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This chapter Isaiah 14:0 is a continuation of the prophecy respecting Babylon, which was commenced in the previous chapter. The prophecy is concluded at Isaiah 14:27. A considerable portion of the chapter is a poem of unequalled beauty and sublimity. It is to be remembered that this prophecy was uttered at least 174 years before they were carried into captivity; and the design of the prophet is, to declare the certainty of their release after they should be subjected to this bondage. He, doubtless, intended that this prophecy should be borne with them, in memory at least, to Babylon, and that it should comfort and sustain them when there (see the Introduction to Isaiah 13:0). He, therefore, opens the vision by a summary statement of the certainty of their deliverance Isaiah 13:1-3. This general declaration respecting the deliverance of the Jews, is followed by a triumphant song on that subject, that is singularly beautiful in its imagery, and sublime in its conception. ‘It moves in lengthened elegiac measure, like a song of lamentation for the dead, and is full of lofty scorn and contumely from beginning to the end.’ - (Herder’s “Spirit of Hebrew Poetry,” by Marsh, vol. ii. p. 206.) It may be called the triumphal song of the Jews when delivered from their long and oppressive bondage. The parts and design of this poem may be thus expressed:
I. A chorus of Jews is introduced, expressing their surprise at the sudden and entire downfall of Babylon, and the complete destruction of the proud and haughty city. The whole earth is full of joy and rejoicing that the city, so long distinguished for oppressions and arrogance, is laid low; and even “the cedars” of Lebanon are introduced as uttering a most severe taunt over the fallen tyrant, and expressing their security now that he is no more Isaiah 14:4-8.
II. The scene is immediately changed from earth to hell. Hades, or the region of the dead, is represented as moved at the descent of the haughty king of Babylon to those abodes. Departed monarchs rise from their thrones, and insult him on being reduced from his pride and magnificence to the same low state as themselves Isaiah 14:9-11. This portion of the ode is one of the boldest personifications ever attempted in poetry: and is executed with remarkable brevity and force - so much so that we almost seem to “see” the illustrious shades of the dead rise from their couches to meet the descending king of Babylon.
III. The Jews now resume the speech Isaiah 14:12-17. They address the king of Babylon as fallen from heaven - like the bright star of the morning. They speak of him as the most magnificent and proud of the monarchs of the earth. They introduce him as expressing the most extravagant purposes of ambition; as designing to ascend to heaven, and to make his throne above the stars; and as aiming at equality with God. They then speak of him as cast down to hell, and as the object of reproach by all those who shall behold him.
IV. The scene is again changed. Certain persons are introduced who are represented as seeing the fallen king of Babylon - as looking narrowly upon him, to make themselves sure that it was he - and as taunting him with his proud designs and his purposes to make the world a wilderness Isaiah 14:15-20. They see him cast out and naked; lying among the undistinguished dead, and trodden under feet; and contrast his condition with that of monarchs who are usually deposited in a splendid mausoleum. But the once haughty king of Babylon is represented as denied even a common burial, and as lying undistinguished in the streets.
V. The whole scene of the poem is closed by introducing God as purposing the certain ruin of Babylon; as designing to cut off the whole of the royal family, and to convert the whole city into pools of water, and a habitation for the bittern Isaiah 14:21-23. This is declared to be the purpose of Yahweh; and a solemn declaration is made, that when “he” makes a purpose none can disannul it.
VI. A confirmation of this is added Isaiah 14:24-27 in a fragment respecting the destruction of the army of the Assyrian under Sennacherib, by which the exiles in Babylon would be comforted with the assurance, that he who had destroyed the Assyrian host with such ease could also effect his purposes respecting Babylon (see the remarks introductory to Isaiah 14:24).
‘I believe it may be affirmed,’ says Lowth, that there is no poem of its kind extant in any language, in which the subject is so well laid out, and so happily conducted, with such a richness of invention, with such a variety of images, persons, and distinct actions, with such rapidity and ease of transition in so small a compass, as in this ode of Isaiah. For beauty of disposition, strength of coloring, greatness of sentiment, brevity, perspicuity, and force of expression, it stands, among all the monuments of antiquity, unrivaled.’
The king of Babylon, who was the subject of this prediction, and who reigned when Babylon was taken, was Belshazzar (see Daniel 5:0; and the notes at Isaiah 14:22).
For the Lord will have mercy on Jacob - That is, he will pity the captive Jews in Babylon. He will not abandon them, but will remember them, and restore them to their own land.
And will yet choose Israel - Will show that he regards them as still his chosen people; or will again “choose” them by recovering them from their bondage, and by restoring them to their country as his people. The names ‘Jacob’ and ‘Israel’ here simply denote the Jews. They do not imply that all of those who were to be carried captive would return, but that as a people they would be restored.
And set them ... - Hebrew, ‘Will cause them to rest in their own country;’ that is, will give them peace, quietness, and security there.
And the stranger shall be joined to them - The ‘stranger,’ here, probably refers to those foreigners who would become proselytes to their religion, while they were in Babylon. Those proselytes would be firmly united with them, and would return with them to their own land. Their captivity would be attended with this advantage, that many even of those who led them away, would be brought to embrace their religion, and to return with them to their own country. If it is asked what “evidence” there is that any considerable number of the people of Chaldea became Jewish proselytes, I answer, that it is expressly stated in Esther 8:17 : ‘And many of the people of the land became Jews, for the fear of the Jews fell upon them. Ezra, indeed, has not mentioned the fact, that many of the people of Babylonia became proselytes to the religion of the Jews, but it is in accordance with all that we know of their history, and their influence on the nations with which, from time to time, they were connected, that many should have been thus joined to them. We know that in subsequent times many of other nations became proselytes, and that multitudes of the Egyptians, the Macedonians, the Romans, and the inhabitants of Asia Minor, embraced the Jewish religion, or became what were called ‘proselytes of the gate.’ They were circumcised, and were regarded as entitled to a part of the privileges of the Jewish people (see Acts 2:9-11; compare Acts 17:4, Acts 17:17). Tacitus, speaking of his time, says, that every abandoned man, despising the religion of his country, bears tribute and revenue to Jerusalem, whence it happens that the number of the Jews is greatly increased.’ - (“Hist.” v. 5.) That the Jews, therefore, who were in Babylon should induce many of the Chaldeans during their long captivity to become proselytes, is in accordance with all their history.
And the people shall take them - That is, the people in Babylon.
And bring them to their place - That is, they shall attend them to the land of Judea, and aid in restoring them to their own country. There is reference here, doubtless, to the fact that Cyrus would assist them (compare Ezra 1:1-11), and that many of the inhabitants of Chaldea who would become proselytes, would be willing to accompany them to their own land.
And the house of Israel shall possess them in the land of the Lord - Not in a foreign land, and among strangers and foes, but in their own land, and among the institutions of their own religion. They would be willing to return with them, and occupy a humble place among them, as servants, for the sake of enjoying the privileges of the true religion. It was a matter of course among the Hebrews, that proselytes would be regarded as occupying a less elevated place in society than native-born Jews.
And they shall take them captive ... - That is, they shall induce them to become proselytes; to be willing to accompany them to their own homes, and to become their servants there. It does not mean that they would subdue them by force; but they would be able, by their influence there, to disarm their opposition; and to induce them to become the friends of their religion.
And they shall rule over their oppressors - This is one instance where the people of God would show that they could disarm their oppressors by a mild and winning demeanour, and in which they would be able to induce others to join with them. Such would be the force of their example and conduct, of their conversation and of their deportment, even in the midst of proud and haughty Babylon, that their oppressors would be won to embrace the religion of their captives. If, in proud and haughty Babylon, those who loved the Lord could thus do good; if, when they were “captives,” they could have such an influence over their haughty masters, where is there a place in which the friends of God may not be useful by their example, their conversation, and their prayers?
And it shall come to pass - That is, then thou shalt take up a taunting song against the king of Babylon Isaiah 14:4.
That the Lord shall give thee rest - (compare Isaiah 38:12). The nature of this predicted rest, is more fully described in Ezekiel 28:25-26.
From thy sorrow - The long pain of thy captivity in Babylon.
And from thy fear - Hebrew, ‘Trembling.’ That is, the apprehension of the ills to which they were continually exposed. Trembling is usually one effect of fear.
And from thy hard bondage - The severe and galling servitude of seventy years.
That thou shalt take up - Thou shalt utter, declare, or commence. The word ‘take up,’ is used in the sense of utter, speak, or declare, in Exodus 20:7; Exodus 23:1; Psalms 15:2.
This proverb - (המשׁל hamâshâl). Vulgate, ‘Parable.’ Septuagint Τὸν ρῆνον ton thrēnon - ‘Lamentation.’ The Hebrew word משׁל mâshâl, usually rendered “proverb,” is also rendered “a parable,” or “a by-word.” It properly denotes “a metaphor, a comparison, a similitude;” and is applied usually to a brief and pungent sentiment or maxim, where wisdom is embodied in few words. In these the ancients abounded. They had few books; and hence arose the necessity of condensing as much as possible the sentiments of wisdom, that they might be easily remembered, and transmitted to future times. These maxims were commonly expressed in figurative language, or by a brief comparison, or short parable, as they are with us. The word also means, figurative discourse generally; and hence, a song or poem Numbers 23:7, Numbers 23:18; Job 27:1; Job 29:1; Psalms 49:5. It is also used to denote a satire, or a song of triumph over enemies Micah 2:4; Hebrews 4:6; Joel 2:17. It is evidently used in this sense here - to denote a taunting speech, a song of triumph over the prostrate king of Babylon. In this beautiful song, there are all the elements of the most pungent satire, and all the beauties of the highest poetry.
Against the king of Babylon - Over the king of Babylon, or in regard to him. It is not certain that any particular king of Babylon is here intended. If there was, it was probably Belshazzar, in whose reign the city was taken (see the notes at Isaiah 14:22). It may, however, be designed to denote the Babylonian empire - the kingdom that had oppressed the Jews; and thus the king may be referred to as the head of the nation, and as the representative of the whole people.
How hath the oppressor ceased! - The word ‘oppressor’ (נגשׂ nogēs') denotes, properly, the “exactor of tribute,” and refers here to the fact that Babylon had oppressed its dependent provinces, by exacting large revenues from them, and thus cruelly oppressing them.
Ceased - Ceased to exact tribute; or (Hebrew) ‘is at rest.’ It is now at rest, and no more puts forth its power in oppressing its dependent provinces.
The golden city - Babylon. The word used here (מדהבה madehēbâh) occurs nowhere else in the Bible. According to the Jewish Commentators, it means “an exactress of gold,” as if derived from דהב dehab, used for זהב zehab, gold. Gesenius and Michaelis prefer another reading (מרהבה marehēbâh), from (רהב râhab), and suppose that it means oppression. The Vulgate renders it “tribute” - ‘The tribute hath ceased.’ The Septuagint Ἐπισπουδαστής Epispoudastēs - ‘Solicitor, or exactor (of gold).’ Vitringa supposes that the word means “gold,” and that it refers to the golden scepter of its kings that had now ceased to be swayed over the prostrate nations. The most probable sense is, that it means the exactress of gold, or of tribute. This best expresses the force of the word, and best agrees with the parallelism. In this sense it does not refer to the magnificence of the city, but to its oppressive acts in demanding tribute of gold from its dependent provinces.
The Lord hath broken - Yahweh, by the hand of Cyrus.
The staff of the wicked - That is, the scepter of the king of Babylon. The word rendered ‘staff’ (מטה maṭēh) may mean either a bough, stick, staff, rod, or a scepter. The scepter was the symbol of supreme power. It was in the form of a staff, and was made of wood, ivory, or gold. It here means that Yahweh had taken away the power from Babylon, and destroyed his dominion.
He who smote - This may either refer to the king of Babylon, or to the rod or scepter which he had used, and which was now broken. Herder refers it to the scepter, ‘that which smote the nations.’ (On the meaning of the word “smote,” see the notes at Isaiah 10:20)
The people - The nations that were subject to his authority.
With a continual stroke - Margin, ‘A stroke without removing.’ Vulgate, Plaga insanabili - ‘With an incurable plague.’ - Septuagint the same - Πληγῇ ἀνιάτῳ Plēgē aniatō. The Hebrew is, as in the margin, ‘A smiting without removing,’ or without cessation. There was no relaxation in its oppressions, it was always engaged in acts of tyranny.
He that ruled the nations - Babylon was the capital of a vast empire, and that empire was composed of many dependent nations.
Is persecuted - By those that make war upon it. Its turn had come to be oppressed, and overthrown.
And none hindereth - No nation opposes the invader. None of the dependent kingdoms of Babylon have any real attachment to it, but all rejoice at its downfall. The most mighty kingdom of the earth is helpless and ruined. What a change was this! How sudden and striking the revolution! And what a warning to proud and guilty cities!
The whole earth is at rest - The kingdom of Babylonia, or Chaldea, extended nearly over the whole pagan world. Now that Babylon was fallen, and that those oppressions would cease, the world is represented as in peace and quietness.
They break forth into singing - That is, the inhabitants of all the nations that were subject to Babylon now rejoice that they are released from its galling and oppressive yoke.
Yea, the fir trees rejoice at thee - They join with the inhabitants of the nations in rejoicing at thy downfall - for they now, like those inhabitants, are suffered to remain undisturbed. (On the word rendered “fir trees,” see the notes at Isaiah 1:29.) It is evident that a species of evergreen is meant; and probably some species that grew in Syria or Palestine. The idea is plain. The very forest is represented as rejoicing. It would be safe from the king of Babylon. He could no longer cut it down to build his palaces, or to construct his implements of war. This figure of representing the hills and groves, the trees, the mountains, and the earth, as exulting, or as breaking forth into joy, is common in the Scriptures:
Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad;
Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof.
Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein:
Then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice
Before the Lord.
Let the floods clap their hands.
Let the hills be joyful together
Before the Lord.
Praise the Lord from the earth,
Ye dragons and all deeps;
Fire and hail; snow and vapor;
Stormy wind fulfilling his word:
Mountains and all hills;
Fruitful trees and all cedars.
(Compare 1 Chronicles 16:31; Habakkuk 3:10-11.)
The cedars of Lebanon - (note, Isaiah 10:34). The cedars of Lebanon were much celebrated for building; and it is not impossible that the king of Babylon had obtained timber from that mountain with which to construct his palaces at Babylon. They are now represented as rejoicing that he is fallen, since they would be safe and undisturbed. A similar figure of speech occurs in Virgil, “Ecl.” v. 68:
Peace, peace, mild Daphnis loves; with joyous cry.
The untill’d mountains strike the echoing sky;
And rocks and towers the triumph spread abroad -
‘A god! Menalcas! Daphnis is a god!’
It is a beautiful figure; and is a fine specimen of the poetry of the Hebrews, where everything is animated, and full of life.
Since thou art laid down - Since thou art dead.
No feller - No one to cut us down. Jowett (“Chris. Res.”) makes the following remarks on this passage on his visit to Lebanon: ‘As we passed through the extensive forest of fir trees situated between Deir-el-Karat and Ainep, we had already heard, at some distance, the stroke of one solitary axe, resounding from hill to hill. On reaching the spot, we found a peasant, whose labor had been so far successful, that he had felled his tree and lopped his branches. He was now hewing it in the middle, so as to balance the two halves upon his camel, which stood patiently by him waiting for his load. In the days of Hiram, king of Tyre, and subsequently under the kings of Babylon, this romantic solitude was not so peaceful; that most poetic image in Isaiah, who makes these very trees vocal, exulting in the downfall of the destroyer of nations, seems now to be almost realized anew - “Yea, the fir trees rejoice at thee, and the cedars of Lebanon, saying, Since thou art laid down, no feller is come up against us.”’
Hell from beneath - The scene is now changed. The prophet had represented the people of all the subject nations as rejoicing that the king of Babylon had fallen, and had introduced even the trees of the forest as breaking forth into joy at this event. He now transfers the scene to the mournful regions of the dead; follows the spirit of the departed king of Babylon - the man who once gloried in the magnificence of his kingdom and his court, and who was more distinguished for pride and arrogance than all other monarchs - down to the land of darkness, and describes his reception there. This portion of the ode is signally sublime, and is managed with great power and skill. It is unequalled, perhaps, by any writings for boldness, majesty, and, at the same time, for its severe sarcasm. The word ‘hell’ here (שׁאול she'ôl) is rendered by the Vulgate, “infernus;” and by the Septuagint, ὁ ᾅδης ho Hadēs, “Hades.”
It properly means the grave, and then the dark regions of the lower world - the region of ghosts and shades a place where thick darkness reigns. The verb from which it is derived means, properly, “to ask, to demand, to require, to seek;” and this name (שׁאול she'ôl) is supposed to have been given to the grave, and to the regions of departed spirits, from the insatiable demand which they are constantly making of the living (see the note at Isaiah 5:14, where the word is explained). The word denotes, says Taylor (“Heb. Con.”), ‘The underground parts of the earth, otherwise called the nether, or lower parts of the earth; the earth beneath in opposition to the earth above, where people and other animals live. In “sheol” are the foundations of the mountains Deuteronomy 32:22. In “sheol “men penetrate by digging into the earth Amos 9:2. Into “sheol” the roots of trees do strike down Ezekiel 31:16.
Into “sheol,” Korah, Dathan, and Abiram went down alive Numbers 16:30, Numbers 16:33. In “sheol” the body is corrupted and consumed by worms Job 17:13-14; Psalms 16:10; Psalms 49:14. They that rest together in the dust are said “to go down to the bars, or strong gates of sheol” Job 17:16. In “sheol” there is no knowledge, nor can any praise God or give thanks there Psalms 6:5; Ecclesiastes 9:10; Isaiah 38:10-11. “Sheol” and the pit, death and corruption, are synonymous Psalms 16:10; Psalms 89:48; Proverbs 1:12; Proverbs 7:27; Ezekiel 31:16; Hosea 13:14. A grave is one particular cavity purposely digged for the interment of a dead person; “sheol” is a collective name for all the graves. He that is in the grave is in “sheol;” but he that is in “sheol” may not be in a grave, but in any pit, or in the sea. In short, it is the region of the dead; which is figuratively considered as a city or large habitation with gates and bars in which there are many chambers Proverbs 7:27.’ “Sheol” is never full, but is always asking or craving more Proverbs 27:20; Hebrews 2:5. Here it means, not a place of punishment, but the region of the dead, where the ghosts of the departed are considered as residing together.
From beneath - From beneath the earth. “Sheol” was always represented as being “in” or “under” the ground, and the grave was the avenue or door that led to it (see the note at Isaiah 5:14.)
Is moved for thee - Is roused to meet thee; is surprised that a monarch once so proud and magnificent is descending to it. The image here is taken from the custom of the ancients in burying, especially of burying princes and kings. This was usually done in caves or sepulchres excavated from a rock (see the notes and illustrations on Isaiah 66:4). Mr. Stephens, in his “Travels in Egypt, Arabia Petrea, and the Holy land,” has given an account of the manner in which he passed a night in Petra, which may serve to illustrate this passage: ‘We ascended the valley, and rising to the summit of the rocky rampart, of Petra, it was almost dark when we found ourselves opposite a range of tombs in the suburbs of the city. Here we dismounted; and selecting from among them one which, from its finish and dimensions, must have been the last abode of some wealthy Edomite, we prepared to pass the night within its walls.
In the front part of it was a large chamber, about twenty-five feet square, and ten feet high; and behind this was another of smaller dimensions, furnished with receptacles of the dead, not arranged after the manner of shelves along the wall, as in the catacombs I had seen in Italy and Egypt, but cut lengthwise in the rock, like ovens, so as to admit the insertion of the body with the feet foremost. My plans for the morrow being all arranged, the Bedouins stretched themselves out in the outer chamber, while I went within; and seeking out a tomb as far back as I could find, I crawled in feet first, and found myself very much in the condition of a man buried alive. I had just room enough to turn round; and the worthy old Edomite for whom the tomb was made, never slept in it more quietly than I did.’ (Vol. ii. pp. 82, 83, 86.) To understand the passage before us, we are to form the idea of an immense and gloomy cavern, all around which are niches or cells made to receive the bodies of the dead. In this vast vault monarchs repose in grandeur suitable to their former rank, each on his couch, ‘in glory,’ with their arms beside them (see Isaiah 14:18). These mighty shades - these departed monarchs - are represented as rising from their couches to meet the descending king of Babylon, and receive him with insults on his fall. The Hebrew word for “moved” denotes more than our translation conveys. It means that they were “agitated” - they “trembled” - they advanced toward the descending monarch with trepidation. The idea of the shades of the mighty dead thus being troubled, and rising to meet the king of Babylon, is one that is exceedingly sublime.
It stireth up - “Sheol” stirreth up; that is, they are stirred up or excited. So the Septuagint renders it ‘All the giants who rule the earth rise up to thee.’
The dead - Hebrew, רפאים repā'ı̂ym. The Septuagint renders this, Ὁι γίγαντες hoi gigantes ‘giants.’ So the Vulgate and the Chaldee, The meaning of this word has been a subject of great difference of opinion among lexicographers. It is sometimes found as a gentile noun to denote the sons of Raphah, called “Rephaim” 2 Samuel 21:16, 2 Samuel 21:18, a Canaanite race of giants that lived beyond Jordan Genesis 14:5; Genesis 15:20, from whom Og the son of Bashan was descended Deuteronomy 3:11. It is sometimes used to denote all the giant tribes of Canaan Deuteronomy 2:11, Deuteronomy 2:20; and is particularly applied to people of extraordinary strength among the Philistines 2 Samuel 21:16, 2 Samuel 21:18. Vitringa supposes that the term was given to the spirits of the dead on account of the fact that they appeared to be “larqer” than life; that they in their form and stature resembled giants. But a more probable opinion is, that it is applied to the shades of the dead as being weak, feeble, or without power or sensation, from the word רפא râpâ', weak, feeble, powerless. This interpretation is strongly confirmed by the place before us Isaiah 14:10, ‘Art thou become weak as we?’ The word is rendered ‘giants’ in the following places: Deuteronomy 2:11, Deuteronomy 2:20; Deuteronomy 3:13; Joshua 21:4; Joshua 15:8; Joshua 17:15; Joshua 18:16; 2Sa 21:16, 2 Samuel 21:18, 2 Samuel 21:20, 2Sa 21:22; 1 Chronicles 20:5-6, 1 Chronicles 20:8. It is rendered ‘Rephaims,’ Genesis 14:5; Gen 15:20; 2 Samuel 5:18, 2 Samuel 5:22; 2 Samuel 23:13. It is rendered ‘the dead’ Job 26:5; Psalms 88:10; Proverbs 2:18; Proverbs 9:18; Proverbs 21:16; Isa. 26:29; and once it is rendered ‘deceased,’ Isaiah 26:14. It here means the departed spirits of the dead - the inhabitants of that dark and dismal region, conceived by the Hebrews to be situated beneath the ground, where dwell the departed dead before their final destiny is fixed - called “sheol” or “hades.” It is not the residence of the wicked only - the place of punishment - but the place where all the dead are supposed to be congregated before their final doom is pronounced.
(The author entertains unique views of the state of knowledge among the Hebrews regarding the future world - views which will be found fully canvassed in the preface to the volumes on Job. As to the alleged notion of all the dead dwelling in some dismal region before their final doom is pronounced, we have there taken pains to show that the righteous in ancient times entertained no such gloomy expectations. The opinions of the ancient Hebrews on this subject, must be taken from passages in which they expressly treat of it, and intimate plainly what their belief is, and not from passages confessedly full of poetical imagery. Nor are we to construe popular and poetical phraseology so strictly and literally as to form a theological creed out of it, in contradiction to the actual belief of those who daily used that phraseology. Because Englishmen speak of the dead “indiscriminately” as having “gone to the grave,” and “to the land of spirits,” must we, out of this, construct a Popish purgatory as the national belief?
Yet this would be just as reasonable in the case of the English, as in the case of the Jews. The reader will appreciate the following observations of Professor Alexander on the place: ‘Two expressions have been faithfully transcribed by interpreters, from one another, in relation to this passage, with a very equivocal effect upon its exposition. The one is, that it is full of biting sarcasm - an unfortunate suggestion of Calvin’s, which puts the reader on the scent for irony, and even wit, instead of opening his mind to impressions of sublimity and tragic grandeur. The other, for which Calvin is in no degree responsible, is, that we have before us not a mere prosopopeia, or poetical creation of the highest order, but a chapter from the popular belief of the Jews, as to the locality, contents, and transactions of the unseen world. Thus Gesenius, in his Lexicon and Commentary, gives a minute topographical description of “Sheol,” as the Hebrews believed it to exist.
With equal truth, a diligent compiler might construct a map of hell, as conceived of by the English Puritans, from the descriptive portions of the Paradise Lost. The infidel interpreters of Germany regard the scriptural and Classical mythology precisely in the same light. But when Christian writers copy their expressions or ideas, they should take pains to explain whether the popular belief of which they speak was true or false, and, if false, how it could lie countenanced and sanctioned by inspired writers. This kind of exposition is, moreover, chargeable with a rhetorical incongruity, in landing the creative genius of the poet, and yet making all his grand creations commonplace articles of popular belief. The true view of the matter, as determined both by piety and taste, appears to be, that the passage now before ns comprehends two elements, and only two religious verities or certain facts, and poetical embellishments. The admission of a “tertium quid,” in the shape of superstitious fables, is as false in rhetoric as in theology.’)
The chief ones of the earth. - Margin, ‘Leaders,’ or ‘great goats.’ The Hebrew word means properly “great goats,” or goats that are leaders of the flock. Perhaps there is intended to be a slight degree of sarcasm in applying this word to princes and monarchs. It is nowhere else applied to princes, though the word is often used or applied to rams, or to the chief goats of a flock.
From their thrones - In “hades,” or “sheol.” They are there represented as occupying an eminence similar to that which distinguished them on earth.
All they shall speak ... - Language of astonishment that one so proud, and who apparently never expected to die, should be brought down to that humiliating condition. It is a severe taunt at the great change which had taken place in a haughty monarch.
Thy pomp - Thy magnificence (see the note at Isaiah 5:14).
The noise of thy viols - Instruments of music were often used in their feasts; and the meaning here is, that instead of being surrounded with splendor, and the instruments of music, the monarch was now brought down to the corruption and stillness of the grave. The instrument referred to by the word ‘viol’ (נבל nēbel, plur. נבלים nebalı̂ym, Greek νάβλα nabla, Latin nablium), was a stringed instrument usually with twelve strings, and played by the pecten or by the hand (see the notes and illustrations on Isaiah 5:12). Additional force is given by all these expressions if they are read, as Lowth reads them, as questions asked in suprise, and in a taunting manner, over the haughty king of Babylon - ‘Is thy pride then brought down to the grave?’ etc.
The worm - This word, in Hebrew (רמה rimmâh), denotes a worm that is found in putrid substances Exodus 16:25; Job 7:5; Job 21:26.
Is spread under thee - Is become thy couch - instead of the gorgeous couch on which thou wert accustomed to repose.
And the worm - (תולעה tôlê‛âh) - the same word which occurs in Isaiah 1:18, and rendered there as “crimson” (see the note on that verse). This word is usually applied to the insect from which the crimson dye was obtained; but it is also applied to the worm which preys upon the dead Exodus 16:20; Isaiah 66:24.
Cover thee - Instead of the splendid covering which was over thee when reposing on thy couch in thy palace. What could be more humiliating than this language? How striking the contrast between his present situation and that in which he reposed in Babylon! And yet this language is as applicable to all others as to that prond and haughty king. It is equally true of the great and mighty everywhere; of the rich, the frivolous, the beautiful, and the proud who lie on beds of down, that they will soon lie where worms shall be their couch and their covering. How ought this reflection to humble our pride! How should it lead us to be prepared for that hour when the grave shall be our bed; and when far away from the sound of the viol and the harp; from the sweet voice of friendship and the noise of revelry, we shall mingle with our native dust!
How art thou fallen from heaven - A new image is presented here. It is that of the bright morning star; and a comparison of the once magnificent monarch with that beautiful star. He is now exhibited as having fallen from his place in the east to the earth. His glory is dimmed; his brightness quenched. Nothing can be more poetic and beautiful than a comparison of a magnificent monarch with the bright morning star! Nothing more striking in representing his death, than the idea of that star falling to the earth!
Lucifer - Margin, ‘Day-star’ (הילל hēylēl, from הלל hâlal, “to shine”). The word in Hebrew occurs as a noun nowhere else. In two other places Ezekiel 21:12; Zechariah 11:2, it is used as a verb in the imperative mood of Hiphil, and is translated ‘howl’ from the verb ילל yālal, “to howl” or “cry.” Gesenius and Rosenmuller suppose that it should be so rendered here. So Noyes renders it, ‘Howl, son of the morning!’ But the common translation seems to be preferable. The Septuagint renders it, Ἑωσφόρος Heōsphoros, and the Vulgate, ‘Lucifer, the morning star.’ The Chaldee, ‘How art thou fallen from high, who wert splendid among the sons of men.’ There can be no doubt that the object in the eve of the prophet was the bright morning star; and his design was to compare this magnificent oriental monarch with that. The comparison of a monarch with the sun, or the other heavenly bodies, is common in the Scriptures.
Son of the morning - This is a Hebraism (see the note at Matthew 1:1), and signifies that that bright star is, as it were, the production, or the offspring of morning; or that it belongs to the morning. The word ‘son’ often thus denotes possession, or that one thing belongs to another. The same star in one place represents the Son of God himself; Revelation 21:16 : ‘I am - the bright and morning star.’
Which didst weaken the nations - By thy oppressions and exactions, rendering once mighty nations feeble.
For thou hast said in thine heart - It was thy purpose or design.
I will ascend into heaven - Nothing could more strikingly show the arrogance of the monarch of Babylon than this impious design. The meaning is, that he intended to set himself up as supreme; he designed that all should pay homage to him; be did not intend to acknowledge the authority of God. It is not to be understood literally; but it means that he intended “not” to acknowledge any superior either in heaven or earth, but designed that himself and his laws should be regarded as supreme.
Above the stars of God - The stars which God has made. This expression is equivalent to the former that he would ascend into heaven.
I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation - The word rendered ‘congregation’ מועד mô‛êd from יעד yâ‛ad “to fix, appoint”), properly means a fixed or definite time; then an “appointed” place of meeting; then a meeting itself; an assembly, a congregation. What is referred to here it is difficult to determine. The Septuagint renders it, ‘On a high mountain, on the lofty regions which lie to the north.’ The Chaldee, ‘I will sit in the mount of covenant, in the regions of the north.’ Grotius supposes that when the king of Babylon said he would ascend into heaven, he meant the land of Judea, which was called heaven because it was dedicated to God; that when he said be would ascend above the stars, he meant to denote those ‘who were learned in the law;’ that by the ‘mount of the congregation,’ he meant mount Moriah where was the temple; and that by the ‘side of the north,’ he meant mount Zion, which, he says, was on the north of Jerusalem. It is remarkable that the usually accurate Grotius should have fallen into this error, as mount Zion was not on the north of Jerusalem, but was south of mount Moriah. Vitringa defends the same interpretation in the main, but supposes that by the ‘mount of the congregation’ is meant mount Zion, and by ‘the sides of the north;’ is meant mount Moriah lying north of Zion. He supposes that mount Zion is called ‘the mount of the congregation,’ not because the congregation of Israel assembled there, but because it was the “appointed place” where God met his people, or where he manifested himself to them, and appeals to the following places where the word which is here lrcndered ‘congregation’ is applied, in various forms, to the manifestation which God thus made Exodus 25:22; Exodus 29:42-43; Psalms 74:8. So Lowth supposes that it refers to the place where God promised to meet with his people Exodus 25:22; Exodus 29:42-43, and to commune with them, and translates it ‘the mount of the divine presence.’ But to this interpretation there are great objections:
(1) The terms here employed ‘the mount of the congregation,’ ‘the sides of the north,’ are not elsewhere applied to mount Zion, and to mount Moriah.
(2) It does not correspond with the evident design of the king of Babylon. His object was not to make himself master of Zion and Moriah, but it was to exalt himself above the stars; to be elevated above all inferior beings; and to be above the gods.
(3) It is a most forced and unnatural interpretation to call the land of Judea ‘heaven,’ to speak of it as being ‘above the stars of God,’ or as ‘above the heights of the clouds;’ and it is clear that the king of Babylon had a much higher ambition, and much more arrogant pretensions, than the conquest of what to him would be the comparatively limited province of Judea.
However important that land appeared to the Jews as their country and their home; or however important it was as the place of the solemnities of the true religion, yet we are to remember that it had no such consequence in the eyes of the king of Babylon. He had no belief in the truth of the Jewish religion, and all Judea compared with his other vast domains would appear to be a very unimportant province. It is evident, therefore, I think, that the king of Babylon did not refer here to Judea, or to Zion. The leading idea of his heart, which ought to guide our interpretation, was, that he designed “to ascend in authority over all inferior beings, and to be like the Most High.” We are to remember that Babylon was a city of idolatry; and it is most probable that by ‘the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north,’ there is reference to a belief prevalent in Babylon that the gods had their residence on some mountain of the north.
This was a common opinion among the ancients. The Hindus call that mountain “Meru;” the Persians, who are followers of Zoroaster, “Al Bordsch;” the Arabs, “Kafe;” and the Greeks, “Olympus.” The common opinion was that this mountain was in the center of the world, but the Hindoos speak of it as to the north of themselves in the Himalaya regions; the followers of Zoroaster in the mountains of Caucasus, lying to the north of their country; and the Greeks speak of Olympus, the highest mountain north of them in Thessaly. The Hindoo belief is thus referred to by Ward: ‘In the book of Karma-Vipaka, it is said that the heavenly Vishnu, Brahma, and Siva, are upon the three peaks of the mountain Su-Meru, and that at the foot of this mountain are the heavens of twenty-one other gods.’ (“View of the History, Literature, and Religion of the Hindoos,” vol. i. p. 13.) So Wilford, in a Treatise on the mountain Caucasus, in the “Asiatic Researches,” vol. vi. p. 488, says, ‘The Hindoos regard the mountain Meru as the dwelling-place of the gods.
In the Puranas it is said, that upon the mountain Meru there is eternal day, for a space of fourteen degrees around the mountain Su-Meru, and consequently eternal night for the same space on the opposite side; so the Hindoos are constrained to admit that Su-Meru is directly upon the top of the shadow of the earth, and that from the earth to that peak there is a vast cone-formed hill, dense as other earthly bodies, but invisible, impalpable, and impassable by mortals. On the side of this hill are various abodes, which, the higher one ascends, become the more beautiful, and which are made the dwellings of the blessed, according to the degrees of their desert. God and the most exalted of the divine beings have their abodes on the sides of the north, and on the top of this mountain.’ According to the Zendavesta, the Al Bordsch is the oldest and the highest of the mountains; upon that is the throne of Ormuzd, and the assemblage of the heavenly spirits (Feruer; see Rosenmuller, “Alterthumskunde,” vol. i. pp. 154-157).
Thus in Babylon, some of the mountains north in Armenia may have been supposed to be the special dwelling-place of the gods. Such a mountain would “appear” to be under the north pole, and the constellations would seem to revolve around it. It is not improbable that the Aurora Borealis, playing often as it does in the north with special magnificence, might have contributed to the belief that this was the special abode of the gods. Unable to account - as indeed all moderns are - for these special and magnificent lights in the north, it accorded with the poetic and mythological fancy of the ancients to suppose that they were designed to play around, and to adorn the habitation of the gods. This disposition to make the mountains of the north the seat of the gods, may have arisen also in part from the fact that the country on the north of Babylon was a volcanic region, and that the light emitted from volcanoes was an appropriate manifestation of the glory of superior invisible beings. ‘On the borders of the Caspian (Sea), in the country around the Bakir, there is a tract called The Field of Fire, which continually emits inflammable gas, while springs of naphtha and petroleum occur in the same vicinity, as also mud volcanoes.
In the chain of Elburs, to the south of this sea, is a lofty mountain, which, according to Morier, sometimes emits smoke, and at the base of which there are several craters where sulphur and saltpetre are procured in sufficient abundance to be used in commerce.’ (Lyell’s Geology, vol. i. p. 297.) We find some trades of these ideas in the Scriptures. The north is often mentioned as the seat of the whirlwind, the storm, and especially as the residence of the cherubim. Thus in Ezekiel’s vision of the cherubim, the whole magnificent scene is represented as coming from the north - as if the appropriate abode of the cherubim:
‘I looked, and lo! a whirlwind from the north
Came sweeping onward, a vast cloud that rolled
In volumes, charged with gleaming fire, along,
And east its splendors all around.
Brow from within shone forth, what seemed the glow
Of gold and silver molten in the flame,
And in the midst thereof the form expressed,
As of a fourfold living thing - a shape
That yet contained the semblance of a man.’
Ezekiel 1:4-5, trans. in Marsh’s Herder.
Thus, in Ezekiel 28:14, Tyre is said to be ‘the anointed cherub that covereth,’ and to have been ‘upon the holy mountain of God,’ or “the gods” - evidently meaning, not Zion, but some mountain in the vicinity of Eden (see Isaiah 14:13). Thus also, in Zechariah 6:1-8, four chariots are represented as coming out of the mountains, the first chariot with red horses, the second with black horses, the third with white horses, and the fourth with bay horses. The horses that have gone through the earth are Isaiah 14:8 represented as going to the “north” as their place of rest. These passages, particularly the one from Ezekiel, show that the northern regions were regarded as the seat of striking and special manifestations of the divine glory (compare Job 23:9, note; Job 37:22, note). And it is probable that, in the view of the Babylonians, the northern mountains of Armenia, that seemed to be near the north pole, around which the constellations revolved, and that appeared to be surmounted and encompassed by the splendid light of the Aurora Borealis, were regarded as the special place where the gods held their assemblies, and from where their power went forth through the nations. Over all their power it was the intention of the king of Babylon to ascend, and even to rise above the stars that performed their revolutions around the seats of the gods in the north; to be “supreme” in that assembly of the gods, and to be regarded there as the supreme and incontrollable director of even all the gods. It is probable, says Mitford (“Life of Milton,” vol. i. p. 73), that from this scarcely intelligible hint Milton threw up his palace for his fallen angels: thus:
At length into the limits of the north
They came, and Satan to his royal seat,
High on a hill, far blazing as a mount
Raised on a mount, with pyramids and towers,
From diamond quarries hewn, and rocks of gold.
The palace of great Lucifer, so call
That structure in the dialect of men
Interpreted; which not long after he
Affecting an equality with God,
In imitation of that mount, whereon
Messiah was declared in sight of heaven,
The mountain of the congregation called, etc.
I will be like the Most High - There is a remarkable resemblance between this language and that used in 2 Thessalonians 2:4, in regard to antichrist: ‘He, as God, sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.’ And this similarity is the more remarkable, because antichrist is represented, in Revelation 17:4-5, as seated in babylon - the spiritual seat of arrogance, oppression, and pride. Probably Paul had the passage in Isaiah in his eye when he penned the description of antichrist.
Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell - Hebrew, ‘To sheol’ (compare Isaiah 14:9).
To the sides of the pit - The word ‘pit,’ here, is evidently synonymous with “hell” or “hades,” represented as a deep, dark region under ground. The dead were often buried in caves, and the descent was often dark and dreary, to the vaults where they reposed. Hence, it is always represented as going down; or, as the “inferior” regions. The ‘sides of the pit’ here stand opposed to the ‘sides of the north.’ He had sought to “ascend” to the one; he should be “brought down” to the other. The reference here is, doubtless, to the land of shades; to the dark and dismal regions where the departed dead are supposed to dwell - to “sheol.” So the parallelism proves. But the image or figure is taken from the custom of burying, where, in a deep natural cavern, or a sepulchre excavated from a rock, the dead were ranged around the “sides” of the cavern in niches or recesses excavated for that purpose (see the note at Isaiah 14:9).
They that see thee - That is, after thou art dead. The scene here changes, and the prophet introduces those who would contemplate the body of the king of Babylon after he should be slain - the passers-by arrested with astonishment, that one so proud and haughty was at last slain, and cast out among the common dead Isaiah 14:19.
Shall narrowly look upon thee - To be certain that they were not deceived. This denotes great astonishment, as if they could scarcely credit the testimony of their senses. It also expresses insult and contempt. They ask whether it is possible that one who so recently shook the kingdoms of the earth should now lie east out as unworthy of a burial.
That made the earth to tremble - That agitated the world by his ambition.
That made the world as a wilderness - That made cities and kingdoms desolate.
That opened not the house of his prisoners - This is a description of his oppression and cruelty. Of course many prisoners would be taken in war. Instead of giving them liberty, he threw them into prison and kept them there. This may be rendered, ‘his prisoners he did not release that they might return home’ (see the Margin). The Chaldee renders it, ‘To his prisoners he did not open the door.’ The sense is substantially the same. The idea is, that he was cruel and oppressive. He threw his captives into dungeons, and found pleasure in retaining them there.
All the kings of the nations - That is, this is the common way in which the kings are buried.
Lie in glory - They lie in a magnificent mausoleum; they are surrounded with splendor even in their tombs. It is well known that vast sums of money were expended to rear magnificent mausoleums as the burial place of kings. With this design, probably, the pyramids of Egypt were reared; and the temple of Bel in Babylon, we are told, was employed for this purpose. Josephus says that vast quantities of money were buried in the sepulchre of David. The kings of Israel were buried in a royal burying place on Mount Zion 2 Chronicles 21:20; 2 Chronicles 35:24; Nehemiah 3:16. For a description of the sepulchre of David, and of sepulchres in general, “see” Calmet’s “Dict.” Art. “Sepulchre” (compare Ezekiel 32:0.)
Every one in his own house - In a sepulchre constructed for himself. It was usual for kings to have a splendid tomb constructed for themselves.
But thou art cast out of thy grave - Thou art not buried like other kings in a magnificent sepulchre, but art cast out like the common dead. This was a mark of the highest infamy (see Isaiah 34:3; Ezekiel 29:5; Jeremiah 22:19). Nothing was considered more disgraceful than to be denied the privileges of an honorable burial (see the note at Isaiah 53:9). On the fulfillment of this prophecy, see the note at Isaiah 14:20.
As an abominable branch - (נתעב כנצר kenêtser nı̂te'āb). The Septuagint renders this, ‘And thou shalt be cast upon the mountains as a dead body that is abominable, with many dead that are slain by the sword, descending to Hades.’ The Chaldee, ‘And thou shalt be cast out of thy sepulchre as a branch that is hid.’ Lowth supposes that by ‘abominable branch’ there is allusion to a tree on which a malefactor was hanged, that was regarded as detestable, and cursed. But there are obvious objections to this interpretation. One is, that the word “branch (netser)” is never applied to a tree. It means “a shoot, a slip, a scion” (note, Isaiah 11:1). Another objection is, that there seems here to be no necessary allusion to such a tree; or to anything that would lead to it. Jerome says, that the word “netser” denotes a shoot or sucker that starts up at the root of a plant or tree, and that is useless to the farmer, and which he therefore cuts off. So, says he, the king of Babylon shall be cast off - as the farmer throws away the useless sucker. This is probably the correct idea. The word “abominable” means, therefore, not only that which is “useless,” but indicates that the shoot or sucker is “troublesome” to the farmer. It is an object that he “hates,” and which he gets clear of as soon as possible. So the king of Babylon would be cast out as useless, hateful, abominable; to be thrown away, as the noxious shoot is, as unfit for use, and unworthy to be preserved.
As the raiment of those that are slain - As a garment that is all defiled with gore, and that is cast away and left to rot. The garments of those slain in battle, covered with blood and dirt, would be cast away as polluted and worthless, and so would be the king of Babylon. Among the Hebrews such garments were regarded with special abhorrence (Rosenmuller); perhaps from the dread which they had of touching a dead body, and of course of anything that was found on a dead body.
Thrust through with a sword - That is, the slain thrust through. The effect of this was to pollute the garment with blood, and to render it useless.
That go down to the stones of the pit - The ‘pit’ here means the grave or sepulchre Isaiah 14:15. The phrase ‘stones of the pit,’ conveys the idea that the grave or sepulchre was usually either excavated from the solid rock, or constructed of stones. The idea is simply, that those who were slain with the sword were buried in the usual manner, though their bloody garments defiled were cast away. But the king of Babylon should not have even the honor of such a burial as was given to those who fell in battle.
As a carcase trodden under foot - Unburied; as the body of a brute that is exposed to the air, and denied the honor of a sepulchre.
Thou shalt not be joined with them in burial - That is, even with those who are slain with the sword in battle, and to whom is granted the privilege of a decent burial.
Hast destroyed thy land - Hast been a cruel, harsh, and oppressive prince.
The seed of evil-doers - The posterity of the wicked.
Shall never be renowned - Hebrew, ‘Shall never be called,’ or ‘named’ (לא־יקרא lo'-yı̂qārē'); that is, shall never be distinguished, celebrated, or honored. This is a general proposition; but the prophet here possibly designs to apply it to the king of which he is speaking, as having been descended from ancestors that were wicked; or more probably it is a new circumstance, more fully explained in the following verse, that his posterity should be cut off from the honor of succeeding him on the throne, and that they, as well as he, should be loaded with disgrace. The design is to affirm the fact that the Babylonian dynasty would end with him; and that his posterity would be reduced from the honors which they had hoped to have inherited. At the same time, the general proposition is applicable not only to the posterity of the king of Babylon, but to all. It is a great truth pertaining to the divine administration, that the descendants of wicked people shall be dishonored. So it is with the posterity of a traitor, a pirate, a drunkard, a man of profligacy. They are involved in disgrace, poverty, and calamity, as the result of the sin of their ancestor.
Prepare slaughter for his children - That is, cut them off not only from inheriting the honor of their father, but from life. This command seems to be directed to the Medes and Persians, and denotes that they would thus cut off his children.
For the iniquity of their fathers - On account of the crimes of their ancestors - the pride, haughtiness, and oppression of the kings of Babylon. This is the statement of a general principle of the divine administration, that the consequences of crime often pass over from the perpetrator, and impinge on his descendants (see Exodus 20:5).
That they do not rise - That they do not rise to occupy the places of their fathers; that they be degraded and reduced from their elevation and honored.
Nor fill the face of the world with cities - The Septuagint renders this, ‘And fill the land with wars.’ The Chaldee, ‘And fill the face of the world with “enemies.”’ The Syriac, ‘And fill the face of the earth with war.’ These versions evidently took the word ערים ‛ārı̂ym to mean “enemies” or “wars” - a sense which the word sometimes may have. But the common interpretation is to be preferred. The apprehension was, that they would fill the land, if they lived, with such cities of pride, magnificence, and wickedness, as “Babylon” was, and that thus crimes would be multiplied and prolonged; and hence, the purpose of God was not only to cut off Babylon - the “model” of all cities of arrogance and pride - but also to cut off those who would be disposed to rear similar cities, and to fill the land again with crime.
For I will rise up against them, saith the Lord of hosts - That is, against the family of, the king of Babylon.
And cut off from Babylon the name - That is, all the “males” of the royal family, so that the name of the monarch shall become extinct (compare Ruth 4:5; Isaiah 56:5).
And remnant - All that is left of them; so that the family shall cease to exist.
The son and nephew - Everyone of the family who could claim to be an heir of the throne. The dynasty shall cease; and the proud and haughty family shall become wholly extinct. This is the solemn purpose in regard to the “family” of the monarch of Babylon. It only remains to inquire when and how it was fulfilled.
The circumstances which it was said would exist in regard to the king of Babylon here spoken of, are the following:
(1) That he would be a proud, haughty, and oppressive prince (Isaiah 14:17, and throughout the prophecy).
(2) That when he died he would be east out with the common dead, and denied the common honors of the sepulchre - especially the honors which all other monarchs have in their burial Isaiah 14:18-20.
(3) That his posterity would be cut off, and that he would have no one to succeed him on his throne; or that the dynasty and the kingdom would terminate in him Isaiah 14:21-22.
In regard to the application and the fulfillment of this prophecy there have been three opinions.
I. That it does not refer to an “individual” sovereign, but to the kings of Babylon in general; that the description is designed to be applicable to the succession or the dynasty, as signally haughty, proud, and oppressive; and that the prophet means to say that that haughty and wicked reign of kings should cease. To this, the objections are obvious -
(1) The whole aspect and course of the prophet seems to have reference to an “individual.” Such an individual the prophet seems to have constantly in his eye. He descends to “sheol” Isaiah 14:9; he is proud, ambitious, oppressive, cast out; all of which circumstances refer naturally to an individual, and not to a “succession” or dynasty.
(2) The main circumstance mentioned in the prophecy is applicable only to an individual - that he should be “unburied” Isaiah 14:18-21. It was not true of all the kings of Babylon that they were unburied, and how could it be said respecting a “succession” or a dynasty at all that it should be east out of the grave as an abominable branch; and that it should not be joined with others in burial? All the circumstances, therefore, lead us to suppose that the prophet refers to an individual.
II. The Jews, in general, suppose that it refers to Nebuchadnezzar. But to this interpretation, the objections are equally obvious:
(1) It was not true that Nebuchadnezzar had no one to succeed him on the throne; or that his family was totally cut off, as it was foretold of this king of Babylon that his would be Isaiah 14:21-22.
(2) It was not true that he was denied the privileges of a burial which kings commonly enjoy. To meet this difficulty, the Jews have invented the following story Thev say that when Nebuchadnezzar was driven from society during his derangement Daniel 4:0, and when he was with the beasts of the field seven years, the people made his son, Evil-Merodach, king; but that when Nebuchadnezzar was restored to his right mind and to his throne, he threw Evil-Merodach into prison, where he lay until he died. At the death of Nebuchadnezzar, the people released him to make him king, but he refused because he did not believe that his father was dead, and said that if his father should find him he would kill him; and that in order to convince him that his father was dead he was taken out of the grave. But this is manifestly a fiction. Besides, the prophecy was not that the king should be taken out of the grave, but that he should not be buried. Nebuchadnezzar was succeeded in the kingdom by his son Evil-Merodach, and he by Belshazzar, in whom the line of kings ended.
III. The only other interpretation of which this is susceptible, is that which refers it to Belshazzar, in whose reign the city of Babylon was taken. This king, called in Scripture Belshazzar Daniel 5:0, was the son of Evil-Merodach, and the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar. His name, as it occurs in pagan writers, was “Nabonadius.” In him the circumstances of the prophecy agree:
(1) He was an impious prince (Xen. Cyr. vii. Daniel 5:0).
(2) In his reign the city and the kingdom came to an end, as it was foretold.
(3) Every circumstance of the taking of Babylon would lead us to suppose that he was denied the privilege of a magnificent sepulture.
(a) He was slain in the night Daniel 5:30.
(b) It was in the confusion of the capture of the city - amidst the tumult caused by the sudden and unexpected invasion of Cyrus. It is therefore altogether improbable that he had a regular and an honored burial. Like the common dead, he would lie in the palace where he fell, or in the street.
(c) There is no evidence that Cyrus gave him an honorable sepulchre.
(4) none of his posterity occupied the throne to give honor to the memory of their father.
(5) in him the dynasty and the kingdom ended. Immediately the kingdom on his death was given to the Medes and Persians Daniel 5:28-31. None of the names of his posterity, if he had any, are known; and God cut off from him ‘the name and remnant, the son and nephew,’ as was predicted (see Prideaux’s “Connection,” i. 2. 257-271, Ed. 1815).
I will also make it a possession for the bittern - The word ‘bittern,’ in English, means a bird with long legs and neck, that stalks among reeds and sedge, feeding upon fish. The Hebrew word (קפד qı̂ppod), occurs but five times Isaiah 34:11; Zephaniah 2:14. According to Bochart and Gesenius, it means the hedgehog. It has been variously rendered. Some have supposed it to be a land animal; some an aquatic animal; and most have regarded it as a fowl. Bochart has proved that the hedgehog or porcupine is found on the shores of the Euphrates. He translates this place, ‘I will place Babylon for an habitation of the porcupine, even the pools of water;’ that is, the pools that are round about Babylon shall become so dry that porcupines may dwell there (see Bochart, “Hieroz.” iii. 36. pp. 1036-1042).
And pools of water - Bochart supposes this means, even the pools of water shall become dry. But the common interpretation is to be preferred, that Babylon itself should become filled with pools of water. This was done by Cyrus’ directing the waters of the Euphrates from their channel when the city was taken, and by the fact that the waters never returned again to their natural bed, so that the region was overflowed with water (see the notes at Isaiah 13:0.)
And I will sweep it with the besom of destruction - A besom is a broom; and the sense here is, that God would entirely destroy Babylon, and render it wholly uninbabitable.
The Lord of hosts - (see the note at Isaiah 1:9). It is evident that this verse and the three following, is not directly connected with that which goes before, respecting Babylon. This pertains to the Assyrian; that had relation to Babylon. Vitringa says that this is attached to the prophecy respecting Babylon, and is a unique yet not altogether foreign argument, and is a sort of epilogue to the prophecy respecting Babylon. The design, he says, is this. As the events which had been foretold respecting Babylon seemed so great and wonderful as to be almost incredible, the prophet, in order to show the Jews how easily it could be accomplished, refers them to the case of Sennacherib, and the ease with which he and his army had been destroyed. Lowth supposes that the Assyrians and Babylonians here are one people. Rosenmuller supposes that this prophecy respecting Sennacherib has been “displaced” by the collector of the prophecies of Isaiah, and that it should have been attached to the prophecy respecting the Assyrian monarch (see Isaiah 10:0.) The probable sense of the passage is that which makes it refer to the predicted destruction of Sennacherib Isaiah 10:0; and the design of the prophet in referring to that here is, to assure the Jews of the certain destruction of Babylon, and to comfort them with the assurance that they would be delivered from their captivity there.
The prophecy respecting Babylon was uttered “before” the destruction of Sennacherib; but it is to be remembered that its design was to comfort the Jews “in” Babylon. The prophet therefore throws himself “beyond” the period of their captivity - though it was to occur many years “after” the prophecy respecting Babylon was uttered; and with this view he introduces the subject of the Assyrian. At that future time, Sennacherib would have been destroyed. And as God would have fulfilled the prophecy respecting the proud and self-confident Assyrian, so they might have the assurance that he “would” fulfill his predictions respecting the no less proud and self-confident king of Babylon; and as he would have delivered his people from the invasion of the Assyrian, even when he was at the gates of Jerusalem, so he would deliver them in their captivity in Babylon.
Hath sworn - (see Genesis 24:7; Exodus 13:5, Exodus 13:11; Exodus 33:1; Numbers 32:10; Hebrews 3:18; Hebrews 6:13). Yahweh is often represented as making use of an oath to denote the strong confirmation, the absolute certainty of what he utters. The oath here was designed to comfort the Jews, when they should be in Babylon, with the assurance that what he had thus solemnly promised would assuredly come to pass.
As I have thought - As I have designed, or intended. God’s promises never fail; his purposes shall all be accomplished (compare Isaiah 46:10-11). This passage is full proof that God does not “change:” that whatever his purposes are, they are inflexible. Change supposes imperfection; and it is often affirmed that God is immutable 1 Samuel 15:29; Malachi 3:6; James 1:17.
That I will break - That I will break his power; that I will discomfit and destroy his army.
The Assyrian - Sennacherib (see Isaiah 10:0.)
In my land - That is, in the land of Canaan. This is often called his land; and this expression shows that the passage does not and cannot refer to the king of Babylon, for he was destroyed in his own city Daniel 5:0)
And upon my mountains - That is, upon the mountains of Palestine. The army of Sennacherib was destroyed on the mountains that were near to Jerusalem (see the notes at Isaiah 10:33-34).
Then shall his yoke - The yoke of the Assyrian (see the note at Isaiah 10:27).
This is the purpose - This is the sum of the whole design - a design that embraces the destruction both of the king of Assyria, and of Babylon.
Upon the whole earth - The successive kingdoms of Assyria and Babylonia embraced the whole earth, and to destroy them would in fact affect all the nations.
For the Lord of hosts - (see the note at Isaiah 1:9).
Who shall disannul it? - Who has power to defeat his purposes? Difficult as they may be in appearance, and incredible as their fulfillment may seem, yet his purposes are formed in full view of all the circumstances; and there is no power to resist his arm, or to turn him aside from the execution of his designs. By this assurance God designed to comfort his people when they should be in Babylon in a long and dreary captivity (compare Psalms 137:1-9.) And by the same consideration his people may be comforted at all times. His plans shall stand. None can disannul them. No arm has power to resist him. None of the schemes formed against him shall ever prosper. Whatever ills, therefore, may befall his people; however thick, and gloomy, and sad their calamities may be; and however dark his dispensations may appear, yet they may bare the assurance that all his plans are wise, and that they all shall stand. No matter how many, or how mighty may be the foes of the church; no matter how strong their cities, or their ramparts; no matter how numerous their armies, or how self-confident may be their leaders, they have no power to resist God. If their plans are in his way they will be thrown down; if revolutions are necessary among human beings to accomplish His purposes, they will be brought about; if cities and armies need to be destroyed in order that “his” plans may succeed, and his church be safe, they will be demolished, just as the army of Sennacherib was laid pale in death, and as Babylon - the haughtiest of cities - was overthrown. Who can stand against God? and who can resist the execution of his will?
In the year that king Ahaz died - This is the caption or title to the following prophecy, which occupies the remainder of this chapter. This prophecy has no connection with the preceding; and should have been separated from it in the division into chapters. It relates solely to Philistia; and the design is to comfort the Jews with the assurance that they had nothing to apprehend from them. It is not to call the Philistines to lamentation and alarm, for there is no evidence that the prophecy was promulgated among them (Vitringa); but it is to assure the Jews that they would be in no danger from their invasion under the reign of the successor of Ahaz, and that God would more signally overthrow and subdue them than had been done in his time. It is not improbable that at the death of Ahaz, and with the prospect of a change in the government on the accession of his successor, the Philistines, the natural enemies of Judah, had meditated the invasion of the Jews. The Philistines had been subdued in the time of Azariah 2 Kings 15:1-7, or Uzziah, as he is called in 2 Chronicles 26:1, who was the son and successor of Amaziah. He broke down the wall of Gath, and the wall of Gabneh, and the wall of Ashdod, and effectually subdued and humbled them 2 Chronicles 26:6. In the time of Ahaz, and while he was engaged in his unhappy controversies with Syria and Ephraim, the Philistines took advantage of the enfeebled state of Judah, and made successful war on it, and took several of the towns 2 Chronicles 28:18; and at his death they had hope of being able to resist Judah, perhaps the more so as they apprehended that the reign of Hezekiah would be mild, peaceable, and unwarlike. Isaiah, in the prophecy before us, warns them not to entertain any such fallacious expectations, and assures them that his reign would be quite as disastrous to them as had been the reign of his predecessors.
Was this burden - See the note at Isaiah 13:1.
Rejoice not thou - Rejoice not at the death of Ahaz, king of Judah. It shall be no advantage to thee. It shall not be the means of making an invasion on Judah more practicable.
Whole Palestina - We apply the name “Palestine” to the whole land of Canaan. Formerly, the name referred only to Philistia, from which we have derived the name Palestine. The word פלשׁת peleshet means properly the land of sojourners or strangers, from פלשׁ pālash, “to rove about, to wander, to migrate.” The Septuagint renders it, Ἀλλοφυλοι Allophuloi - ‘strangers,’ or ‘foreigners,’ and Γῆ ἀλλοφύλων Gē allophulōn - ‘land of strangers.’ Philistia was situated on the southwestern side of the land of Canaan, extending along the Mediterranean Sea from Gaza on the south, to Lydda on the north. The Philistines were a powerful people, and had often been engaged in wars with Judah. They had made a successful attack on it in the time of Ahaz; and amidst the feebleness and distractions which they supposed might succeed on the change of the government of Judah, and the administration of an inexperienced prince like Hezekiah, they hoped to be still more successful, and would naturally rejoice at the death of Ahaz. When the prophet says ‘” whole” Palestina,’ he means to say that no part of Philistia would have occasion to rejoice at the succession of Hezekiah (see Isaiah 14:31).
Because the rod of him that smote thee is broken - It was not true that they had been smitten during the reign of Ahaz, but it had been done by his predecessor Uzziah. Perhaps the prophet refers to that prince, and to his death. He had smitten and subdued them. At his death they would rejoice; and their joy had been continued during the reigns of Jotham and Ahaz. They would now rejoice the more that a young and inexperienced prince was to ascend the throne. Their joy had been that “Uzziah” had died, and that joy had been augmenting since his death. But the prophet now tells them that they will have no further occasion for such joy.
For out of the serpent’s root - That is, there shall spring forth from the serpent, or shall succeed the serpent, as a shoot or sprout springs from the root of a decayed tree (see the note at Isaiah 11:1). By the serpent here, is undoutedly intended king Uzziah, who had so severely chastised the Philistines. The word ‘serpent’ נחשׁ nāchâsh denotes a serpent of any kind, and usually one far less venomous than that which is meant by the word translated cockatrice. Probably the prophet does not give this name “serpent” to Uzziah or to Ahaz, or the name “cockatrice” to Hezekiah, because he regarded the names as properly descriptive of their character, but because they were so regarded by the Philistines. They were as odious and offensive to them, and as destructive of their plans, as venomous reptiles would be.
Shall come forth a cockatrice - (see the note at Isaiah 59:5). A basilisk, or adder, a serpent of most venomous nature (see the note at Isaiah 11:8). That is, though Uzziah is dead, yet there shall spring up from him one far more destructive to you than he was; one who shall carry the desolations of war much further, and who shall more effectually subdue you. Most commentators have concurred in supposing that Hezekiah is here referred to, who ‘smote the Philistines even unto Gaza and the borders thereof, from the tower of the watchmen to the fenced city’ 2 Kings 18:8. This is, doubtless, the correct interpretation. The Chaldee renders it, however, ‘Because there shall proceed from the descendants of Jesse the Messiah, and his works shall be among you as a flying serpent.’ This interpretation Rosenmuller supposes is correct; but it is evidently foreign to the scope of the passage.
And the first-born of the poor shall feed - That is, there shall be safety to those parts of Judah which have long been exposed to the invasions of the Philistines. Philistia bordered on Judea, and was constantly making wars upon it, so that there was no safety felt. Isaiah now says, that Hezekiah would so effectually and completely subdue them that there should be no danger from their invasion. The phrase ‘the first-born of the poor’ is an Hebraism, a strong, emphatic expression, denoting those who are the most poor; the most abject sons of poverty; those who have an eminence or a double portion of need, as the first-born among the Hebrews were entitled to special distinctions and privileges. The idea is, that even the most poor and defenseless would be safe.
Shall feed - That is, they shall be supplied with food; they shall feed safely as a flock does that is guarded from wild beasts. They shall be no longer alarmed, but shall dwell in security, peace, and plenty.
And I will kill thy root - The word rendered ‘root’ denotes properly the root of a plant, which being dried up or killed, the plant of course withers and dies. So God says that he would effectually and entirely destroy the power of the Philistines.
Slay thy remnant - That is, shall slay all that pertains to thee. Or, he shall dry up the root, and the branches shall wither and die also. The whole power of the nation shall be withered and destroyed.
Howl, O gate - That is, ye who throng the gate. The gates of a city were the chief places of concourse.
Cry, O city - The prophet here fixes the attention upon some principal city of Philistia, and calls upon it to be alarmed in view of the judgments that were about to come upon the whole land.
Art dissolved - The word ‘dissolved’ (מוג mûg) is applied to that which melts, or which wastes away gradually, and then to that which faints or disappears. It means here that the kingdom of Philistia would disappear, or be destroyed. It probably conveys the idea of its fainting, or becoming feeble from fear or apprehension.
From the north a smoke - From the regions of Judah, which lay north and east of Philistia. The ‘smoke’ here probably refers to a cloud of dust that would be seen to rise in that direction made by an invading army.
And none shall be alone in his appointed times - There has been a great variety of interpretation in regard to this passage. Lowth renders it, ‘And there shall not be a straggler among his levies.’ The Hebrew is, as in the margin, ‘And not solitary in his assemblies.’ The Septuagint renders it, Καί οὐκ ἔσται τοῦ εῖναι Kai ouk estai tou einai - ‘And it is not to be endured.’ The Chaldee, ‘And there shall be none who shall retard him in his times.’ The Arabic, ‘Neither is there anyone who can stand in his footsteps.’ The Vulgate, ‘Neither is there anyone who can escape his army.’ Aben Ezra renders it, ‘No one of the Philistines shall dare to remain in their palaces, as when a smoke comes into a house all are driven out.’ Probably the correct idea is given by Lowth; and the same interpretation is given by Gesenius, Rosenmuller, Dathe, and Michaelis. No one of the invading army of Hezekiah shall come by himself; no one shall be weary or be a straggler; the army shall advance in close military array, and in dense columns; and this is represented as the cause of the cloud or smoke that the prophet saw rising, the cloud of dust that was made by the close ranks of the invading host (compare Isaiah 5:27).
What shall one then answer - The design of this verse is obvious. It is to show that Judea would be safe from the invasions of the Philistines, and that God was the protector of Zion. For this purpose the prophet refers to messengers or ambassadors who should be sent for any purpose to Jerusalem, either to congratulate Hezekiah, or to form an alliance with the Jews. The prophet asks what answer or information should be given to such messengers when they came respecting their state? The reply is, that Yahweh had evinced his purpose to protect his people.
Of the nation - Of any nation whose ambassadors should be sent into Judea.
That the Lord hath founded Zion - That he is its original founder, and that he has now shown his regard for it by protecting it from the Philistines. It would be safe from their attacks, and Yahweh would thus show that he had it under his own protection. The Septuagint renders this, ‘And what shall the kings of the Gentiles then answer? That the Lord hath founded Zion.’ The scope of the passage is the assurance that Zion would be safe, being founded and preserved by Yahweh; and that the Philistines had no cause of triumph at the death of Ahaz, since God would still be the protector of his people. The doctrine established by this passage is, that in all the changes which take place by the death of kings, princes, magistrates, and ministers; and in all the revolutions which occur in kingdoms, the enemies of the people of God have no cause for rejoicing. God is the protector of his church; and he will show that he has founded Zion, and that his people are safe, No weapon that is formed against his people shall prosper, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against his church.
Shall trust in it - In Zion. It was a strongly fortified city, God was its protector, and in times of calamity his people could betake themselves there in safety. In this strong place the most weak and defenseless - the poorest of the people, would be safe. In the church of God, the poor are the objects of as deep regard as the rich; the humble, the meek, the weak, the feeble, are there safe, and no power of an enemy can reach or affect them. God is their defender and their friend; and in his arms they are secure.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Isaiah 14". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13