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Bible Commentaries

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible
Isaiah 2

 

 

Introduction

Analysis of Isaiah 2:7, Isaiah 2:16, Isaiah 2:20; Isaiah 3:18-23), and this accords best with the time of Uzziah, or the time of Jotham. Some have referred it to the return from Babylon, others to the times of the Messiah. The description in Isaiah 2:2-4, and Isaiah 4:5-6, cannot easily be referred to any other times than those of the Messiah.

The main scope of the prophecy is, to denounce the crimes which prevailed in the time when it was delivered; to threaten certain punishment for these crimes; and to assure the nation that there would be happier times when those crimes should have received their appropriate punishment, and when the nation should be reformed. The prophecy has relation solely to the kingdom of Judah, Isaiah 2:1. The prophet opens the prophecy Isaiah 2:2 by a brief but striking statement of the happy period when the Messiah should come, and the happy influence of his advent, Isaiah 2:2-4. It would seem, in looking at the entire prophecy, as if he had been contemplating the sins of the nation which then abounded, until his heart was sickened, and he involuntarily cast his mind forward to brighter and happier days when these things should cease, and the Messiah should reign in his glory. See Introduction, Section 7. The future times of the Messiah he exhibits, by showing Isaiah 2:2 that the benefits of the true religion would be extended to all people, and would be so conspicuous as to attract their attention, as if the temple, the place of the worship of the true God, should be made conspicuous in the sight of all nations. It would excite a deep interest, and a spirit of earnest inquiry everywhere Isaiah 2:3, and the effect of his reign would be to put an end to wars, and to introduce ultimately universal peace Isaiah 2:4. In view of that, the prophet Isaiah 2:5 exhorts all the people to turn from their sins, and to walk in the light of Jehovah. This leads him to a statement of the crimes which he would seem to have been contemplating, and the punishment which must follow from their prevalence. The statement of the crimes and their punishment is somewhat intermingled, but they may be exhibited so as to be contemplated separately and distinctly.

Crimes

Forsaking Jehovah;

Patronage of soothsayers;

Alliance with strangers Isaiah 2:6;

Accumulation of treasures;

Preparation of war-chariots Isaiah 2:7;

Universal and debasing idolatry Isaiah 2:8-9.

Punishments

God would so judge them as to produce universal consternation Isaiah 2:10.

He would humble their pride, and bring them low Isaiah 2:11-12.

He would smite and destroy all their wealth, and the sources of national corruption and depravity Isaiah 2:13-17.

He would entirely destroy the idols Isaiah 2:13.

He would produce universal terror and alarm Isaiah 2:19-21.

In view of these heavy judgments, the prophet calls on the people Isaiah 2:22 to cease to trust in men, since all were mortal, and unworthy of their confidence.

In Isaiah 3:1-15, intermingled with the account of their sins.

There would be calamity, the removal of the means of support, and the removal of the men in whom the nation had reposed confidence Isaiah 3:1-4.

There would be oppression, and a violation of, and disregard of all the proper laws of social life Isaiah 3:5.

There would be a state of anarchy and calamity, so that no one would be willing to be a leader, or undertake to remove the difficulties of the nation, or hold an office of trust Isaiah 3:6-7.

Jerusalem would be ruined Isaiah 3:8.

The cause of this was pride and hypocrisy Isaiah 3:8-9.

The prophet states the principles of the divine administration - that it should be well with the righteous, but ill with the wicked Isaiah 3:12-15.

The rulers of the nation were corrupt and oppressive Isaiah 3:12-15.

The chapter closes Isaiah 3:16-26 with a graphic description of the gaiety, pride, and folly of the female part of the Jewish community, and with the assurance that they would be involved in the calamities which were coming upon the nation.

Isaiah 4:1-6 is a continuation of the same prophecy. It contains the following parts:

1. A statement of the general calamity of the nation, indicated by the fact that the “men” would be destroyed, and that the women would apply to the few that remained that they might be called by their name, and their reproach be taken away Isaiah 4:1.

2. At that future time there would be a looking to the Messiah; a feeling that God only could interpose and save them; and a high estimate placed on the ‹Branch of Jehovah‘ - the Messiah, to whom alone they could look for deliverance Isaiah 4:2.

3. The people would turn to God, and there would be a reformation from their national sins Isaiah 4:3-4. The judgments of Yahweh would be effectual to the removal of the special crimes which the prophet had denounced, and the nation would become holy.

God would, in that future time, become the protector of his people, and the symbols of his presence and protection would be manifest everywhere in the midst of them Isaiah 4:5-6.

It is evident, therefore, that this prophecy was uttered when the nation was proud, haughty, and hypocritical; when they had been successfully engaged in commerce, and when the means of luxury abounded; when the national pride and vanity were manifested in dress, and luxury, and in the oppressive acts of the rulers; when general disorder and anarchy prevailed, and when a part of the nation at least was idolatrous. The entire prophecy may be regarded as a condemnation of these sins, and a solemn declaration that “for” these sins, wherever they prevail, the judgments of God will be poured out on a people. The prophecy, also, contemplates happier and purer times, and contains the assurance that the “series” of judgments which God would bring on a guilty people would “ultimately” have the effect to purify them, and that all these crimes and calamities would be succeeded by the pure and peaceful reign of the Messiah. It is in accordance with the manner of Isaiah, when he surveys existing crimes; when he sees the degradation of his countrymen, and is deeply distressed; when he portrays the judgments that must “certainly” come upon them; and when, as if sickened with the contemplation of their crimes and calamities, his mind seeks repose in the contemplation of the purer and happier period when the Messiah should reign, and peace, prosperity, and purity should prevail.


Verse 1

The word - This indicates that this is the commencement of a new prophecy. It has no immediate connection with the preceding. It was delivered doubtless at a different time, and with reference to a different class of events. In the previous chapter the term “vision” is used Isaiah 2:1, but the meaning is substantially the same. The term “word” דבר dâbâr denotes a “command, a promise, a doctrine, an oracle, a revelation, a message, a thing,” etc. It means here, that Isaiah foresaw certain “future events” or “things” that would happen in regard to Judah and Jerusalem.

Judah … - see the notes at Isaiah 1:1.


Verse 2

In the last days - הימים באחרית be'achărı̂yth hāyâmı̂ym In the “after” days; in the “futurity” of days; that is, in the time to come. This is an expression that often occurs in the Old Testament. It does not of itself refer to any “particular” period, and especially not, as our translation would seem to indicate, to the end of the world. The expression properly denotes “only future time” in general. But the prophets were accustomed to concentrate all their hopes on the coming of the Messiah. They saw his advent as giving character, and sublimity, and happiness to all coming times. Hence, the expression came to denote, by way of eminence, the times of the Messiah, and is frequently used in the New Testament, as well as the Old, to designate those times; see Acts 2:17; compare Joel 2:28; Hebrews 1:2; 1 Peter 1:5, 1 Peter 1:20; 1 John 2:18; Genesis 49:1; Micah 4:1; Deuteronomy 4:30; Jeremiah 48:47; Daniel 11:28.

The expressions which follow are figurative, and cannot well be interpreted as relating to any other events than the times of the Messiah. They refer to that future period, then remote, which would constitute the “last” dispensation of things in this world - the “last” time - the period, however long it might be, in which the affairs of the world would be closed. The patriarchal times had passed away; the dispensation under the Mosaic economy would pass away; the times of the Messiah would be the “last” times, or the last dispensation, under which the affairs of the world would be consummated. Thus the phrase is evidently used in the New Testament, as denoting the “last” time, though without implying that that time would be short. It might be longer than “all” the previous periods put together, but it would be the “last” economy, and under that economy, or “in” that time, the world would be destroyed, Christ would come to judgment, the dead would be raised, and the affairs of the world would be wound up. The apostles, by the use of this phrase, never intimate that the time would be short, or that the day of judgment was near, but only that “in” that time the great events of the world‘s history would be consummated and closed; compare 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5. This prophecy occurs in Micah Micah 4:1-5 with scarcely any variation. It is not known whether Isaiah made use of Micah, or Micah of Isaiah, or both of an older and well-known prophecy. Hengstenberg (“Chris.” i., pp. 289,290) supposes that Isaiah copied from Micah, and suggests the following reasons:

1. The prediction of Isaiah is disconnected with what goes before, and yet begins with the copulative ו (v ), “and.” In Micah, on the contrary, it is connected with what precedes and follows.

2. In the discourses of the prophets, the promise usually follows the threatening. This order is observed by Micah; in Isaiah, on the contrary, the promise contained in the passage precedes the threatening, and another promise follows. Many of the older theologians supposed that the passages were communicated alike by the Holy Spirit to both writers. But there is no improbability in supposing that Isaiah may have availed himself of language used by Micah in describing the same event.

The mountain of the Lord‘s house - The temple was built on mount Moriah, which was hence called the mountain of the Lord‘s house. The temple, or the mountain on which it was reared, would be the object which would express the public worship of the true God. And hence, to say that that should be elevated higher than all other hills, or mountains, means, that the worship of the true God would become an object so conspicuous as to be seen by all nations; and so conspicuous that all nations would forsake other objects and places of worship, being attracted by the glory of the worship of the true God.

Shall be established - Shall be fixed, rendered permanent.

In the top of the mountains - To be in the top of the mountains, would be to be “conspicuous,” or seen from afar. In other words, the true religion would be made known to all people.

Shall flow unto it - This is a figurative expression, denoting that they would be converted to the true religion. It indicates that they would come in multitudes, like the flowing of a mighty river. The idea of the “flowing” of the nations, or of the movement of many people toward an object like a broad stream, is one that is very grand and sublime; compare Psalm 65:7. This cannot be understood of any period previous to the establishment of the gospel. At no time of the Jewish history did any events occur that would be a complete fulfillment of this prophecy. The expressions evidently refer to that period elsewhere often predicted by this prophet Isaiah 11:10; Isaiah 42:1, Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:22; Isaiah 54:3; Isaiah 60:3, Isaiah 60:5, Isaiah 60:10; Isaiah 62:2; Isaiah 66:12, Isaiah 66:19, when “the Gentiles” would be brought to the knowledge of the true religion. In Isaiah 66:12, there occurs a passage remarkably similar, and which may serve to explain this:

‹Behold I will extend peace to her (to Zion) as a river;

And the glory of the Gentiles like a flowing stream.‘

Under the Messiah, through the preaching of the apostles and by the spread of the gospel, this prophecy was to receive its full accomplishment.


Verse 3

And many people shall go - This denotes a prevalent “desire” to turn to the true God, and embrace the true religion. It is remarkable that it speaks of an inclination among them to “seek” God, as if they were satisfied of the folly and danger of their ways, and felt the necessity of obtaining a better religion. In many cases this has occurred. Thus, in modern times, the people of the Sandwich Islands threw away their gods and remained without any religion, as if waiting for the message of life. Thus, too, the pagan not unfreguently come from a considerable distance at missionary stations to be instructed, and to receive the Bible and tracts. Perhaps this is to be extensively the mode in which Christianity is to be spread. God, who has all power over human hearts, may excite the pagan to anxious inquiry; may show them the folly of their religion; and may lead them to this “preparation” to embrace the gospel, and this disposition to “go” and seek it. He has access to all people. By a secret influence on the understanding, the heart, and the conscience of the pagan, he can convince them of the folly of idolatry and its vices. He can soften down their prejudices in favor of their long-established systems; can break down the barriers between them and Christians; and can dispose them to receive with joy the messengers of salvation. He can raise up, among the pagan themselves, reformers, who shall show them the folly of their systems. It cannot be doubted that the universal triumph of the gospel will be preceded by some such remarkable preparation among the nations; by a secret, silent, but most mighty influence from God on the pagan generally, that shall loosen their hold on idolatry, and dispose them to welcome the gospel. And the probability that this state of things exists already, and will more and more, should be an inducement to Christians to make more vigorous efforts to send every where the light of life.

He will teach us of his ways - He will make us acquainted with his will, and with the doctrines of the true religion.

For out of Zion - These are the words of the “prophet,” not of the people. The prophet declares that the law would go from Zion; that is, Zion would be the center from which it would be spread abroad; see the note at Isaiah 1:8. Zion is put here for Jerusalem, and means that the message of mercy to mankind would be spread “from” Jerusalem. Hence, the Messiah commanded his disciples to tarry ‹in Jerusalem until they should be endued with power from on high.‘ Luke 24:49. Hence, also, he said that repentance and remission of sins should ‹be preached among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem‘ - perhaps referring to this very passage in Isaiah; Luke 24:47.

The law - This is put here for the doctrines of the true religion in general. The law or will of God, under the reign of the Messiah, would proceed from Zion.

The word of the Lord - The message of his mercy to mankind; that which he has “spoken” respecting the salvation of men. The truth which is here taught is, “that Zion or the church is the source of religious truth, and the center of religious influence in the world.” This is true in the following respects:

(1) Zion was the source of religious truth to the ancient world. Knowledge was gained by travel; and it is capable of about as clear demonstration as any fact of ancient history, that no inconsiderable part of the knowledge pertaining to God in ancient Greece was obtained by contact with the sages of distant lands, and that the truths held in Zion or Jerusalem thus radiated from land to land, and mind to mind.

(2) The church is now the center of religious truth to the world around it.

(a) The world by its philosophy never originates a system of religion which it is desirable to retain, and which conveys any just view of God or the way of salvation.

(b) The most crude, unsettled, contradictory, and vague opinions on religion prevail in this community called ‹the world.‘

(c) If “in” this community there are any opinions that are true and valuable, they can in most instances be traced to “the church.” They are owing to the influence of the pulpit; or to an early training in the Bible; or to early teaching in the Sabbath-school, or to the instructions of a pious parent, or to the “general” influence which Christianity exerts on the community.

(3) The church holds the power of “reformation” in her hands, every cause of morals advancing or retarding as she enters into the work, or as she withdraws from it.

(4) The pagan world is dependent on the church for the knowledge of the true religion. There are “no” systems of truth that start up on a pagan soil. There is no elastic energy in a pagan mind. There is no recuperative power to bring it back to God. There is no “advance” made toward the truth in any pagan community. There is no well-spring of life to purify the soul. The effect of time is only to deepen the darkness, and to drive them farther from God. They only worship mere shapeless blocks; they bow down before worse looking idols; they enter less elegant and more polluted temples. The idols of the pagan are not constructed with half the skill and taste evinced two thousand years ago; nor are their temples built with such exquisite art. No idol of the pagan world now can compare with the statue of Minerva at Athens; no temple can be likened to the Parthenon; no sentiment of paganism in China, India, or Africa, can be compared with the views of the sages of Greece. The pagan world is becoming worse and worse, and if ever brought to better views, it must be by a “foreign” influence; and that influence will not go forth from philosophy or science, but “from the church.” If light is ever to spread, it is to go forth from Zion; and the world is dependent on “the church” for any just knowledge of God and of the way to life, The ‹law is to go forth from Zion;‘ and the question whether the million of the human family are to be taught the way to heaven, is just a question whether the church can be roused to diffuse abroad the light which has arisen on her.


Verse 4

And he shall judge - Or he shall exercise the office of a judge, or umpire. This “literally” refers to the God of Jacob Isaiah 2:3, though it is clear that the meaning is, that he will do it by the Messiah, or under his reign. One office of a judge is to decide controversies; to put an end to litigations, and thus to promote peace. The connection shows that this is the meaning here. Nations that are contending shall be brought to peace by the influence of the reign of the Messiah, and shall beat their swords into plowshares. In other words, the influence of the reign of the Messiah shall put a period to wars, and reduce contending nations to peace.

And shall rebuke - Shall “reprove” them for their contentions and strifes.

Lowth: ‹Shall work conviction in many peoples.‘

Noyes: ‹He shall be a judge of the nations,

And an umpire of many kingdoms.‘

He shall show them the evil of war; and by reproving them for those wicked passions which cause wars, shall promote universal peace. This the gospel everywhere does; and the tendency of it, if obeyed, would be to produce universal peace. In accordance with predictions like these, the Messiah is called the Prince of Peace Isaiah 9:6; and it is said that of his peace there shall be no end; Isaiah 9:7.

And they shall beat … - They shall change the arts of war to those of peace; or they shall abandon the pursuits of war for the mild and useful arts of husbandry; compare Psalm 46:9; Hosea 2:20. A similar prophecy is found in Zechariah 9:10. The following extracts may serve to illustrate this passage: ‹The Syrian plow, which was probably used in all the regions around, is a very simple frame, and commonly so light, that a man of moderate strength might carry it in one hand. Volney states that in Syria it is often nothing else than the branch of a tree, cut below a bifurcation, and used without wheels. The plowshare is a piece of iron, broad but not large, which tips the end of the shaft. So much does it resemble the short sword used by the ancient warriors, that it may, with very little trouble, be converted into that deadly weapon; and when the work of destruction is over, reduced again to its former shape, and applied to the purposes of agriculture.‘

Their spears - Spears were much used in war. They were made of wood, with a sharpened piece of iron or other metal attached to the end. The pruning-hook, made for cutting the limbs of vines or trees, is, in like manner, a long piece of wood with a crooked knife attached to it. Hence, it was easy to convert the one into the other.

Pruning-hooks - Hooks or long knives for trimming vines. The word here, however, means anything employed in “reaping or mowing,” a sickle, or a scythe, or any instrument to “cut with,” as well as a pruning-hook. These figures, as images of peace, are often used by the prophets. Micah Micah 4:4 has added to this description of peace in Isaiah, the following:

But they shall sit

Every man under his vine,

And under his fig-tree;

And none shall make them afraid:

For the mouth of Jehovah hath spoken it.

Joel Joel 3:10 has reversed the figure, and applied it to war prevailing over peace:

Beat your plowshares into swords;

And your pruning-hooks into spears.

The same emblems to represent peace, which are used here by Isaiah, also occur in pagan poets. Thus Martial; Epigr. xiv. 34:

Falx ex ense.

Pax me certa ducis placidos conflavit in usus,

Agricolae nunc sum, militis ante fui.

So Virgil; Georg. 1,507:

Squalent abductis arva colonis,

Et curvae rigidum falces conflantur in ensem.

So also Ovid; Fast. 1,699:

Sarcula cessabunt, versique in pila ligones.

Nation shall not lift up … - This is a remarkable prediction of universal peace under the gospel. The prediction is positive, that the time will come when it shall prevail. But it has not yet been fully accomplished. We may remark, however, in relation to this:

(1) That the tendency of the gospel is to promote the arts, and to produce the spirit of peace.

(2) It will dispose the nations to do right, and thus to avoid the occasions of war.

(3) It will fill the mind with horror at the scenes of cruelty and blood that war produces.

(4) It will diffuse honor around the arts of peace, and teach the nations to prize the endearments of home and country, and the sweet scenes of domestic life.

(5) Just so far as it has influence over princes and rulers, it will teach them to lay aside the passions of ambition and revenge, and the love of conquest and ‹glory,‘ and indispose them to war.

(6) The tendency of things now is toward peace. The laws of nations have been established under the gospel. Difficulties can even now be adjusted by negotiation, and without a resort to arms.

(7) Wars are far less barbarous than they were formerly. The gospel has produced humanity, mildness, and some degree of justice even in war. It has put an end to the unmerciful treatment of prisoners; has prevented their being sold as slaves; has taught even belligerents not to murder women and children.

(8) Nothing remains to be done to make peace universal but to send the gospel abroad through every land. When that is done, the nations will be disposed to peace; and the prophet, therefore, has predicted the universal prevalence of peace “only” when all nations shall be brought under the influence of the gospel.


Verse 5

O house of Jacob - This is a direct address, or exhortation, of the prophet to the Jews. It is made in view of the fact that God had gracious purposes toward them. He intended to distinguish them by making them the source of blessings to all nations. As this was to be their high destiny, he exhorts them to devote themselves to him, and to live to his honor. The word “house” here means the “family, or nation.” The phrase is applied to the Jews because their tribes were descended from the twelve sons of Jacob.

Let us walk - Let us “live.” The word “walk” is often used to denote human life or conduct; compare Isaiah 2:3; Romans 6:4; Romans 8:1; 1 Corinthians 5:7; Galatians 6:16, …

In the light of the Lord - The sense of this is: Let us obey the commandments of Yahweh; or, as the Chaldee expresses it, ‹Let us walk in the doctrine of the law of the Lord.‘ The idea may be thus expressed: ‹Let us not walk in the darkness and error of sin and idolatry, but in the light or instruction which God sheds upon us by his law. He teaches us what we should do, and let us obey him.‘ “Light” is often, in the Scriptures, thus put for instruction, or teaching; compare the note at Matthew 4:16; note at John 1:4; also, note at Ephesians 5:8.


Verse 6

Therefore - The prophet proceeds in this and the following verses, to state the reasons of their calamities, and of the judgments that had come upon them. Those judgments he traces to the crimes which he enumerates - crimes growing chiefly out of great commercial prosperity, producing pride, luxury, and idolatry.

Thou hast forsaken - The address is changed from the exhortation to the house of Jacob Isaiah 2:5 to God, as is frequently the case in the writings of Isaiah. It indicates a state where the mind is full of the subject, and where it expresses itself in a rapid and hurried manner.

Hast forsaken - Hast withdrawn thy protection, and given them over to the calamities and judgments which had come upon them.

They be replenished - Hebrew, They are “full.” That is, these things abound.

From the East - Margin, “More than the East.” The meaning of the expression it is not easy to determine. The word translated “East,” קדם qedem denotes also “antiquity,” or that which is “of old,” as well as the East. Hence, the Septuagint renders it, ‹their land is, as of old, filled.‘ The Chaldee, ‹their land is filled with idols as at the beginning.‘ Either idea will suit the passage; though our translation more nearly accords with the Hebrew than the others. The “East,” that is, Arabia, Persia, Chaldea, etc., was the country where astrology, soothsaying, and divination particularly abounded; see Daniel 2:2; Deuteronomy 18:9-11.

And are soothsayers - Our word “soothsayers” means “foretellers, prognosticators,” persons who pretend to predict future events “without inspiration,” differing in this from true prophets. What the Hebrew word means, it is not so easy to determine. The word עננים ‛onenı̂ym may be derived from ענן ‛ânân “a cloud” - and then would denote those who augur from the appearance of the clouds, a species of divination from certain changes observed in the sky; compare Leviticus 19:26: ‹Neither shall ye - observe times.‘ 2 Kings 21:6. This species of divination was expressly forbidden; see Deuteronomy 18:10-12: ‹There shall not be found among you anyone that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter,‘ etc. Or the word may be derived from עין ‛ayin “an eye,” and then it will denote those who fascinate, enchant, or bewitch by the eye. It is probable that the word includes “augury, necromancy, and witchcraft,” in general - all which were expressly forbidden by the law of Moses; Deuteronomy 18:10-12.

Like the Philistines - The Philistines occupied the land in the southwest part of Palestine. The Septuagint uses the word “foreigners” here, as they do generally, instead of the Philistines.

And they please themselves - The word used here - שׂפק s'âphaq - means literally “to clap the hands” in token of joy. It may also mean, “to join the hands, to shake hands,” and then it will signify that they “joined hands” with foreigners; that is, they made compacts or entered into alliances with them contrary to the law of Moses. The Septuagint seems to understand it of unlawful marriages with the women of surrounding nations - τέκνα πολλὰ ἀλλόφυλλα ἐγενήθη αὐτοῖς tekna polla allophula egenēthē autois compare Nehemiah 13:23. It means probably, in general, that they entered into improper alliances, whether they were military, matrimonial, or commercial, with the surrounding nations. The words “children of strangers” may mean, with the descendants of the foreigners with whom Moses forbade any alliances. The Jews were to be a separate and special people, and, in order to this, it was necessary to forbid all such foreign alliances; Exodus 23:31-32; Exodus 34:12-15; Psalm 106:3, Psalm 106:5; Ezra 9:1-15,


Verse 7

Their land also is full of silver and gold - This “gold” was brought chiefly from Ophir. Solomon imported vast quantities of silver and gold from foreign places; 2 Chronicles 8:18; 2 Chronicles 9:10; 1 Chronicles 29:4; compare Job 28:16; 1 Kings 10:21, 1 Kings 10:27; 2 Chronicles 9:20. ‹And the king made silver to be in Jerusalem as stones.‘ ‹It was nothing accounted of in the days of Solomon.‘ From these expressions we see the force of the language of Isaiah - ‹their land is full,‘ etc. This accumulation of silver and gold was expressly forbidden by the law of Moses; Deuteronomy 17:17: ‹Neither shall he (the king of Israel) greatly multiply to himself silver and gold.‘ The reason of this prohibition was, that it tended to produce luxury, effeminacy, profligacy, the neglect of religion, and vice. It is on this account that it is brought by the prophet as an “accusation” against them that their land was thus filled.

Treasures - Wealth of all kinds; but chiefly silver, gold, precious stones, garments, etc.; compare the note at Matthew 6:19.

Their land also is full of horses - This was also forbidden in the law of Moses; Deuteronomy 17:16: ‹But he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses.‘ This law, however, was grossly violated by Solomon; 1 Kings 10:26: ‹And Solomon gathered together chariots and horsemen; he had a thousand and four hundred chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen.‘ It is not quite clear “why” the use of horses was forbidden to the Jews. Perhaps several reasons might have concurred:

(1) Egypt was distinguished for producing fine horses, and the Egyptians used them much in war Deuteronomy 17:16; and one design of God was to make the Jews distinguished in all respects from the Egyptians, and to keep them from commerce with them.

(2) Horses were chiefly used “in war,” and the tendency of keeping them would be to produce the love of war and conquest.

(3) The tendency of keeping them would be to lead them to put “trust” in them rather than in God for protection. This is hinted at in Psalm 20:7: ‹Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of Yahweh our God.‘

(4) “Horses” were regarded as consecrated “to the sun;” see “Univ. Hist. Anc. P.,” vol. x., 177. Ed. 1780. They were sacrificed in various nations to the sun, their swiftness being supposed to render them an appropriate offering to that luminary. There is no evidence, however, that they were used for sacrifice among the Hebrews. They were probably employed to draw the chariots in the solemn processions in the worship of the sun. The ancient Persians, who were sun-worshippers, dedicated white horses and chariots to the sun, and it is supposed that other nations derived the practice from them. The sun was supposed to be drawn daily in a chariot by four wondrous coursers, and the fate of Phaeton, who undertook to guide that chariot and to control those coursers, is known to all. The use of horses, therefore, among the Hebrews in the time of Ahaz, when Isaiah lived, was connected with idolatry, and it was mainly on this account that the prophet rebuked their use with so much severity; 2 Kings 23:11. It may be added, that in a country like Judea, abounding in hills and mountains, cavalry could not be well employed even in war. On the plains of Egypt it could be employed to advantage; or in predatory excursions, as among the Arabs, horses could be used with great success and effect, and Egypt and Arabia therefore abounded with them. Indeed, these may be regarded as the native countries of the horse. As it was the design of God to separate, as much as possible, the Jews from the surrounding nations, the use of horses was forbidden.

Chariots - “Chariots” were chiefly used in war, though they were sometimes used for pleasure. Of those intended for war there were two kinds; one for the generals and princes to ride in, the other to break the enemy‘s ranks. These last were commonly armed with hooks or scythes. They were much used by the ancients; Joshua 11:4; Judges 1:19. The Philistines, in their war against Saul, had 30,000 chariots, and 6000 horsemen; 1 Samuel 13:5. There is no evidence, however, that the Jews used chariots for war. Solomon had many of them 1 Kings 10:26, but they do not appear to have been used in any military expedition, but to have been kept for display and pleasure. Judea was a mountainous country, and chariots would have been of little or no use in war.


Verse 8

Their land also is full of idols - compare Hosea 8:4; Hosea 10:1. Vitringa supposes that Isaiah here refers to idols that were kept in private houses, as Uzziah and Jotham were worshippers of the true God, and in their reign idolatry was not publicly practiced. It is certain, however, that though Uzziah himself did right, and was disposed to worship the true God, yet he did not effectually remove idolatry from the land. The high places were not removed, and the people still sacrificed and burned incense on them; 2 Kings 15:4. It was customary with the pagan to keep in their houses “Penates or household gods” - small images, which they regarded as “protectors,” and to which they paid homage: compare Genesis 30:19; Judges 17:5; 1 Samuel 19:13; Hosea 3:4. ‹This is a true and literal description of India. The traveler cannot proceed a “mile” through an inhabited country without seeing idols, and vestiges of idolatry in every direction. See their vessles, their implements of husbandry, their houses, their furniture, their ornaments, their sacred trees, their “domestic” and public temples; and they all declare that the land is full of idols.‘ - “Roberts.”

The work of their own hands … - Idols. It is often brought as proof of their great folly and degradation that they paid homage to what “they” had themselves made. See this severely satirized in Isaiah 40:18-20; Isaiah 41:6-7; Isaiah 44:9-17.


Verse 9

And the mean man - That is, the man in humble life, the poor, the low in rank - for this is all that the Hebrew word here - אדם 'âdâm - implies. The distinction between the two words here used - אדם 'âdâm as denoting a man of humble rank, and אישׁ 'ı̂ysh as denoting one of elevated rank - is one that constantly occurs in the Scriptures. Our word “mean” conveys an idea of moral baseness and degradation, which is not implied in the Hebrew.

Boweth down - That is, before idols. Some commentators, however, have understood this of bowing down in “affliction,” but the other is probably the true interpretation.

And the great man - The men in elevated rank in life. The expressions together mean the same as “all ranks of people.” It was a common or universal thing. No rank was exempt from the prevailing idolatry.

Therefore forgive them not - The Hebrew is “future” - להם ואל־תשׂא ve'al -tis'â' lâhem Thou wilt not “bear” for them; that is, thou wilt not bear away their sins (by an atonement), or ‹thou wilt not forgive them;‘ - but agreeable to a common Hebrew construction, it has the force of the imperative. It involves a “threatening” of the prophet, in the form of an address to God ‹So great is their sin, that thou, Lord, wilt not pardon them.‘ The prophet then proceeds, in the following verses, to denounce the certainty and severity of the judgment that was coming upon them.


Verse 10

Enter into the rock - That is, into the “holes or caverns” in the rocks, as a place of refuge and safety; compare Isaiah 2:19, and Revelation 6:15-16. In times of invasion by an enemy, it was natural to flee to the fastnesses or to the caverns of rocks for refuge. This expression is highly figurative and poetic. The prophet warns them to flee from danger. The sense is, that such were their crimes that they would certainly be punished; and he advises them to flee to a place of safety.

And hide thee in the dust - In Isaiah 2:19, this is ‹caves of the dust.‘ It is parallel to the former, and probably has a similar meaning. But “may” there not be reference here to the mode prevailing in the East of avoiding the monsoon or poisonous heated wind that passes over the desert? Travelers there, in order to be safe, are obliged to throw themselves down, and to place their mouths close to the earth until it has passed.

For fear of the Lord - Hebrew ‹From the face of the terror of the Lord.‘ That is, the punishment which God will inflict will sweep over the land, producing fear and terror.

And for the glory … - That is, the honor or splendor which will attend him when he comes forth to inflict judgment on the people; Isaiah 2:19-20.


Verse 11

The lofty looks - Hebrew ‹The eyes of pride,‘ that is, the proud eyes or looks. Pride commonly evinces itself in a lofty carriage and supercilious aspect; Psalm 18:27.

Shall be humbled - By the calamities that shall sweep over the land. This does not mean that he shall be brought “to be” humble, or to have a humble heart, but that that on which he so much prided himself would be taken away.

The Lord alone … - God will so deal with them as to vindicate his honor; to turn the attention entirely on himself, and to secure the reverence of all the people. So terrible shall be his judgments, and so “manifestly” shall they come from “him,” that they shall look away from everything else to “him” alone.

In that day - In the day of which the prophet speaks, when God would punish them for their sins, Reference is probably made to the captivity at Babylon. It may be remarked, that one design of punishment is to lead people to regard and honor God. He will humble the pride of people, and so pass before them in his judgments, that they shall be compelled to “acknowledge” him as their just Sovereign and Judge.


Verse 12

The day … - This expression evidently denotes that the Lord would inflict severe punishment upon every one that was lofty. Such a severe infliction is called “the day of the Lord of hosts,” because it would be a time when “he” would particularly manifest himself, and when “he” would be recognized as the inflicter of that punishment. “His” coming forth in this manner would give “character” to that time, and would be the prominent “event.” The punishment of the wicked is thus freguently called “the day of the Lord;” Isaiah 13:6, Isaiah 13:9: ‹Behold the day of the Lord cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger,‘ etc.; Jeremiah 46:10: ‹The day of the Lord God of hosts, a day of vengeance.‘ Ezekiel 30:3; Zephaniah 1:7, Zephaniah 1:14; Joel 2:31; see also in the New Testament, 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10.

Every one that is proud and lofty - Or, rather, every “thing” that is high and lofty. The phrase is not restricted to “persons,” though it embraces them. But though the language here is general, the reference is doubtless, mainly, to the princes, magistrates, and nobility of the nation; and is designed not only to designate them as men of rank and power, but as men who were haughty in their demeanour and feelings. At the same time, there is included in the language, as the subsequent verses show, all on which the nation prided itself.


Verse 13

And upon all the cedars of Lebanon - This is a beautiful specimen of the poetic manner of writing, so common among the Hebrews, where spiritual and moral subjects are represented by grand or beautiful imagery taken from objects of nature. Mount Lebanon bounded Palestine on the north. It was formerly much celebrated for its large and lofty cedars. These cedars were from thirty-five to forty feet in girth, and very high. They were magnificent trees, and were valuable for ceiling: statues, or roofs, that required durable, and beautiful timber. The roof of the temple of Diana of Ephesus, according to Pliny, was of cedar, and no small part of the temple of Solomon was of this wood. A few lofty trees of this description are still remaining on Mount Lebanon. ‹After three hours of laborious traveling,‘ says D‘Arvieux, ‹we arrived at the famous cedars about eleven o‘clock. We counted twenty-three of them. The circumference of these trees is thirty-six feet. The bark of the cedar resembles that of the pine; the leaves and cone also bear considerable resemblance. The stem is upright, the wood is hard, and has the reputation of being incorruptible. The leaves are long, narrow, rough, very green, ranged in tufts along the branches; they shoot in spring, and fall in the beginning of winter. Its flowers and fruit resemble those of the pine. From the full grown trees, a fluid trickles naturally, and without incision; this is clear, transparent, whitish, and after a time dries and hardens; it is supposed to possess great virtues. The place where these great trees are stationed, is in a plain of nearly a league in circumference, on the summit of a mount which is environed on almost all sides by other mounts, so high that their summits are always covered with snow. This plain is level, the air is pure, the heavens always serene.‘

Maundrell found only sixteen cedars of large growth, and a natural plantation of smaller ones, which were very numerous. One of the largest was twelve yards six inches in girth, and thirty-seven yards in the spread of its boughs. At six yards from the ground, it was divided into five limbs, each equal to a great tree. Dr. Richardson visited them in 1818, and found a small clump of large, tall, and beautiful trees, which he pronounces the most picturesque productions of the vegetable world that he had ever seen. In this clump are two generations of trees; the oldest are large and massy, rearing their heads to an enormous height, and spreading their branches to a great extent. He measured one, not the largest in the clump, and found it thirty-two feet in circumference. Seven of these trees appeared to be very old, the rest younger, though, for want of space, their branches are not so spreading.

Bush‘s “Illustrations of Scripture.” ‹The celebrated cedar-grove of Lebanon,‘ says Dr. Robinson, ‹is at least two days journey from Beirut, near the northern, and perhaps the highest summit of the mountain. It has been often and sufficiently described by travelers for the last three centuries; but they all differ as to the number of the oldest trees, inasmuch as in counting, some have included more and some less of the younger ones. At present, the number of trees appears to be on the increase, and amounts in all to several hundred. This grove was long held to be the only remnant of the ancient cedars of Lebanon. But Seetzen, in 1805, discovered two other groves of greater extent; and the American Missionaries, in traveling through the mountains, have also found many cedars in other places. The trees are of all sizes, old and young; but none so ancient and venerable as those usually visited.‘ “Bib. Researches,” iii., 440; 441. The cedar, so large, lofty, and grand, is used in the Scriptures to represent kings, princes, and nobles: compare Ezekiel 31:3; Daniel 4:20-22; Zechariah 11:1-2; Isaiah 14:8. Here it means the princes and nobles of the land of Israel. The Chaldee renders it, ‹upon all the strong and mighty kings of the people.‘

And upon all the oaks of Bashan - “Bashan” was east of the river Jordan, in the limits of the half tribe of Manasseh. It was bounded on the north and east by Gilead, south by the river Jabbok, and west by the Jordan. It was celebrated for pasturage, and for producing fine cattle; Numbers 21:33; Numbers 32:33; Psalm 22:12; Ezekiel 39:18; Amos 4:1; Micah 7:14. Its lofty oaks are also particularly celebrated; Ezekiel 27:6; Amos 2:9; Zechariah 11:2. The sense here is not different from the former member of the sentence - denoting the princes and nobles of the land.


Verse 14

And upon all the high mountains - Judea abounded in lofty mountains, which added much to the grandeur of its natural scenery. Lowth supposes that by mountains and hills are meant here, ‹kingdoms, republics, states, cities;‘ but there are probably no parallel places where they have this meaning. The meaning is probably this: high mountains and hills would not only be objects of beauty or grandeur, but also places of defense, and protection. In the caverns and fastnesses of such hills, it would be easy for the people to find refuge when the land was invaded. The meaning of the prophet then is, that the day of God‘s vengeance should be upon the places of refuge and strength; the strongly fortified places, or places of sure retreat in cases of invasion; compare the notes at Isaiah 2:19.

Hills that are lifted up - That is, high, elevated hills.


Verse 15

Every high tower - Towers, or fortresses, were erected for defense and protection. They were made on the walls of cities, for places of observation (compare the note at Isaiah 21:5), or in places of strength, to be a refuge for an army, and to be a point from which they might sally out to attack their enemies. They were “high” to afford a defense against being scaled by an enemy, and also that from the top they might look abroad for observation; and also to annoy an enemy from the top, when the foe approached the walls of a city.

Every fenced wall - הומה בצוּרה betsûrâh hômâh The word “fenced,” בצוּרה betsûrâh is from בצר bâtsar to make inaccessible, and hence, to fortify. It denotes a wall that is inaccessible, or strongly fortified. Cities were commonly surrounded by high and strong walls to defend them from enemies. The sense is, God would overturn all their strong places of refuge and defense.


Verse 16

And upon all the ships of Tarshish - Ships of Tarshish are often mentioned in the Old Testament, but the meaning of the expression is not quite obvious; see 1 Kings 10:22; 2 Chronicles 9:21; 2 Chronicles 20:36-37; Psalm 48:7, … It is evident that “Tarshish” was some distant land from which was imported silver, iron, lead, tin, etc. It is now generally agreed that “Tartessus” in Spain is referred to by the Tarshish of Scripture. Bruce, however, supposes that it was in Africa, south of Abyssinia; see the note at Isaiah 60:9. That it was in the “west” is evident from Genesis 10:4; compare Psalm 72:10. In Ezekiel 28:13, it is mentioned as an important place of trade; in Jeremiah 10:9, it is said that silver was procured there; and in Ezekiel 28:12, it is said that iron, lead, silver, and tin, were imported from it. In 2 Chronicles 9:21, it is said that the ships of Tarshish returned every three years, bringing gold and silver, ivory, apes and peacocks. These are productions chiefly of India, but they might have been obtained in trade during the voyage. In Isaiah 23:1; Isaiah 60:9, the phrase, ‹ships of Tarshish,‘ seems to denote ships that were bound on long voyages, and it is probable that they came to denote a particular kind of ships adapted to long voyages, in the same way as the word “Indiaman” does with us. The precise situation of “Tarshish” is not necessary to be known in order to understand the passage here. The phrase, ‹ships of Tarshish,‘ denotes clearly ships employed in foreign trade, and in introducing articles of commerce, and particularly of luxury. The meaning is, that God would embarrass, and destroy this commerce; that his judgments would be on their articles of luxury, The Septuagint renders it, ‹and upon every ship of the sea, and upon every beautiful appearance of ships.‘ The Targum, ‹and upon those who dwell in the isles of the sea, and upon those who dwell in beautiful palaces.‘

And upon all pleasant pictures - Margin, ‹pictures of desire;‘ that is, such as it should be esteemed desirable to possess, and gaze upon; pictures of value or beauty. Tatum, ‹costly palaces.‘ The word rendered ‹pictures,‘ שׂכיות s'ekı̂yôth denotes properly “sights,” or objects to be looked at; and does not designate “paintings” particularly, but everything that was designed for ornament or luxury. Whether the art of painting was much known among the Hebrews, it is not now possible to determine. To a certain extent, it may be presumed to have been practiced; but the meaning of this place is, that the divine judgment should rest on all that was designed for mere ornament and luxury; and, from the description in the previous verses, there can be no doubt that such ornaments would abound.


Verse 17

And the loftiness … - see the note at Isaiah 2:11. The repetition of this makes it strongly emphatic.


Verse 18

And the idols - Note, Isaiah 2:8.

Abolish - Hebrew, ‹Cause to pass away or disappear.‘ He shall entirely cause their worship to cease. This prediction was most remarkably fulfilled. Before the captivity at Babylon, the Jews were exceedingly prone to idolatry. It is a remarkable fact that no such propensity was ever evinced “after” that. In their own land they were entirely free from it; and scattered as they have been into all lands, they have in every age since kept clear from idolatry. Not an instance, probably, has been known of their relapsing into this sin; and no temptation, or torture, has been sufficient to induce them to bow down and worship an idol. This is one of the few instances that have occurred where affliction and punishment have “completely” answered their design.


Verse 19

And they shall go - That is, the worshippers of idols.

Into the holes of the rocks - Judea was a mountainous country, and the mountains abounded with caves that offered a safe retreat for those who were in danger. Many of those caverns were very spacious. At En-gedi, in particular, a cave is mentioned where David with six hundred men hid himself from Saul in the “sides” of it; Judges 6:2; 1 Samuel 13:6. Thus, ‹because of the Midianites, the children of Israel made them the dens which are in the mountains, and caves, and strong holds.‘ Judges 6:2. To these they fled in times of hostile invasion. ‹When the men of Israel saw that they were in a strait (for the people were distressed), then the people did hide themselves in caves, and in thickets, and in rocks, and in high places, and in pits;‘ 1 Samuel 13:6; compare Jeremiah 41:9. Mahomet speaks of a tribe of Arabians, the tribe of Thamud, who ‹hewed houses out of the mountains to secure themselves;‘ Koran, ch. xv. and xxvi. Grots or rooms hewed out of rocks for various purposes are often mentioned by travelers in Oriental regions: see Maundrell, p. 118, and Burckhardt‘s “Travels in Syria,” and particularly Laborde‘s “Journey to Arabia Petrea.” Such caves are often mentioned by Josephus as affording places of refuge for banditti and robbers; “Ant.,” B. xiv. ch. 15, and “Jewish Wars,” B. i. ch. 16. To enter into the caves and dens, therefore, as places of refuge, was a very natural image to denote consternation. The meaning here is, that the worshippers of idols should be so alarmed as to seek for a place of security and refuge; compare Isaiah 2:10.

When he ariseth - This is an expression often used in the Scriptures to denote the commencement of doing anything. It is here derived, perhaps, from the image of one who has been in repose - as of a lion or warrior, rousing up suddenly, and putting forth mighty efforts.

To shake terribly the earth - An image denoting the presence of God, for judgment or punishment. One of the magnificent images which the sacred writers often use to denote the presence of the Lord is, that the earth shakes and trembles; the mountains bow and are convulsed; 2 Samuel 22:8: ‹Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations of heaven moved, because he was wroth;‘ See also Isaiah 2:9-16; Judges 5:4; Habakkuk 3:6-10: ‹The mountains saw thee and trembled;‘ Hebrews 12:26: ‹Whose voice then shook the earth.‘ The image here denotes that he would come forth in such wrath that the very earth should tremble, as if alarmed his presence. The mind cannot conceive more sublime images than are thus used by the sacred writers.


Verse 20

In that day - That is, in the time when God would come forth to inflict punishment. Probably the day to which the prophet refers here was the time of the captivity at Babylon.

A man shall cast … - That is, “all” who have idols, or who have been trusting in them. Valuable as they may be - made of gold and silver; and much as he may “now” rely on them or worship them, yet he shall then see their vanity, and shall cast them into dark, obscure places, or holes, where are moles and bats.

To the moles - פרות לחפר lachepor pērôth Probably this should be read as a single word, and it is usually interpreted “moles.” Jerome interprets it as mice or moles, from חפר châphar “to dig.” The word is formed by doubling the radical letters to give “intensity.” Similar instances of words being divided in the Hebrew, which are nevertheless to be read as one, occur in 2 Chronicles 24:6; Jeremiah 46:20; Lamentations 4:3; Ezekiel 27:6. The mole is a well-known animal, with exceedingly small eyes, that burrows under ground, lives in the dark, and subsists on roots. The bat lives in o d ruins, and behind the bark of trees, and flies only in the night. They “resemble” each other, and are used here in connection, because “both” dwell amidst ruins and in obscure places; both are regarded as animals of the lowest order; both are of the same genus, and both are almost blind. The sense is, therefore, that the idols which had before been so highly venerated, would now be despised, and cast into obscure places, and amidst ruins, as worthless; see Bochart‘s “Hieroz.,” P. i., Lib. iii., p. 1032. Ed. 1663.

And to the bats - ‹The East may be termed the country of bats; they hang by hundreds and thousands in caves, ruins, and under the roofs of large buildings. To enter such places, especially after rain, is “most” offensive. I have lived in rooms where it was sickening to remain, on account of the smell produced by those creatures, and whence it was almost impossible to expel them. What from the appearance of the creature, its sunken diminutive eye, its short legs (with which it cannot walk), its leather-like wings, its half-hairy, oily skin, its offensive ordure ever and anon dropping on the ground, its time for food and sport, darkness, makes it one of the most disgusting creatures to the people of the East. No wonder, then, that its name is used by the Hindoos (as by the prophet) for an epithet of contempt. When a house ceases to please the inhabitants, on account of being haunted, they say, Give it to the “bats.” “Alas! alas! my wife and children are dead; my houses, my buildings, are all given to the bats.” People ask, when passing a tenantless house, “Why is this habitation given to the bats?”‘ - “Roberts.” The meaning is, that the man would throw his idols into such places as the bats occupy - he would so see their vanity, and so despise them, as to throw them into old ruins and dark places.


Verse 21

To go - That is, that he may go.

Clefts of the rocks - see the note at Isaiah 2:19.

Into the tops … - The tops of such rocks were not easily accessible, and were, therefore, deemed places of safety. We may remark here, how vain were the refuges to which they would resort - as if they were safe from “God,” when they had fled to the places in which they sought safety from “man.” The image here is, however, one that is very sublime. The earth shaking; the consternation and alarm of the people; their renouncing confidence in all to which they had trusted; their rapid flight; and their appearing on the high projecting cliffs, are all sublime and terrible images. They denote the severity of God‘s justice, and the image is a faint representation of the consternation of people when Christ shall come to judge the earth; Revelation 6:15-17.


Verse 22

Cease ye from man - That is, cease to confide in or trust in him. The prophet had just said Isaiah 2:11, Isaiah 2:17 that the proud and lofty people would be brought low; that is, the kings, princes, and nobles would be humbled. They in whom the people had been accustomed to confide should show their insufficiency to afford protection. And he calls on the people to cease to put their reliance on any of the devices and refuges of men, implying that trust should be placed in the Lord only; see Psalm 146:3-4; Jeremiah 17:5.

Whose breath is in his nostrils - That is, who is weak and short-lived, and who has no control over his life. All his power exists only while he breathes, and his breath is in his nostrils. It may soon cease, and we should not confide in so frail and fragile a thing as the breath of man; see Psalm 146:3-5:

Put not your trust in princes,

Nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.

His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth;

In that very day his thoughts perish.

Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help,

Whose hope is in the Lord his God.

The Chaldee has translated this verse, ‹Be not subject to man when he is terrible, whose breath is in his nostrils; because today he lives, and tomorrow he is not, and shall be reputed as nothing.‘ It is remarkable that this verse is omitted by the Septuagint, as Vitringa supposes, because it might seem to exhort people not to put confidence in their rulers.

For wherein … - That is, he is unable to afford the assistance which is needed. When God shall come to judge people, what can man do, who is weak, and frail, and mortal? Refuge should be sought in God. The exhortation of the prophet here had respect to a particular time, but it may be applied in general to teach us not to confide in weak, frail, and dying man. For life and health, for food and raiment, for home and friends, and especially for salvation, we are dependent on God. He alone can save the sinner; and though we should treat people with all due respect, yet we should remember that God alone can save us from the great day of wrath.

 


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Bibliography Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Isaiah 2:4". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/isaiah-2.html. 1870.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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