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For the general design of this chapter see the analysis of Isaiah 24:0. Many different expositions have been given of its design, and indeed almost every commentator has had his own theory, and has differed from almost every other. Some of the different views which have been taken may be seen in the notes at Isaiah 27:1, and may be examined at length in Vitringa. I regard the most simple and obvious interpretation as the correct one; and that is, that it is a continuation of the vision commenced in Isaiah 24:0, and referring to the same great event - the captivity at Babylon and the deliverance from that captivity. This subject has been pursued through the Isaiah 24:1, the Isaiah 25:1, and the Isaiah 26:1 chapters. In the Isaiah 25:1 and the Isaiah 26:1 chapters, the main design was to show the joy which would be evinced on their rescue from that land. The main purpose of this is to show the effect of that captivity and deliverance in purifying the Jews themselves, and in overcoming their propensity to idolatry, on account of which the captivity had been suf fered to take place. The “design” of the chapter is, like that of many others in Isaiah, to comfort them when they should be oppressed during their long and painful exile. The general plan of the chapter is:
1. A statement that their great enemy, the leviathan, should be destroyed Isaiah 27:1; and,
2. A song, in alternate responses, respecting the people of God, under the image of a vineyard yielding rich wines Isaiah 27:2-13. In this song Yahweh’s protection over the vineyard is shown Isaiah 27:3; he declares that he is not actuated by fury Isaiah 27:4; his people are exhorted to trust in him Isaiah 27:5; a full promise that the Jews shall yet flourish is given Isaiah 27:6; Yahweh says that his judgments are mild on them Isaiah 27:7-8, and that the design is to purify his people Isaiah 27:9, for their sins they should be punished Isaiah 27:10-11; yet that they should be restored to their own land, and worship him in the holy mount at Jerusalem Isaiah 27:12-13.
In that day - In that future time when the Jews would be captive in Babylon, and when they would sigh for deliverance (see the note at Isaiah 26:1). This verse might have been connected with the previous chapter, as it refers to the same event, and then this chapter would have more appropriately commenced with the poem or song which begins in Isaiah 27:2.
With his sore - Hebrew, הקשׁה haqāshâh - ‘Hard.’ Septuagint, Τὴς ἁγίαν Tēn hagian - ‘Holy.’ The Hebrew means a sword that is hard, or well-tempered and trusty.
And great, and strong sword - The sword is an emblem of war, and is often used among the Hebrews to denote war (see Genesis 27:40; Leviticus 26:25). It is also an emblem of justice or punishment, as punishment then, as it is now in the Turkish dominions, was often inflicted by the sword Deuteronomy 32:41-42; Psalms 7:12; Hebrews 11:37. Here, if it refers to the overthrow of Babylon and its tyrannical king, it means that God would punish them by the armies of the Medes, employed as his sword or instrument. Thus in Psalms 17:13, David prays, ‘Deliver my soul from the wicked, which is thy sword’ (compare the notes at Isaiah 10:5-6).
Leviathan - לויתן livyâthân. The Septuagint renders this, Τὴν δράκοντα Tēn drakonta - ‘The dragon.’ The word ‘leviathan’ is probably derived from לוה lâvâh in Arabic, to weave, to twist (Gesenius); and literally means, “the twisted animal.” The word occurs in six places in the Old Testament, and is translated in Job 3:8, ‘mourning,’ Margin, ‘leviathan;’ in Job 41:1, ‘leviathan’ - in which chapter is an extended description of the animal; in Psalms 74:14, it is rendered ‘leviathan,’ and seems to be applied to Pharaoh; and in Psalms 104:26, and in the passage before us, where it is twice also rendered ‘leviathan.’ Bochart (Hierez. ii. 5. 16-18) has gone into an extended argument to show that by the leviathan the crocodile is intended; and his argument is in my view conclusive. On this subject, Bochart, Dr. Good (on Job 41:0), and Robinson’s Calmet, may be consulted.
The crocodile is a natural inhabitant of the Nile and of other Asiatic and African rivers; is of enormous voracity and strength, as well as of fleetness in swimming; attacks mankind and all animals with prodigious impetuosity; and is furnished with a coat of mail so scaly and callous that it will resist the force of a musket ball in every part except under the belly. It is, therefore, an appropriate image by which to represent a fierce and cruel tyrant. The sacred writers were accustomed to describe kings and tyrants by an allusion to strong and fierce animals. Thus, in Ezekiel 29:3-5, the dragon, or the crocodile of the Nile, represents Pharaoh; in Ezekiel 22:2, Pharaoh is compared to a young lion, and to a whale in the seas; in Psalms 74:13-14, Pharaoh is compared to the dragon, and to the leviathan. In Daniel 7:0, the four monarchs that should arise are likened to four great beasts. In Revelation 12:0, Rome, the new Babylon, is compared to a great red dragon.
In the place before us, I suppose that the reference is to Babylon; or to the king and tyrant that ruled there, and that had oppressed the people of God. But among commentators there has been the greatest variety of explanation. As a “specimen” of the various senses which commentators often assign to passages of Scripture, we may notice the following views which have been taken of this passage. The Chaldee Paraphrast regards the leviathans, which are twice mentioned, as referring, the first one to some king like Pharaoh, and the second to a king like Sennacherib. rabbi Moses Haccohen supposes that the word denotes the most select or valiant of the rulers, princes, and commanders that were in the army of the enemy of the people of God. Jarchi supposes that by the first-mentioned leviathan is meant Egypt, by the second Assyria, and by the dragon which is in the sea, he thinks “Tyre” is intended.
Aben Ezra supposes that by the dragon in the sea, Egypt is denoted. Kimchi supposes that this will be fulfilled only in the times of the Messiah, and that the sea monsters mentioned here are Gog and Magog - and that these denote the armies of the Greeks, the Saracens, and the inhabitants of India. Abarbanel supposes that the Saracens, the Roman empire, and the other kingdoms of Gentiles, are intended by these sea monsters. Jerome, Sanctius, and some others suppose that “Satan” is denoted by the leviathan. Brentius supposes that this was fulfilled in the day of Pentecost when Satan was overcome by the preaching of the gospel. Other Christian interpreters have supposed, that by the leviathan first mentioned “Mahomet” is intended; by the second, “heretics;” and by the dragon in the sea, “Pagan India.” Luther understood it of Assyria and Egypt; Calvin supposes that the description properly applies to the king of Egypt, but that under this image other enemies of the church are embraced, and does not doubt that “allegorically” Satan and his kingdom are intended. The more simple interpretation, however, is that which refers it to Babylon. This suits the connection: accords with the previous chapters; agrees with all that occurs in this chapter, and with the image which is used here. The crocodile, the dragon, the sea monster - extended, vast, unwieldy, voracious, and odious to the view - would be a most expressive image to denote the abhorrence with which the Jews would regard Babylon and its king.
The piercing serpent - The term ‘serpent’ (נחשׁ nāchâsh) may be given to a dragon, or an extended sea monster. Compare Job 26:13. The term ‘piercing,’ is, in the Margin, ‘Crossing like a bar.’ The Septuagint renders it, Ὄφιν Φεύγοντα Ophin pheugonta - ‘Flying serpent. The Hebrew, בריח bāriyach, rendered ‘piercing,’ is derived from ברץ bârach,” to flee;” and then to stretch across, or pass through, as a bar through boards Exodus 36:33. Hence, this word may mean fleeing; extended; cross bar for fastening gates; or the cross piece for binding together the boards for the tabernacle of the congregation Exodus 26:26; Exodus 36:31. Lowth renders it, ‘The rigid serpent;’ probably with reference to the hard scales of the crocodile. The word “extended, huge, vast,” will probably best suit the connection. In Job 26:13, it is rendered, ‘the crooked serpent;’ referring to the constellation in the heavens by the name of the Serpent (see the note at that place). The idea of piercing is not in the Hebrew word, nor is it ever used in that sense.
That crooked serpent - This is correctly rendered; and refers to the fact that the monster here referred to throws itself into immense volumes or folds, a description that applies to all serpents of vast size. Virgil has given a similar description of sea monsters throwing themselves into vast convolutions:
‘Ecce autem gemini a Tenedo tranquilla per alta
- immensis orbibus angues.’
- AEn. ii. 203.
‘Sinuantque immensa volumine terga.’
The reference in Isaiah, I suppose, is not to “different” kings or enemies of the people of God, but to the same. It is customary in Hebrew poetry to refer to the same subject in different members of the same sentence, or in different parts of the same parallelism.
The dragon - Referring to the same thing under a different image - to the king of Babylon. On the meaning of the word ‘dragon,’ see the note at Isaiah 13:22.
In the sea - In the Euphrates; or in the marshes and pools that encompass Babylon (see Isaiah 11:15, note; Isaiah 18:2, note). The sense of the whole verse is, that God would destroy the Babylonian power that was to the Jews such an object of loathsomeness and of terror.
Sing ye unto her - That is, sing unto, or respecting the vineyard. The word rendered ‘sing’ (ענוּ ‛anû) signifies properly, “answer, respond to;” and then, sing a responsive song, where one portion of the choir responds to another (see Exodus 15:21). This has been well expressed here by Lowth in his translation:
‘To the beloved Vineyard, sing ye a responsive song.’
It is the commencement of a song, or hymn respecting Judea, represented under the image of a vineyard, and which is probably confirmed to the close of the chapter.
A vineyard - (see the notes at Isaiah 5:1 ff) The Hebrew phrase rendered ‘a vineyard of red wine’ is the title to the song; or the responsive song respects the ‘vineyard of red wine.’
Of red wine - (חמר chemer). Lowth proposes to read instead of this, חמד chemed, pleasantness, beauty, or beloved.” He observes that many manuscripts have this meaning, and that it is followed by the Septuagint and the Chaldee. The Septuagint reads it: Ἀμπελών καλλὸς Ampelōn kallos - ‘Beautiful vineyard.’ This would well suit the connection, and this slight error in transcribing might have easily occurred. But the authority in the manuscripts for the change is not conclusive. The word which now occurs in the text denotes properly “wine,” from חמר châmar, to “ferment.” The word חמר châmar also has the signification “to be red” Psalms 75:8; Job 16:16; and according to this, our translators have rendered it ‘of red wine.’ Bochart (Geog. Sac. ii. 1, 29) renders it, ‘A vineyard fertile in producing wine.’ The correct translation would be one that would not seem very congruous in our language, ‘a vineyard of wine,’ or ‘a wine-vineyard.’
I the Lord do keep it - There is understood here or implied an introduction; as ‘Yahweh said’ (compare Psalms 121:3-5).
I will water it every moment - That is, constantly, as a vinedresser does his vineyard.
Fury is not in me - That is, I am angry with it no more. He had punished his people by removing them to a distant land. But although he had corrected them for their faults, yet he had not laid aside the affection of a Father.
Who would set - Hebrew, ‘Who would give me.’ The Septuagint renders this, ‘Who would place me to keep the stubble in the field?’ Great perplexity has been felt in regard to the interpretation of this passage. Lowth translates it:
‘O that I had a fence of the thorn and the brier;’
evidently showing that he was embarrassed with it, and could not make of it consistent sense. The whole sentence must refer either to the people of God, or to his enemies. If to his people, it would be an indication that they were like briers and thorns, and that if his fury should rage they would be consumed, and hence, he calls upon them Isaiah 27:5 to seize upon his strength, and to be at peace with him. If it refers to his enemies, then it expresses a wish that his enemies were in his possession; or a purpose to go against them, as fire among thorns, and to consume them if they should presume to array themselves against his vineyard. This latter I take to be the true sense of the passage. The phrase ‘who would set me,’ or in Hebrew, ‘who will give me,’ may be expressed by “utinam,” indicating strong desire; and may be thus paraphrased: ‘I retain no anger against my people. I have indeed punished them; but my anger has ceased. I shall now defend them. If they are attacked by foes, I will guard them. When their foes approach, “I desire, I earnestly wish,” that they may be in my possession, that I may destroy them - as the fire rages through briers and thorns.’ It expresses a firm determination to defend his people and to destroy their enemies, unless Isaiah 27:5, which he would prefer, they should repent, and be at peace with him.
The briers and thorns - His enemies, and the enemies of his people (compare the notes at Isaiah 9:17; Isaiah 10:17). Perhaps the phrase is used here to denote enemies, because briers and thorns are so great enemies to a vineyard by impeding growth and fertility.
I would go through them - Or, rather, I would go against them in battle to destroy them.
I would burn them up together - As fire devours the thorns and briers; that is, I would completely destroy them.
Or let him - The Hebrew word rendered here or (או 'ô) means “unless;” and the sense is, the enemies of the Jewish people shall be completely destroyed as briers are by fire, “unless” they flee to God for a refuge.
Take hold of my strength - That is, let the enemy take hold of me to become reconciled to me. The figure here is taken probably from the act of fleeing to take hold of the horns of the altar for refuge when one was pursued (compare 1 Kings 1:50; 1 Kings 2:28).
That he may make peace with me - With me as the guardian of the vineyard. If this were done they would be safe.
And he shall make peace with me - That is, even the enemy of me and of my vineyard “may” be permitted to make peace with me. Learn,
(1) That God is willing to be reconciled to his enemies.
(2) That peace must be obtained by seeking his protection; by submitting to him, and laying hold of his strength.
(3) That if this is not done, his enemies must be inevitably destroyed.
(4) He will defend his people, and no weapon that is formed against them shall prosper.
He shall cause them that come of Jacob to take root - This language is derived from the vine, as the shoots or cuttings of the vine take root and flourish. To take root, therefore, is an emblem denoting that the descendants of Jacob, or the people of God, would increase and prosper.
Shall blossom and bud - An image also taken from the vine, or from fruit trees in general, and meaning that they should greatly flourish in the time succeeding their return from the captivity.
And fill the face of the world with fruit - On the meaning of the word ‘face,’ see the note at Isaiah 25:7. The sense is, that the people of God would so increase and flourish that the true religion would ultimately fill the entire world. The same idea of the universal prevalence of the true religion is often advanced by this prophet, and occurs in various parts of the hymns or songs which we are now considering (see Isaiah 25:6-8). The figure which is used here, drawn from the vine, denoting prosperity by its increase and its fruit, is beautifully employed in Psalms 92:13-14 :
Those that be planted in the house of Yahweh,
Shall flourish in the courts of our God.
They shall still bring forth fruit in old age;
They shall be rich and green.
Hath he smitten him, as he smote those that smote them? - Has God punished his people in the same manner and to the same extent as he has their enemies? It is implied by this question that he had not. He had indeed punished them for their sins, but he had I not destroyed them. Their enemies he had utterly destroyed.
According to the slaughter of those that are slain by him - Hebrew, ‘According to the slaying of his slain.’ That is, not as our translation would seem to imply, that their enemies had been slain “BY” them; but that they were ‘their slain,’ inasmuch as they had been slain on their account, or to promote their release and return to their own land. It was not true that their enemies had been slain “by” them; but it was true that they had been slain on their account, or in order to secure their return to their own country.
In measure ... - This verse in our translation is exceedingly obscure, and indeed almost unintelligible. Nor is it much more intelligible in Lowth, or in Noyes; in the Vulgate, or the Septuagint. The various senses which have been given to the verse may be seen at length in Vitringa and Rosenmuller. The idea, which I suppose to be the true one, without going into an examination of others which have been proposed, is the following, which is as near as possible a literal translation:
In moderation in sending her (the vineyard)
Away didst thou judge her,
Though carrying her away with a rough tempest
In the time of the east wind.
The word rendered ‘measure’ (סאסאה sa'se'âh) occurs nowhere else in the Scriptures. It is probably derived from סאה se'âh, “a measure;” usually denoting a measure of grain, containing, according to the rabbis, a third part of an ephah, that is, about “a peck.” The word used here is probably a contraction of סאה סאה se'âh se'âh literally, “measure by measure,” i: e., “moderately,” or in moderation. So the rabbis generally understand it. The idea is ‘small measure by small measure,’ not a large measure at a time; or, in other words, moderately, or in moderation. It refers, I suppose, to the fact that in inflicting judgment on his people, it had not been done with intolerable severity. The calamity had not been so overwhelming as entirely to cut them off, but had been tempered with mercy.
When it shooteth forth - This expression does not convey an intelligible idea. The Hebrew, בשׁלחה beshallechâh - literally, “in sending her forth,” from שׁלח shâlach “to send,” or “to put forth” - refers, I suppose, to the fact that God had sent her, that is, his vineyard, his people, forth to Babylon; he had cast them out of their own land into a distant country, but when it was done it was tempered with mercy and kindness. In this expression there is indeed a mingling of a metaphor with a literal statement, since it appears rather incongruous to speak of sending forth a “vineyard;” but such changes in expressions are not uncommon in the Hebrew poets.
Thou wilt debate with it - Or, rather, thou hast “judged” it; or hast punished it. The word ריב riyb means sometimes to debate, contend, or strive; but it means also to take vengeance 1 Samuel 25:39, or to punish; to contend with anyone so as to overcome or punish him. Here it refers to the fact that God “had” had a contention with his people, and had punished them by removing them to Babylon.
He stayeth - ( הגה hâgâh). This word means in one form “to meditate,” to think, to speak; in another, “to separate,” as dross from silver, to remove, to take away Proverbs 25:4-5. Here it means that he “had” removed, or separated his people from their land as with the sweepings of a tempest. The word ‘stayeth’ does not express the true sense of the passage. It is better expressed in the margin, ‘when he removeth it.’
His rough wind - A tempestuous, boisterous wind, which God sends. Winds are emblematic of judgment, as they sweep away everything before them. Here the word is emblematic of the calamities which came upon Judea by which the nation was removed to Babylon; and the sense is, that they were removed as in a tempest; they were carried away as if a violent storm had swept over the land.
In the day of the east wind - The east wind in the climate of Judea was usually tempestuous and violent; Job 27:21 :
The east wind carrieth him away and he departeth;
And, as a storm, hurleth them out of his place.
Jeremiah 18:17 :
I will scatter them as with an east wind before the enemy.
(Compare Genesis 41:6; Exodus 10:13; Exodus 14:21; Job 38:24; Psalms 78:26; Habakkuk 1:6). This wind was usually hot, noxious, blasting and scorching (Taylor).
By this - This verse states the whole design of the punishment of the Jews. They were taken away from their temple, their city, and their land; they were removed from the groves and altars of idolatry by which they had been so often led into sin; and the design was to preserve them henceforward from relapsing into their accustomed idolatry.
The iniquity of Jacob - The sin of the Jewish people, and particularly their tendency to idolatry, which was their easily besetting sin.
Be purged - (see the note at Isaiah 1:25).
And this is all the fruit - And this is all the “object” or “design” of their captivity and removal to Babylon.
When he maketh all the stones of the altar as chalk stones - That is, Yahweh shall make the stones of the altars reared in honor of idols like chalk stones; or shall throw them down, and scatter them abroad like stones that are easily beaten to pieces. The sense is, that Yahweh, during their captivity in Babylon, would overthrow the places where they had worshipped idols.
The groves and images shall not stand up - The groves consecrated to idols, and the images erected therein (see the note at Isaiah 17:8).
Yet the defensed city - Gesenius supposes that this means Jerusalem. So Calvin and Piscator understand it. Others understand it of Samaria, others of Babylon (as Vitringa, Rosenmuller, and Grotius), and others of cities in general, denoting those in Judea, or in other places. To me it seems plain that Babylon is referred to. The whole description seems to require this; and especially the fact that this song is supposed to be sung after the return from captivity to celebrate their deliverance. It is natural, therefore, that they should record the fact that the strong and mighty city where they had been so long in captivity, was now completely destroyed. For the meaning of thee phrase ‘defensed city,’ see the note at Isaiah 25:2.
Shall be desolate - (see Isaiah 25:2; compare the notes at Isaiah 13:0)
The habitation forsaken - The habitation here referred to is Babylon. It means the habitation or dwelling-place where “we” have so long dwelt as captives (compare Proverbs 3:33; Proverbs 21:20; Proverbs 24:15).
And left like a wilderness - See the description of Babylon in the notes at Isaiah 13:20-22.
There shall the calf feed - It shall become a vast desert, and be a place for beasts of the forest to range in (compare Isaiah 7:23; see the note at Isaiah 5:17).
And consume the branches thereof - The branches of the trees and shrubs that shall spring up spontaneously in the vast waste where Babylon was.
When the boughs thereof are withered - This is a further description of the desolation which would come upon Babylon. The idea is, that Babylon would be forsaken until the trees should grow and decay, and the branches should fall to be collected for burning. That is, the desolation should be entire, undisturbed, and long continued The idea of the desolation is, therefore, in this verse carried forward, and a new circumstance is introduced to make it more graphic and striking. Lowth, however, supposes that this refers to the vineyard, and to the fact that the vine-twigs are collected in the East from the scarcity of fuel for burning. But it seems to me that the obvious reference is to Babylon, and that it is an image of the great and prolonged desolation that was coming upon that city.
They shall be broken off - That is, by their own weight as they decay, or by the hands of those who come to collect them for fuel.
The women come - Probably it was the office mainly of the women to collect the fuel which might be necessary for culinary purposes. In eastern climates but little is needed; and that is collected of the twigs of vineyards, of withered stubble, straw, hay, dried roots, etc., wherever they can be found.
And set them on fire - That is, to burn them for fuel.
Of no understanding - Of no right views of God and his government - wicked, sinful Proverbs 6:32; Proverbs 18:2; Jeremiah 5:21.
And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall beat off - The word which is used here (חבט châbaṭ) means properly “to beat off with a stick,” as fruit from a tree Deuteronomy 20:20. It also means to beat out grain with a stick Judges 6:11; Ruth 2:17 The word which is rendered in the other member of the sentence, ‘shall be gathered’ (לקט lâqaṭ), is applied to the act of “collecting” fruit after it has been beaten from a tree, or grain after it has been threshed. The use of these words here shows that the image is taken from the act of collecting fruit or grain after harvest; and the expression means, that as the farmer gathers in his fruit, so God would gather in his people. In the figure, it is supposed that the garden or vineyard of Yahweh extends from the Euphrates to the Nile; that his people are scattered in all that country; that there shall be agitation or a shaking in all that region as when a farmer beats off his fruit from the tree, or beats out his grain; and that the result would be that all those scattered people would be gathered into their own land. The time referred to is, doubtless, after Babylon should be taken; and in explanation of the declaration it is to be remembered that the Jews were not only carried to Babylon, but were scattered in large numbers in all the adjacent regions. The promise here is, that from all those regions where they had been scattered they should be re-collected and restored to their own land.
From the channel of the river - The river here undoubtedly refers to the river Euphrates (see the note at Isaiah 11:15).
Unto the stream of Egypt - The Nile. “And ye shall be gathered one by one.” As the farmer collects his fruits one by one - collecting them carefully, and not leaving any. This means that God will not merely collect them as a nation, but as “individuals.” He will see that none is overlooked, and that all shall be brought in safety to their land.
The great trumpet shall be blown - This verse is designed to describe in another mode the same fact as that stated in Isaiah 27:12, that Yahweh would re-collect his scattered people. The figure is derived from the trumpet which was blown to assemble a people for war (Grotius); or from the blowing of the trumpet on occasion of the great feasts and festivals of the Jews (Vitringa). The idea is, that God would summon the scattered people to return to their own land. The “way” in which this was done, or in which the will of God would be made known to them, is not specified. It is probable, however, that the reference here is to the decree of Cyrus Ezra 1:1, by which they were permitted to return to their own country.
Which were ready to perish - Who were reduced in numbers, and in power, and who were ready to be annihilated under their accumulated and long-continued trials.
In the land of Assyria - The ten tribes were carried away into Assyria 2 Kings 17:6; and it is probable that many of the other two tribes were also in that land. A portion of the ten tribes would also be re-collected, and would return with the others to the land of their fathers. Assyria also constituted a considerable part of the kingdom of the Chaldeans, and the name Assyria may be given here to that country in general.
And the outcasts - Those who had fled in consternation to Egypt and to other places when these calamities were coming upon the nation (see Jeremiah 41:17-18; Jeremiah 42:15-22).
And shall worship the Lord - Their temple shall be rebuilt; their city shall be restored; and in the place where their fathers worshipped shall they also again adore the living God. This closes the prophecy which was commenced in Isaiah 24:0; and the design of the whole is to comfort the Jews with the assurance, that though they were to be made captive in a distant land, yet they would be again restored to the land of their fathers, and again worship God there. It is almost needless to say that this prediction was completely fulfilled by the return of the Jews to their own country under the decree of Cyrus.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Isaiah 27". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13