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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 8

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


The great sign of Immanuel given in Isaiah 7 indicated that the wonderful child foretold in Isaiah 7:14 would not come to an age of knowledge until after the current crisis was past; but significantly, the actual time of the birth of Immanuel was not disclosed. We agree that Isaiah might have expected that birth centuries before it occurred; but, as we noted earlier, what Isaiah thought was not the key consideration. In any case, some other sign was needed with regard to the present crisis in Judah. This new sign pertained to the birth of Isaiah’s own son, Maher-shalal-hash-baz. This is recounted in Isaiah 8:1-4. Isaiah 8:5-8 record Judah’s rejection of the gentle waters of Shiloah and the prophecy of God’s bringing against them the flood waters of the king of Assyria and all his glory. Isaiah 8:9-15 develop the thought that God is either our refuge or our ruin. The theme of the final paragraph in the chapter, Isaiah 8:16-22, is “The gathering darkness to fall upon Israel.”

Verses 1-4

“And Jehovah said unto me, take thee a great tablet, and write upon it with the pen of a man, For Maher-shalal-hash-baz; and I will take unto me faithful witnesses to record, Uriah the priest, and Zechariah the son of Jeber-e-chiah. And I went unto the prophetess; and she conceived, and bare a son. Then said Jehovah unto me, Call his name Maher-shalal-hash-baz. For before the child shall have knowledge to cry, My father, and My mother, the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria shall be carried away before the king of Assyria.”

Note that this child shall be of ordinary birth; and “This sign deals only with the contemporary crisis and its darker aspect.”(F1)

“Maher-shalal-hash-baz” This seems such a terrible name to give a precious child; but, much like the prophet Hosea who received prophetic names for his children, Isaiah also received Divine instructions on the names for his children. The detail given here is the primary reason for our belief that Shear-Jashub had received his symbolical name in the same manner. Maher-shalal-hash-baz means “Speed the spoil; hasten the prey”(F2) or, as J. B. Phillips has it, “Quick pickings - Easy prey.” The terrible meaning is evident enough; God will punish Israel at once, shaving the land with the hired razor, the king of Assyria. God called him a “hired razor” (Isaiah 7:20), because Ahaz had foolishly bribed Assyria to come into Israel as a “protector” against Samaria and Damascus. What is comforting about this sign for Ahaz? It must be admitted that there is no comfort of any kind in it. If there was ever a message of doom, here it is; and in this we can more fully understand that the great sign of The Virgin and Immanuel in the previous chapter could not possibly have been designed to comfort Ahaz. The sign given here is the only sign Ahaz deserved; and it was the only sign he received. The rapidity with which the destruction of Syria and Samaria would be accomplished was certified by the prophecy that the destruction would come very early in the life of Maher-shalal-hash-baz.

“The pen of a man” This means the kind of pen that would be used by an ordinary person, one that would make large letters easy to read.(F3) “The object of this was, that after the event, all might see that it had been predicted by Isaiah.”(F4)

“Uriah and Zechariah” It would appear that both of these men were part of the establishment and therefore hostile toward Isaiah. This is based upon the assumption that, “Uriah is probably the priest who built a replica of the Damascene altar for Ahaz (2 Kings 16:10-13); Zechariah is unknown.”(F5) These hostile witnesses made the proof of Isaiah’s prophecy more difficult to deny.

“The prophetess” This woman was Isaiah’s wife and not a virgin, for she was doubtless the mother of their older son, Shear-Jashub. That this was Isaiah’s second wife and that she was a virgin at this point in time are false interpretations, rather guesses, based upon a misunderstanding of Isaiah 7:14, as we noted in the Introduction. Why was she called a prophetess? It was due to courtesy, given because of her relationship with Isaiah. This seems to have been customary in the Mid-East; and at a later time, “The third wife of Muhammed, Ayesha, was called a prophetess.”(F6) It is this same courtesy that speaks of a king’s wife as “queen.”

“Before the child shall… cry My father” This was dramatically fulfilled in 732 B.C. when Damascus fell to Assyria; and, even when Samaria fell ten years later, “the child” of this passage had not reached the age of accountability.

Verses 5-8

“And Jehovah spake unto me yet again, saying, Forasmuch as this people have refused the waters of Shiloah that go softly, and rejoice in Rezin and Remaliah’s son; now therefore, behold, the Lord bringeth upon them the waters of the River, strong and mighty, even the king of Assyria and all his glory: and it shall come up over all its channels, and go over all its banks; and it shall sweep onward into Judah; it shall overflow and pass through; it shall reach even to the neck; and the stretching out of its wings shall fill the breadth of thy land, O Immanuel.”

“This people” This usually refers to the Ten Tribes; but in Isaiah’s era it also included rebellious and unbelieving Judah, whom God did not call “my people” during their apostasy, but “this people.”

The outstanding thing in this paragraph is the contrast between the “waters that go softly” and the rampaging flood waters of the Euphrates River, these metaphors standing here for the benign and quiet government of the Lord and for the violent, cruel and ruthless domination of the king of Assyria.

“The waters that go softly” These were the waters that fed the pool of Siloam at which pool Jesus gave eyesight to the man born blind (John 9). (See our discussion of this in Vol. 4 of the New Testament Series of Commentaries, p. 252.) A careful study of Genesis 49:10; Isaiah 8:6, and John 9:7 reveals that Shiloh, Shiloah, and Siloam are actually the same word gradually changed through the ages. Shiloh in Genesis is a poetic name for Messiah, but the Septuagint (LXX) in Isaiah 8:6 rendered the word Siloam, and Christ revealed through John that the word means “one sent,” an obvious reference to Messiah. Thus, Shiloh and Siloam are the same. Such a metamorphosis in words is not uncommon. For example, within the brief history of our country, the Indian name “Powtowmack” was give to the river in Washington D.C., but this spelling, in time, became Potomac. This is proved by a glance at early maps of that area.

It was once believed the waters mentioned here (that went softly) were so-called because they fed through an underground conduit leading into the pool of Siloam from the bottom, enabling the waters to rise silently; but current scholarship denies that this was the case when Isaiah wrote, because Hezekiah built that underground conduit at a later date. We might question the accuracy of that finding, for it leaves unanswered the question of what Ahaz was doing in the fuller’s field where the conduit crossed it when Isaiah went to meet him. Did he plan and initiate the underground waterway? and did Hezekiah who finished it merely, claim that he built it? Like many other disputed things with reference to Biblical texts, it does not make the slightest bit of difference. The waters ofthat little stream which initiated under the temple area were the waters “that flowed softly,” whether because of the underground conduit or because, “The aqueduct that carried it fell only one-quarter of an inch in 300 yards!”(F7) Right here is most probably the correct answer.

The waters from this stream were still further connected with Jesus Christ; because in the midst of the Feast of Tabernacles, “According to the Talmud, waters were drawn from Siloam’s pool and carried in a golden vessel to be carried to the Temple on the Feast of Tabernacles.”(F8) It was on that very day, “Jesus stood and cried, If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink” (John 7:37). How appropriate, therefore, it was for the prophet to have made the waters of Siloam a metaphor of God’s government and teaching.

“(They) rejoice in Rezin and Remaliah’s son” This does not mean that the people of Judah were at that time in harmony with Rezin and Remaliah’s son; “For they were terrified of them;”(F9) and the rejoicing would appear to have been in the approaching destruction of Damascus and the Northern Israel.

The great flood of the River, a metaphorical reference to the invasion and destruction of Damascus and Northern Israel (Ephraim), is further revealed here as being an invasion of Judah also. There would be this difference. Although the invasion would be very destructive, it would not reach to the destruction of Jerusalem. “We can hardly miss the application of this to the invasion that culminated in the siege of Jerusalem by Sennacherib in 701 B.C.”(F10)

“O Immanuel” These are the two most important words in the paragraph, the emphasis being that Assyria has actually dared to attack and devastate the land that belongs to Immanuel, God with us! “This identifies Palestine as the land to which the divine pledge has been given, and embodied in the Immanuel of Isaiah 7:14.”(F11) From the assurance derived from this profound truth, Isaiah proceeded to denounce all of God’s enemies immediately in the next verses. These words are applicable only to Messiah there being no connection whatever between Immanuel and the son of Isaiah. The flood would indeed come up to the neck, but the head would escape. Neither the land (Immanuel’s land), nor Jerusalem, nor the people (of whom a remnant would remain) could be destroyed; for, “God had promised Immanuel (the Messiah) would be born (Isaiah 7:14); and Assyria could never thwart God’s promise.”(F12)

Verses 9-15

“Make an uproar, O ye peoples, and be broken in pieces; and give ear, all ye of far countries: gird yourselves, and be broken in pieces; gird yourselves, and be broken in pieces. Take counsel together, and it shall be brought to naught; speak the word, and it shall not stand: for God is with us. For Jehovah spake thus to me with a strong hand, and instructed me not to walk in the way of this people, saying, Say ye not A conspiracy, concerning all whereof this people shall say, A conspiracy; neither fear ye their fear, nor be in dread thereof. Jehovah of hosts, him shall ye sanctify; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offense to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many shall stumble thereon, and fall and be broken, and be snared, and be taken.”

There are a number of warnings to Isaiah in this paragraph. The thought of Immanuel and the tremendous implications of God’s being with his people led the prophet to denounce the hostile Gentile nations surrounding Israel and to assure them that their counsels would come to naught, their words against God’s people would not stand, and that they would be broken in pieces. He was instructed not to fear some of the people’s charges that he was in a conspiracy against the king, and not to “fear their fear.”

Isaiah was not merely warned against idolatry here, but against the whole spirit and tone of that sinful society. If Isaiah would do this, Immanuel would indeed be a sanctuary for the prophet and his followers, but he would also be a “stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense” to both houses of Israel.

In Vol. 6 of my New Testament Series (Romans), pp. 337-341, a rather full discussion of “Christ the Stone” will be found. Note that not merely the Northern Israel, but Judah also would find Christ a stumbling block and rock of offence.

Verses 16-18

“Bind thou up the testimony, and the law among my disciples. And I will wait for Jehovah, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him. Behold I and the children whom Jehovah hath given me are for signs and for wonders in Israel from Jehovah of hosts, who dwelleth in mount Zion.”

“Bind thou up the testimony” The meaning here is that Isaiah will interrupt his public ministry for awhile. It is already too late to replace the schemes of Ahaz with a return to the Lord and to trust in his word. We apparently have the same kind of instructions here that God gave to Daniel in Daniel 12:4. Isaiah will no longer (for awhile) lift his voice against the sins of the king and his people; but he will conceal and preserve the prophecies he has given until a later period. In the meanwhile, Isaiah and his two sons, Isaiah in his character and devotion, and the sons in their symbolical names, will continue to be silent, but nonetheless undeniable witnesses of the truth.

A very significant development here is seen in the fact that the righteous “remnant” is effectively separated from the sinful nation as a whole; and that proved to be the very plan that Christ would follow in the building of his Church and the spreading of the gospel.

Verses 19-22

“And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits and unto the wizards, that chirp and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? on behalf of the living should they seek unto the dead? To the law and to the testimony! if they speak not according to this word, surely there is no morning for them. And they shall pass through it, sore distressed and hungry; and it shall come to pass that, when they shall be hungry, they shall fret themselves, and curse by their king and by their God, and turn their faces upward; and they shall look unto the earth, and, behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish; and into thick darkness they shall be driven away.”

These verses are a gloomy prophecy indeed of the gathering darkness about to fall upon Immanuel’s land because of the gross sins of the people as a whole. The specific warnings against witchcraft and other works of darkness indicate the depths to which many had fallen. Notice the power of the warning:

“To the law and to the testimony! If they speak not according to this word, surely there is no morning for them!”

In times of general wickedness and increasing immorality, there is always the revival of every old and discredited practice the devil ever invented. It is a mark of the sinfulness of our own generation that all kinds of witches, palm readers, star readers, etc., are back in business as they were a thousand years before Christ! “There is no morning” for those who thus seek supernatural help.

Look how ridiculous it is that people would go to the dead in order to procure valid knowledge to help the living. It would be just like going to a pauper to learn how to handle money, or going to a drunkard to learn how to handle liquor! The only absolute yardstick of spiritual truth is the Word of God; and absolutely no human opinions, religions, philosophies, or systems of morality can be valid unless they are in harmony with the Word of God.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Isaiah 8". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/isaiah-8.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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