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Keil and Delitzsch Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament
Book of Woes or Historical Discourses Relating to Asshur and the Egyptian Alliance - Isaiah 28-33 part v
These chapters carry us to the earliest years of Hezekiah's reign, probably to the second and third; as Samaria has not yet been destroyed. They run parallel to the book of Micah, which also takes its start from the destruction of Samaria, and are as faithful a mirror of the condition of the people under Hezekiah, as chapters 7-12 were of their condition under Ahaz. The time of Ahaz was characterized by a spiritless submission to the Assyrian yoke; that of Hezekiah by a casual striving after liberty. The people tried to throw off the yoke of Assyria; not with confidence in Jehovah, however, but in reliance upon the help of Egypt. This Egypticizing policy is traced step by step by Isaiah, in chapters 28-32. The gradual rise of these addresses may be seen from the fact, that they follow the gradual growth of the alliance with Egypt through all its stages, until it is fully concluded. By the side of this casual ground of trust, which Jehovah will sweep away, the prophet exhibits the precious corner-stone in Zion as the true, firm ground of confidence. We might therefore call these chapters (Isaiah 28-33) "the book of the precious corner-stone," just as we called chapters 7-12 "the book of Immanuel." But the prophecy in Isaiah 28:16 does not determine and mould the whole of this section, in the same manner in which the other section is moulded and governed by the prophecy of the Son of the Virgin. We therefore prefer to call this cycle of prophecy "the book of woes;" for censure and threatening are uttered here in repeated utterances of "woe," not against Israel only, but more especially against Judah and Jerusalem, until at last, in chapter 33, the "hoi concerning Jerusalem" is changed into a "hoi concerning Asshur." All the independent and self-contained addresses in this cycle of prophecy commence with hoi ("woe:" chapters 28, 29, 30, 31-32, 33). The section which does not begin with hoi (viz., Isaiah 32:9-20) is the last and dependent part of the long address commencing with Isaiah 31:1. On the other hand, Isaiah 29:15-24 also commences with hoi, though it does not form a distinct address in itself, since chapter 29 forms a complete whole. The subdivisions of the sections, therefore, have not a uniform commencement throughout; but the separate and independent addresses all commence with hoi. The climax of these prophecies of woe is chapter 30. Up to this point the exclamation of woe gradually ascends, but in chapters 31-32 it begins to fall; and in chapter 33 (which contains an epilogue that was only added in the fourteenth year of Hezekiah's reign) it has changed into the very opposite. The prophet begins with hoi, but it is a woe concerning the devastator. This utmost woe, however, was not fulfilled at the point of time when the fulfilment of "the utmost" predicted in chapters 28-32 was apparently close at hand; but Jerusalem, though threatened with destruction, was miraculously saved. Yet the prophet had not merely to look on, as Jonah had. He himself predicted this change in the purpose of God, inasmuch as the direction of the "woe" in his mouth is altered, like that of the wrath of God, which turns from Jerusalem to Asshur, and destroys it.
1Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim, whose glorious beauty is a fading flower, which are on the head of the fat valleys of them that are overcome with wine!
Isaiah, like Micah, commences with the fall of the proud and intoxicated Samaria. "Woe to the proud crown of the drunken of Ephraim, and to the fading flower of its splendid ornament, which is upon the head of the luxuriant valley of those slain with wine." The allusion is to Samaria, which is called (1.) "the pride-crown of the drunken of Ephraim," i.e., the crown of which the intoxicated and blinded Ephraimites were proud (Isaiah 29:9; Isaiah 19:14), and (2.) "the fading flower" (on the expression itself, compare Isaiah 1:30; Isaiah 40:7-8) "of the ornament of his splendour," i.e., the flower now fading, which had once been the ornament with which they made a show. This flower stood "upon the head of the valley of fatnesses of those slain with wine" (cf., Isaiah 16:8), i.e., of the valley so exuberant with fruitfulness, belonging to the Ephraimites, who were thoroughly enslaved by wine. Samaria stood upon a beautiful swelling hill, which commanded the whole country round in a most regal way (Amos 4:1; Amos 6:1), in the centre of a large basin, of about two hours' journey in diameter, shut in by a gigantic circle of still loftier mountains (Amos 3:9). The situation was commanding; the hill terraced up to the very top; and the surrounding country splendid and fruitful (Ritter, Erdkunde, xvi. 660, 661). The expression used by the prophet is intentionally bombastic. He heaps genitives upon genitives, as in Isaiah 10:12; Isaiah 21:17. The words are linked together in pairs. Shemânı̄m (fatnesses) has the absolute form, although it is annexed to the following word, the logical relation overruling the syntactical usage (compare Isaiah 32:13; 1 Chronicles 9:13). The sesquipedalia verba are intended to produce the impression of excessive worldly luxuriance and pleasure, upon which the woe is pronounced. The epithet nōbhēl (fading: possibly a genitive, as in Isaiah 28:4), which is introduced here into the midst of this picture of splendour, indicates that all this splendour is not only destined to fade, but is beginning to fade already.
2Behold, the Lord hath a mighty and strong one, which as a tempest of hail and a destroying storm, as a flood of mighty waters overflowing, shall cast down to the earth with the hand.
In the next three vv. the hoi is expanded. "Behold, the Lord holds a strong and mighty thing like a hailstorm, a pestilent tempest; like a storm of mighty overflowing waters, He casts down to the earth with almighty hand. With feet they tread down the proud crown of the drunken of Ephraim. And it happens to the fading flower of its splendid ornament, which is upon the head of the luxuriant valley, as to an early fig before it is harvest, which whoever sees it looks at, and it is no sooner in his hand than he swallows it." "A strong and mighty thing:" ואמּי חזק we have rendered in the neuter (with the lxx and Targum) rather than in the masculine, as Luther does, although the strong and mighty thing which the Lord holds in readiness is no doubt the Assyrian. He is simply the medium of punishment in the hand of the Lord, which is called yâd absolutely, because it is absolute in power - as it were, the hand of all hands. This hand hurls Samaria to the ground (on the expression itself, compare Isaiah 25:12; Isaiah 26:5), so that they tread the proud crown to pieces with their feet (tērâmasnâh, the more pathetic plural form, instead of the singular tērâmēs; Ges. 47, Anm. 3, and Caspari on Obadiah 1:13). The noun sa‛ar, which is used elsewhere in the sense of shuddering, signifies here, like סערה, an awful tempest; and when connected with קטב, a tempest accompanied with a pestilential blast, spreading miasma. Such destructive power is held by the absolute hand. It is soon all over then with the splendid flower that has already begun to fade נבל ציצת, like הקּטן כּלי in Isaiah 22:24). It happens to it as to a bikkūrâh (according to the Masora, written with mappik here, as distinguished from Hosea 9:10, equivalent to kebhikkūrâthâh; see Job 11:9, "like an early fig of this valley;" according to others, it is simply euphonic). The gathering of figs takes place about August. Now, if any one sees a fig as early as June, he fixes his eyes upon it, and hardly touches it with his hand before he swallows it, and that without waiting to masticate it long. Like such a dainty bit will the luxuriant Samaria vanish. The fact that Shalmanassar, or his successor Sargon, did not conquer Samaria till after the lapse of three years (2 Kings 18:10), does not detract from the truth of the prophecy; it is enough that both the thirst of the conqueror and the utter destruction of Samaria answered to it.
3The crown of pride, the drunkards of Ephraim, shall be trodden under feet:
4And the glorious beauty, which is on the head of the fat valley, shall be a fading flower, and as the hasty fruit before the summer; which when he that looketh upon it seeth, while it is yet in his hand he eateth it up.
5In that day shall the LORD of hosts be for a crown of glory, and for a diadem of beauty, unto the residue of his people,
The threat is now followed by a promise. This is essentially the same in character as Isaiah 4:2-6. The place of the false glory thus overthrown is now filled by a glory that is divine and true. "In that day will Jehovah of hosts be the adorning crown and the splendid diadem to the remnant of His people; and the spirit of justice to them that sit on the judgment-seat, and heroic strength to them that drive back war at the gate." "The remnant of His people" (שׁאר with a fixed kametz, as in Isaiah 21:17) is not Judah, as distinguished from Ephraim that had utterly perished; but Judah and the remaining portion of Ephraim, as distinguished from the portion which had perished. After the perishable thin in which they gloried had been swept away, the eternal person of Jehovah Himself would be the ornament and pride of His people. He, the Lord of the seven spirits (Isaiah 11:1), would be to this remnant of His people the spirit of right and heroic strength. There would be an end to unjust judging and powerless submission. The judges are called "those who sit ‛al-hammishpât" in the sense of "on the seat of judgment" (Psalm 9:5; Psalm 122:5); the warriors are called "those who press back milchâmâh shâ‛râh" (war at the gate), i.e., either war that has reached their own gate (Isaiah 22:7), or war which they drive back as far as the gate of the enemy (2 Samuel 11:23; 1 Macc. 5:22). The promise in this last passage corresponds to Micah 5:4-5. The athnach in Isaiah 28:6 ought to stand at hammishpât; the second clause of the v. may be completed from the first, ולגבוּרה being equivalent to גבורה ולרוח, and משיבי to למישבי. We might regard 2 Chronicles 30 as a fulfilment of what is predicted in Isaiah 28:6, if the feast of passover there described really fell in the age succeeding the fall of Samaria; for this feast of passover did furnish a representation and awaken a consciousness of that national unity which had been interrupted from the time of Rehoboam. But if we read the account in the Chronicles with unprejudiced minds, it is impossible to shut our eyes to the fact that this feast of passover took place in the second month of the first year of Hezekiah's reign, and therefore not after the depopulation of the northern kingdom by Shalmanassar, but after the previous and partial depopulation by Tiglath-pileser. In fact, the fulfilment cannot be looked for at all in the space between the sixth and fourteenth years of Hezekiah, since the condition of Judah during that time does not answer at all to the promises given above. The prophet here foretells what might be hoped for, when Asshur had not only humbled Ephraim, but Judah also. The address consists of two connected halves, the promising beginnings of which point to one and the same future, and lay hold of one another.
6And for a spirit of judgment to him that sitteth in judgment, and for strength to them that turn the battle to the gate.
7But they also have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out of the way; the priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink, they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the way through strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment.
With the words, "and they also," the prophet commences the second half of the address, and passes from Ephraim to Judah. "And they also reel with wine, and are giddy with meth; priest and prophet reel with meth, are swallowed up by wine: they are giddy with meth, reel when seeing visions, stagger when pronouncing judgment. For all tables are full of filthy vomit, without any more place." The Judaeans are not less overcome with wine than the Ephraimites, and especially the rulers of Judah. In wicked violation of the law of God, which prohibited the priests from drinking strong drink when performing priestly service, and that on pain of death (Leviticus 10:9, cf., Ezekiel 44:21), they were intoxicated even in the midst of their prophetic visions (הראה, literally "the thing seeing," then the act of seeing; equivalent to ראי, like חזה in Isaiah 28:15 equals חזוּת; Olshausen, 176, c), and when passing judicial sentences. In the same way Micah also charges the prophets and priests with being drunkards (Micah 3:1., cf., Isaiah 2:11). Isaiah's indignation is manifested in the fact, that in the words which he uses he imitates the staggering and stumbling of the topers; like the well-known passage, Sta pes sta mi pes stas pes ne labere mi pes. Observe, for example, the threefold repetition of shâgu - tâghu, shâgu - tâghu, shâgu - pâqu. The hereditary priests and the four prophets represent the whole of the official personages. The preterites imply that drunkenness had become the fixed habit of the holders of these offices. The preposition בּ indicates the cause ("through," as in 2 Samuel 13:28 and Esther 1:10), and min the effect proceeding from the cause (in consequence of wine). In v. 8 we can hear them vomit. We have the same combination of the and צ in the verb kotzen, Gothic kozan. All the tables of the carousal are full, without there being any further room (cf., Isaiah 5:8); everything swims with vomit. The prophet paints from nature, here without idealizing. He receives their conduct as it were in a mirror, and then in the severest tones holds up this mirror before them, adults though they were.
8For all tables are full of vomit and filthiness, so that there is no place clean.
9Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts.
"Whom then would he teach knowledge? And to whom make preaching intelligible? To those weaned from the milk? To those removed from the breast? For precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, a little here, a little there!" They sneer at the prophet, that intolerable moralist. They are of age, and free; and he does not need to bring knowledge to them (da‛ath as in Isaiah 11:9), or make them understand the proclamation. They know of old to what he would lead. Are they little children that have just been weaned (on the constructives, see Isaiah 9:2; Isaiah 5:11; Isaiah 30:18; Ges. 114, 1), and who must let themselves be tutored? For the things he preaches are nothing but endless petty teazings. The short words (tsâv, as in Hosea 5:11), together with the diminutive זעיר (equivalent to the Arabic sugayyir, mean, from sagı̄r, small), are intended to throw ridicule upon the smallness and vexatious character of the prophet's interminable and uninterrupted chidings, as ל ( equals על, אל; comp. יסף ל, Isaiah 26:15) implies that they are; just as the philosophers in Acts 17:18 call Paul a σπερμολόγος, a collector of seeds, i.e., a dealer in trifles. And in the repetition of the short words we may hear the heavy babbling language of the drunken scoffers.
10For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:
11For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people.
The prophet takes the ki ("for") out of their mouths, and carries it on in his own way. It was quite right that their ungodliness should show itself in such a way as this, for it would meet with an appropriate punishment. "For through men stammering in speech, and through a strange tongue, will He speak to this people. He who said to them, There is rest, give rest to weary ones, and there is refreshing! But they would not hear. Therefore the word of Jehovah becomes to them precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, a little here, a little there, that they may go and stumble backwards, and be wrecked to pieces, and be snared and taken." Jehovah would speak to the scoffing people of stammering tongue a language of the same kind, since He would speak to them by a people that stammered in their estimation, i.e., who talked as barbarians (cf., βαρβαρίζειν and balbutire; see Isaiah 33:19, compared with Deuteronomy 28:49). The Assyrian Semitic had the same sound in the ear of an Israelite, as Low Saxon (a provincial dialect) in the ear of an educated German; in addition to which, it was plentifully mixed up with Iranian, and possibly also with Tatar elements. This people would practically interpret the will of Jehovah in its own patios to the despisers of the prophet. Jehovah had directed them, through His prophets, after the judgments which they had experienced with sufficient severity (Isaiah 1:5.), into the true way to rest and refreshing (Jeremiah 6:16), and had exhorted them to give rest to the nation, which had suffered so much under Ahaz through the calamities of war (2 Chronicles 28), and not to drag it into another way by goading it on to rise against Assyria, or impose a new burden in addition to the tribute to Assyria by purchasing the help of Egypt. But they would not hearken (אבוּא equals אבוּ, Isaiah 30:15-16; Ges. 23, 3, Anm. 3). Their policy was a very different one from being still, or believing and waiting. And therefore the word of Jehovah, which they regarded as en endless series of trivial commands, would be turned in their case into an endless series of painful sufferings. To those who thought themselves so free, and lived so free, it would become a stone on which they would go to pieces, a net in which they would be snared, a trap in which they would be caught (compare Isaiah 8:14-15).
12To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear.
13But the word of the LORD was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken.
14Wherefore hear the word of the LORD, ye scornful men, that rule this people which is in Jerusalem.
The prophet now directly attacks the great men of Jerusalem, and holds up a Messianic prophecy before their eyes, which turns its dark side to them, as chapter 7 did to Ahaz. "Therefore hear the word of Jehovah, ye scornful lords, rulers of this people which is in Jerusalem! For ye say, We have made a covenant with death, and with Hades have we come to an agreement. The swelling scourge, when it cometh hither, will do us no harm; for we have made a lie our shelter, and in deceit have we hidden ourselves. Therefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Behold, I am He who hath laid in Zion a stone, a stone of trial, a precious corner-stone of well-founded founding; whoever believes will not have to move. And I make justice the line, and righteousness the level; and hail sweeps away the refuge of lies, and the hiding-place is washed away by waters." With lâkhēn (therefore) the announcement of punishment is once more suspended; and in Isaiah 28:16 it is resumed again, the exposition of the sin being inserted between, before the punishment is declared. Their sin is lâtsōn, and this free-thinking scorn rests upon a proud and insolent self-confidence, which imagines that there is no necessity to fear death and hell; and this self-confidence has for its secret reserve the alliance to be secretly entered into with Egypt against Assyria. What the prophet makes them say here, they do not indeed say exactly in this form; but this is the essential substance of the carnally devised thoughts and words of the rulers of the people of Jerusalem, as manifest to the Searcher of hearts. Jerusalem, the city of Jehovah, and such princes as these, who either proudly ignore Jehovah, or throw Him off as useless, what a contrast! Chōzeh, and châzūth in Isaiah 28:18, signify an agreement, either as a decision or completion (from the radical meaning of the verb châzâh), or as a choice, beneplacitum (like the Arabic ray), or as a record, i.e., the means of selecting (like the talmudic châzı̄th, a countersign, a ra'ăyâh, a proof or argument: Luzzatto). In shōt shōtēph ("the swelling scourge," chethib שׁיט), the comparison of Asshur to a flood (Isaiah 28:2, Isaiah 28:8, Isaiah 28:7), and the comparison of it to a whip or scourge, are mixed together; and this is all the more allowable, because a whip, when smacked, really does move in waving lines (compare Jeremiah 8:6, where shâtaph is applied to the galloping of a war-horse). The chethib עבר in Isaiah 28:15 (for which the keri reads יעבר, according to Isaiah 28:19) is to be read עבר (granting that it shall have passed, or that it passes); and there is no necessity for any emendation. The Egyptian alliance for which they are suing, when designated according to its true ethical nature, is sheqer (lie) and kâzâb (falsehood); compare 2 Kings 17:4 (where we ought perhaps to read sheqer for qesher, according to the lxx), and more especially Ezekiel 17:15., from which it is obvious that the true prophets regarded self-willed rebellion even against heathen rule as a reprehensible breach of faith.
The lâkhēn (therefore), which is resumed in Isaiah 28:16, is apparently followed as strangely as in Isaiah 7:14, by a promise instead of a threat. But this is only apparently the case. It is unquestionably a promise; but as the last clause, "he that believeth will not flee," i.e., will stand firm, clearly indicates, it is a promise for believers alone. For those to whom the prophet is speaking here the promise is a threat, a savour of death unto death. Just as on a former occasion, when Ahaz refused to ask for a sign, the prophet announced to him a sign of Jehovah's own selection; so here Jehovah opposes to the false ground of confidence on which the leaders relied, the foundation stone laid in Zion, which would bear the believing in immoveable safety, but on which the unbelieving would be broken to pieces (Matthew 21:44). This stone is called 'ebhen boochan, a stone of proving, i.e., a proved and self-proving stone. Then follow other epithets in a series commencing anew with pinnath equals 'ebhen pinnath (compare Psalm 118:22): angulus h. e. lapis angularis pretiositatis fundationis fundatae. It is a corner-stone, valuable in itself (on yiqrath, compare 1 Kings 5:17), and affording the strongest foundation and inviolable security to all that is built upon it (mūsâd a substantive in form like mūsâr, and mūssâd a hophal participle in the form of those of the verba contracta pe yod). This stone was not the Davidic sovereignty, but the true seed of David which appeared in Jesus (Romans 9:33; 1 Peter 2:6-7). The figure of a stone is not opposed to the personal reference, since the prophet in Isaiah 8:14 speaks even of Jehovah Himself under the figure of a stone. The majestically unique description renders it quite impossible that Hezekiah can be intended. Micah, whose book forms the side piece of this cycle of prophecy, also predicted, under similar historical circumstances, the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem Ephratah (Micah 5:1). What Micah expresses in the words, "His goings forth are from of old," is indicated here in the preterite yissad connected with hineni (the construction is similar to that in Obadiah 1:2; Ezekiel 25:7; compare Isaiah 28:2 above, and Jeremiah 49:15; Jeremiah 23:19). It denotes that which has been determined by Jehovah, and therefore is as good as accomplished. What is historically realized has had an eternal existence, and indeed an ideal pre-existence even in the heart of history itself (Isaiah 22:11; Isaiah 25:1; Isaiah 37:26). Ever since there had been a Davidic government at all, this stone had lain in Zion. The Davidic monarchy not only had in this its culminating point, but the ground of its continuance also. It was not only the Omega, but also the Alpha. Whatever escaped from wrath, even under the Old Testament, stood upon this stone. This (as the prophet predicts in יסהישׁ לא המּאמין יחישׁ׃ the fut. kal) would be the stronghold of faith in the midst of the approaching Assyrian calamities (cf., Isaiah 7:9); and faith would be the condition of life (Habakkuk 2:4). But against unbelievers Jehovah would proceed according to His punitive justice. He would make this (justice and righteousness, mishpât and tsedâqâh) a norm, i.e., a line and level. A different turn, however, is given to qâv, with a play upon Isaiah 28:10, Isaiah 28:11. What Jehovah is about to do is depicted as a building which He is carrying out, and which He will carry out, so far as the despisers are concerned, on no other plan than that of strict retribution. His punitive justice comes like a hailstorm and like a flood (cf., Isaiah 28:2; Isaiah 10:22). The hail smites the refuge of lies of the great men of Jerusalem, and clears it away (יעה, hence יע, a shovel); and the flood buries their hiding-place in the waters, and carries it away (the accentuation should be סתר tifchah, מים mercha).
15Because ye have said, We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us: for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves:
16Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.
17Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet: and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place.
18And your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, then ye shall be trodden down by it.
And the whip which Jehovah swings will not be satisfied with one stroke, but will rain strokes. "And your covenant with death is struck out, and your agreement with Hades will not stand; the swelling scourge, when it comes, ye will become a thing trodden down to it. As often as it passes it takes you: for every morning it passes, by day and by night; and it is nothing but shuddering to hear such preaching. For the bed is too short to stretch in, and the covering too tight when a man wraps himself in it." Although berı̄th is feminine, the predicate to it is placed before it in the masculine form (Ges. 144). The covenant is thought of as a document; for khuppar (for obliterari (just as the kal is used in Genesis 6:14 in the sense of oblinere; or in Proverbs 30:20, the Targum, and the Syriac, in the sense of abstergere; and in the Talmud frequently in the sense of wiping off equals qinnēăch, or wiping out equals mâchaq - which meanings all go back, along with the meaning negare, to the primary meaning, tegere, obducere). The covenant will be "struck out," as you strike out a wrong word, by crossing it over with ink and rendering it illegible. They fancy that they have fortified themselves against death and Hades; but Jehovah gives to both of these unlimited power over them. When the swelling scourge shall come, they will become to it as mirmâs, i.e., they will be overwhelmed by it, and their corpses become like dirt of the streets (Isaiah 10:6; Isaiah 5:5); והייתם has the mercha upon the penult., according to the older editions and the smaller Masora on Leviticus 8:26, the tone being drawn back on account of the following לו. The strokes of the scourge come incessantly, and every stroke sweeps them, i.e., many of them, away. מדּי (from דּי, construct דּי, sufficiency, abundance) followed by the infinitive, quotiescunque irruet; lâqach, auferre, as in Jeremiah 15:15, and in the idiom lâqach nephesh. These scourgings without end - what a painful lecture Jehovah is reading them! This is the thought expressed in the concluding words: for the meaning cannot be, that "even (raq as in Psalm 32:6) the report (of such a fate) is alarming," as Grotius and others explain it; or the report is nothing but alarming, as Gussetius and others interpret it, since in that case שׁמועה שׁמע (cf., Isaiah 23:5) would have been quite sufficient, instead of שׁמוּעה הבין. There is no doubt that the expression points back to the scornful question addressed by the debauchees to the prophet in Isaiah 28:9, "To whom will he make preaching intelligible?" i.e., to whom will he preach the word of God in an intelligible manner? (as if they did not possess bı̄nâh without this; שׁמוּעה, ἀκοή, as in Isaiah 53:1). As Isaiah 28:11 affirmed that Jehovah would take up the word against them, the drunken stammerers, through a stammering people; so here the scourging without end is called the shemū‛âh, or sermon, which Jehovah preaches to them. At the same time, the word hâbhı̄n is not causative here, as in Isaiah 28:9, viz., "to give to understand," but signifies simply "to understand," or have an inward perception. To receive into one's comprehension such a sermon as that which was now being delivered to them, was raq-zevâ‛âh, nothing but shaking or shuddering (raq as in Genesis 6:5); זוּע (from which comes זועה, or by transposition זעוה) is applied to inward shaking as well as to outward tossing to and fro. Jerome renders it "tantummodo sola vexatio intellectum dabit auditui," and Luther follows him thus: "but the vexation teaches to take heed to the word," as if the reading were תּבין. The alarming character of the lecture is depicted in Isaiah 28:20, in a figure which was probably proverbial. The situation into which they are brought is like a bed too short for a man to stretch himself in (min as in 2 Kings 6:1), and like a covering which, according to the measure of the man who covers himself up in it (or perhaps still better in a temporal sense, "when a man covers or wraps himself up in it," cf., Isaiah 18:4), is too narrow or too tight. So would it be in their case with the Egyptian treaty, in which they fancied that there were rest and safety for them. They would have to acknowledge its insufficiency. They had made themselves a bed, and procured bed-clothes; but how mistaken they had been in the measure, how miserably and ridiculously they had miscalculated!
19From the time that it goeth forth it shall take you: for morning by morning shall it pass over, by day and by night: and it shall be a vexation only to understand the report.
20For the bed is shorter than that a man can stretch himself on it: and the covering narrower than that he can wrap himself in it.
21For the LORD shall rise up as in mount Perazim, he shall be wroth as in the valley of Gibeon, that he may do his work, his strange work; and bring to pass his act, his strange act.
It would be with them as it was with the Philistines when David turned their army into water at Baal-perazim (2 Samuel 5:20; 1 Chronicles 14:11), or when on another occasion he drove them before him from Gibeon to Gezer (1 Chronicles 14:13.). "For Jehovah will rise up as in the mountain of Perazim, and be wroth as in the valley at Gibeon to work His work; astonishing is His work; and to act His act: strange is His act." The Targum wrongly supposes the first historical reminiscence to refer to the earthquake in the time of Uzziah, and the second to Joshua's victory over the Amorites. The allusion really is to the two shameful defeats which David inflicted upon the Philistines. There was a very good reason why victories over the Philistines especially should serve as similes. The same fate awaited the Philistines at the hands of the Assyrians, as predicted by the prophet in Isaiah 14:28. (cf., Isaiah 20:1-6). And the strangeness and verity of Jehovah's work were just this, that it would fare no better with the magnates of Judah at the hand of Asshur, than it had with the Philistines at the hand of David on both those occasions. The very same thing would now happen to the people of the house of David as formerly to its foes. Jehovah would have to act in opposition to His gracious purpose. He would have to act towards His own people as He once acted towards their foes. This was the most paradoxical thing of all that they would have to experience.
22Now therefore be ye not mockers, lest your bands be made strong: for I have heard from the Lord GOD of hosts a consumption, even determined upon the whole earth.
But the possibility of repentance was still open to them, and at least a modification of what had been threatened was attainable. "And now drive ye not mockeries, lest your fetters be strengthened; for I have heard from the Lord, Jehovah of hosts, a judgment of destruction, and an irrevocable one, upon the whole earth." It is assumed that they are already in fetters, namely, the fetters of Asshur (Nahum 1:13). Out of these fetters they wanted to escape by a breach of faith, and with the help of Egypt without Jehovah, and consequently they mocked at the warnings of the prophet. He therefore appeals to them at any rate to stop their mocking, lest they should fall out of the bondage in which they now ere, into one that would bind them still more closely, and lest the judgment should become even more severe than it would otherwise be. For it was coming without fail. It might be modified, and with thorough repentance they might even escape; but that it would come, and that upon the whole earth, had been revealed to the prophet by Jehovah of hosts. This was the shemū‛âh which the prophet had heard from Jehovah, and which he gave them to hear and understand, though hitherto he had only been scoffed at by their wine-bibbing tongues.
23Give ye ear, and hear my voice; hearken, and hear my speech.
The address of the prophet is here apparently closed. But an essential ingredient is still wanting to the second half, to make it correspond to the first. There is still wanting the fringe of promise coinciding with Isaiah 28:5, Isaiah 28:6. The prophet has not only to alarm the scoffers, that if possible he may pluck some of them out of the fire through fear (Judges 5:23); he has also to comfort believers, who yield themselves as disciples to him and to the word of God (Isaiah 8:16). He does this here in a very peculiar manner. He has several times assumed the tone of the mashal, more especially in chapter 26; but here the consolation is dressed up in a longer parabolical address, which sets forth in figures drawn from husbandry the disciplinary and saving wisdom of God. Isaiah here proves himself a master of the mashal. In the usual tone of a mashal song, he first of all claims the attention of his audience as a teacher of wisdom. V. 23 "Lend me your ear, and hear my voice; attend, and hear my address!" Attention is all the more needful, that the prophet leaves his hearers to interpret and apply the parable themselves. The work of a husbandman is very manifold, as he tills, sows, and plants his field. Vv. 24-26 "Does the ploughman plough continually to sow? to furrow and to harrow his land? Is it not so: when he levels the surface thereof, he scatters black poppy seed, and strews cummin, and puts in wheat in rows, and barley in the appointed piece, and spelt on its border? And He has instructed him how to act rightly: his God teaches it him." The ploughing (chârash) which opens the soil, i.e., turns it up in furrows, and the harrowing (siddēd) which breaks the clods, take place to prepare for the sowing, and therefore not interminably, but only so long as it necessary to prepare the soil to receive the seed. When the seed-furrows have been drawn in the levelled surface of the ground (shivvâh), then the sowing and planting begin; and this also takes place in various ways, according to the different kinds of fruit. Qetsach is the black poppy (nigella sativa, Arab. habbe soda, so called from its black seeds), belonging to the ranunculaceae. Kammōn was the cummin (cuminum cyminum) with larger aromatic seeds, Ar. kammūn, neither of them our common carraway (Kmmel, carum). The wheat he sows carefully in rows (sōrâh, ordo; ad ordinem, as it is translated by Jerome), i.e., he does not scatter it about carelessly, like the other two, but lays the grains carefully in the furrows, because otherwise when they sprang up they would get massed together, and choke one another. Nismân, like sōrâh, is an acc. loci: the barley is sown in a piece of the field specially marked off for it, or specially furnished with signs (sı̄mânı̄m); and kussemeth, the spelt (ζειά, also mentioned by Homer, Od. iv 604, between wheat and barley), along the edge of it, so that spelt forms the rim of the barley field. It is by a divine instinct that the husbandman acts in this manner; for God, who established agriculture at the creation (i.e., Jehovah, not Osiris), has also given men understanding. This is the meaning of v'yisserō lammishpât: and (as we may see from all this) He (his God: the subject is given afterwards in the second clause) has led him (Proverbs 31:1) to the right (this is the rendering adopted by Kimchi, whilst other commentators have been misled by Jeremiah 30:11, and last of all Malbim Luzzatto, "Cosi Dio con giustizia corregge;" he would have done better, however, to say, con moderazione).
24Doth the plowman plow all day to sow? doth he open and break the clods of his ground?
25When he hath made plain the face thereof, doth he not cast abroad the fitches, and scatter the cummin, and cast in the principal wheat and the appointed barley and the rie in their place?
26For his God doth instruct him to discretion, and doth teach him.
27For the fitches are not threshed with a threshing instrument, neither is a cart wheel turned about upon the cummin; but the fitches are beaten out with a staff, and the cummin with a rod.
Again, the labour of the husbandman is just as manifold after the reaping has been done. "For the black poppy is not threshed with a threshing sledge, nor is a cart wheel rolled over cummin; but black poppy is knocked out with a stick, and cummin with a staff. Is bread corn crushed? No; he does not go on threshing it for ever, and drive the wheel of his cart and his horses over it: he does not crush it. This also, it goeth forth from Jehovah of hosts: He gives wonderful intelligence, high understanding." Ki (for) introduces another proof that the husbandman is instructed by God, from what he still further does. He does not use the threshing machine (chârūts, syn. mōrag, Ar. naureg, nōreg), or the threshing cart (agâlâh: see Winer's Real-Wrterbuch, art. Dreschen), which would entirely destroy the more tender kinds of fruit, but knocks them out with a staff (baculo excutit: see at Isaiah 27:12). The sentence lechem yūdâq is to be accentuated as an interrogative: Is bread corn crushed? Oh no, he does not crush it. This would be the case if he were to cause the wheel (i.e., the wheels, gilgal, constr. to galgal) of the threshing cart with the horses harnessed in front to rattle over it with all their might (hâmam, to set in noisy violent motion). Lechem, like the Greek sitos, is corn from which bread is made (Isaiah 30:23; Psalm 104:14). אדושׁ is metaplastic (as if from אדשׁ) for דושׁ (see Ewald, 312, b). Instead of וּפרשׁיו, the pointing ought to be וּפרשׁיו (from פרשׁ with kametz before the tone equals Arab. faras, as distinguished from פרשׁ with a fixed kametz, equivalent to farras, a rider): "his horses," here the threshing horses, which were preferred to asses and oxen.Even in this treatment of the fruit when reaped, there is an evidence of the wonderful intelligence (הפלא), as written הפלא) and exalted understanding (on תּוּשׁהיה, from ושׁי, see at Job 26:3) imparted by God. The expression is one of such grandeur, that we perceive at once that the prophet has in his mind the wisdom of God in a higher sphere. The wise, divinely inspired course adopted by the husbandman in the treatment of the field and fruit, is a type of the wise course adopted by the divine Teacher Himself in the treatment of His nation. Israel is Jehovah's field. The punishments and chastisements of Jehovah are the ploughshare and harrow, with which He forcibly breaks up, turns over, and furrows this field. But this does not last for ever. When the field has been thus loosened, smoothed, and rendered fertile once more, the painful process of ploughing is followed by a beneficent sowing and planting in a multiform and wisely ordered fulness of grace. Again, Israel is Jehovah's child of the threshing-floor (see Isaiah 21:10). He threshes it; but He does not thresh it only: He also knocks; and when He threshes, He does not continue threshing for ever, i.e., as Caspari has well explained it, "He does not punish all the members of the nation with the same severity; and those whom He punishes with greater severity than others He does not punish incessantly, but as soon as His end is attained, and the husks of sin are separated from those that have been punished, and the punishment ceases, and only the worst in the nation, who are nothing but husks, and the husks on the nation itself, are swept away by the punishments" (compare Isaiah 1:25; Isaiah 29:20-21). This is the solemn lesson and affectionate consolation hidden behind the veil of the parable. Jehovah punishes, but it is in order that He may be able to bless. He sifts, but He does not destroy. He does not thresh His own people, but He knocks them; and even when He threshes, they may console themselves in the face of the approaching period of judgment, that they are never crushed or injured.
28Bread corn is bruised; because he will not ever be threshing it, nor break it with the wheel of his cart, nor bruise it with his horsemen.
29This also cometh forth from the LORD of hosts, which is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working.