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Bible Commentaries

Clarke's Commentary

Isaiah 29

Verse 1


Distress of Ariel, or Jerusalem, on Sennacherib's invasion,

with manifest allusion, however, to the still greater distress

which it suffered from the Romans, 1-4.

Disappointment and fall of Sennacherib described in terms, like

the event, the most awful and terrible, 5-8.

Stupidity and hypocrisy of the Jews, 9-16.

Rejection of the Jews, and calling of the Gentiles, 17.

The chapter concludes by a recurrence to the favourite topics

of the prophet, viz., the great extension of the Messiah's

kingdom in the latter days, and the future restoration of

Israel, 18-24.

The subject of this and the four following chapters is the invasion of Sennacherib; the great distress of the Jews while it continued; their sudden and unexpected deliverance by God's immediate interposition in their favour; the subsequent prosperous state of the kingdom under Hezekiah; interspersed with severe reproofs, and threats of punishment, for their hypocrisy, stupidity, infidelity, their want of trust in God, and their vain reliance on the assistance of Egypt; and with promises of better times, both immediately to succeed, and to be expected in the future age. The whole making, not one continued discourse, but rather a collection of different discourses upon the same subject; which is treated with great elegance and variety. Though the matter is various, and the transitions sudden, yet the prophet seldom goes far from his subject. It is properly enough divided by the chapters in the common translation. - L.


Verse Isaiah 29:1. Ariel — That Jerusalem is here called by this name is very certain: but the reason of this name, and the meaning of it as applied to Jerusalem, is very obscure and doubtful. Some, with the Chaldee, suppose it to be taken from the hearth of the great altar of burnt-offerings, which Ezekiel plainly calls by the same name, and that Jerusalem is here considered as the seat of the fire of God, אור אל ur el which should issue from thence to consume his enemies: compare Isaiah 31:9. Some, according to the common derivation of the word, ארי אל ari el, the lion of God, or the strong lion, suppose it to signify the strength of the place, by which it was enabled to resist and overcome all its enemies. Τινες δε φασι την πολιν οὑτως ειρησθαι· επει, δια Θεου, λεοντος δικην εσπαραττε τους ανταιροντας Procop. in loc. There are other explanations of this name given: but none that seems to be perfectly satisfactory. - Lowth.

From Ezekiel 43:15, we learn that Ari-el was the name of the altar of burnt-offerings, put here for the city itself in which that altar was. In the second verse it is said, I will distress Ari-el, and it shall be unto me as Ari-el. The first Ari-el here seems to mean Jerusalem, which should be distressed by the Assyrians: the second Ari-el seems to mean the altar of burnt-offerings. But why is it said, "Ari-el shall be unto me as Ari-el?" As the altar of burnt-offerings was surrounded daily by the victims which were offered: so the walls of Jerusalem shall be surrounded by the dead bodies of those who had rebelled against the Lord, and who should be victims to his justice. The translation of Bishop Lowth appears to embrace both meanings: "I will bring distress upon Ari-el; and it shall be to me as the hearth of the great altar."

Add ye year to year — Ironically. Go on year after year, keep your solemn feasts; yet know, that God will punish you for your hypocritical worship, consisting of mere form destitute of true piety. Probably delivered at the time of some great feast, when they were thus employed.

Verse 2

Verse Isaiah 29:2. There shall be heaviness and sorrow - "There shall be continual mourning and sorrow"] Instead of your present joy and festivity.

And it shall be unto me as Ariel - "And it shall be unto me as the hearth of the great altar."] That is, it shall be the seat of the fire of God; which shall issue from thence to consume his enemies. See note on Isaiah 29:1. Or, perhaps, all on flame; as it was when taken by the Chaldeans; or covered with carcasses and blood, as when taken by the Romans: an intimation of which more distant events, though not immediate subjects of the prophecy, may perhaps be given in this obscure passage.

Verse 3

Verse Isaiah 29:3. And I will camp against thee round about - "And I will encamp against thee like David"] For כדור caddur, some kind of military engine, כדוד kedavid, like David, is the reading of the Septuagint, two MSS. of Kennicott's, if not two more: but though Bishop Lowth adopts this reading, I think it harsh and unnecessary.

Forts - "Towers"] For מצרת metsuroth, read מצדות metsudoth: so the Septuagint and five MSS. of Dr. Kennicott's, one of them ancient, and four of De Rossi's.

Verse 4

Verse Isaiah 29:4. And thy speech shall be low out of the dust - "And from out of the dust thou shalt utter a feeble speech"] That the souls of the dead uttered a feeble stridulous sound, very different from the natural human voice, was a popular notion among the heathens as well as among the Jews. This appears from several passages of their poets; Homer, Virgil, Horace. The pretenders to the art of necromancy, who were chiefly women, had an art of speaking with a feigned voice, so as to deceive those who applied to them, by making them believe that it was the voice of the ghost. They had a way of uttering sounds, as if they were formed, not by the organs of speech, but deep in the chest, or in the belly; and were thence called εγγαστριμυθοι, ventriloqui: they could make the voice seem to come from beneath the ground, from a distant part, in another direction, and not from themselves; the better to impose upon those who consulted them. Εξεπιτηδες το γενος τουτο τον αμυδρον ηχον επιτηδευονται, ἱνα δια την ασαφειαν της φωνης τον του ψευδους αποδιδρασκωσιν ελεγχον. Psellus De Daemonibus, apud Bochart, i. p. 731. "These people studiously acquire, and affect on purpose, this sort of obscure sound; that by the uncertainty of the voice they may the better escape being detected in the cheat." From these arts of the necromancers the popular notion seems to have arisen, that the ghost's voice was a weak, stridulous, almost inarticulate sort of sound, very different from the speech of the living.

Verse 5

Verse Isaiah 29:5. The multitude of thy strangers - "The multitude of the proud"] For זריך zarayich, thy strangers, read זדים zedim, the proud, according to the Septuagint; parallel to and synonymous with עריצים aritsim, the terrible, in the next line: the ר resh was at first ד daleth in a MS. Isaiah 25:2.

The fifth, sixth, and seventh verses contain an admirable description of the destruction of Sennacherib's army, with a beautiful variety of the most expressive and sublime images: perhaps more adapted to show the greatness, the suddenness, and horror of the event, than the means and manner by which it was effected. Compare Isaiah 30:30-33.

Verse 7

Verse Isaiah 29:7. As a dream — This is the beginning of the comparison, which is pursued and applied in the next verse. Sennacherib and his mighty army are not compared to a dream because of their sudden disappearance; but the disappointment of their eager hopes is compared to what happens to a hungry and thirsty man, when he awakes from a dream in which fancy had presented to him meat and drink in abundance, and finds it nothing but a vain illusion. The comparison is elegant and beautiful in the highest degree, well wrought up, and perfectly suited to the end proposed. The image is extremely natural, but not obvious: it appeals to our inward feelings, not to our outward senses; and is applied to an event in its concomitant circumstances exactly similar, but in its nature totally different. See De S. Poes. Hebr. Praelect. xii. For beauty and ingenuity it may fairly come in competition with one of the most elegant of Virgil, greatly improved from Homer, Iliad xxii. 199, where he has applied to a different purpose, but not so happily, the same image of the ineffectual working of imagination in a dream: -

Ac veluti in somnis, oculos ubi languida pressit

Nocte quies, necquicquam avidos extendere cursus

Velle videmur, et in mediis conatibus aegri

Succidimus; non lingua valet, non corpore notae

Sufficiunt vires, nec vox, nec verba sequuntur.

AEn., xii. 908.

"And as, when slumber seals the closing sight,

The sick wild fancy labours in the night;

Some dreadful visionary foe we shun

With airy strides, but strive in vain to run;

In vain our baffled limbs their powers essay;

We faint, we struggle, sink, and fall away;

Drain'd of our strength, we neither fight nor fly,

And on the tongue the struggling accents die."


Lucretius expresses the very same image with Isaiah: -

Ut bibere in somnis sitiens quum quaerit, et humor

Non datur, ardorem in membris qui stinguere possit;

Sed laticum simulacra petit, frustraque laborat,

In medioque sitit torrenti flumine potans.

iv. 1091.

As a thirsty man desires to drink in his sleep,

And has no fluid to allay the heat within,

But vainly labours to catch the image of rivers,

And is parched up while fancying that he is

drinking at a full stream. Bishop Stock's translation of the prophet's text is both elegant and just: -

"As when a hungry man dreameth; and, lo! he is eating:

And he awaketh; and his appetite is unsatisfied.

And as a thirsty man dreameth; and, lo! he is drinking:

And he awaketh; and, lo! he is faint,

And his appetite craveth."

Lucretius almost copies the original.

All that fight against her and her munition - "And all their armies and their towers"] For צביה ומצדתה tsobeyha umetsodathah, I read, with the Chaldee, צבאם ומצדתם tsebaam umetsodatham.

Verse 9

Verse Isaiah 29:9. Stay yourselves, and wonderהתמהמהו hithmahmehu, go on what-what-whatting, in a state of mental indetermination, till the overflowing scourge take you away. Psalms 119:60.

They are drunken, but not with wineIsaiah 51:21.

Verse 11

Verse Isaiah 29:11. I cannot; for it is sealed - "I cannot read it; for it is sealed up."] An ancient MS. and the Septuagint have preserved a word here, lost out of the text; לקרות likroth, (for לקראות,) αναγνωναι, read it.

Verse 13

Verse Isaiah 29:13. The Lord - "JEHOVAH"] For אדני Adonai, sixty-three MSS. of Kennicott's, and many of De Rossi's, and four editions, read יהוה Yehovah, and five MSS. add יהוה.

Kimchi makes some just observations on this verse. The vision, meaning the Divine revelation of all the prophets, is a book or letter that is sealed - is not easily understood. This is delivered to one that is learned - instructed in the law. Read this; and he saith, I cannot, for it is sealed; a full proof that he does not wish to know the contents, else he would apply to the prophet to get it explained. See Kimchi on the place.

And their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men - "And vain is their fear of me teaching the commandments of men"] I read for ותהי vattehi, ותהו vethohu, with the Septuagint, Matthew 15:9; Mark 8:7; and for מלמדה melummedah, מלמדים melummedim, with the Chaldee.

Verse 17

Verse Isaiah 29:17. And Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field - "Ere Lebanon become like Carmel"] A mashal, or proverbial saying, expressing any great revolution of things; and, when respecting two subjects, an entire reciprocal change: explained here by some interpreters, I think with great probability, as having its principal view beyond the revolutions then near at hand, to the rejection of the Jews, and the calling of the Gentiles. The first were the vineyard of God, כרם אל kerem El, (if the prophet, who loves an allusion to words of like sounds, may be supposed to have intended one here,) cultivated and watered by him in vain, to be given up, and to become a wilderness: compare Isaiah 5:1-7. The last had been hitherto barren; but were, by the grace of God, to be rendered fruitful. See Matthew 21:43; Romans 11:30-31. Carmel stands here opposed to Lebanon, and therefore is to be taken as a proper name.

Verse 21

Verse Isaiah 29:21. Him that reproveth in the gate - "Him that pleaded in the gate"] "They are heard by the treasurer, master of the horse, and other principal officers of the regency of Algiers, who sit constantly in the gate of the palace for that purpose:" that is, the distribution of justice. - Shaw's Travels, p. 315, fol. He adds in the note, "That we read of the elders in the gate. Deuteronomy 21:15; Deuteronomy 25:7; and, Isaiah 29:21; Amos 5:10, of him that reproveth and rebuketh in the gate. The Ottoman court likewise seems to have been called the Porte, from the distribution of justice and the despatch of public business that is carried on in the gates of it."

Verse 22

Verse Isaiah 29:22. Who redeemed Abraham — As God redeemed Abraham from among idolaters and workers of iniquity, so will he redeem those who hear the words of the Book, and are humbled before him, Isaiah 29:18-19.

Concerning the house of Jacob - "The God of the house of Jacob"] I read אל El as a noun, not a preposition: the parallel line favours this sense; and there is no address to the house of Jacob to justify the other.

Neither shall his face now wax pale - "His face shall no more be covered with confusion."] "יחורו yechoro, Chald. ut ὁ μεταβαλει, Theod. εντραπησεται, Syr. נחפרו necaphro, videtur legendum יחפרו yechepheru: hic enim solum legitur verbum, חור chavar, nec in linguis affinibus habet pudoris significationem." - SECKER. "Here alone is the verb חור chavar read; nor has it in the cognate languages the signification of shame."

Verse 23

Verse Isaiah 29:23. But when he seeth his children, the work of mine hands - "For when his children shall see the work of my hands"] For בראותו birotho I read בראות biroth, with the Septuagint and Syriac.

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Bibliographical Information
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Isaiah 29". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". 1832.