earth, when an ensign (a flag or banner) is lifted up on the mountains, see, and when the trumpet is blown, hear” (3).
  • c For thus has Yahweh said to me, “I will be still, and I will behold in my dwellingplace, like clear heat in sunshine, like a cloud of dew (mist) in the heat of harvest” (4).
  • c For before the harvest, when the blossom is over, and the flower becomes a ripening grape, He will cut off the sprigs with pruninghooks, and the spreading branches He will take away and cut down (5).
  • b They will be left together to the ravenous birds of the mountains, and to the beasts of the earth, and the ravenous birds will summer on them, and all the beasts of the earth will winter on them (6).
  • a In that time will a present be brought to Yahweh of hosts, from a people tall and smooth, and from a people terrible from their beginning onwards, a nation which metes out and treads down, whose land the rivers divide, to the place of the name of Yahweh of hosts, The Mount Zion (7).

In ‘a’ either Israelite representatives, or returning ambassadors, are told to go to a people tall and smooth, to a people terrible from their beginning onwards, a nation which metes out and treads down, whose land the rivers divide, and in the parallel such a people will bring presents to Yahweh and to Mount Zion. In ‘b’ all the ‘inhabitants of the world’ were to note when an ensign (a flag or banner) was lifted up on the mountains and when the trumpet was blown, and in the parallel they would become food for the birds. In ‘c’ Yahweh has said, “I will be still, and I will behold in My dwellingplace, like clear heat in sunshine, like a cloud of dew (mist) in the heat of harvest” (perfect for ripening harvests), and in the parallel we learn that before the harvest, when the blossom is over, and the flower becomes a ripening grape, He will cut off the sprigs with pruninghooks, and the spreading branches He will take away and cut down. It will not be because Yahweh was not there with His provision, but because He purposes it.

18.1-2a

‘Ah, the land of the whirring of wings,
Which is beyond the rivers of Cush,
Which sends messengers by the sea,
Even in vessels of papyrus on the waters.’

‘Ah.’ This connects the passage back to 17.12-14 which began with the same expression. Isaiah is sighing because of the coming of these messengers. It does not please him.

‘The land of the whirring of wings which is beyond the rivers of Cush, which sends messengers by the sea, even in vessels of papyrus on the waters.’ The land of the whirring of wings could be any land where insects were a problem. In Deuteronomy 28.42 the whirring ones were locusts. When locusts visited Egypt they tended to be swept down the Nile by winds from North Africa. This tends to point to Sudan/Ethiopia, especially as they had swept down like a cloud of locusts and had conquered Egypt. Alternately some see it as a reference to Sudan/Ethiopia based on the fact that the peculiar sails on their boats looked from a distance, as they approached, like whirring wings (so LXX has ‘wings of the land of ships’).

‘Beyond (over) the rivers of Cush.’ The same description is given by Zephaniah 3.10. It may refer to northern Ethiopia where Jewish colonists had apparently settled along with other Semites from Southern Arabia. For evidence of the close relationship between southern Arabia and Ethiopia see 2 Chronicles 21.16. The phrase was probably a technical term for Sudan/Ethiopia. Geography was not exact in those days.

‘Which sends messengers by the sea, even in vessels of papyrus on the waters.’ The sea may well be the Red Sea across which vessels of papyrus could sail to southern Arabia, and then the messengers would travel via the trade routes to countries including Palestine. Others see it as referring to the Nile, as vessels of papyrus were not generally seagoing, but ‘sea’ is not the usual description applied to the Nile (although see 19.5).

18.2b-3

‘Go you swift messengers to a people tall and smooth (or ‘spread out and ready for action’),
To a people terrible from their beginning onwards,
A nation that metes out and treads down,
Whose land the rivers divide.
All you inhabitants of the world,
And you dwellers on the earth,
When an ensign is lifted up on the mountains, see,
And when the trumpet is blown, hear!’

The ambassadors of Cush having arrived in Jerusalem, and presumably following discussions, were sent back with suitable flattering and diplomatic compliments, (presumably by Hezekiah and the other members of the alliance). They were told to ‘Go’ back to their own people and return to Cush with the message that even now was about to be circulated to the interested nations, ‘When an ensign (banner) is lifted up on the mountains, see, and when the trumpet is blown, hear!’ They too are to await the signal to act. The world around is waiting to act and at a given time the signal will be given, the banner raised, and the war trumpet will sound. Possibly they were delighted to have such powerful allies and were convinced that they could now defeat Assyria, which was already in trouble due to successful rebellions by Babylon and Elam. Isaiah builds up the picture because he will later condemn it (30.1-5; 31.1).

The description as a whole might well be taken from the blurb included in the ambassadorial message that the Cushites brought (compare verse 7). The verb translated ‘tall’ here means ‘to draw’ in its various uses, e.g. to draw a bow, time drawn out, to draw on a tablet, to draw a lover, to draw oneself up to one’s full height. It can mean ‘drawn out’ and therefore ‘extended’. Thus here it is translated ‘tall’ but it may equally signify a people who were extended in the sense of being spread over a wide area. The verb translated ‘smooth’ here means to ‘polish, furbish’ (e.g. a sword) and thus make it ready for action. So we could equally translate ‘spread over a wide area and ready for action’, which would fit the purpose of the visit. Their boast was of their conquests and their readiness for war. But the Cushites were taller than average and smooth skinned which is why many translate ‘tall and smooth’, although the word never elsewhere means ‘tall’.

The reference is to the Cushite peoples who in around 715 BC, under their king Piankhi, followed by his successor Shabaka, had conquered Egypt and were seeking to influence affairs to their north, especially against Assyria who would keep threatening her northern borders. At this stage they probably seemed invincible (they would soon learn otherwise). It was from Cush that Nimrod the great conqueror came (Genesis 10.8-12), and thus they were ‘a people terrible from their beginnings onwards’. The reference to meting out and treading down could have in mind their treatment of Egypt, which they had at this time conquered. The division of their land by rivers could look back to verse 1, ‘beyond the rivers of Cush’, but may also be a boast as to the fruitfulness of their land, criss-crossed by rivers.

18.4 ‘For thus has Yahweh said to me,

“I will be still,
And I will behold in my dwellingplace,
Like clear heat in sunshine,
Like a cloud of dew (mist) in the heat of harvest”.
For before the harvest, when the blossom is over,
And the flower becomes a ripening grape,
He will cut off the sprigs with pruninghooks,
And the spreading branches he will take away and cut down.
They will be left together to the ravenous birds of the mountains,
And to the beasts of the earth,
And the ravenous birds will summer on them,
And all the beasts of the earth will winter on them.’

Isaiah is not impressed. He gives God’s verdict on the situation. God will stand back and be still. He will not intervene on behalf of the alliance. Rather He will watch the disaster that is coming, from His dwellingplace, possibly signifying Mount Zion (verse 7), but more probably here signifying His heavenly dwellingplace. But men will be conscious that He is there in the background, ‘like clear heat in sunshine, like a mist in the heat of harvest’. God’s mysterious presence will be active in His own way.

‘Like clear heat in sunshine, like a mist in the heat of harvest.’ Both would be seen as presaging a good harvest. When the harvest failed it would not be because Yahweh was lacking. It would be because He had greater purposes.

And before the rebellion comes to harvest and full growth, He will prune its sprigs and remove its spreading branches. Pruning before harvest would be recognised by men as being portentous, it is thing that no man would do, but it is what God will do. The rebellion will not flourish. Rather it will result in the downfall of the rebels. So His action will result in the foreshortening of the rebellion, and what is pruned will then feed the ravenous birds and beasts for a long time to come, in both summer and winter.

Thus Isaiah warns Hezekiah and the other leaders in the alliance that their efforts will come to nought, and that it is Yahweh Who will do it. And especially he is letting Hezekiah know what the result would be of his trusting in such alliances rather than in Yahweh Himself. His words may well have been heeded. If this was prior to the rebellion of around 713 BC (although it may have been later) we learn from Assyrian sources that Sargon of Assyria was aware of the rebellion and of the possible participants in it, but when he moved down and savagely crushed the rebellion (20.1) over a period of three years Judah appears to have come out of it unscathed, which suggests that Hezekiah had not committed himself. And when the rebel king of Ashdod fled to Egypt for sanctuary, the brave Pharaoh handed him over to Sargon.

If it was at that time Shabaka was trying to keep in with Assyria so that any part he had had in negotiations were only perfunctory. It was only later that Shebitku took positive action and sent his brother Tirhakah to oppose Assyria positively (37.9), an attempt which proved a failure, or at the best only partially successful. (Our knowledge of history is based on sources which are not always reliable. Assyria claimed victory but withdrew, which suggests that it was not a resounding one. We do not have Egypt’s side of the story).

18.7

‘In that time will a present be brought to Yahweh of hosts,
From a people tall and smooth,
And from a people terrible from their beginning onwards,
A nation which metes out and treads down,
Whose land the rivers divide,
To the place of the name of Yahweh of hosts,
The Mount Zion.’

This probably initially has in mind gifts brought by the Cushite ambassadors, either at that time, or later, when the new rebellion was planned, seen as handed over to Yahweh and put in the temple treasury, and again handed over with the complimentary phrases which probably originated from the Cushites themselves. In that case he is simply saying that it had been useless to try to bribe Yahweh with gifts.

We may, however, see in it an indication from Isaiah that they too in the future, after the failure of the rebellion with its devastating results for the participants (‘in that time’), will submit to Yahweh and worship Him (not necessarily immediately). See Acts 8.26-39. (As in chapter 7 of the sign of Immanuel, the fact that it would certainly one day happen, however far distant in time, was to be seen as proof that the rebellion would fail). He sees in a number of these nations who approach Judah/Israel seeking treaties, nations who will one day submit to Yahweh. God’s final purpose for the Gentiles is blessing. Note how in the following chapter the description of what will happen to Egypt in the fairly near future is then capped off with a vision of (to us) the long distant future when Egypt will turn to Yahweh (19.19-25).

Note.

The picturesque and enigmatic language of this chapter has resulted in many differing interpretations, especially by those who whenever they see the word ‘world’ (which can also mean ‘land’) immediately think of eschatological ideas. In our view the above satisfactorily and reasonably in its context expounds its meaning. But certainly some of the themes are in one way or another later applied eschatologically (e.g. Revelation 14.14-19; 19.17-18), and Isaiah’s prophecies were undoubtedly the seedbed of eschatology, for he saw both near and far as one whole (which from his point of view it was).

End of note.

Chapter 19 The Burden of Egypt.

For untold centuries Egypt had been a mighty power in that part of the world. It had constantly overseen the affairs of Canaan, and drawn tribute from its rulers. Inevitably there had been times when it was comparatively weak and divided, even for a time partly overrun, but it had always become strong again, and when strong it had looked on Canaan as its own, or in weaker times as its ally, until the conquest of Canaan by Assyria which had brought Assyria to the very door of Egypt.

From its past history of strength Egypt would be seen as an admirable ally to have against the Assyrians. Any overtures from them would therefore be tempting.

But now Isaiah prophesied (probably earlier than the Cushite visit in chapter 18) that it would be able to offer nothing. It would soon be riddled by civil war and overcome by a powerful enemy. The Egypt that was seen as so strong would become weak, and its economy would collapse, and it would become a conquered people. This was, in fact, the story of Egypt in the second part of the 8th century BC. And, says Isaiah, it would be Yahweh’s doing, for God is the supreme God Who controls history, and He will make Egypt weak. However finally it will result in both Egypt and Assyria turning to Yahweh.

But in Isaiah’s mind is not only the fate of Egypt but also the need for a warning of the folly of trusting in Egypt. It will no longer be strong, and it will no longer be reliable (if it ever was). It will be under divine judgment, it will be divided by civil war, it will be ruled by outsiders, it will be economically bankrupt, and its wisdom would have become folly. Thus Hezekiah should beware of looking to Egypt. He should recognise that all that has happened, and will happen, to Egypt is as a result of the action of Yahweh. Therefore it is clear that it is Yahweh, and Him alone in Whom he should trust, Who alone determines all things, and Who holds Egypt, and all others, in His hands.

Analysis.

In the analysis the question arises as to whether verses 16-25 (a series of four ‘in that days’) is to be treated as one large whole paralleling verse 1, or is to be treated as a separate passage. In our view much is to be said for the former and we will therefore work on that basis. But in the end it makes little difference, although the way we will analyse it gives the more powerful parallel.

  • a The burden of Egypt. Behold Yahweh rides on a swift cloud, and comes to Egypt. And the idols of Egypt will be removed at his presence, and the heart of Egypt will melt in the midst of it (1).
  • b And I will stir up the Egyptians against the Egyptians, and they will fight every one against his brother, and every one against his neighbour, city against city, and kingship against kingship (2).
  • c And the spirit of Egypt will be made void in its midst, and I will destroy its counsel (3a).
  • d And they will seek to the idols, and to the charmers, and to those who have familiar spirits, and to the wizards, and I will give over the Egyptians into the hand of a cruel lord, and a fierce king will rule over them, says the Lord, Yahweh of hosts (3b-4).
  • e And the waters will fall from the sea, and the river will be wasted and will become dry, and the rivers will smell. The streams of Egypt will be diminished and dried up, the reeds and rushes will wither away. The meadows by the Nile, by the brink of the Nile, and all that is sown by the Nile, will become dry, be driven away and be no more (5-7).
  • e The fishermen also will lament, and all those who cast hook into the Nile will mourn, and those who spread nets on the water will languish, moreover those who work in combed flax, and those who weave white cloth (or ‘cotton’) will be ashamed. And her pillars will be broken in pieces, and all those who work for hire will be grieved in soul (8-10).
  • d The princes of Zoan are utterly foolish. The counsel of the wisest counsellors of Pharaoh has become brutish. How can you say to Pharaoh, “I am the son of the wise, the son of ancient kings”? Where then are your wise men? Then let them tell you (the truth) now, and let them know what Yahweh of hosts has purposed concerning Egypt. The princes of Zoan have become fools, the princes of Noph are deceived. They have caused Egypt to go astray, who are the corner stone of her tribes (11-13).
  • c Yahweh has mingled a spirit of perverseness in the midst of her, and they have caused Egypt to go astray in every one of her works, as a drunken man staggers in his vomit (14).
  • b Nor will there be for Egypt any work which head or tail, palm branch or rush, may do (15).
  • a The five ‘in that day’ statements. In that day Egypt will be afraid of Judah. In that day five cities will speak the language of Canaan. In that day Egypt will know Yahweh. In that day Egypt and Assyria will be in harmony. In that day Egypt, Assyria and Israel will all be at one under Yahweh (16-25).

In ‘a’ Yahweh comes to Egypt riding on a swift cloud, symbol of His pre-eminence and power, and the idols are removed and their hearts will melt, and in the parallel Egypt will even be afraid of Judah, idolatry will be swept away and Yahweh will be pre-eminent. In ‘b’ civil war will render Egypt leaderless, and in the parallel neither head nor tail (leadership nor prophets, compare 9.14-15) will be able to do anything about it. In ‘c’ the spirit of Egypt will be made void in its midst, and Yahweh will destroy its counsel, and in the parallel Yahweh will have mingled a spirit of perverseness in the midst of her, so that they cause Egypt to go astray in every one of her works, as a drunken man staggers in his vomit. In ‘d’ they seek to idolatry and the occult, and are handed over by Yahweh to a cruel lord, and in the parallel the princes of Zoan are utterly foolish, the counsel of the wisest counsellors of Pharaoh has become brutish and their lack of wisdom is stressed, for if they were wise they would be able to tell what Yahweh is bringing on Egypt. In ‘e’ Egypt’s main resources will fail, and in the parallel her workers will be unable to do their work satisfactorily.

19.1-2 ‘The burden of Egypt. Behold Yahweh rides on a swift cloud, and comes to Egypt. And the idols of Egypt will be removed at his presence, and the heart of Egypt will melt in the midst of it. And I will stir up the Egyptians against the Egyptians, and they will fight every one against his brother, and every one against his neighbour, city against city, and kingship against kingship.’

The idea of Yahweh riding triumphantly on the clouds is found in Psalm 18.10-15; 104.3, but Baal was regularly known as ‘the rider on the clouds’ and the concept was thus a common one and probably borrowed from there. The idea is of Yahweh’s sovereignty over the world as he looks down on men, and of His heavenly and rapid approach.

Coming to Egypt in His power He will throw it into disarray. The idols will be thwarted at His presence, the people will be in fear and totally demoralised. This idea will be amplified in verses 16-25, where Yahweh will conquer Egypt for Himself..

And He will cause civil war to break out, Egyptian against Egyptian, and brother against brother, and city and petty king will war against each other. And this was a true picture of Egypt prior to their invasion by Cush and partly explains the success of that invasion. It was, however, still strong enough to dissuade Assyria from advancing across its borders, even though they did have to be bought off with a gift of horses. But the nations who sought Egypt’s help saw the Cushites as excessively powerful precisely because they had defeated Egypt, for the nations had not appreciated the dire position that Egypt was in. In their eyes only a super-race could have conquered Egypt.

19.3-4 ‘And the spirit of Egypt will be made void in its midst, and I will destroy its counsel, and they will seek to the idols, and to the charmers, and to those who have familiar spirits, and to the wizards, and I will give over the Egyptians into the hand of a cruel lord, and a fierce king will rule over them, says the Lord, Yahweh of hosts.’

The weak and demoralised state Egypt will find itself in is made apparent. Their ‘spirit is void in their midst’, all heart will have gone, their rulers will be weak, ineffective and lacking in wisdom, unable to give proper counsel and make right decisions. Compare verse 14 where it is made clear that this is the work of Yahweh.

And it is because of this that they will seek to all the means of divination because they have nowhere reliable to turn to. Man tends to seek to the occult when he is spiritually bankrupt. But it will do them no good. All their idols and diviners cannot help them. There is here a reminder to Judah of the folly of trusting in the same things (8.19). The picture is a pathetic one of desperate people with nowhere to turn. Certainly not a people to rely on!

It is a reminder that finally the plight of all nations is in the hands of God. It is the coming of Yahweh riding on the clouds that has done this. He it is Who is responsible for their political dilemma and weakness.

The result will be conquest by an outsider. The Cushites under their princes Kashta and Piankhi, who were in fact strongly influenced by Egyptian culture, first conquered upper Egypt. Then Piankhi successfully moved down into lower Egypt, although he did not consolidate his position. That was left to his successor Shabaka who completed the task. Now a cruel lord and a fierce king ruled over them. And this was all due, says Isaiah, to the action of the sovereign Lord, Yahweh of hosts.

The prophecy has in mind that Egypt’s future destiny is to be a conquered people. In the not too distant future Egypt will be occupied by the Assyrian empire under Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal of Assyria (see chapter 20), followed by occupation by Babylon, then by Persia, then by the Grecian empire, and then by Rome. Its time of great power was over. So the main point is that Egypt cannot be trusted because it is itself weak and from now on subject to conquest.

19.5-6 ‘And the waters will fall from the sea, and the river will be wasted and will become dry, and the rivers will smell. The streams of Egypt will be diminished and dried up, the reeds and rushes will wither away.’

Not only will they be worn down by war, but the very basis of their life will fail. The Nile’s provision for the country will become minimal. This would probably be due partly to a failure of the waters of the Nile and partly as a result of the Egyptians failing to maintain the irrigation systems satisfactorily due to their despondent condition. Here the Nile is thought of as Egypt’s ‘sea’. It was constantly busy, with ships and boats ever on the move up and down, and at the time of flood often even looked like a sea in parts of Egypt. But not at this time.

The Egyptians saw the Nile as a god, and they would see this partial drying up of the Nile as evidence that even the gods had turned against them. The canals also would become a trickle, or even completely dried up, and reeds and rushes would die where they usually proliferated. The Nile was the life-blood of Egypt. Thus Egypt would become a dying land.

19.7-8 ‘The meadows by the Nile, by the brink of the Nile, and all that is sown by the Nile, will become dry, be driven away and be no more. The fishermen also will lament, and all those who cast hook into the Nile will mourn, and those who spread nets on the water will languish.’

The centrality of the Nile to Egypt’s life comes out here. The fields which were fruitful because of their nearness to the Nile will cease to be fruitful, they will become dried up, they will cease to bear. And beyond them lay the desert. Those who fish in her with hook and net will discover that they catch little, for the fish will be sparse, and the fishermen will thus lament and mourn and languish. These methods of fishing are well depicted on Egyptian monuments.

Note the continuing threefold emphases indicating the completeness of the devastation. ‘Meadows - brink - all that is sown’, ‘dry - driven away - no more’, ‘fishermen - cast hook - spread nets’, ‘lament - mourn - languish’.

19.9-10 ‘Moreover those who work in combed flax, and those who weave white cloth (or ‘cotton’) will be ashamed. And her pillars will be broken in pieces, and all those who work for hire will be grieved in soul.’

The blight will even affect the makers of combed flax and linen. Supplies will have dried up, and what is available will produce shoddy products. The entrepreneurs, the pillars of industry, will be bankrupted, their workforces unemployed and unpaid resulting in grief of soul. The greatness of Egypt and its wealth will be no more. It is a picture of total economic collapse.

19.11-13 ‘The princes of Zoan are utterly foolish. The counsel of the wisest counsellors of Pharaoh has become brutish. How can you say to Pharaoh, “I am the son of the wise, the son of ancient kings”? Where then are your wise men? Then let them tell you (the truth) now, and let them know what Yahweh of hosts has purposed concerning Egypt. The princes of Zoan have become fools, the princes of Noph are deceived. They have caused Egypt to go astray, who are the corner stone of her tribes.’

Isaiah points derisively to those in the capital city Zoan, in the north-eastern Delta, who are responsible for major national decisions. They will become fools, the advice of even the wisest will be like the advice of brute beasts. They make strong claims for themselves, tracing their descent to previous wise men and to ancient kings. Well, if they are so wise let them speak the truth about what is happening. Let them appreciate what Yahweh has purposed concerning Egypt. Let them face up to the facts and declare them.

The wisdom of Egypt was proverbial (see 1 Kings 4.30; Acts 7.22). But it will be so no more. Indeed men will wonder at how foolish they have become. His verdict is then repeated, and Noph brought into the reckoning. Noph is better known as Memphis, a former capital city in the southern Delta and an important city. At this time of civil war it would be the headquarters of one of the factions. But in these cities the tribal cornerstones will let them down. The ‘cornerstone’ refers to the leadership, who by their behaviour will reveal themselves as anything but cornerstones.

19.14 ‘Yahweh has mingled a spirit of perverseness in the midst of her, and they have caused Egypt to go astray in every one of her works, as a drunken man staggers in his vomit. Nor will there be for Egypt any work which head or tail, palm branch or rush, may do.’

God has been at work among the leaders resulting in perverse and bewildered behaviour. The wisdom that they claimed in verse 11 is revealed to be totally lacking. The result is that all that they do is foolish and unwise. They are like drunken men staggering about to and fro and falling into their own vomit, that is, the mess that they have made of things.

‘Nor will there be for Egypt any work which head or tail, palm branch or rush, may do.’ See 9.14-15. There these pictures referred to the leadership who were the head and the palm branch, and to the prophets who were the tail and the rushes. Neither civic leadership nor religious savants will be able to do anything sensible or worthwhile.

So Egypt is facing political, economic and social collapse. In view of that it would be folly to place trust in them. But in spite of this there is good news ahead. God has not determined to finally destroy Egypt like He has Babylon. One day, ‘in that day’, His blessing will come on them through the intervention of His own people.

In That Day - Yahweh’s Universal Triumph (19.16-25).

Here there follow five examples of what will happen ‘in that day’. In Egypt five was the number of completeness. Here we have therefore a full and complete description of the final end of Egypt.

‘In that day’ is a vague time reference which describes something that is to happen in the future as a result of what has been mentioned. It means ‘in the day when this prophecy is fulfilled whenever that might be’. Here it is being used to declare what will happen following what has previously been described, without any time limit being given.

It is in complete contrast to what has gone before. Egypt’s self-destruction will be followed by Yahweh’s deliverance. In a foreshortened vision of the future Isaiah sees God’s final purpose for Egypt. We must always keep in mind that the prophets were not trying to foretell specific events, they were proclaiming what God would do ‘in the future.’ Thus here Isaiah foresees the turmoil of Egypt going on, and even resulting in their being a subject nation, but as something which will finally result in God’s blessing on it. He knew that this must be so, for it is finally God’s purpose to bless the nations, and Egypt was not excepted.

The turmoil of Egypt, having begun, continued through the centuries. From then on Egypt, with an occasional resurgence, went ever downwards. When, however, the good news of Jesus Christ flowed out from Jerusalem Egypt was one of the first to respond and outwardly became a largely Christian nation. Thus what is described found its fulfilment then. Whether it is to find an even deeper fulfilment on earth in the future only time will tell, but we do know that its ultimate fulfilment will be in the new heaven and the new earth (66.22; Revelation 21.1).

19.16-17 ‘In that day will Egypt be like a woman, and it will tremble and fear because of the shaking of the hand of Yahweh of hosts, which he shakes over it. And the land of Judah will become a terror to Egypt, and everyone to whom mention is made of it will be afraid, because of the purpose of Yahweh of hosts which he purposes towards it.’

This is a reversal of the usual position. In the past it was always Judah that feared Egypt, and trembled at the approach of Egyptian armies. But now the tables will be turned. It is Egypt that will quail at the approach of Judah. They will have to face up to Judah’s God, recognising His sovereignty. Judah will become predominant.

‘Be like a woman.’ That is weak and easily frightened.

It may be that all this is simply expressing the low state to which Egypt have come by exaggeration. It will be so low that they will even become afraid of Judah!

But it may be that the prophet is describing in terms of his own day and understanding the reversal of roles in the future. Instead of Judah being subject to Egypt, Egypt will be subject to Judah. God’s people will become so effective that Egypt yields before them. It may thus be intended to be a picture in prophetic terms of the triumphant expansion of the Kingly Rule of God, and the establishing of the throne of David. ‘Out of Zion will go forth the Law, and the word of Yahweh from Jerusalem’ (2.3). And Egypt will tremble and submit.

It came about in a different way than anticipated when the soldiers of Christ invaded Egypt with the Gospel of Christ, and with the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6.17; Hebrews 4.12) in their hand, and Egypt, at least outwardly, trembled and submitted to His rule. Thus when the multitude which no man can number are assembled before the throne of God (Revelation 7.9), Egypt will be represented there. (As always, by the remnant who in this case will be the true Egypt).

19.18 ‘In that day there will be five cities in the land of Egypt that speak the language of Canaan, and swear to Yahweh of hosts. One will be called ‘the city of destruction’.

When related to Egypt the number ‘five’ is of especial significance. It contained within it the essence of completeness. Thus these ‘five cities’ are like the ‘seven churches’ of Revelation. They speak of five major cities, but as comprising all cities. And yet at the same time they are a reminder that just as it is ‘a remnant’ of Israel that are the holy seed (6.13), so will it be of Egypt. Five cities are a significant fraction of the whole.

Furthermore Egyptians were very proud of their language. They regularly judged the manhood of others by whether they could speak Egyptian. They considered that if a man could not speak Egyptian he was not really a man. They saw language as the essence of what a man is. But now they would gladly forsake their language for the despised language of Canaan. It will be a complete reversal of their situation. They will turn from their culture and their gods so that they may serve the living God and talk His language. Indeed they will make their oaths to Him and become His people. It is a picture of their total submission to Yahweh.

‘One will be called ‘the city of destruction’.’ The naming of this city presents the final picture of what will have happened. All that was Egypt (as seen by an Israelite) would be destroyed. Its pride, its arrogance, its mastery, its gods. And this will be symbolised in the renaming of the city. All that was displeasing to Yahweh will have been destroyed, and Egypt will be in submission to Him.

19.19-20 ‘In that day there will be an altar to Yahweh in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar at its border to Yahweh, and it will be a sign and a witness to Yahweh of hosts in the land of Egypt. For they will cry to Yahweh because of the oppressors, and he will send them a deliverer and a defender, and he will deliver them.’

These are further evidence of their total conversion to Yahweh, again in terms of the symbols of the day. The setting up of an altar was a token of submission to the god for whom the altar was set up, in this case the living God (compare Joshua 22.34), and its being in the midst declared that it was for all Egypt. It would be conceived of as a memorial altar for no other altar would be conceivable to Israel outside God’s land. The setting up of a pillar on the border would be a sign to all who entered of the presence of God there (Genesis 28.18). Thus they would be a sign and a witness to Yahweh of hosts for the whole of Egypt. And that is what the church of Christ in Egypt became.

But the altar that would be set up is the cross, and the sacrifice that will be offered is our Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 13.10; 9.26-28; 10.12-14). For He is the one sacrifice for sin for ever, after Whose offering no further sacrifice is required.

‘For they will cry to Yahweh because of the oppressors, and he will send them a deliverer and a defender, and he will deliver them.’ Not only will Egypt receive the word of Yahweh, but they will receive a Deliverer, a Saviour. And He will bring them deliverance far more wonderful than Isaiah could ever know. For he will deliver them from themselves, and from sin and from the evils of the world and from Satan. This reference to a deliverer could only, in terms of Isaiah’s thought, be to Immanuel Who was coming (7.14), the root of Jesse (11., 1-5, 10), the son who was to be miraculously born of a virginal woman (7.14; 9.6), the Saviour, the Prince of Peace.

The pictures are idealistic, but even in spite of the failure of the church to be what it should be, and the reversals suffered since the invasion of Islam, nothing will prevent the final triumph of Yahweh in Egypt. For the remnant have continued in Egypt through the centuries (in the Coptic church) and it will be fulfilled in the new heaven and the new earth when all who are there of Egypt will own His sway, and will worship Him. And God will be all in all. And that is what essentially Isaiah is declaring here. That is his vision.

19.21 ‘And Yahweh will be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians will know Yahweh in that day. Yes they will worship with sacrifice and oblation, and will vow a vow to Yahweh and will perform it.’

The essence of this is conversion to Yahweh, leaving behind their own gods. They will know and acknowledge Yahweh. They will come before Him in worship and praise. They will be committed to Him and vow to Him and perform their vows. Their lives will be wholly His.

No doubt Isaiah’s hearers were incredulous. The thought of Egyptians turning from their idols to serve the living God would have seemed incredible. And yet it did happen. For in the early centuries AD there was widespread conversion to the Jewish but universal Scriptures and to a Jewish but universal Messiah as Egyptians responded to the call of Christ, and the Alexandrine church became famous throughout the world. And a Christian church has survived there through all the trials of the centuries and will emerge triumphant at last, for among them are God’s chosen remnant who represent the whole.

19.22 ‘And Yahweh will smite Egypt, smiting and healing, and they will return to Yahweh, and he will be entreated of them, and he will heal them.’

This summarises all that has gone before in the chapter. Yahweh will smite Egypt, but in the end it is that He might heal. This is at the root of all God’s activity in the world. In microcosm it is the picture of world history. He has smitten that He might heal.

19.23 ‘In that day there will be a highway out of Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian will come to Egypt, and the Egyptian to Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians.’

In Isaiah’s day, and in the conceptions of Judah, there were two great nations, one to the north, Assyria, and one to the south, Egypt (to the east was desert and to the west the sea). They could be seen as representing all nations. Between them was bitter enmity. They were irreconcilable. The highway between them, which led through Palestine, was a highway for armies, a highway of conquest. And so seemingly it would always be. And yet here was the impossible promise that one day a highway of peace and brotherhood would be built along which each would pass to the other, and they would worship the same God together.

And in the early days of the Christian church this became so. The universal church was united as one and met together in councils and in fellowship and worshipped together, acknowledging that they were one, all serving a Jewish, but universal, Messiah and Deliverer. And in days to come at the final triumph of Christ the true remnants of Egypt and Assyria will be one with all nations, serving and worshipping Yahweh.

19.24-25 ‘In that day will Israel be the third with Egypt, and with Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, because Yahweh of hosts has blessed them, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.’

Finally this is all related to Israel. Here Israel represents the future Israel made up of the remnants of both Judah and Israel. And with Egypt and Assyria they will be all one together in the worship of Yahweh. All will be a blessing to the world. Egypt will be His people (compare 10.24; 43.6-7; Exodus 5.1; Hosea 1.10; 2.23; Jeremiah 11.4), Assyria the work of His hands (compare 60.12; 64.8; Psalm 119.73; 138.8), Israel His inheritance. These are descriptions which were once reserved for Israel but are now applied to all, for there is neither Jew nor Gentile. All have become one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3.28). The mightiest nations of the world, together with the chosen nation, will be united to serve Yahweh. It is Isaiah’s way of depicting God’s universal triumph.

Note the advancement in the spiritual life depicted. First trembling and fear before God and His ministers (verses 16-17), then a change of language, the sign of the acceptance of a new way of life and thought, followed by a commitment to Yahweh (verse 18), then the outward declaration of their new belief and their open admission that they are God’s, as represented by the altar and the pillar (verse 19), then the deepening in the knowledge of God, and the offering of worship, praise and thanksgiving, together with specific commitments to His service (verse 21), then the sense of oneness with all who serve God (verse 21), and finally their becoming a blessing to the world (verses 24-25).

Chapter 20 The Captivity of Egypt and Cush.

In around 713 BC, continually encouraged by Egypt under her Cushite rulers, the cities of Philistia rebelled against Assyria and sought to embroil Judah, Edom and Moab in the rebellion. We know of the facts through Sargon’s inscriptions. He was aware of the intrigue, and the parties involved, but his subsequent behaviour suggests that Judah in fact took no active part in the rebellion, for the severe treatment meted out to Ashdod and other rebel cities after the three years that it took to subdue them, did not include Judah. It was perhaps due to this activity of Isaiah that that was so.

Analysis.

  • a In the year that the Tartan came to Ashdod, when Sargon the king of Assyria sent him, and he fought against Ashdod and took it (1).
  • b At that time Yahweh spoke by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, “Go and loose the sackcloth from off your loins, and put your shoe from off your foot.” And he did so, walking naked and barefoot (2).
  • c And Yahweh said, “Just as my servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot for three years, for a sign and a wonder on Egypt and on Cush” (3).
  • c “So will the king of Assyria lead away the captives of Egypt, and the exiles of Cush, young and old, naked and barefoot, and with buttocks uncovered to the shame (‘nakedness’) of Egypt” (4).
  • b And they will be dismayed and ashamed, because of Cush their expectation, and of Egypt their glory (5).
  • a And the inhabitant of this coastland will say in that day, “Behold, such is our expectation, where we fled for help to be delivered from the king of Assyria, and we, how will we escape?” (6).

In ‘a’ the Assyrian general subjugated the rebel Ashdod, and in the parallel other allies of Egypt were dismayed, and asked what hope they had. In ‘b’ Isaiah walks barefoot and naked as a sign of humiliation, and in the parallel that is the kind of humiliation that Egyptian and Cushite captives will suffer. In ‘c’ Yahweh declares that what Isaiah has done is a sign that Egypt and Cushite captives will be treated in this way by the King of Assyria.

20.1-2 ‘In the year that the Tartan came to Ashdod, when Sargon the king of Assyria sent him, and he fought against Ashdod and took it, at that time Yahweh spoke by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, “Go and loose the sackcloth from off your loins, and put your shoe from off your foot.” And he did so, walking naked and barefoot.’

The Tartan (or turtanu) was the title given to the commander-in-chief of the armies of Assyria. When the rebellion took hold he was sent to subdue the rebels, and succeeded. Meanwhile Isaiah had been instructed by Yahweh to provide an acted out prophecy as a grim warning to Hezekiah and Judah of the folly of trusting in Egypt and her promises (which certainly failed on this occasion, and would continue to do so).

Isaiah was to loose the sackcloth that he wore round his loins, probably an indication of his prophetic status (compare 2 Kings 1.8), although it may have been in order to depict his deep mourning at the sins of the people, and also to take off his shoes. Then he was to walk barefoot and clothed only in an undergarment before the people as a stark reminder of the consequences of rebellion. Obediently he did as he was commanded. For three years the inhabitants of Jerusalem were constantly faced with the stark figure of the prophet in his strange garb, walking about the city, a constant warning to them of his message from Yahweh.

‘At that time.’ That is, while everything was going on. His three year sign would be a reminder to all, while negotiations were going on both with Ashdod and with Egypt, that some dreadful end was being indicated, although all probably thought that it was to happen only to Ashdod, and to Judah if they took part.

20.3-4 ‘And Yahweh said, “Just as my servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot for three years, for a sign and a wonder on Egypt and on Cush, so will the king of Assyria lead away the captives of Egypt, and the exiles of Cush, young and old, naked and barefoot, and with buttocks uncovered to the shame (‘nakedness’) of Egypt.”

Then at the end of the three years of this continual and remarkable sign came the startling explanation. It was Egypt and not Ashdod at whom the sign pointed. Isaiah’s action was to be a sign of what was eventually going to happen to Egypt and Cush. They would be totally defeated and humiliated. This demonstrated that Egypt could never be trusted to act as deliverer because she too would eventually need a deliverer. For both Egyptians and Cushites would be taken into captivity, and walk naked and barefoot, with their buttocks uncovered, a particular shame to the sophisticated Egyptians. They would be humiliated and shamed.

This sign and wonder would find fulfilment, firstly after the Battle of Eltekeh (in Palestine) in around 701 BC when Egyptian and Cushite captives would be taken and treated in this way, and then nearly fifty years later when Egypt was invaded, first by Esarhaddon who captured Memphis in the north and established Assyrian rule in the areas around, and then by Ashurbanipal who sacked Thebes in the south. The Cushite dynasty was defeated, and captives young and old would be led away never to return again.

20.5-6 ‘And they will be dismayed and ashamed, because of Cush their expectation, and of Egypt their glory. And the inhabitant of this coastland will say in that day, “Behold, such is our expectation, where we fled for help to be delivered from the king of Assyria, and we, how will we escape?” ’

Thus would Philistia (‘this coastland’), and all who trusted in Egypt recognise their folly in placing confidence in Cush and Egypt. Cush had been their grounds of confidence, Egypt their strongest resource, in whom they had boasted, and they were to be first soundly defeated, and then invaded and crushed. Thus the Philistines and their allies would recognise that in view of this all hope had gone. They had no way of escape. So let Hezekiah beware of trusting in Egypt.

The warning comes to us to that we should not put our final trust in anything or anyone but God, Who alone will not let us down.

Chapter 21 The Burdens on The Wilderness of the Sea, on Dumah and on Arabia.

We now come to the second five of the ten burdens. And here we pause to note the careful way in which the prophecy has been put together. Like the first of the ten this sixth burden refers to Babylon. But while the first referred to a triumphant Babylon, then humiliated, this time it is a Babylon defeated from the beginning. The third burden spoke of Moab and its search for refuge from Assyria, and ended with the time reference ‘three years as the years of a hireling’ (16.14). The eighth burden speaks of Arabia and a search for refuge from Assyria, and ends similarly, ‘within a year according to the year of a hireling’ (21.16). In both cases the fewness of those who will be left is emphasised. The fourth burden, although addressed to Syria, majored on Israel, the people of God, their destruction and their final hope. The ninth burden, addressed to the valley of vision, majors on Judah, the people of God, although the concentration is on its destruction. However, hope is always there if they repent. And finally the fifth burden deals with Egypt, the ancient and important country to the south with its great claims about itself, which alone had been the one who sought supremacy over that part of the world until the great threat had come from the north. And this burden will result finally in deliverance. And the tenth burden deals with Tyre, the great and important country to the north which had from time immemorial ruled the seas, with its similar great claims, and this burden also ends in deliverance. There is clearly some form of pattern here.

The Burden of the Wilderness of the Sea (21.1-10).

The interpretations of this prophecy have been varied although all finally must relate it to one of the sackings of Babylon (verse 9) of which there were a number. The area around the Persian Gulf in southern Babylonia was called in ancient times ‘mat tamtim’ (‘the land of the sea’, in Akkadian). Perhaps there is then a prophetic recognition here in the term ‘wilderness of the sea’ that it was to be turned into a wilderness. As burdens are always concerning those who will suffer under the prophecy this is a very good possibility.

Or it may be that Isaiah was drawn into the wilderness around the Dead Sea in order to receive the message both verbally and in terms of the surrounding conditions that he found himself in, in that dry, arid desert land. As the whirlwinds swept through the land perhaps he saw them as coming from the direction of Babylon.

Either way the message is stark. Wilderness conditions are involved, as a judgment from God, on Babylon and on all who support her and look to her for support. The message is similar to previously. Neither Babylon nor her allies can be relied on. Great Babylon is doomed.

The Initial News Comes Through, Babylon is Besieged By Its Erstwhile Allies (21.1-5).

Analysis.

  • a The burden of the wilderness of the sea. As whirlwinds in the south sweep through, it comes from the wilderness, from a terrible land (1).
  • b A grievous vision is declared to me. The treacherous dealer deals treacherously, and the spoiler spoils. “Go up, O Elam, besiege, O Media. I have made all its groaning cease” (2).
  • c Therefore my loins are filled with anguish, pangs have taken hold of me like the pangs of a woman in intensive labour (3a).
  • c I am pained so that I cannot hear. I am dismayed so that I cannot see (3b).
  • b My heart pants. Horror has affrighted me. The twilight that I desired has been turned into trembling for me (4).
  • a They prepare the table, they set the watch, they eat, they drink. Rise up, you princes, anoint the shield. (5).

In ‘a’ the whirlwinds sweep in from the terrible land (bringing in a terrible vision) and in the parallel this causes the leaders of Judah to prepare a table, set a watch and eat and drink as they confer together, followed by an exhortation to prepare for battle. In ‘b’ a grievous vision is declared to the prophet. Elam and Media may attack and besiege Assyria, but it is too late, Yahweh has made all the groanings of Babylon, their ally cease. Babylon is defeated. That is why in the parallel his heart pants, horror affrights him and the end that he had looked for has turned into one of trembling. In ‘c’ he is filled with anguish and distress, and in the parallel he is so pained and dismayed that he cannot accept what he hears and sees.

21.1-2a ‘The burden of the wilderness of the sea. As whirlwinds in the south sweep through, it comes from the wilderness, from a terrible land. A grievous vision is declared to me. The treacherous dealer deals treacherously, and the spoiler spoils.’

As Isaiah possibly stood in the dry, arid conditions of the wilderness around the Dead Sea area in the south of Judah, or in the Negeb (which ‘the south’ regularly means. Compare Genesis 12.9), he was aware of the whirlwinds that swirled around him, and became aware that those treacherous winds were bringing him a message of treachery from another wilderness, the wilderness of a terrible land. ‘Terrible land’ was a name well suited to Babylon (see 13.11), although not only limited to them. All who could be a major threat to Judah were ‘terrible’ lands. If the Wilderness of the Sea was ‘the land of the sea’ in southern Babylonia it was the homeland of Merodach Baladan, king of Babylon, at that time a rebel against Assyria, who had asserted and obtained the independence of Babylon.

But Isaiah foresaw that that land would become a wilderness, as the Assyrians swept through it pillaging and destroying, a firm lesson to one they saw as a traitor. He found the picture a grievous one. And he foresaw that there would be treachery involved, and also ravaging and spoiling of the land. Possibly the treachery was something to do with Sennacherib himself, who was known to deal treacherously and renege on treaties (see 33.1). Who more likely to be described as the treacherous spoiler? Or possibly the treachery related to the allies of Babylon who are mentioned next, whose dealings may not have been of the most honourable. A defeated army regularly changed sides in order to save itself. The indefiniteness of it may depict a general state of treachery and spoiling among mankind. None can be fully trusted. This is, of course, in contrast with Yahweh Who can be full trusted.

21.2b ‘Go up, O Elam, besiege, O Media. I have made all its groaning cease.’

At the time Elam and Media came in as allies of Merodach Baladan and Babylon. Here they are depicted as being called on to enter the fray on her behalf, attacking the Assyrians on another quarter. It is to be noted that Elam ceased to be a positive threat around 639 BC so that this must apply before then while they were still a force to be reckoned with.

It may be that the exhortations are prior to what follows, (Babylon’s vain efforts ceasing), or it may be an indication to Elam and Media that their efforts will be pointless. ‘Carry on, but you are wasting your time’. If ‘I have made all its groanings cease’ refers to the total destruction of Babylon that resulted from Sennacherib’s victory, then the indication is that either way their action was too late. (Once again allies have failed). Sennacherib was merciless. He had had enough of Babylon. He thoroughly destroyed it and carried off its main idols.

21.3-4

‘Therefore my loins are filled with anguish,
Pangs have taken hold of me like the pangs of a woman in intensive labour.
I am pained so that I cannot hear.
I am dismayed so that I cannot see.
My heart pants. Horror has affrighted me.
The twilight that I desired has been turned into trembling for me.’

This is the day of Yahweh for Babylon. As in 13.8 her fate arouses anguish and pain like that of a woman in intensive labour, but this time the pain is Isaiah’s. It has affected his hearing and his sight, as well as his heart (or it may mean that he refuses to hear and see). The thought of what will now be done to Babylon, and what it may mean for Judah, leaves him in a state of horror. It was true that he had desired the end of Babylon, its twilight, but not like this. The thought can only leave him trembling. This was no hard hearted prophet of doom. He had to declare his message of judgment, but his tender nature was wracked with concern.

21.5 ‘They prepare the table, they set the watch, they eat, they drink. Rise up, you princes, anoint the shield.’

This is possibly a picture of the princes of Judah in discussions with the Babylonian ambassadors, or even just conferring between themselves on the situation, having no idea what is about to happen to Babylon. Calmly they prepare the table, they station sentries, they eat and drink, unaware of the catastrophe that is about to occur. They are waiting for news. And the prophet is moved to cry to the princes in conference that they must anoint their shields and prepare to defend themselves.

Or it may be an emergency conference as the winds sweep in ‘from the wilderness’ with bleak news. Thus they are preparing for whatever news comes through, and at the same time advise each other meanwhile to be ready for battle.

The Final News Comes Through, “Babylon is Fallen, Is Fallen!”

The expected news arrives. Babylon is fallen, is fallen. The repetition stresses both the shock and the certainty.

Analysis.

  • a For thus has the Lord said to me, “Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he sees (6).
  • b And when he sees a troop, horsemen in pairs, a troop of asses, a troop of camels, he will listen carefully, taking careful note” (7).
  • c And he cried as a lion, “O Lord, I stand continually on the watchtower in the daytime” (8a).
  • c “And am set in my post whole nights” (8b).
  • b “And see, here come a troop of men, horsemen in pairs.” And he answered and said, “Babylon is fallen, is fallen, and all the graven images of her gods are broken into the ground” (9).
  • a Oh you who are my threshing, and the corn of my floor, what I have heard from Yahweh of hosts, the God of Israel, I have declared to you (10).

In ‘a’ the Lord has told the prophet to set a watchman who is to declare what he sees, and in the parallel says that he has declared to them what he has heard from Yahweh. In ‘b’ he sees a troop, horsemen in pairs, and listens carefully and takes note, and in the parallel a troop, horsemen in pairs, arrive and the reply comes that Babylon is fallen, and all her gods are broken and cast on the ground. In ‘c’ and its parallel the watchman declares that he watches, by day and night.

21.6-7

For thus has the Lord said to me,
“Go, set a watchman,
Let him declare what he sees.
And when he sees a troop,
Horsemen in pairs,
A troop of asses,
A troop of camels,
He will listen carefully,
Taking a great deal of notice.” ’

Yahweh has given Isaiah warning in advance by commanding him to set up a watchman. And he thus knows the tenseness of the position. He knows that bad news is to be expected. He has been told to set a watchman who will honestly declare what he sees, to keep an eye on the road for the bad news that is coming. And when he sees an important embassage arriving the watchman must take careful note of its significance. For its news will be worthy of consideration. The horsemen in pairs, travelling speedily as messengers, have a spare horse so that when their first horse is tired they can transfer to the other.

Shields had to be oiled to keep them in fighting condition. The shields would be made of leather, or of wood covered with leather, and would have leather straps. They had to be kept in trim.

21.8-9a

‘And he cried as a lion,
“O Lord, I stand continually on the watchtower in the daytime,
And am set in my post whole nights.
And see, here come a troop of men.
Horsemen in pairs.” ’

Isaiah has taken no chances. He has made himself the watchman. With the heart of a lion he watches, continually day and night, and at last he sees what he is looking for, what Yahweh had warned him of, a troop of men and horsemen in pairs. And he cries out to the sovereign Lord, to Yahweh of what he has seen.

The horsemen in pairs have been variously explained but we are surely to see them in context as representing urgent messengers who bring a spare horse so that they can speed on their journey.

21.9b

‘And he answered and said,
“Babylon is fallen, is fallen,
And all the graven images of her gods,
Are broken into the ground.”

Yahweh explains to Isaiah the vision. The horsemen bring news, horrific news. Babylon is truly fallen and her gods with her. The repetition of ‘is fallen’ stresses the greatness and certainty of the disaster. The king who had boasted of his ascent to the gods is on his way to the pit (14.12-19). He will flee the country and die in a foreign land. Thus will Yahweh’s words be fulfilled, and thus will Judah become aware of the folly of trusting in men. The vision of chapters 13-14 has come to partial fulfilment.

21.10 ‘Oh you who are my threshing, and the corn of my floor, what I have heard from Yahweh of hosts, the God of Israel, I have declared to you.’

Finally Isaiah brings home the message to Israel. He knows that his words are acting on them like a threshing instrument, that Israel are like grain being threshed, they are like corn on Isaiah’s threshingfloor. But he wants them to know that what he has so declared, is what Yahweh of hosts would say to them. God is still speaking to them and waiting for them to respond. For Yahweh is still the God of Israel.

The Burden of Dumah (Edom) - (21.11-12).

In her fear at the news of the downfall of Babylon Edom cries to the only one who seems to be able to proclaim the future reliably, Isaiah, the prophet of Judah, and his reply is that if she would enquire of Yahweh, she must first turn from her old ways and come to Him.

Analysis.

  • a The Burden of Dumah. One calls to me out of Seir (11a)
  • b “Watchman, what of the night? Watchman what of the night?” (11b).
  • b The watchman said, “The morning comes and also the night” (12a).
  • a “If you will enquire, enquire. Turn, come” (12b).

In ‘a’ the cry comes to him from Edom for his help, and in the parallel if they would enquire, they must first turn and then come. In ‘b’ he is asked as Yahweh’s watchman what the night will bring, and in the parallel he warns that morning comes and the comes the night.

21.11-12 ‘The Burden of Dumah. One calls to me out of Seir, “Watchman, what of the night? Watchman what of the night?”. The watchman said, “The morning comes and also the night. If you will enquire, enquire. Turn, come.”

That Dumah here represents a section of Edom (note the similar consonants d-m. There is a play on words) comes out in the mention of Seir. The word dumah means ‘silence’. The idea seems to be that Edom is waiting in silence for what is coming, as she cowers in her stronghold Seir (see Genesis 32.3; 36.20-21, 30; Numbers 24.18). Here is not a nation to depend on but one that is fearful and waiting with nothing to offer but questions and doubts.

In her fear she calls on Yahweh’s watchman (compare verses 6, 8), the only one whom she thinks can offer enlightenment in the circumstances. She recognises that he alone can prophesy the truth and wants to know what the gathering darkness will bring. This call may have been by a special messenger sent to Jerusalem. Isaiah’s fame as a prophet was clearly spreading. So with the twilight of judgment that verse 4 has in mind she asks Yahweh’s watchman what the night is going to bring. The doom of Babylon threatens all her erstwhile allies. So what is going to happen to them all, and especially to her? She is basically admitting that her own gods can tell her nothing, and that is why she seeks to Yahweh.

Isaiah’s reply is that morning comes, but then further night. They are right to be concerned about the night. He knew what it meant to watch both morning and night (verse 8). So let Edom also watch and wait. But she had enquired of Yahweh through His servant. Well, if she really wanted to know Yahweh’s way, if she would find safety, if she would prosper in the future, if she would find confidence and trust, let her turn from her ways and her gods and let her come to Yahweh (‘Turn, come.’) For if she desires to enquire of Yahweh, that is what is required. It is an offer for her to join the people of God. But we discover later that she refuses it, resulting finally in terminal judgment (34; 63.1-6). ‘And also the night’ turns out to be final.

The Burden Upon Arabia (21.13-17).

Arabia is not offered such hope. She is rightly apprehensive, and her troops, which had been involved in the alliance, have returned as fugitives. And she has no future. Within one year disaster will come on them. So much for the alliance in which their hopes had been placed.

Analysis.

  • The burden upon Arabia. You will lodge in the forest in Arabia, O you travelling companions of Dedanites (13).
  • To him who was thirsty, they brought water. The inhabitants of the land of Temah met the fugitives with their bread (14).
  • For they fled from the sword, from the drawn sword, and from the bent bow, and from the grievousness of war (15).
  • For thus has the Lord said to me, “Within a year, according to the years of a hired servant, and all the glory of Kedar will fail. And the residue of the numbers of the archers, the mighty men of the children of Kedar, will be few.” For the mouth of Yahweh, the God of Israel has spoken it (16-17).

In ‘a’ he addresses those who were usually caravanners, travelling the trade routes, and warns them that because of what has happened they will have to take refuge in the forest of Arabia, and in the parallel points out that it will be hopeless, for within a year their glory will fail and their numbers will be few, because Yahweh has declared it In ‘b’ the people of Temah bring the fugitives water and bread, and in the parallel it is because they are fugitives from the sword, and from grievous war.

21.13-15 ‘The burden upon Arabia. You will lodge in the forest in Arabia, O you travelling companions of Dedanites. To him who was thirsty, they brought water. The inhabitants of the land of Temah met the fugitives with their bread. For they fled from the sword, from the drawn sword, and from the bent bow, and from the grievousness of war.’

Arabia (or ‘the Arabs’) had been involved in the fighting, and now they fled for their lives. Those who were normally travelling companions (‘caravans’) of Dedanites, fearlessly making their way along the main highways, now hid, ate and slept in the denseness of the thickets in the remote desert scrubland. They dare not come near the regular oases. Sympathisers brought them water, those from the land of Temah brought them bread, for they were without provisions and in hiding and totally dependent on the generosity of others. It was so different from the proud dream that had earlier been theirs. Their fate was a warning to all. You cannot trust in alliances with Babylon or with the world.

The Dedanites were a north Arabian tribe from near Edom (see Jeremiah 49.8; Ezekiel 25.13). Temah was an oasis city in the desert on the main trade route through Arabia.

They were there because they had fled from the drawn sword, the sword drawn ready for battle, and from the bent bow with its arrow fixed ready for the kill, pursued by enemies who were determined on slaughter. But above all they had fled from the grievousness of war. Note the threefold pattern once again, the drawn sword, the bent bow and the grievousness of war indicating the complete nature of their predicament.

21.16-17 ‘For thus has the Lord said to me, “Within a year, according to the years of a hired servant, and all the glory of Kedar will fail. And the residue of the numbers of the archers, the mighty men of the children of Kedar, will be few. For the mouth of Yahweh, the God of Israel has spoken it.’

But punishment would follow exactly within a year and would fall especially on Kedar, a powerful north Arabian tribe (42.11; 60.7). It would lose its main resources. Its archers and its fighting men would be decimated until they were few in number. The alliance had failed them. And all this would be at the word of Yahweh, the God of Israel.

We know that Kedar were paying tribute to Assyria in 738 BC and that in 715 BC Sargon II was campaigning against the tribes near Temah and that in around 703 BC Arabs supported the rebellion of Merodach Baladan and were finally subdued by Sennacherib. Thus they were continually involved with Assyria and in alliances against them, to their cost. Now their reward will come on their own heads.

‘Within a year, according to the years of a hired servant.’ Compare 16.14. Within exactly a year, calculated in accordance with the method used for determining the services of hired servants, it would happen (possibly a 365 day year rather than a twelve moon period year). Their refuge would not save them.

Chapter 22 The Burden of the Valley of Vision.

The vision begins with a description of wild rejoicing in Jerusalem at something which is the cause of great happiness. Some see this rejoicing as resulting from their receiving the news that their initial plea to Assyria for merciful treatment had been accepted (prior to the later advancement on Jerusalem. See 2 Kings 18.13-16). But if that were so why is this earlier incident not mentioned in chapters 36-39? Others see it as resulting from the retreat of Assyria from the siege of Jerusalem after the slaying of a large part of their army by Yahweh during the siege (39.36-37). But would not Isaiah have also rejoiced in Yahweh’s deliverance and drawn pointed lessons? And why the still strong sense of the approach of death (verse 13)? Still others refer it to their rejoicing on the inauguration of the Siloam Tunnel for bringing water into Jerusalem, or on the day when the tunnellers first met and the water broke through, instilling a new joyous confidence into Jerusalem, but foreboding in Isaiah because of their false confidence (verses 8-11). A further suggestion is that it was on their receiving the news that a large Egyptian army was on the way to hopefully effect their deliverance. The truth is that it could really be any time when good news was brought to Jerusalem, after prior ignominious failure.

But whatever its cause Isaiah disapproves of it. He feels that they have nothing to rejoice over and everything to be ashamed of. He is fearful for the future because of their self-confidence. He knows that this is not trust in Yahweh, it is trust in themselves. What they should be doing is worshipping Yahweh and giving thanks to Him in all humility and shame, recognising that had they but trusted in Yahweh from the beginning none of the things that had come on them would have happened, and that trust in Yahweh now could bring them deliverance. But instead, even now, they rather look to other gods in their housetop shrines.

God’s People Must Choose Between Excessive And Unjustified Hilarity Resulting From False Confidence, or Mourning Over Sin and Trusting In Him (22.1-11)

Jerusalem is seen as having become a scene of rejoicing, but Isaiah is only too well aware that it is all for the wrong reasons. For in the face of the approaching enemy, instead of having confident trust in Yahweh, they are spurring themselves on and are wildly elated and fatalistic, and are relying on their own defences and on their allies, unaware that they are no longer under Yahweh’s protection.

But Isaiah wants them to know that he has been walking in the valleys outside Jerusalem, and while walking in one of them he has had a vision. He has seen into the future of what is going to happen in that valley as the enemy troops arrive with their chariots, and horses, and bows, and set up their siege equipment, and lay siege to Jerusalem, as they have done with regard to all the cities of Judah (verse 5-8). And he has seen the blood that will be shed as a result of it. This is now his burden. The burden of the valley of vision in which he has seen working out ‘the Day’ that is coming from the Lord (verse 5). And yet all the while Jerusalem rejoices, unaware of what is coming.

Analysis.

  • a The burden of the valley of vision.
  • b What do you think you are doing (literally ‘what to you then?’), now that you have wholly gone up to the housetops? O you who are full of shoutings, a tumultuous city, a joyous town. Your slain are not slain with the sword, nor are they dead in battle. All your rulers fled away together, they were bound by the archers. All who were found of you were bound together. They fled far off (1-3).
  • c Therefore I said, “Look away from me. I will weep bitterly. Do not rush to comfort me for the spoiling of the daughter of my people, for it is a day of discomfiture, and of treading down, and of perplexity from the Lord, Yahweh of hosts, in the valley of vision. A breaking down of the walls and a crying to the mountains (4-5).
  • d And Elam bore the quiver with chariots of men and horsemen, and Kir uncovered the shield. And it came about that your choicest valleys were full of chariots, and the horsemen set themselves in array at the gate (6).
  • d And he took away the covering of Judah, and you looked in that day to the armour in the house of the forest, and you saw the breaches of the city of David that they were many. And you gathered together the waters of the lower pool, and you numbered the houses of Jerusalem, and you broke down the houses to fortify the wall. You also made a reservoir between the two walls, for the water of the old pool, but you did not look to him who had done this, nor did you have respect to him who fashioned it long ago (7-11).
  • c And in that day the Lord, Yahweh of hosts, called to weeping and to mourning, and to baldness and to girding with sackcloth (12).
  • b And behold, (instead of that there was ) joy and gladness, slaying oxen and killing sheep, eating flesh and drinking wine. “Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we shall die”.
  • a And Yahweh of hosts revealed himself in my ears. “Surely this iniquity will not be purged from you until you die,” says the Lord, Yahweh of hosts. (13-14).

In ‘a’ Isaiah speaks of the valley of vision, where he has received a vision from God of what is coming, and in the parallel he declares the solemn message that he has received. In ‘b’ there is joy and gladness, but it is not because they have won a great victory resulting in slain heroes, for they have rather avoided battle, and the only captives were those who were caught on the run, and in the parallel similar joy and gladness proves to result from a fatalism and a casualness of attitude that can only be displeasing to Yahweh. In ‘c’ Isaiah weeps over the people because they are despoiled, and yet he does not seek comfort because it is a day of discomfiture, of treading down and of perplexity, while in the parallel Yahweh calls all to the same weeping and mourning. Note that in both parallels reference is made to ‘the Lord, Yahweh of Hosts’. In ‘d’ we find reason for his grief in the presence of enemy hordes in their valleys and at their gates and in the parallel it is revealed to be because Yahweh has taken away His covering, so that they are looking to various expediencies by which to defend themselves, but are failing to look to the One Who has done this, the One Who had planned it long before.

22.1-3 ‘The burden of the valley of vision.

What do you think you are doing (literally ‘what to you then?’),
Now that you have wholly gone up to the housetops?
O you who are full of shoutings,
A tumultuous city, a joyous town.
Your slain are not slain with the sword,
Nor are they dead in battle.
All your rulers fled away together,
They were bound by the archers.
All who were found of you were bound together.
They fled far off.’

‘The burden of the valley of vision.’ The heading is a paradox. How can the valley of vision be a burden to the visionary? (For in each previous case the name connected with the burden has been subjected to judgment). If this was the place where Isaiah had received his visions, why then should he be burdened about what would happen to it? The answer lies in the fact that he is aware that the valley will shortly be overrun by enemies for in his vision he has seen them there (verses 5-7). But while he had received the visions from God there Jerusalem/Judah had not on the whole listened to what he had to say. That was why Jerusalem would suffer and the valley be overrun. And that was why he was now burdened for the valley, because he knew what would shortly be happening in it

It is possible also that there is the added thought that he is burdened because the vision had had to be given in a valley and not on the mountain of Yahweh (compare Psalm 23.4), because he had had to go outside Jerusalem to receive his vision. And that because it was not to be a vision of triumph, such as could have been received on the mountain of Yahweh, but a dark vision, a vision of sadness and disaster.

‘What do you think you are doing (literally ‘what to you then’) now that you have wholly gone up to the housetops?’ ‘What to you then’ is a phrase that expresses disapproval (compare Jeremiah 2.18; Hosea 14.8). It is clear from this that Isaiah considers that they have no grounds for rejoicing. Indeed that he thinks that their rejoicing reveals how spiritually sick they are. It is possible that their going up to the housetops simply has in mind a means of expressing delight as men openly rejoiced (contrast 15.3). But there is actually probably a darker significance to it in that he is speaking of their having gone up to their housetops so as to enter their rooftop shrines which were dedicated to the host of heaven, and to other gods (Jeremiah 19.13; Zephaniah 1.5). Thus their gratitude is seen as being wrongly directed. Their hearts are in the wrong place. (LXX adds ‘which help you not’).

‘O you who are full of shoutings, a tumultuous city, a joyous town.’ This is a picture of a city’s jubilation at some kind of good news. They are possibly rejoicing in anticipated deliverance (because Sennacherib has withdrawn or has accepted their surrender on favourable terms), or in hope of deliverance (because they have heard news that their Egyptian allies are coming), or because their defences have been satisfactorily completed and their water sources secured so that they are sure that they can now hold out, but there is no thought of what it has all cost Judah, no mention of gratitude to Yahweh, no mention of going to the Temple to worship, no thought of what they have lost by it. It is self-congratulatory, and that after a miserable showing, with God forgotten. And seemingly it was temporary rejoicing for they were still anticipating the possibility of death on the morrow (verse 13), although that may simply have indicated an irreligious spirit.

‘Your slain are not slain with the sword, nor are they dead in battle. All your rulers fled away together, they were bound by the archers. All who were found of you were bound together. They fled far off.’ He wants to know what they can possibly have to rejoice about when they bring to mind the real picture that they should have been considering. It is a dismal one of failure, even of cowardice. For as a nation they had not offered firm resistance. They had not died in battle. Rather their leaders had fled into hiding and had been taken prisoner under the threat of archers rather than at sword point, an ignominious situation, while the remainder of the people had also fled, apart from those who were discovered, taken captive and chained together. What was there to rejoice about in that?

The reference is probably to what had happened throughout Judah, for Sennacherib himself records how during his campaign certain of the forces of Judah had deserted Hezekiah’s cause and had betrayed their people. They had not put on a brave show at all.

22.4-5 ‘Therefore I said, “Look away from me. I will weep bitterly. Do not rush to comfort me for the spoiling of the daughter of my people, for it is a day of discomfiture, and of treading down, and of perplexity from the Lord, Yahweh of hosts, in the valley of vision. A breaking down of the walls and a crying to the mountains.’

Because of this (‘therefore’) Isaiah declares that he himself is not rejoicing. Rather he is grief stricken. He wants no comfort from such people. For he is only too aware that he has witnessed the despoiling of his people, a spoiling which need not have happened had they trusted in Yahweh. It had been a day of discomfiture, a day when the people had been trodden down, a day when he had been perplexed before the sovereign Lord in the valley of vision. In his inaugural vision he had seen the state of the people before God, but this did not mean that he found what had happened to them now as easy to bear. If only they had trusted in Yahweh from the start all this would have been avoided.

For the truth is that if men do not trust and obey God, they must recognise that there is always a cost. But that does not necessarily make it easier to understand. Rather it is often perplexing and heartbreaking to those who minister to them.

It is easy to forget that, although Jerusalem had been delivered each time there was an invasion, there had always been a great cost for the people of Judah as a whole. The deliverance was regularly deliverance at the last hour after huge suffering had been experienced by the many, and many had been taken off to exile. And Isaiah had seen it all and had been perplexed as he had received his visions from God. It had been ‘a day of breaking down of walls’. Possibly he was thinking of the many walls of the cities of Judah that had been destroyed (as Sennacherib wrote in his annals, ‘forty six cities of Judah I besieged and took)’. It had been ‘a day of crying to the mountains’. Possibly the thought in mind is of the screams of the people as they had cried to the surrounding mountains for help (compare 10.30), especially those in the lowlands who had been looking in vain to the king, ‘the breath of their nostrils’, in his mountain fastness. But the king had not been able to help them. He had been too busy seeking to help himself. How little then there was really to rejoice in.

‘For the spoiling of the daughter of my people.’ Nothing is worse than the rape of a daughter. It is a grief to the whole family. And Isaiah saw what had happened to his people as being similar to his own daughter having been ravished. Compare ‘the daughter of my people’ with ‘the daughter, Zion’ (1.8). That had been Jerusalem, this was the whole people that had been ‘raped’ (see Jeremiah 4.11; 6.14; 8.11,19, 22; 9.1).

22.6-7 ‘And Elam bore the quiver with chariots of men and horsemen, and Kir uncovered the shield. And it came about that your choicest valleys were full of chariots, and the horsemen set themselves in array at the gate.’

He now describes what he had seen in the valley of vision. There is here a pointed reference to the fact that their erstwhile allies in whom they had trusted were now in array against Judah. This may be connected with the betrayal mentioned in 21.2. The Elamites, or some of them, had changed sides. They may, of course, have been forced to do so because of their defeat at Sennacherib’s hands. But Isaiah sees the irony of it. They had trusted in their allies, and here they were, invading their land. The exact location of Kir is unknown but it was the destination of some of the Israelites taken into Assyrian captivity (see 2 Kings 16.9; Amos 1.5; 9.7).

The result had been that the whole of the lowlands of Judah had been occupied, with the dreaded bowmen of Elam, and with the warriors ready for battle, with uncovered shields, from Kir. Their finest valleys had been covered with enemy chariots (as the valley of vision would also shortly be). The horsemen had pressed in on the gates of their cities, the weak point in their defences. Was this really something to rejoice in?

22.8-11 ‘And he took away the covering of Judah, and you looked in that day to the armour in the house of the forest, and you saw the breaches of the city of David that they were many, and you gathered together the waters of the lower pool, and you numbered the houses of Jerusalem, and you broke down the houses to fortify the wall. You also made a reservoir between the two walls, for the water of the old pool, but you did not look to him who had done this, nor did you have respect to him who fashioned it long ago.’

But worst of all for Judah was that God had withdrawn His favour from them. He had removed His protective covering from Judah (contrast 4.5-6), because instead of looking to Him, they had looked to the armour in the house of the forest. They had considered that their armour was a better thing to trust in than Yahweh. And while they were gloating at their armour they were unaware of the invisible protection that had been removed. Well, they could have their armour. For thus Judah was left at the mercy of her enemies, and her armour would prove insufficient.

The ‘house of the forest’ had been built by Solomon and was called this because of the cedar pillars that supported its roof. It was used as an armoury and royal treasury (1 Kings 7.2; 10.17).

But while they had ceased to look to God they had also not looked to their defences. ‘You saw the breaches of the city of David that they were many.’ The walls had been allowed to crumble, and gaps had appeared in them, so that they would not be strong enough to take the hammering of a battering ram. And the result was that the city of David, which, with the Davidic house at its head under God, should have been invincible, had become an easy prey for an enemy.

So they had set themselves to frenzied activity, working to repair the defences and to guarantee the availability of water during a siege. ‘You gathered together the waters of the lower pool, and you numbered (assessed) the houses of Jerusalem, and you broke down the houses to fortify the wall. You also made a reservoir between the two walls, for the water of the old pool.’ The walls had been rebuilt and strengthened by taking selected buildings, tearing them apart, and using the materials to repair the walls. A reservoir was also built between the two walls which they had filled with water from the old pool. This would include the work done on the tunnel which Hezekiah built so as to provide an underground water supply from the spring Gihon, which was then covered in so as to be invisible to attackers (2 Kings 20.20; 2 Chronicles 32.2-4). The old pool was possibly the pool formed around that spring, from which water was brought to the reservoir, or it may have been the pool which had previously been the mainstay of their water supply. The result was that now they had had strong walls and plenty of water although it had been at a cost. But in all this there had been one thing that was lacking.

‘But you did not look to him who had done this, nor did you have respect to him who fashioned it long ago.’ The tragedy was that they had left Yahweh out of account. They had ignored the One Who had chosen Jerusalem, the One Who had placed the spring there, and the One Who had shaped the city and its surrounds to be right for the purpose that He had purposed for it. Indeed had they looked to Him all the other preparations would have been unnecessary, but they chose rather to ‘improve’ on God’s handiwork while ignoring God.

22.12 ‘And in that day the Lord, Yahweh of hosts, called to weeping and to mourning, and to baldness and to girding with sackcloth.’

For there was One Who had offered another way. That One was the sovereign Lord, Yahweh the great ‘He is’, the Deliverer from Egypt, the One Who was over all the hosts of heaven and earth. And this way was Yahweh’s way of victory. Let them but come to Him in repentance, in mourning over sin, in weeping over their idolatry and the way that they had neglected Him and His Law (compare here Joel 2.12-17). Let them genuinely repent and demonstrate it by the outward signs of weeping and mourning by shaving their hair (Jeremiah 47.5; Amos 8.10) and wearing sackcloth to prove their genuineness, and then God would hear them and they would be delivered. But it had to be genuine. (Contrast here 58.2-14 which describes the kind of fasting that would not have been pleasing to Him).

22.13 ‘And behold, (instead of that there was ) joy and gladness, slaying oxen and killing sheep, eating flesh and drinking wine. “Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we shall die.” ’

But instead of weeping and mourning over sin the people had gone all out for a good and hilarious time. Rather than spiritual awareness they had sought carnal pleasure. They had wanted great feasts and barbecues, entertainment and pleasure, and mountains of food, and plenty of wine. Their policy had been that death might well be close so that the best thing to do was to enjoy life while they could. They had forgotten the moral and spiritual dimensions. And they had forgotten that if only they would trust in the Lord Yahweh death would not have been so close, because He would have delivered them. But instead of exercising faith they had been happy-go-lucky.

This all suggests that, whatever it was that they were rejoicing over, it had not removed the main threat. The slaying of oxen and sheep in this wild manner was a sign that they did not expect life to go on smoothly, for normally they would have preserved their cattle because of what they contributed to their lives. And their expectancy of imminent death suggests that there were problems that still lay ahead. (It may, however, have been that they were just citing a well known saying which reflected their casual attitude towards life, and that the slayings were of thanksgiving offerings).

So this was the sin of Judah. Like Ahaz they had had to choose between trust in and obedience to Yahweh, or trust in themselves and reliance on the weapons and defences that they could produce for themselves. And they had chosen the latter. To them what they could see had counted for more than what they could not see. But it was not really just a matter of lack of faith. Behind it all was the fact that they did not want to live as God required of them. That was the central point. They would, of course, have been pleased for Yahweh’s help if it had been offered with no strings attached, but they did not want to have to submit to His commandments (compare again 58.2-14). And so, as they could not have the one without the other, they rather chose self-sufficiency. And that was the iniquity that had so aroused His anger. They had hardened their hearts against Him. (And we need to ask ourselves, ‘Do we do the same?’)

22.14 ‘And Yahweh of hosts revealed himself in my ears. “Surely this iniquity will not be purged from you until you die,” says the Lord, Yahweh of hosts.’

As a result of all this God’s anger had been aroused against them even more than before. That was why He had spoken to Isaiah very personally and very specifically (He had ‘revealed Himself in my ears’) and had warned him that this sinful and unforgivable behaviour would ensure that they did die, and that until they did nothing would remove it. They had now gone too far in rejecting Him. Their hearts were now hardened beyond repair. Only death awaited them. They were to be their own sacrifice for sin. Their final fate may seem to have been delayed by the good news, but it was sealed by His decree.

The Two Ministers (22.15-25).

This passage is presumably intended to come under the general heading of the Burden of the Valley of Vision, indicating problems among the leadership as well as among the people. When a people are dishonest before God it is not long before their leaders become the same. So here two important ministers are dealt with, both of whom were failing in one way or another. They are seen as following the trend and as a corrupting influence in Judah as a result of their bad example. They are seen as two men who shared some of the responsibility for Judah’s sinful attitudes. They illustrate all that is wrong with Judah. This demonstrates that underneath all Judah’s problems lay the self-aggrandisement and disobedience and sinfulness of the people. It was their attitudes and behaviour that were at fault.

Analysis of 22.15-25.

  • a Thus says the Lord, Yahweh of hosts, “Go, get yourself to this Vizier, even to Shebna, who is over the house, and say, ‘What are you doing here, and whom have you here, that you have hewed yourself out here a sepulchre?’ Hewing himself out a sepulchre on the height, cutting (graving) a habitation for himself in the rock.”
  • b Behold, Yahweh will hurl you away violently, O you great man, yes He will wrap you up closely (take firm hold of you). He will surely twist you and throw you like a ball into a large country. There you will die, and there will be the chariots of your glory, you disgrace of your lord’s house. “And I will thrust you from your office.” And He will pull you down from your high position (17-19).
  • c And it will come about in that day that I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, and I will clothe him with your robe, and strengthen him with your girdle (20).
  • d And I will commit your authority into his hand. And he will be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah (20-21).
  • d And I will lay on his shoulder the key of the house of David, and he will open and none shall shut, and he will shut, and none shall open (22).
  • c And I will fasten him as a peg in a sure place, and he will be for a throne of glory to his father’s house, and they will hang on him all the glory of his father’s house, the offspring and the issue, every small vessel, from the vessels of cups even to all the vessels of flagons (23-24).
  • b “In that day,” says Yahweh of hosts, “the nail that was fastened in a sure place will give way, and it will be hewn down, and fall, and the burden that was on it will be cut off” (25a).
  • a “For Yahweh has spoken it” (25b).

This is a passage of deliberate contrasts, but both parties fail in their own way. In ‘a’ Yahweh has spoken against Shebna because he has used his office for personal aggrandisement. He has ‘hewn’ out his own sepulchre in a prominent position to enhance himself in the people’s eyes, and in the parallel Yahweh has spoken against Eliakim. In ‘b’ Shebna will be hurled away and thrust from office, and in the parallel the nail that has been fastened in a sure place will give way and fall. In ‘c’ Eliakim is called and is made strong, and in the parallel Eliakim is to be fastened securely and to prosper in office. In ‘d’ Eliakim is to replace Shebna in his responsibilities and become father to the people, and in the parallel the key of the house of David will be laid on his shoulders so that he will be able to open and shut doors.

The Self-Important First Minister (22.15-19).

The first to be dealt with is Shebna, the self-important First Minister. God determined to get him out of the way to a place where he could do no harm.

22.15-16 ‘Thus says the Lord, Yahweh of hosts, “Go, get yourself to this Vizier, even to Shebna, who is over the house, and say, ‘What are you doing here, and whom have you here, that you have hewed yourself out here a sepulchre?’ Hewing himself out a sepulchre on the height, cutting (graving) a habitation for himself in the rock.” ’

Having depicted the false attitude of Judah this is now seen as reflected in their leadership. Shebna was ‘over the house’, that is responsible for administration on behalf of the royal house (compare 1 Kings 4.6; 2 Chronicles 26.21). He was the Vizier or First Minister. But rather than concentrating on his responsibilities at this difficult time he was full of himself and seeking to establish his name for all time. He had utilised valuable resources by hewing out a sepulchre from rock, in a high place, so that all would see it and remember whose it was. If they were to die he was ensuring that he would be permanently remembered. He was seeking a permanent name, a permanent resting place, and full prominence in men’s eyes, seeking to some extent to replace God in their eyes. He wanted men to look to him, admiring him because of the grand tomb that awaited him, and then admiring him in death. So the questions mean, ‘who does he think he is? What permanent status does he think that he has?’

We are probably intended to recognise as significant that all his thoughts were seen to be concentrated on death.

‘This Vizier.’ A contemptuous way of depicting how unimportant he really is in God’s eyes. The fact that his father’s name is not given suggests that he has come from humble beginnings, or that it is deliberately omitted in order to humble him. But he is not condemned for that, only for his self-promulgation.

22.17-19 ‘Behold, Yahweh will hurl you away violently, O you great man, yes he will wrap you up closely (take firm hold of you). He will surely twist you and throw you like a ball into a large country. There you will die, and there will be the chariots of your glory, you disgrace of your lord’s house. “And I will thrust you from your office.” And he will pull you down from your high position.’

God has no time for this man. He intends to get rid of him. He will play with him as a child plays, wrapping him up in His hand and twisting him into a ball and hurling him into a wide open space. No doubt the game was familiar to his readers. ‘O you great man’ is sarcastic. He is not really seen as great at all, he only thinks that he is. And now he has become but a plaything.

The purpose is to be rid of him. He is something to be thrown away. The ‘large country’ may simply mean somewhere well away from the palace where he can do no harm, ‘the wide open spaces’, or it may suggest that he will be forcibly exiled or more probably sent somewhere as an ambassador or similar. For while he is to be demoted, he will still have his chariots which he thinks bring him glory, which is why it seems possible that he will be an ambassador or something similar. God will let him keep his chariots, but he will die there. God will exile him permanently even if man does not. ‘You disgrace of your lord’s house’ is clearly said with some feeling. It is clear that Shebna is advising the king unwisely, against the will of God, possibly to enter into foreign alliances.

“And I will thrust you from your office.” These words are probably to be seen as quoting Yahweh. He is so moved at the situation that He conveys His own message. Isaiah then declares that He will do precisely that. He will be pulled down from his high position. We possibly find the partial fulfilment of this 36.3; 37.2, although that may have been a different Shebna.

A similar indictment might be made against some preachers who try to make themselves look big, with big homes and big cars and big egos.

Eliakim the Nepotist (22.20-25).

This is the second failing First Minister. In some way Eliakim’s case is sadder than that of Shebna. His life and service was so promising, but it was ruined by nepotism. He was a good man, with a fault that he left undealt with, and the fault was too great and brought him down. Each of us has some fault like that at some time, and it can make or break us depending on whether we deal with it or not.

22.20-21 ‘And it will come about in that day that I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, and I will clothe him with your robe, and strengthen him with your girdle, and I will commit your authority into his hand. And he will be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah.’

God will raise up another to replace Shebna (compare 36.3; 37.2). He will be given Shebna’s ‘uniform’ and insignias. The robe and the girdle often indicated the importance of the wearer. And he will be given total authority over the royal house, just as Shebna had been. The difference is that he will be a true father to God’s people, guiding, directing, advising, passing judgments, and he will have wide influence.

‘My servant.’ An honourable title given to very few throughout history. When he fell he would fall from a very honoured status.

22.22 ‘And I will lay on his shoulder the key of the house of David, and he will open and none shall shut, and he will shut, and none shall open.’

The key was the symbol of authority showing whom he represented. He could allow men into the king’s presence, or otherwise. And he had supreme control over royal affairs. He could confirm legislation and make royal appointments. He could act in the king’s name. He was greatly privileged. Compare Matthew 16.19; Revelation 3.7.

22.23-24 ‘And I will fasten him as a peg in a sure place, and he will be for a throne of glory to his father’s house, and they will hang on him all the glory of his father’s house, the offspring and the issue, every small vessel, from the vessels of cups even to all the vessels of flagons.’

He was to be fastened like a peg in a sure place, strong, firmly established and able to bear all who would put weight on his shoulders, a strong and capable first minister. But then, alas, his father’s house will see him as a stepping stone for their ambitions, and he will concur. They will see him as their throne of glory, their means of advancement. And there will be hung on him by his family all from the highest to the lowest. All will seek high positions because of their relationship to him. How quickly can good men let themselves down when they do not look only to the Lord.

22.25 ‘In that day, says Yahweh of hosts, the nail that was fastened in a sure place will give way, and it will be hewn down, and fall, and the burden that was on it will be cut off, for Yahweh has spoken it.’

The introduction of his family into the different positions of authority will be too much for the nation, and for God. One powerful family in control could only lead to total injustice and jealousy, and divisions within society, especially as they began to arrange things for their own welfare and to prevent the rise of others. Thus both he and they will be removed from office, and his fall will be sudden, he will be ‘hewn down’. The rivalry of other families would ensure that. So what began as a promising career will be wrecked by nepotism. It is a warning that the man in authority must never have favourites. His appointments must always be on the basis of who will most satisfactorily fill important positions.

We should note that these attitudes and the behaviour of these men was seen as important enough to be placed among Isaiah’s burdens, and to result in the men’s downfall. It was declared of these two men that in one case it was the result of a huge sense of his own importance and in the other the result of showing of excessive favouritism, that led to their demise. Both were acting in the name of Yahweh and usurped the place of God by their behaviour. Thus both had to be dealt with. They were symptomatic of what was wrong with Judah and Jerusalem.

Chapter 23 The Burden of Tyre

Tyre lay to the north along the sea coast. Combined with Sidon and the surrounding country it was an ancient seafaring nation. Its ships travelled the ancient world, trading, establishing colonies, and making it rich and powerful, and sometimes overbearing (verse 10). Having a great sense of its own importance it was regularly involved with the intrigues of the area. The city was split into two, the island section and the mainland section, united by a causeway. But Tyre too was not dependable. She too would be laid waste by Assyria. Apart from Yahweh there was really nowhere else for Judah to turn.

Amos 1.9 tells us that Tyre in fact betrayed her covenant with Judah and did nothing to prevent the Edomites from taking advantage of Judah’s weak state.

Like many of Isaiah’s prophecies the future is spoken of as though it has happened using the Hebrew tense to indicate something already completed in the mind of God, although awaiting completion on earth. When the detailed prophecy was literally fulfilled we cannot date accurately, but what we do know is that the island of Tyre was finally totally destroyed by Alexander the Great who was the first to capture the island city.

Lament Over Tyre (23.1-14).

The final burden is the burden of Tyre and Sidon. These were two wealthy and powerful seaports on the Mediterranean coast from which ships went out to all parts of the known world. Their largest ships were called ships of Tarshish, possibly because of the smelted metals that they carried, or possibly because of the destinations that they reached (Jonah set sail for Tarshish from Joppa in order to go to a distant land - Jonah 1.3; 4.2). There may in fact have been a number of places called Tarshish as it may have been a name given to a number of places from which such metals were obtained. Tartessus in Spain, Sardinia (where Phoenician inscription have been found bearing the name Tarshish), and some port in East Africa (on the basis of 2 Chronicles 20.36) have all been suggested.

Analysis

  • a The burden of Tyre. Howl you ships of Tarshish, for it is laid waste, so that there is no house, no entering in. From the land of Kittim it is revealed to them (1).
  • b Be still (or ‘silent’) you inhabitants of the isle (or ‘coastland’), you whom the merchants of Zidon who have passed over the sea have replenished, and on great waters the seed of Shihor, the harvest of the Nile, was her revenue, and she was the market of nations (2-3).
  • c Be ashamed, O Zidon, for the sea has spoken, the stronghold of the sea, saying, “I have not travailed nor brought forth, nor have I nourished young men or brought up virgins” (4).
  • d When the report comes to Egypt they will be sorely pained at the news of Tyre (5).
  • e Pass over to Tarshish. Howl you inhabitants of the isle. Is this your joyous situation whose antiquity is of ancient days, whose feet carried her afar off to reside as an alien? (6-7).
  • f Who has purposed this against Tyre, the one who dispensed crowns, whose merchants are princes, whose trade supremos are the honourable of the earth? (8).
  • f Yahweh of hosts has purposed it, to stain the pride of all glory, to bring into contempt all the honourable of the earth (9).
  • e Pass through your land like the Nile, O you daughter of Tarshish. There is no restraining girdle any more (10).
  • d He has stretched out his hand over the sea, he has shaken the kingdoms, Yahweh has given commandment concerning the merchant (or ‘Canaan’) to destroy its strongholds (11).
  • c And he said, “You will no more rejoice, O you oppressed virgin daughter of Zidon. Arise, pass over to Kittim, even there you will have no rest” (12).
  • b Behold the land of the Chaldeans. This people is no more. The Assyrian has appointed (or ‘founded’) it for the beasts of the wilderness. They set up their towers, they overthrew its palaces, he made it a ruin (13).
  • a Howl, you ships of Tarshish, for your stronghold is laid waste (14).

In ‘a’ the ships of Tarshish are to howl, because Tyre is laid waste, and the same applies in the parallel. In ‘b’ the isles and coastlands across the sea are to be silent as they behold what has happened to the one who replenished them, the merchant of the nations, who brought to them the produce of the Nile, standing by unable to help her, while in the parallel Babylon is unable to help her because she herself has been devastated and is a ruin. In ‘c’ even Zidon is to be ashamed of Tyre because she is now childless, while in the parallel she who is the raped ‘daughter of Zidon’ will pass over to Kittim and find no rest there. In ‘d’ Egypt will be sorely pained at the news of Tyre, while in the parallel it is because of what Yahweh has done to Tyre. In ‘e’ she is to ‘pass over’ to far off Tarshish which no longer looks as welcoming as it once did, and in the parallel she is the ‘daughter of Tarshish’ where she is now unrestrained as she ‘passes’ homeless through the land. In ‘f’ the question is as to who has done this to Tyre, and in the parallel the answer is that it is Yahweh of hosts Who has humbled her.

23.1 ‘The burden of Tyre. Howl you ships of Tarshish, for it is laid waste, so that there is no house, no entering in. From the land of Kittim it is revealed to them.’

The picture is poignant. News will reach the great ships of Tarshish, the large ore-carrying, sea-going vessels, as they return from their long voyages via Kittim (Cyprus), of the disaster that has befallen their beloved Tyre. And they are told to howl. Their city has been laid waste. Its houses have been demolished. No one enters it. This would refer to the mainland section, still under occupation by Assyria. The small island would be secure even if under pressure. But the port could not operate normally. The ships would have nowhere to find shelter. (And one day that too would be destroyed, compare Ezekiel 26.1-5).

23.2 ‘Be still (or ‘silent’) you inhabitants of the isle (or ‘coastland’), you whom the merchants of Zidon who have passed over the sea have replenished.’

The word translated isle or coastland is always difficult to interpret exactly. It often refers to the more distant peoples across the seas, on ‘isles’ and distant ‘coastlands’, without being too specific. If that is the idea here, although it is in the singular, then the inhabitants of the distant coastland are called on to be still or silent, a mark of respect for the disaster which has befallen the one who has replenished them by trade. Or it may be that they are to be still because they can offer no help, just as in the parallel Babylon can offer no help. Tyre is stranded without assistance. The merchants of Zidon and the merchants of Tyre could be seen as one, for they were sister cities.

Alternatively we can read ‘isle’, thus being a reference to the small island fortress which was part of Tyre and was still secure, seen as fed from the sea by the ships of Zidon (probably secretly by night), and they are called on to wait in silence because of their precarious situation. The same word for ‘isle’ occurs in verse 6 where it seems to have this meaning.

23.3 ‘And on great waters the seed of Shihor, the harvest of the Nile, was her revenue, and she was the market of nations.’

The importance of Tyre to all is now explained. Shihor is probably here to be identified with the a branch of the Nile, as in Jeremiah 2.18, although now no longer in existence (contrast Joshua 13.3; 1 Chronicles 13.5 where it seems at first sight to refer to ‘the Wadi of Egypt’. But there may well once have been a branch of the Nile further north than today to which these were referring. However as geography was not then an exact science, and waters connected with Egypt may not always have been clearly distinguished, more than one waterway may have been called Shihor, ‘the canal of Horus’).

Here reference is to the fact that the ships of Tyre were the main means by which the large exports of grain from Egypt (the seed of Shihor) were carried to the cosatland and to the world across ‘great waters’ for which their ships were suited, earning both Egypt and Tyre great profits. Indeed Tyre was the middleman of the nations, encouraging trade between the different nations. Thus both Egypt and the nations must wail at her difficulties.

23.4 ‘Be ashamed, O Zidon, for the sea has spoken, the stronghold of the sea, saying, “I have not travailed nor brought forth, nor have I nourished young men or brought up virgins”.’

These words are poignant. Even her sister city Zidon is exhorted to turn from Tyre in shame, for she is bereft of children. Her youths and maidens are no more. She is as though she had never borne them. Perhaps Tyre is here called ‘the Sea’ because with her stronghold in the sea and her ships plying the seas it was as though she was the sea. She was mistress of the seas.

23.5 ‘When the report comes to Egypt they will be sorely pained at the news of Tyre.’

Once the news of what has happened to Tyre reaches Egypt she will be sorely pained, distressed at what it will do to her trade. But there is a pregnant silence about the possibility of her coming to her aid. She too disowns Tyre as her responsibility. So much for alliances.

23.6-7 ‘Pass over to Tarshish. Howl you inhabitants of the isle. Is this your joyous situation whose antiquity is of ancient days, whose feet carried her afar off to reside as an alien?’

‘Pass over to Tarshish.’ Tarshish is the distant land with which Tyre traded which has been variously identified as Sardinia, Spain or East Africa. It may indeed refer to more than one place for it signified the land from which she collected ore. So to the landsman Tarshish was the distant ore provider, wherever it was. No doubt the Tyrians often spoke of it boastingly, that land that no others knew. That is the place to escape to, he suggests, sarcastically, the place of which they speak with the natural boasting of the sailor to a landsman, for it is far away beyond the reach of Assyria, and it is where they lord it over the natives (verse 10).

So Tyre is to howl over her situation, for it has now changed. It is no more. The word ‘situation’ is read in, others suggest reading in ‘city’ (the Hebrew leaves ‘joyous’ standing on its own). However, the idea is probably ‘what Tyre was’ (its general status) that made it joyous, for it was unique in the world. It was a world city. She had had this unique situation from ancient days, travelling the known world and residing as a welcome resident alien in many places, forming trade colonies, living on the sea, but always able to return home to port. But now there is no port. Her foundation is gone. Her life situation has collapsed, her colonies are bereft. Her joyous situation is no more.

23.8 ‘Who has purposed this against Tyre, the one who dispensed crowns, whose merchants are princes, whose trade supremos are the honourable of the earth.’

But the question is, who has purposed this against Tyre, the great Tyre, who crowned merchant princes in many lands, whose trade supremos are honoured everywhere? Who could possibly have brought her to this situation?

23.9 ‘Yahweh of hosts has purposed it, to stain the pride of all glory, to bring into contempt all the honourable of the earth.’

The answer is that Yahweh has done it to stem her pride. His purpose is to destroy her worldwide glory and bring her international trade supremos into contempt. In other words, to put Tyre in her place so that she may learn her need and seek to Yahweh. Only Yahweh could reach so far across the sea and do so much.

23.10-11 ‘Pass through your land like the Nile, O you daughter of Tarshish. There is no restraining girdle any more. He has stretched out his hand over the sea, he has shaken the kingdoms, Yahweh has given commandment concerning the merchant (or ‘Canaan’) to destroy its strongholds.’

Here the ‘daughter of Tarshish’ could be seen as signifying the inhabitants of Tarshish (compare daughter of Zion) so that the people of Tarshish are now addressed. The suggestion here would then seem to be that the Tyrians have been lording it over the people of Tarshish. Where ore is involved, which has to be dug from the ground, labour had to be obtained, and that often no doubt resulted in slave labour and the use of force against unwilling peoples forced to become labourers. Thus God’s action here has given the people of Tarshish a new freedom. They are now as free to pass through their land as the Nile is to pass through Egypt. The restraining girdle has been removed. For Tyre’s colonies (kingdoms) are in disarray, shaken by Yahweh (and by the lack of ships), and His command is that the Tyrian strongholds be destroyed. Note that the sea is no hindrance to the hand of Yahweh, He reaches where He will.

Or ‘daughter of Tarshish’ may refer to the fact that Tyrians now find refuge there rather than being their masters. In verse 6 they ‘pass over’ to Tarshish. Here they ‘pass’ unrestrained through Tarshish.

For mezach as ‘girdle’ see Job 12.21; Psalm 109.19. Others would translate as ‘shipbuilding’.

‘Canaan.’ The inhabitants of the coastland north of Carmel where called Canaanites, both by Greek sources and on their own coins, and Zidon was ‘the firstborn of Canaan’ (see Genesis 10.15, 19 compare Joshua 5.1), thus we may read ‘Canaan’ here. But the word does also mean ‘merchant, trafficker’ (see verse 8. Also Job 41.6; Proverbs 31.24; Ezekiel 17.4; Zephaniah 1.11; Zechariah 14.21).

23.12 ‘And he said, “You will no more rejoice, O you oppressed virgin daughter of Zidon. Arise, pass over to Kittim, even there you will have no rest.” ’

Tyre is here pictured as the virgin daughter of Zidon who has been raped (oppressed). She has no security where she is and will know no more rejoicing, so she should rouse herself, leave her island fortress, and pass over to Kittim (Cyprus). But even there she will not find rest. Cyprus was also under the powerful influence of Assyria. She will be a displaced person, even a fugitive, and restless because she has no one to turn to. She is alone.

She had been told to go to Tarshish, now she is told to go to Cyprus. But the significance of all these suggestions, in spite of all her colonies, was that she really had nowhere to go where she would be welcome.

23.13-14 ‘Behold the land of the Chaldeans. This people is no more. The Assyrian has appointed (or ‘founded’) it for the beasts of the wilderness. They set up their towers, they overthrew its palaces, he made it a ruin. Howl, you ships of Tarshish, for your stronghold is laid waste.’

It will be of no use to look to Babylon for help. Babylon is herself past help. Indeed Tyre have only to look at the example of the Chaldeans, with whom they were probably in alliance, in order to see mirrored there their own fate. They opposed Assyria, and now they are no more. So what chance will Tyre have? The Assyrians have determined to make Babylon a place for beasts to dwell in. They will set up their siege towers, they will overthrow its palaces. He will make it a ruin (‘he’ refers to the Assyrian). And they will do the same to Tyre. They could only do it to the mainland city, for the island fortress was impregnable until the coming of Alexander the Great, but that would be enough to prevent further trade for a time. Thus the ships of Tarshish may well howl for they will have no harbour to come to. Their place of safety will be destroyed.

After Seventy Years Tyre Will Be Restored (23.15-18).

Analysis.

  • a And it will come about in that day that Tyre will be forgotten seventy years, according to the days of one king (15a).
  • b After the end of seventy years it will be to Tyre as in the song of the prostitute (15b).
  • c Take a harp, go about the city, you harlot, you have been forgotten.
  • c Make sweet melody, sing many songs, that you may be remembered.
  • b And it will come about after the end of seventy years that Yahweh will visit Tyre, and she will return to her hire, and will play the harlot with all the kingdoms of the world on the face of the earth (17).
  • a And her merchandise and her hire will be holiness to Yahweh. It will not be treasured or laid up, for her merchandise will be for those who dwell before Yahweh to eat sufficiently and for durable clothing (18).

In ‘a’ Tyre will be forgotten for seventy years, for the period of one king, but in the parallel she will in the end finally be remembered by Yahweh, for she will turn to Yahweh. In ‘b’ she will after the seventy years go forth as in the song of the prostitute, and in the parallel she will return to plying her trade as a prostitute to the nations of the world. In ‘c’ and parallel we have the song of the prostitute.

23.15-16 ‘And it will come about in that day that Tyre will be forgotten seventy years, according to the days of one king. After the end of seventy years it will be to Tyre as in the song of the prostitute,

Take a harp,
Go about the city,
You harlot, you have been forgotten.
Make sweet melody,
Sing many songs,
That you may be remembered.’

The destruction of Tyre would have effect for ‘seventy years’. Then she would again begin her harlot ways. She will rise again and bring herself to people’s memories. This is pictured in the form of what was probably a well known song about a prostitute who had been off the streets and had been forgotten. So she took her harp and went about the city singing sweet melodies, so that soon she was again remembered. Central to the thought is that she was a harlot, as was Tyre with its licentious ways. Indeed harlotry is a description regularly used of cities in the Bible because of the behaviour that occurred in them and because they were idolatrous (compare 1.21; Nahum 3.4; Ezekiel 23.5, 7, 11, 16).

‘Seventy years, according to the days of one king.’ It is often suggested that this indicates a precise measurement like 16.14; 21.16, but the use of the number seventy militates against this, nor does this refer to a business contract. The phrase here rather suggests that it is a symbolic number. Kings rarely lived for anywhere near seventy years, never mind reigning for that period (the ‘book of days’ which was kept in respect of a king, and is often mentioned in this connection, covered only his reign). Thus this probably means ‘seventy years, that is, the lifetime of a king’, with seventy years being thus clearly indicated to be symbolic and signifying the divine perfection of the determined period as often occurs with the use of seventy.

On the other hand it may refer to the length of reign of a particularly long-lived king.

Tyre was constantly subject to attack by the Assyrians and equally constantly rebelled when the opportunity arose. She was never loath to take part in insurrections. Which incident this refers to is unclear, for it is very general and could be applied to any major taking of the mainland city. But the period of ‘seventy years’ may reflect the period when Tyre came under the domination of Sidon some years after Tyre’s capture and partial destruction by Sargon II in 722 BC. Thus she was ‘forgotten’. The period would badly affect her world position and her trade. She regained her autonomy in around 630 BC.

23.17 ‘And it will come about after the end of seventy years that Yahweh will visit Tyre, and she will return to her hire, and will play the harlot with all the kingdoms of the world on the face of the earth.’

After her restoration Tyre will again become prominent in world trade and in taking her licentious behaviour ‘worldwide’. She will not have learned from her judgment.

23.18 ‘And her merchandise and her hire will be holiness to Yahweh. It will not be treasured or laid up, for her merchandise will be for those who dwell before Yahweh to eat sufficiently and for durable clothing.’

The contrast with verse 17 is stark. This clearly looks beyond verse 17 into the future. Such sudden switches are seen elsewhere in Isaiah who sees all the future as one. (We have already seen in the burdens how in the end other nations will turn to Yahweh - 18.7; 19.19-25). God will turn her around. Then Tyre’s merchandise and trading will have been purified (thus it is not trade itself that is seen as sinful). It will be ‘holiness to Yahweh’, separated to Him and His service. This was partly so in that Tyre would provide material for the new temple (Ezra 3.7). But the description goes beyond that. The point is that her selfish building up of wealth will cease and she will rather make it available to supply the needs of God’s people. She will partake in the blessings of the future (Revelation 21.24-26). There would be those in Tyre too who would be conquered by Christ and have their part in the new heaven and the new earth.

We should note as we come to the end of this section that Babylon and Edom were the only two of the ten for whom Isaiah had a burden, whose final and complete destruction was, or will be, emphasised. In the cases of both Egypt and Tyre (and even Assyria) their future restoration is emphasised. Compare also Ethiopia/Sudan (18.7). Thus behind all the judgments is the prospect of final restoration for all apart from those set against God from the beginning by their very nature. What ‘Babylon’ stood for, pride, arrogance, rebellion, blasphemy, anti-Yahwism, the occult, must be destroyed, whichever nation it was in. And what ‘Edom’ stood for was betrayal. As the brother tribe of Israel who turned against them (Esau/Edom was Jacob/Israel’s brother) they were the Judas before Judas.

(Ezekiel will take another approach to Isaiah with regard to Tyre. He stresses the final end of Tyre (26.14). But his emphasis all through is on judgment. Thus we see that the prophets are more to be seen as drawing lessons from the future of the nations than as trying to prophesy the whole future. Both were right. Tyre did cease as a powerful city, but its people did continue, and many did come to Christ).

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