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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Isaiah 32

Verse 1

There are obviously only three paragraphs in this chapter: a blessed promise (Isaiah 32:1-8), a warning to complacent and indifferent women (Isaiah 32:9-15), and a return to the message of hope (Isaiah 32:16-20).

Isaiah 32:1-8

"Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall rule in justice. And a man shall be as a hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest, as streams of water in a dry place, as the shade of a great rock in a weary land. And the eyes of them that see shall not be dim, and the ears of them that hear shall hearken. And the heart of the rash shall understand knowledge, and the tongues of the stammerers shall be ready to speak plainly. The fool shall be no more called noble, nor the churl said to be bountiful. For the fool will speak folly, and his heart will work iniquity, to practice profaneness, and to utter terror against Jehovah, to make empty the soul of the hungry, and to cause the drink of the thirsty to fail. And the instruments of the churl are evil: he deviseth wicked devices to destroy the meek with lying words, even when the needy speaketh right. But the noble deviseth noble things; and in noble things shall he continue."

There is much difference of opinion about the identity of that "King who shall reign in righteousness," which is the prominent feature of this paragraph. Jewish commentators usually take the position that it is Hezekiah who is here spoken of; and some Christian scholars have accepted this. Barnes stated flatly that, "This king is Hezekiah."[1] He defended this position by pointing out the superiority of Hezekiah's rule over that of the evil Manasseh who succeeded him, and also such scripture references as the following:

"He removed the high places and broke the images and cut down the grove. He trusted in the Lord God of Israel, so that after him there was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him, for he clave unto the Lord, and departed not from following him" (2 Kings 18:3-5).

Yes, indeed, in the context of a record of other kings of Israel, Hezekiah was indeed righteous; but in the absolute sense, no. The situation is the same as it was with other Old Testament heroes who bore the designation of "righteous men." For example, Lot, Noah, and others whose lives were indeed blemished with sin were called, "righteous in their generation" (Genesis 7:1); and that is the way we understand the "righteousness of Hezekiah." Certainly, Hezekiah was not righteous when he was going along with that plot to make an alliance with Egypt, contrary to God's will.

There are serious reasons why the theory of this "king's" being Hezekiah cannot be accepted. (1) Neither Hezekiah nor the conditions during his reign fulfill the conditions of justice, righteousness, and proper understanding and discernment by the people in all the land. "The evidence does not seem to warrant this interpretation."[2]

(2) It is also impossible to receive this as a promise of Hezekiah's reign, because Hezekiah was already reigning, and the passage speaks of a "future situation.," not one that already existed. "The king here is not Hezekiah, who was already on the throne, whereas a future time is contemplated."[3]

(3) Objections to the refusal to see this as a Messianic passage are weak and ineffective. Some, of course, say that in Christ's kingdom, there are no "princes" to reign with Him. While true enough in an ordinary sense, it is nevertheless true that "all Christians" are a "royal priesthood" (1 Peter 2:9); and does not the Bible say, "He hath made us (Christians) to be kings and priests unto God" (Revelation 1:6 KJV), and that Our Lord himself is "The prince of the kings of the earth" (Revelation 1:5), and that, "They (Christians) lived and reigned with Christ"? (Revelation 20:6). Furthermore, the fundamental Pauline teaching of the New Testament is that every Christian is "baptized `into Christ,'" is therefore a member of Christ's spiritual body; and that it is proper to say that Christians are in a sense "actually Christ." Whatever Christ does, Christians also do. Whatever he did, they "have therefore done"; and that is why the redeemed may lawfully say that they "have already died to sin" in the person of their Savior.

The germ of that very important Pauline conception is therefore right here in this chapter of Isaiah.

(4) Another objection is that no clear picture of Christ appears in these verses; and that objection disappears completely when the passage is understood, not as a picture of the King, but as a prophecy of His Kingdom, of the Messianic Age; and a number of discerning scholars have properly understood this:

"Christ's kingdom will fulfill God's holy ideal of a holy commonwealth, administering perfect righteousness throughout the earth.[4] This is the fourth of Isaiah's promises of the Messiah: Isaiah 7:14; 9:6f; 11:1ff; and 32:1.[5] The role of the coming Messiah fits the description in this verse. He is the King who shall role in righteousness.[6] Here are the characteristics of the future age."[7]

As excellent a commentary on this passage as any we have seen is the following from Peake, who, although a critical scholar, offered the following:

"Here is a description of the Messianic time, though the figure of the Messiah does not appear in the passage. King and princes will reign in righteousness, each of them a source of shelter and refreshment. The present failure in moral insight and responsiveness will be removed; the inconsiderate will gain judgment, the faulty speaker the faculty of lucid expression. Men will be designated in harmony with their true character. The fool shall no longer be called noble, nor the swindler an aristocrat; for fool and swindler will act in accordance with their nature, but the noble will resolve on noble schemes and persist in their execution."[8]

Before leaving these first eight verses we should notice a little further the satanic habit of giving sins and sinful men names that tend to ameliorate their shame and unworthiness. The drunkard is called an "alcoholic"; the vicious murderer is judged to be "sick"; the grossly immoral is labeled as a "schizophrenic"; the shoplifter, the gambler, and other sinners are also dignified with special names and descriptions. In the kingdom of Christ, however, things will be called what they are! "God's standard of judgment will at last become man's standard."[9]

Verse 9

"Rise up, ye women that are at ease, and hear my voice; ye careless daughters, give ear unto my speech. For days beyond a year shall ye be troubled, ye careless women; for the vintage shall fail, the ingathering shall not come. Tremble, ye women that are at ease; be troubled, ye careless ones; strip you, and make you bare, and gird sackcloth upon your loins. They shall smite upon the breasts for the pleasant fields, for the fruitful vine. Upon the land of my people shall come up thorns and briers; yea, upon all the houses of joy in the joyous city. For the palace shall be forsaken; the populous city shall be deserted; the hill and the watch-tower shall be for dens forever, a joy of wild asses, a pasture of flocks; until the Spirit be poured out upon us from on high, and the wilderness become a fruitful field, and the fruitful field be esteemed as a forest."

At first, these lines seem to have no connection with the preceding and subsequent paragraphs; but as Rawlinson noted, "They furnish a link between the two portions of the chapter, making it probable that they were delivered upon the same occasion."[10] He also accepted the speculation of Cheyne that, this prophecy was uttered at a public festival, and that, "A group of women, gathered, we may suppose, at a little distance from the rest and testifying their indifference (perhaps by frivolity), received this address from Isaiah."[11] The warning was indeed shocking. In about a year, disaster would come upon Jerusalem, this fixing the approximate date of the prophecy as just prior to the destruction of Sennacherib's army in 701 B.C.

"The beating of their breasts" because of the failure of the vintage and the harvest, is similar to what is related of the priestesses of Nineveh during the fall of that wicked city: "She is uncovered, she is carried away; and her handmaids moan as with the voice of doves, beating upon their breasts" (Nahum 2:7).

Although Jerusalem was not destroyed by Sennacherib, all of the suburban cities were indeed captured and plundered; and the fields and vineyards were devastated indeed. Besides that, an even greater disaster loomed starkly ahead, which would be executed in the Babylonian destruction and captivity of the people. Thus the warning to these women who were so indifferent to God's Word was one that was well deserved and should have been heeded.

"Yet, the desolation shall not be permanent."[12] It will last only "until God's Spirit is poured out upon the people from on high" (Isaiah 32:15); therefore, we must understand a limitation on the words "forever" in Isaiah 32:14. It is good to keep in mind that "forever" in the Hebrew Bible never means "for all eternity."

The mention of God's Spirit here is very significant and shows that the theme of the whole chapter continues to be the Messianic Age, to which the prophecy returned after Isaiah's rebuke of the careless women. The second chapter of Joel which was quoted by the apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost identifies the coming of God's Spirit upon men as a mark of the New Covenant.

We now know, of course, that God's Spirit came on Pentecost and that the wonderful blessings promised by Isaiah here would be delivered by the preaching of the gospel of Christ; but, we may not suppose for a moment that Isaiah fully understood "when" such blessings would occur; and, it may even be admitted that the prophet might have "thought," either that a repentant Hezekiah might be that righteous king, or that soon after Sennacherib's army was destroyed, the Messiah would indeed come, etc. There is no greater error, however, than trying to interpret the Bible by what men "suppose" the prophet who gave the message might have "thought." It is totally irrelevant what Isaiah may have thought. God is the speaker in his prophecy, not Isaiah.

Verse 16

"Then justice shall abide in the wilderness; and righteousness shall abide in the fruitful field. And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness, shall be quietness and confidence forever. And my people shall abide in a peaceable habitation, and in safe dwellings, and in quiet resting-places. But it shall hail in the downfall of the forest; and the city shall be utterly laid low. Blessed are ye that sow beside all waters, that send for the feet of the ox and the ass."

Here we have further characteristics of the citizens of God's kingdom, the peace and tranquillity of which are the kingdom's most salient features. Even when the angels announced the birth of the Messiah, they began with the announcement of "Peace on earth to men of good will." Not many details are here given, and like all Messianic prophecy, this one is vague and ambiguous. However, one thing stands out starkly. Even that Golden Age shall end suddenly in the hail of the wrath of God and in the destruction of the "populous city." That city we take to be the "great world city," Mystery Babylon the great, mentioned prophetically in Revelation 16:19, and the fall of which will be an event that heralds the end of the current dispensation and the onset of the final judgment of the Great Day.

The increased fertility of the earth and other agricultural metaphors are frequently used in scripture to describe the spiritual blessings to be enjoyed in the New Covenant.

"Blessed are ye that sow beside all waters ..." (Isaiah 32:20). Commentators have a lot of trouble with this verse; and, as we have already noted, the passage is not too clear. However, to us it says that, followers of the Lamb should, "preach the gospel in season and out of season"; exploit all opportunities; take every chance; do not be too particular nor too choosey as to what we shall do for the Lord. If this is what the passage means, it is the equivalent of the proverb which states that, "He that regardeth the winds shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap!" (Ecclesiastes 11:4).

Copyright Statement
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Isaiah 32". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.