Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 24

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes


The previous chapters, from the thirteenth to the twenty-third inclusive, have been occupied mainly in describing the destruction of nations that were hostile to the Jews, or great and distressing calamities that would come ripen them. The prophet had thus successively depicted the calamities that would come upon Babylon, Damascus, Moab, Nubia, Egypt, Dumah, and Tyre. In Isaiah 22:0, he had, however, described the calamities which would come upon Judea and Jerusalem by the invasion of Sennacherib.

In this chapter, the prophet returns to the calamities which would come upon the people of God themselves. This chapter, and the three following, to the end of the twenty-seventh, seem to have been uttered about the same time, and perhaps may be regarded as constituting one vision, or prophecy. So Noyes, Lowth, and Rosenmuller, regard it. If these chapters be included in the prophecy, then it consists

(1) of a description of calamities in Isaiah 24:0.

(2) of a song of praise expressive of deliverance from those calamities, and of the consequent spread of the true religion, in Isaiah 25:1-12;

(3) of a song of praise suitable to celebrate the triumphs of the true religion in Isaiah 26:0; and

(4) of the effect of tiffs deliverance in purifying the Jews in Isaiah 27:1-13.

When the prophecy was uttered is wholly unknown. In regard to the events to which it relates, there has been a great diversity of opinion, and scarcely are any two interpreters agreed. Grotius regards it as relating to the carrying away of the ten tribes by Shalmaneser. Hensler supposes that it refers to the invasion of Sennacherib. Vitringa supposes that it relates to the times of the Maccabees, and to the trials and I persecutions of Antiochus Epiphanes. Noyes regards it as descriptive of the destruction of the land by Nebuchadnezzar, and of the return of the Jews from exile. Calvin considers the account in these four chapters as a summing up, or recapitulation of what the prophet had said in the previous prophecies respecting Babylon, Moab, Egypt, etc.; and then of the prosperity, and of the spread of the true religion which would succeed these general and far-spread devastations.

Subsequently to each of these predictions respecting calamity, the prophet had foretold prosperity and the advance of truth; and he supposes that this is a mere condensing or summing up of what he had said more at length in the preceding chapters. Lowth supposes that it may have a reference to all the great desolations of the country by Shalmaneser, by Nebuchadnezzar, and by the Romans, especially to that of the Romans, to which some parts of it, he says, seem to be especially applicable. It is certain that the prophet employs general terms; and as he gives no certain indications of the time, or the circumstances under which it was delivered, it is exceedingly difficult to determine either. The general drift of the prophecy is, however, plain. It is a prediction of prosperity, and of the prevalence of true religion after a series of oppressive judgments should have come upon the land. It is designed, therefore, to be consolatory to the Jews under impending calamities, and to convey the assurance that though they would be oppressed, yet their sufferings would be succeeded by occasions of gratitude and joy. In this respect, it accords with the general strain of the prophecies of Isaiah, that the people of God would. be protected; that their name and nation should not be wholly obliterated; and that the darkest seasons of trial would be succeeded by deliverance and joy.

On the whole, it seems to me, that the prophecy relates to the calamities that would come upon the nation by the invasion of Nebuchadnezzar, and the carrying away to Babylon, and the subsequent deliverance from the oppressive bondage, and the joy consequent on that. According to this interpretation, the twenty-fourth chapter is occupied mainly with the description of the calamities that would come upon the land by the invasion of Nebuchadnezzar; the twenty-fifth describes the deliverance from that oppressive bondage, and the re-establishment of the true religion on Mount Zion, with a rapid glance at the ultimate prevalence of religion trader the Messiah, suggested by the deliverance from the Babylonian bondage; the twentysixth chapter is a song expressive of joy at this signal deliverance - in language, in the main, so general that it is as applicable to the redemption under the Messiah as to the deliverance from Babylon; and the twenty-seventh chapter is descriptive of the effect of this captivity and subsequent deliverance in purifying Jacob Isaiah 27:6-9, and recovering the nation to righteousness.

The twenty-fourth chapter is composed of three parts.

1.Isaiah 24:1-12; Isaiah 24:1-12 contains a description of the calamities that would come upon the whole land, amounting to far-spread and wide desolation - with a graphic description of the effects of it on the inhabitants Isaiah 24:2, on the land Isaiah 24:3-6, on the wine, the amusements, the song, etc. Isaiah 24:7-12, causing all gaiety and prosperity to come to an end.

2.Isaiah 24:13-17; Isaiah 24:13-17 contains a statement by the prophet that a few would be left in the land amidst the general desolation, and that they would be filled with joy that they had escaped. From their retreats and refuges, their fastnesses and places of security, they would lift up the song of praise that they had been preserved.

3.Isaiah 24:18-23; Isaiah 24:18-23 contains a further description of augmented judgment that would come upon the land - a more severe and lengthened calamity stretching over the country, agitating it like an earthquake. Yet there is even here Isaiah 24:22-23, an indication that there would be deliverance, and that the Lord of hosts would reign on Mount Zion - a description which is extended through the next chapter, and which constitutes the scope and substance of that chapter.

In the division of the prophecy into chapters, that chapter should have been connected with this as a part of the same prophecy, and a continuance of the same subject. Indeed, but for the length of the prophecy, these four chapters should have been thrown into one, or if the prophecy had been broken up into chapters, important aids would have been rendered to a correct understanding of it had there been some indication in the margin that they constituted one prophecy or vision.

Verse 1

Maketh the earth empty - That is, will depopulate it, or take away its inhabitants, and its wealth. The word ‘earth’ here (ארץ 'ārets) is used evidently not to denote the whole world, but the land to which the prophet particularly refers - the land of Judea. It should have been translated the land (see Joel 1:2). It is possible, however, that the word here may be intended to include so much of the nations that surrounded Palestine as were allied with it, or as were connected with it in the desolations under Nebuchadnezzar.

And turneth it upside down - Margin, ‘Perverteth the face thereof.’ That is, everything is thrown into confusion; the civil and religious institutions are disorganized, and derangement everywhere prevails.

And scattereth abroad ... - This was done in the invasion by the Chaldeans by the carrying away of the inhabitants into their long and painful captivity.

Verse 2

As with the people, so with the priest - This does not mean in moral character, but in destiny. It does not mean that the character of the priest would have any influence on that of the people, or that because the one was corrupt the other would be; but it means that all would be involved in the same calamity, and there would be no favored class that would escape. The prophet, therefore, enumerate the various ranks of the people, and shows that all classes would be involved in the impending calamity.

As with the taker of usury - He who lends his money at interest. It was contrary to the Mosaic law for one Israelite to take interest of another Leviticus 25:36; Deuteronomy 23:19; Nehemiah 5:7, Nehemiah 5:10; but it is not probable that this law was very carefully observed, and especially in the corrupt times that preceded the Babylonian captivity.

Verse 3

The land - Hebrew, ‘The earth,’ as in Isaiah 24:1. It is here rendered correctly ‘the land,’ as it should have been there - meaning the land of Canaan.

And spoiled - Its valuable possessions shall become the prey of the invading foe. This is an emphatic repetition of the declaration in Isaiah 24:1, to show the absolute certainty of that which was threatened.

Verse 4

The earth mourneth - The word ‘earth’ here, as in Isaiah 24:1, means the land of Judea, or that and so much of the adjacent countries as would be subject to the desolation described. The figure here is taken from flowers when they lose their beauty and languish; or when the plant that lacks moisture, or is cut down, loses its vigor and its vitality, and soon withers (compare the note at Isaiah 1:30; Isaiah 34:4; Psalms 1:3).

The world - (תבל têbêl). Literally, the inhabitable world, but used here as synonymous with the ‘land,’ and denoting the kingdoms of Judah and Israel (compare the note at Isaiah 13:11)

The haughty people - Margin, as in the Hebrew, ‘Height of the people.’ It denotes the great, the nobles, the princes of the land. The phrase is expressive of rank, not of their moral character.

Verse 5

The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof - The statements in this verse are given as a reason why the curse had been pronounced against them, and why these calamities had come upon them, Isaiah 24:6. The first reason is, that the very earth become polluted by their crimes. This phrase may denote that injustice and cruelty prevailed to such an extent that the very earth was stained with gore, and covered with blood under the guilty population. So the phrase is used in Numbers 33:33; Psalms 106:38. Or it may mean in general that the wickedness of the people was great, and was accumulating, and the very earth under them was polluted by sustaining such a population. But the former is probably the correct interpretation.

Changed the ordinance - Or, the statute (חק chôq). This word, from חקק châqaq, to engrave, and then to make or institute a law or an ordinance, is usually applied to the positive statutes appointed by Moses. The word statute accurately expresses the idea. These they had changed by introducing new statutes, and had in fact, if not in form, repealed the laws of Moses, and introduced others.

Broken the everlasting covenant - The word ‘covenant’ here is evidently used, as it is often, in the sense of law. By the term ‘everlasting covenant,’ Vitringa correctly supposes is denoted the laws of nature, the immutable laws of justice and right, which are engraven on the conscience, and which are inflexible and perpetual.

Verse 6

Therefore hath the curse devoured - Eaten it up; a figurative expression that is common in the Scriptures, denoting that the desolation is widespread and ruinous.

Are burned - (חרוּ chârû). Instead of this reading, Lowth proposes to read: חרבוּ chârebû ‘Are destroyed.’ The Septuagint reads it, ‘Therefore the inhabitants of the land shall be poor.’ The Syriac, ‘The inhabitants of the land shall be slain.’ But there is no authority from the manuscripts to change the text as proposed by Lowth, Nor is it necessary. The prophet does not mean that the inhabitants of the land were consumed by fire. The expression is evidently figurative. He is speaking of the effect of wrath or the curse, and that effect is often described in the Scriptures as burning, or consuming, as a fire does. The sense is, that the inhabitants of the land are brought under the withering, burning, consuming effect of that wrath; and the same effects are produced by it as are seen when a fire runs over a field or a forest. Hence, the word here used (חרה chârâh, “to burn, to be kindled”) is often used in connection with wrath, to denote burning or raging anger. Exodus 22:23 : ‘His anger burns.’ Genesis 30:2 : ‘And the anger of Jacob was kindled against Rachel; Genesis 44:18; Job 27:2-3; Job 42:7; Genesis 31:6 : ‘His anger was kindled.’ Psalms 37:1, Psalms 37:7-8; Proverbs 24:19 Compare Job 30:30 :

My skin is black upon me,

And my bones are burnt with heat.

The sense is, that the inhabitants of the land were wasted away under the wrath of God, so that few were left; as the trees of the forest are destroyed before a raging fire.

And few men are left - This was literally true after the invasion of the land by the Chaldeans 2 Kings 24:14-16.

Verse 7

The new wine languisheth - The new wine (תירושׁ tı̂yrôsh), denotes properly must, or wine that was newly expressed from the grape, and that was not fermented, usually translated ‘new wine,’ or ‘sweet wine.’ The expression here is poetic. The wine languishes or mourns because there are none to drink it; it is represented as grieved because it does not perform its usual office of exhilarating the heart, and the figure is thus an image of the desolation of the land.

The vine languisheth - It is sickly and unfruitful, because there are none to cultivate it as formerly. The idea is, that all nature sympathizes in the general calamity.

All the merry-hearted - Probably the reference is mainly to those who were once made happy at the plenteous feast, and at the splendid entertainments where wine abounded. They look now upon the widespread desolation of the land, and mourn.

Verse 8

The mirth of tabrets - The joy and exultation which is produced by tabrets. On the words ‘tabret’ (תף tôph) and ‘harp’ (כנור kinnôr), see the notes at Isaiah 5:12.

Verse 9

drink wine with a song - That is, accompanied with a song, as the usual mode was in their feasts.

Strong drink - On the word שׁכר shêkār see the note at Isaiah 5:11.

Shall be bitter ... - They shall cease to find pleasure in it in consequence of the general calamitics that have come upon the nation.

Verse 10

The city of confusion - That Jerusalem is here intended there can be no doubt. The name ‘city of confusion.’ is probably given to it by anticipation of what it would be; that is, as it appeared in prophetic vision to Isaiah (see the note at Isaiah 1:1). He gave to it a name that would describe its state when these calamities should have come upon it. The word rendered ‘confusion’ (תהו tôhû) does not denote disorder or anarchy, but is a word expressive of emptiness, vanity, destitution of form, waste. It occurs Genesis 1:2 : ‘And the earth was without form.’ In Job 26:7, it is rendered ‘the empty place;’ in 1 Samuel 12:21; Isaiah 45:18-19, ‘in vain;’ and usually ‘emptiness,’ ‘vanity’, ‘confusion’ (see Isaiah 24:10; Isaiah 40:17; Isaiah 41:29). In Job 12:24; Psalms 107:40, it denotes a wilderness. Here it means that the city would be desolate, empty, and depopulated.

Is broken down - Its walls and dwellings are in ruins.

Every house is shut up - That is, either because every man, fearful of danger, would fasten his doors so that enemies could not enter; or more probably, the entrance to every house would be so obstructed by ruins as to render it impossible to enter it.

Verse 11

There is a crying for wine in the streets - The inhabitants of the city, turned from their dwellings, would cry for wine to alleviate their distress, and to sustain them in their calamity (compare Isaiah 16:8-10).

All joy is darkened - Is gone, or has departed, like the joyful light at the setting of the sun.

Verse 12

And the gate is smitten with destruction - The word rendered ‘destruction’ may denote ‘a crash’ (Gesenius). The idea is, that the gates of the city, once so secure, are how battered down and demolished, so that the enemy ran enter freely. Thus far is a description of the calamities that would come upon the nation. The following verses show that, though the desolation would be general, a few of the inhabitants would be left - circumstance thrown in to mitigate the prospect. of the impending ruin.

Verse 13

In the midst of the land - That is, in the midst of the land of Canaan.

There shall be as the shaking of an olive-tree - A few shall be left, as in gathering olives a few will remain on the highest and outermost boughs (see the notes at Isaiah 17:5-6).

Verse 14

They shall lift up their voice - They who are left in the land; or who are not carried away to Babylon. ‘To lift up the voice’ in the Scriptures may denote either grief or joy; compare Genesis 21:6; 1 Samuel 24:16; Judges 2:4; Ruth 1:9, ..., where to lift up the voice is conected with weeping; and Ezekiel 21:22; Psalms 93:3; Isaiah 40:29; Isaiah 42:11, etc., where it is connected with exultation and joy. The latter is evidently the idea here, that the few who would escape from captivity by fleeing to neighboring countries, would lift up their voice with exultation that they had escaped.

They shall sing for the majesty of the Lord - They shall sing on account of the glory, or goodness of Yahweh, wire had so mercifully kept and preserved them.

They shall cry aloud from the sea - From the isles and coasts of the Mediterranean where they would have escaped, and where they would find a refuge. No doubt many of the inhabitants adjacent to the sea, when they found the land invaded, would betake themselves to the neighboring islands, and find safety there until the danger should be overpast. Lowth renders this,

‘The waters shall resound with the exaltation of Jehovah,’

Where he supposes מים should be rendered as if pointed מים mayâm ‘waters,’ not as it is in the present Hebrew text, מים miyâm ‘from the sea.’ The sense is not materially different; but there seems to be no good reason for departing from the usual interpretation.

Verse 15

Wherefore glorify ye the Lord - The prophet, in this verse, calls upon the people to join in the praise of Yahweh wherever they are scattered. In the previous verse he describes the scattered few who were left in the land, or who had escaped to the adjacent islands in the sea, as celebrating the praises of God where they were. In this verse he calls on all to join in this wherever they were scattered.

In the fires - Margin, ‘Valleys.’ The Septuagint reads, Ἐν τοῖς νήσοις En tois nēsois - ‘In the islands.’ The Chaldee, ‘Therefore, when light shall come to the just, they shall glorify the Lord.’ Lowth supposes that the word: בארים bâ'uriym should have been באיים bâ'iyiym, ‘in the islands,’ or ‘coasts.’ But the MSS. do not give authority for this reading; the only authority which Lowth refers to being that of the Septuagint. Other conjectures have been made by others, but all without any authority from MSS. The Hebrew world in the plural form does not occur elsewhere in the Scriptures. The proper signification of the word אור 'ôr is light, and it is applied

(a) to daylight, or daybreak, 1 Samuel 14:36; Nehemiah 8:3;

(b) to light from daybreak to mid-day, Job 24:14;

(c) the sun, Job 31:26; Job 37:21;

(d) light as the emblem of happiness;

(e) light as the emblem of knowledge is also used to denote fire, Ezekiel 5:2; Isaiah 44:16; Isaiah 47:14,

In the plural form it is applied, in connection with the word “Thummim,” to the gems or images which were on the breastplate of the high priest, and from which responses were obtained. Exodus 28:30 : ‘And thou shalt put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim (האוּרים hâ'ûriym) and the Thummim’ (compare Leviticus 8:8; Ezra 2:63). Probably it was thus used to denote the splendor or beauty of the gems there set, or perhaps the light or instruction which was the result of consulting the oracle. The proper meaning of the word is, however, light, and it usually and naturally suggests the idea of the morning light, the aurora; perhaps, also, the northern light, or the aurora borealis. It in no instance means caves, or valleys. Vitringa supposed it referred to caves, and that the address was to the “Troglodytes,” or those who had been driven from their homes, and compelled to take up their residence in caves. The word probably refers either to the regions of the morning light, the rising of the sun; or of the northern light, the aurora borealis; and in either case, the reference is doubtless to those who would be carried away to Babylon, and who were called on there by the prophet to glorify God. ‘In those regions of light, where the morning dawns; or where the northern skies are illuminated at night, there glorify God’ (see the note at Isaiah 14:13). The reasons for this opinion are,

(1) That such is the natural and proper sense of the word. It properly refers to light, and not to caves, to valleys, or to islands.

(2) The parallelism, the construction, demands such an interpretation.

It would then be equivalent to calling on the scattered people to glorify God in the East, and in the West; in the regions of the rising sun and in the coasts of the sea; or wherever they were scattered. And the sense is,

(1) that they should be encouraged to do this by the prospect of a return;

(2) that it was their duty still to do this wherever they were; and

(3) that the worship of the true God would be in fact continued and celebrated, though his people were scattered, and driven to distant lands.

In the isle of the sea - The coasts and islands of the Mediterranean Isaiah 24:14)

Verse 16

From the uttermost part of the earth - The word ‘earth’ here seems to be taken in its usual sense, and to denote countries without the bounds of Palestine, and the phrase is equivalent to remote regions or distant countries (see the note at Isaiah 11:12). The prophet here represents himself as hearing those songs from distant lands as a grand chorus, the sound of which came in upon and pervaded Palestine. The worship of God would be still continued, though the temple should be destroyed, the inhabitants of the land dispersed, and the land of Judea be a widespread desolation. Amidst the general wreck and woe, it was some consolation that the worship of Yahweh was celebrated anywhere.

Have we heard songs - Or, we do hear songs. The distant celebrations of the goodness of God break on the ear, and amidst the general calamity these songs of the scattered people of God comfort the heart.

Glory to the righteous - This is the burden and substance of those songs. Their general import and design is, to show that there shall be honor to the people of God. They are now afflicted and scattered. Their temple is destroyed, their land waste, and ruin spreads over the graves of their fathers. Yet amidst these desolations, their confidence in God is unshaken; their reliance on him is firm. They still believe that there shall be honor and glory to the just, and that God will be their protector and avenger. These assurances served to sustain them in their afflictions, and to shed a mild and cheering influence on their saddened hearts.

But I said - But I, the prophet, am constrained to say. This the prophet says respecting himself, viewing himself as left in the land of Canaan; or more probably he personifies, in this declaration, Jerusalem, and the inhabitants of the land that still remained there. The songs that came in from distant lands; the echoing praises from the exiles in the east and the west seeming to meet and mingle over Judea, only served to render the abounding desolation more manifest and distressing. Those distant praises recalled the solemn services of the temple, and the happiness of other times, and led each one of those remaining, who witnessed the desolations, to exclaim, ‘my leanness.’

My leanness, my leanness - The language of Jerusalem, and the land of Judea. This language expresses calamity. The loss of flesh is emblematic of a condition of poverty, want, and wretchedness - as sickness and affliction waste away the flesh, and take away the strength; Psalms 109:24 :

My knees are weak through fasting,

And my flesh faileth of fatness.

Psalms 102:5 :

By reason of the voice of my groaning

My bones cleave to my flesh.

See also Job 6:12; Job 19:20; Lamentations 3:4. Leanness is also put to denote the displeasure of God, in Psalms 106:15 :

And he gave them their request;

But sent leanness into their soul.

Compare Isaiah 10:16.

The treacherous dealers - The foreign nations that disregard covenants and laws; that pursue their object by deceit, and stratagem, and fraud. Most conquests are made by what are called the stratagems of war; that is, by a course of perfidy and deception. There can be no doubt that the usual mode of conquest was pursued in regard to Jerusalem. This whole clause is exceedingly emphatic. The word implying treachery (בגד bâgad) is repeated no less than five times in various forms in this single clause, and shows how strongly the idea had taken possession of the mind of the prophet. The passage furnishes one of the most remarkable examples of the “paronomasia” occurring in the Bible. בגדוּ בגדים בגדוּ וּבגד בוגדים bâgâdû bogidiym bâgâdû ûbeged bôgediym. In fact, this figure abounds so much in this chapter that Gesenius contends that it is not the production of Isaiah, but a composition belonging to a later and less elegant period of Hebrew literature.

Verse 17

Fear, and the pit - This verse is an explanation of the cause of the wretchedness referred to in the previous verse. The same expression is found in Jeremiah 48:43, in his account of the destruction that would come upon Moab, a description which Jeremiah probably copied from Isaiah - There is also here in the original a “paronomasia” that cannot be retained in a translation - פחד ופחת ופח pachad vâpachath vâpach - where the form פח pach occurs in each word. The sense is, that they were nowhere safe; that if they escaped one danger, they immediately fell into another. The expression is equivalent to that which occurs in the writings of the Latin classics:

Incidit in Scyllam cupiens vitare Charybdin.

The same idea, that if a man should escape from one calamity he would fall into another, is expressed in another form in Amos 5:19 :

As if a man did flee from a lion, and a bear met him;

Or went into a house, and leaned his hand on the wall,

And a serpent bit him.

In the passage before us, there is an advance from one danger to another, or the subsequent one is more to be dreaded than the preceding. The figure is taken from the mode of taking wild beasts, where various nets, toils, or pitfalls were employed to secure them. The word ‘fear’ (פחד pachad), denotes anything that was used to frighten or arouse the wild beasts in hunting, or to drive them into the pitfall that was prepared for them. Among the Romans the name ‘fears’ (“formidines”) was given to lines or cords strung with feathers of all colors, which, when they fluttered in the air or were shaken, frightened the beasts into the pits, or the birds into the snares which were prepared to take them (Seneca, De Ira, ii. 122; virg. AE. xii. 7499; Geor. iii. 372). It is possible that this may be referred to here under the name of ‘fear.’ The word ‘pit’ (פחת pachat) denotes the pitfall; a hole dug in the ground, and covered over with bushes, leaves, etc., into which they might fall unawares. The word ‘snare’ (פח pach) denotes a net, or gin, and perhaps refers to a series of nets enclosing at first a large space of ground, in which the wild beasts were, and then drawn by degrees into a narrow compass, so that they could not escape.

Verse 18

From the noise of the fear - A cry or shout was made in hunting, designed to arouse the game, and drive it to the pitfall. The image means here that calamities would be multiplied in all the land, and that if the inhabitants endeavored to avoid one danger they would fall into another.

And he that cometh up out of the midst of the pit - A figure taken still from hunting. It was possible that some of the more strong and active of the wild beasts driven into the pitfall would spring out, and attempt to escape, yet they might be secured by snares or gins purposely contrived for such an occurrence. So the prophet says, that though a few might escape the calamities that would at first threaten to overthrow them, yet they would have no security. They would immediately fall into others, and be destroyed.

For the windows on high are open - This is evidently taken from the account of the deluge in Genesis 7:11 : ‘In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows (or flood-gates, Margin) of heaven were opened.’ The word ‘windows’ here (ארבות 'ărubôth) is the same which occurs in Genesis, and properly denotes a grate, a lattice, a window, and then any opening, as a sluice or floodgate, and is applied to a tempest or a deluge, because when the rain descends, it seems like opening sluices or floodgates in the sky. The sense here is, that calamities had come upon the nation resembling the universal deluge.

And the foundations of the earth do shake - An image derived from an earthquake - a figure also denoting far-spreading calamities.

Verse 19

The earth is utterly broken down - The effect as it were of an earthquake where everything is thrown into commotion and ruin.

The earth is moved exceedingly - Everything in this verse is intense and emphatic. The verbs are in the strongest form of emphasis: ‘By breaking, the land is broken;’ ‘by scattering, the land is scattered;’ ‘by commotion, the land is moved.’ The repetition also of the expression in the same sense three times, is a strong form of emphasis; and the whole passage is designed to denote the utter desolation and ruin that had come upon the land.

Verse 20

The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard - This is descriptive of the agitation that occurs in an earthquake when everything is shaken from its foundation, and when trees and towers are shaken by the mighty concussion. The same figure is used in Isaiah 29:9. See also the description of a tempest at sea, in Psalms 107:27 :

They reel to and fro,

And stagger like a drunken man,

And are at their wit’s end.

And shall be removed like a cottage - Or rather, shall move or vacillate (התנודדה hitenôdedâh) like a cottage. The word “cottage” (מלוּנה melûnâh from לין lı̂yn, “to pass the night, to lodge for a night”) means properly a temporary shed or lodge for the watchman of a garden or vineyard (see the note at Isaiah 1:8). Sometimes these cottages were erected in the form of a hut; and sometimes they were a species of hanging bed or couch, that was suspended from the limbs of trees. They were made either by interweaving the limbs of a tree, or by suspending them by cords from the branches of trees, or by extending a cord or cords from one tree to another, and laying a couch or bed on the cords. They were thus made to afford a convenient place for observation, and also to afford security from the access of wild beasts. Travelers in the East even now resort to such a temporary lodge for security (see Niebuhr’s Description of Arabia). These lodges were easily moved to and fro, and swung about by the wind - and this is the idea in the verse before us. The whole land was agitated as with an earthquake; it reeled like a drunkard; it moved, and was unsettled, as the hanging couch on the trees was driven to and fro by the wind.

And the transgression thereof shall be heavy upon it - Like a vast incumbent weight on a dwelling which it cannot sustain, and beneath which it is crushed.

And it shall fall, and not rise again - This does not mean, as I apprehend, that the nation should never be restored to its former dignity and rank as a people, for the prophet immediately Isaiah 24:23 speaks of such a restoration, and of the re-establishment of the theocracy; but it must mean that in those convulsions it would not rise. It would not be able to recover itself; it would certainly be prostrated. As we say of a drunkard, he may stumble often, and partially recover himself, yet he will certainly fall so as not then to be able to recover himself, so it would be with that agitated and convulsed land. They would make many efforts to recover themselves, and they would partially succeed, yet they would ultimately be completely prostrate in the dust.

Verse 21

In that day - In the time of the captivity at Babylon.

Shall punish - Hebrew as the Margin, ‘Shall visit upon’ (see the note at Isaiah 10:12).

The host of the high ones - There have been various interpretations of this expression. Jerome understands it of the host of heaven, and thinks it refers to the fact that in the day of judgment God will judge not only earthly things but celestial, and especially the sun and moon and stars, as having ‘been the objects of idolatrous worship (see Deuteronomy 4:19; Daniel 8:10; Daniel 11:13). Compare Psalms 18:17; Jeremiah 25:30, where the words ‘on high’ are used to denote heaven. Aben Ezra supposes that by the phrase is meant angels, who preside over the governors and kings of the earth, in accordance with the ancient opinion that each kingdom was under the tutelage of guardian angels. To this Rosenmuller seems to assent, and to suppose that the beings thus referred to were evil spirits or demons to whom the kingdoms of the world were subject. Others, among whom is Grotius, have supposed that the reference is to the images of the sun, moon, and stars, which were erected in high places, and worshipped by the Assyrians. But probably the reference is to those who occupied places of power and trust in the ecclesiastical arrangement of Judea, the high priest and priests, who exercised a vast dominion over the nation, and who, in many respects, were regarded as elevated even over the kings and princes of the land. The comparison of rulers with the sun, moon, and stars, is common in the Scriptures; and this comparison was supposed especially to befit ecclesiastical rulers, who were regarded as in a particular manner the lights of the nation.

Upon the earth - Beneath, or inferior to those who had places of the highest trust and honor. The ecclesiastical rulers are represented as occupying the superior rank; the princes and rulers in a civil sense as in a condition of less honor and responsibility. This was probably the usual mode in which the ecclesiastical and civil offices were estimated in Judea.

Verse 22

And they shall be gathered together - That is, those who occupy posts of honor and influence in the ecclesiastical and civil polity of the land. “As prisoners.” Margin, as in the Hebrew, ‘With the gathering of prisoners.’ The reference is to the custom of collecting captives taken in war, and chaining them together by the hands and feet, and thrusting them in large companies into a prison.

In the pit - Margin, ‘Dungeon.’ The sense is, that he rulers of the land should be made captive, and treated as prisoners of war. This was undoubtedly true in the captivity under Nebuchadnezzar. The people were assembled; were regarded as captives; and were conveyed together to a distant land.

And shall be shut up in the prison - Probably this is not intended to be taken literally, but to denote that they would be as secure as if they were shut up in prison. Their prison-house would be Babylon, where they were enclosed as in a prison seventy years.

And after many days - If this refers, as I have supposed, to the captivity at Babylon, then these ‘many days’ refer to the period of seventy years.

Shall they be visited - Margin, ‘Found wanting.’ The word used here (פקד pâqad) may be used either in a good or bad sense, either to visit for the purpose of reviewing, numbering, or aiding; or to visit for the purpose of punishing. It is probably, in the Scriptures, most frequently used in the latter sense (see 1 Samuel 15:2; Job 31:14; Job 35:15; Psalms 89:33; Isaiah 26:14; Jeremiah 9:24). But it is often used in the sense of taking account of, reviewing, or mustering as a military host (see Numbers 1:44; Numbers 3:39; 1 Kings 20:15; Isaiah 13:4). In this place it may be taken in either of these senses, as may be best supposed to suit the connection. To me it seems that the connection seems to require the idea of a visitation for the purpose of relief or of deliverance; and to refer to the fact that at the end of that time there would be a reviewing, a mustering, an enrollment of those who should have been carried away to their distant prison-house, to ascertain how many remained, and to marshal them for their return to the land of their fathers (see the books of Ezra and Nehemiah). The word here used has sometimes the sense expressed in the margin, ‘found wanting’ (compare 1 Samuel 20:6; 1 Samuel 25:15; Isaiah 38:10); but such a sense does not suit the connection here. I regard the verse as an indication of future mercy and deliverance. They would be thrown into prison, and treated as captives of war; but after a long time they would be visited by the Great Deliverer of their nation, their covenant-keeping God, and reconducted to the land of their fathers.

Verse 23

Then the moon shall be confounded - The heavenly bodies are often employed in the sacred writings to denote the princes and kings of the earth. These expressions are not to be pressed ad unguem as if the sun denoted one thing and the moon another; but they are general poetic expressions designed to represent rulers, princes, and magistrates of all kinds (compare Ezekiel 32:7; Joel 2:30-31).

Shall be confounded - Shall be covered with shame. That is, shall appear to shine with diminished beauty, as if it were ashamed in the superior glory that would shine around it. The sense is, that when the people should be returned to their land, the theocracy would be restored, and the magnificence of the kings and other civil rulers would be dimmed in the superior splendor of the reign of God. Probably there is reference here to the time when Yahweh would reign in Jerusalem through, or by means of, the messiah.

In Mount Zion - (see the note at Isaiah 1:8). This would take place subsequently to the captivity, and pre-eminently under the reign of the messiah.

And before his ancients - That is, before the elders of the people; in the presence of those entrusted with authority and rule.

Gloriously - He would reign gloriously when his laws should be respected and obeyed; when his character as King and Ruler should be developed; and when, under his scepter, his kingdom should be augmented and extended. On this glad prospect the eye of the prophet was fixed; and this was the bright and splendid object in the ‘vision’ that served to relieve the darkness that was coming upon the nation. Present calamities may be borne, with the hope that Yahweh will reign more gloriously hereafter; and when the effect of all shall be such as to exalt Yahweh in the view of the nations. It may be added that when Yahweh, by the Messiah, shall reign over all the earth, all the glory of princes and monarchs shall be dimmed; the celebrity of their wisdom and power and plans shall be obscured in the superior splendor of the wisdom of God, in reigning through his Son over the human race. Come that blessed day; and speedily let the glory of the moon be confounded, and the sun be ashamed, and all inferior magnificence t fade away before the splendor of the Sun of righteousness!

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Isaiah 24". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.