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Bible Commentaries

Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

Isaiah 32

This chapter has been regarded by many as a continuation and conclusion of the prediction commenced in the preceding chapter. Though it was, however, probably uttered at about the same time, and with reference to the same general subject, yet there is no impropriety in its being separated. The previous chapter closes with a prediction that the Assyrian army, which had been so much the object of dread, would be totally destroyed. This would be of course followed with important consequences, some of which are depicted in this chapter. The prophet, therefore, states Isaiah 32:1-8 that the defeat of Sennacherib would be followed by the peaceful and prosperous state of the kingdom under a righteous prince; under whose reign there would be ample protection Isaiah 32:2; at which time the advantages of instruction would prevail, and the ignorant would be enlightened Isaiah 32:3-4; when there would be a proper estimate put on moral worth, and when illiberality, hypocrisy, and falsehood would be no longer held in repute Isaiah 32:5-7; and when the character of the nation would be that of a people which devised and executed large and liberal purposes Isaiah 32:8. That this has a reference to the reign of Hezekiah, has been abundantly shown by Vitringa; and, indeed, must be obvious on the slightest inspection. For,

1. It is immediately connected with the account of the destruction of Sennacherib, and evidently means that the state of things here described would immediately succeed that.

2. There is nothing in the account that does not fully accord with the prosperous and happy times of the reign of Hezekiah.

3. There are statements in it which cannot be applied directly, or with propriety literally to the times of the Messiah.

For example, the statement in the first verse that ‘princes shall rule in judgment’ cannot be applied with any propriety to the apostles, since they are not anywhere designated by that name. That, after the usual manner of Isaiah, he might not also, in the progress of this description, have glanced at the times of the Messiah, perhaps there can be no reason to doubt. But the main and leading purpose was, doubtless, to give a description of the happy times that would succeed the destruction of the army of the Assyrian. Calvin supposes, not improbably, I think, that this prophecy may have been uttered in the time of Ahaz, in whose reign wickedness so much abounded, and ignorance and idolatry so much prevailed. But whether the prophecy was actually “uttered” in the time of Abaz or not - which cannot now be determined - yet it may have been uttered in view of the ignorance, and superstition, and hypocrisy, which prevailed in his reign, and which extended their influence into the time of his successor, and on account of which the nation was to be subjected to the calamities arising from the invasion of Sennacherib. After that, the king Hezekiah would rule in righteousness, and his kingdom would enjoy the blessings of his mild and virtuous reign.

The prophet then Isaiah 32:10-14 proceeds to show, that “previous” to the prosperous times predicted, there would be a state of desolation and alarm. This is indicated by his calling on the daughters of luxury and fashion, who were reposing in security and confidence, to rise up in consternation at the calamities which were impending Isaiah 32:10-11, and by the assurance that there would be a time when they would sigh for the luxuries which they had before enjoyed Isaiah 32:12-14. This is descriptive of the calamities which would attend the invasion of the Assyrian. Yet the prophet says, as is usual with him, that these calamities would be succeeded by more happy times Isaiah 32:15-20. They would continue until the Spirit should be poured out from on high Isaiah 32:15, and the result of this would he the prevalence of righteousness in the nation Isaiah 32:16, and peace and safety Isaiah 32:17-18; there would be safety, and the privilege of pursuing the peaceful pursuits of agriculture, and of cultivating the entire land without molestation Isaiah 32:19-20.

Verse 1

Behold, a king - That is, Hezekiah. That it refers to him is apparent from the connection. The reign of Ahaz had been one of oppression and idolatry. This was to be succeeded by the reign of one under whom the rights of the people would be secured, and under whom there would be a state of general prosperity. This may have been uttered while Ahaz was on the throne, or it may have been when Hezekiah began to reign. Perhaps the latter is the more probable, as Ahaz might not have tolerated anything that would have looked like a reflection on his own reign; nor, perhaps, while he was on the throne would Isaiah have given a description that would have been a contrast between his reign and that of his successor.

Shall reign in righteousness - That is, a righteous king shall reign; or his administration shall be one of justice, and strongly in contrast with that of his predecessor. This was certainly the general characteristic of the reign of Hezekiah.

And princes shall rule - Hebrew, ‘For princes, or, ‘as to princes’ (לשׂרים les'ârı̂ym). Lowth proposes to read this without the ל (l), as the ancient versions do. But it is not necessary to change the text. It may be rendered, ‘As to princes, they shall rule’ (compare Psalms 16:3). The ‘princes’ here denote the various officers of government, or those to whom the administration was confided.

In judgment - That this is a just description of the reign of Hezekiah is apparent from the history, see 2 Kings 18:3-6 : ‘He removed the high places, and broke the images, and cut down the grove. He trusted in the Lord God of Israel, so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him, for he clave unto the Lord, and departed not from following him.’

Verse 2

And a man - That is, evidently, the man referred to in the previous verse, to wit, Hezekiah.

Shall be as an hiding-place from the wind - A place where one may take refuge from a violent wind and tempest (see the note at Isaiah 25:4).

A covert - A place of shelter and security. Wind and tempest are emblematic of calamity and oppression; and the sense is, that Hezekiah would be the protector of his people, and would save them from the calamities to which they had been subjected in former reigns.

As rivers of water - This figure is often used in Isaiah (see Isaiah 35:6-7; and the notes at Isaiah 41:18). It means that the blessings of such a reign would be as grateful and refreshing as gushing fountains and running streams were to a thirsty traveler. Here it refers to the benefits that would be conferred by the reign of Hezekiah - a reign which, compared with that of his father, would be like a refreshing fountain to a weary pilgrim in a pathless desert.

As the shadow of a great rock - In a burning desert of sand nothing is more grateful than the cooling shade of a far-projecting rock. It not only excludes the rays of the sun, but it has itself a refreshing coolness that is most grateful to a weary traveler. The same figure is often used by the classic writers (see Virgil, “Georg.” iii, 145; Hesiod, ii. 106).

In a weary land - A land where there is fatigue and weariness. Probably here it is used to denote a land destitute of trees, and groves, and pleasant abodes; a land where one expects weariness and fatigue without any refreshment and shelter. The following description from Campbell’s “Travels in Africa” will explain this: ‘Well does the traveler remember a day in the wilds of Africa, where the country was chiefly covered with burning sand; when, scorched with the powerful rays of an almost vertical sun, the thermometer in the shade standing at 100 degrees (Fahrenheit). He remembers long looking hither and thither for something that would afford protection from the almost insupportable heat, and where the least motion of air felt like a flame coming against the face. At length he espied a huge loose rock leaning against the front of a small cliff which faced the sun. At once he fled for refuge underneath its inviting shade. The coolness emitted from this rocky canopy he found exquisitely exhilarating. The wild beasts of the deserts were all fled to their dens, and the feathered songsters were all roosting among the thickest foliage they could find of the evergreen trees. The whole creation around seemed to groan, as if their vigor had been entirely exhausted. A small river was providentially at hand, to the side of which, after a while, he ventured, and sipped a little of its cooling water, which tasted better than the best Burgundy, or the finest old hock in the world. During all this enjoyment, the above apropos text was the interesting subject of the traveler’s meditation; though the allusion as a figure, must fall infinitely short of that which is meant to be prefigured by it.’

(The whole of this passage is capable of beautiful application to the Messiah and his times; while the language of the second verse cannot be supposed descriptive of any “creature;” it is so associated in our minds with the character and functions of the Divine Redeemer, that we cannot easily acquiesce in any meaner application. ‘To interpret the sublime imagery of this verse Isaiah 32:2 in application to a mere human being, would be quite repugnant to the spirit of the sacred writers, by whom Yahweh alone is represented as the source of protection and refreshment to his people, and all trust in creatures solemnly interdicted’ (Henderson). Doubtless, if Hezekiah be at all intended, it is in a typical or inferior sense only. A greater than Hezekiah is here; the language and figures used are precisely such as are elsewhere by the prophet applied to Yahweh Isaiah 4:6; Isaiah 25:4; while the particulars characteristic of the times predicted, are just such as elsewhere he connects with gospel times (compare Isaiah 29:18; Isaiah 35:5). The things predicted, according to this view, are a righteous administration under Messiah the prince Isaiah 32:1; protection and refreshment to his subjects; protection from the wrath of God and the temptations of Satan, and the rage of the world; refreshment by the consolutions and graces of his Spirit, which are as rivers of water in this dry land’ Isaiah 32:2; a desire for knowledge and such facility in the acquisition of it, that even persons ordinarily supposed disqualified should both clearly understand, and easily and accurately express the truth Isaiah 32:3-4; a just appreciation of character and estimation of people in accordance therewith Isaiah 32:5; and, finally, the prevalence of a loving, liberal spirit, setting itself to devise and execute plans of benevolence on a scale hitherto unprecedented Isaiah 32:8; Psalms 110:3; Acts 2:44-45; 2 Corinthians 8:1, 2 Corinthians 8:4; 2 Corinthians 9:2)

Verse 3

And the eyes of them that see ... - The sense of this verse is, that there shall be, under the reign of this wise and pious prince, on the part of the prophets and teachers, a clear view of divine truth, and on the part of the people who hear, a disposition to hearken and to attend to it. The phrase ‘of them that see,’ refers probably to the prophets, as those who were called seers (see the notes at Isaiah 29:10; Isaiah 30:10; compare 1 Samuel 9:9), or those who had visions (see the note at Isaiah 1:1) of the things that God would communicate to people. The word rendered ‘be dim’ (תשׁעינה tishe‛eynâh), is derived from שׁעה shâ‛âh, which usually signifies “to see, to look,” but it also has a meaning similar to שׁעע shâ‛a‛, “to spread over, to close, to make blind.” Of this fact Lowth seems not to have been aware when he proposed, without the authority of any MS., to change the text. The sense is, that those who were prophets and religious teachers should no more see obscurely, but should have clear and just views of divine truth.

And the ears of them that hear - Of the people who were instructed by their religious teachers.

Shall hearken - It shall be a characteristic of those times that they shall be disposed to attend to the truth of God.

Verse 4

The heart also of the rash - Margin, ‘Hasty.’ The Hebrew word denotes those who hasten; that is, those who are precipitate in forming a judgment, or deciding on a course of action. They do not take time to deliberate, and consequently they are led headlong into error, and into improper courses of life.

Shall understand knowledge - They shall take time to deliberate; and they shall consequently form a more enlightened judgment.

And the tongue of the stammerers - The ‘stammerers’ (compare the note at Isaiah 28:11) seem here to denote those who had indistinct and confused views of subjects, or who were incapable of expressing clear and intelligible views of divine truth.

Shall be ready to speak plainly - Margin, ‘Elegantly.’ The Hebrew is צתות tsâthôth ‘clear,’ ‘white,’ usually applied to a bright, clear, white light. The sense is, that there should be no indistinctness or obscurity in their views and modes of utterance.

Verse 5

The vile person - Hebrew, ‘Fool.’ But the connection requires us to understand this as the opposite of liberal; and it means a person who is close, miserly, narrow-minded, covetous. This person is designated, very appropriately, as a fool.

Shall be no more called liberal - It is probable that under the reign of former princes, when all views of right and wrong had been perverted, people of unprincipled character had been the subjects of flattery, and names of virtue had been attributed to them by their friends and admirers. But it would not be so under the virtuous reign of the prince here celebrated. Things would be called by their right names, and flattery would not be allowed to attribute to people, qualities which they did not possess.

Nor the churl - The word ‘churl’ means properly a rude, surly, ill-bred man; then a miser, a niggard. The Hebrew word means properly a deceiver, a fraudulent man (Gesenius). The word avaricious, however, seems to suit the connection. Lowth renders it, ‘Niggard.’ Noyes, ‘Crafty.’

Bountiful - Flattery shall no more ascribe to a miserly man a character which does not belong to him.

Verse 6

For the vile person - Hebrew, ‘The fool.’ This word more properly expresses the idea than ‘vile person.’ The Hebrews Used the name fool to denote not only one destitute of understanding, but a knave, a dishonest man - regarding sin as the highest folly (see 1Sa 25:25; 2 Samuel 3:33; Job 2:10).

Will speak villainy - Hebrew, ‘Will speak folly.’ That is, he will act in accordance with his nature; it is his nature to speak folly, and he will do it. Under a wicked and unjust administration such persons might be the subjects flattery Isaiah 32:5, and might be raised to office and power. But under the administration of a virtuous king they would not be admitted to favor; and the reason was, that they would act out their nature, and would corrupt all around them. A monarch, therefore, who regarded the honor of his own throne, and the welfare of his subjects, would exclude them from his counsels.

To make empty the soul of the hungry - Probably this refers to spiritual hunger and thirst; and means that such a person would take away the means of knowledge from the people, and leave them to error, ignorance, and want. The sense is, that if such persons were raised to office, they would corrupt the nation and destroy their confidence in God; and this was a reason why a virtuous prince would exclude them from any participation in his government.

Verse 7

The instruments also - In the Hebrew here there is a paronomasia which cannot be imitated in a translation. The word ‘instruments’ here denotes evidently the means by which the churl accomplishes his object; whether it be by words, by judicial decisions, or by crafty devices. This is also a kind of proverbial expression, and is given as a further reason why such a person would not be employed by a wise and virtuous prince.

Are evil - He will make use of any unprincipled means, any wicked plan or device, to accomplish his purpose. “With lying words.” With false representations; or with deceitful promises and assurances. His aim would be particularly directed to the poor and humble, as more easily deprived of their rights than the rich and powerful. It was also of greater importance to defend the rights of the poor, and therefore the prophet says that such a person should not be in the employ of a just and virtuous ruler.

Even when the needy speaketh right - That is, although the cause of the needy is one of truth and equity. When this would be manifest, the unprincipled man in power would deprive him of his rights, and, therefore, under a wise and virtuous administration, such a person should not be employed.

Verse 8

But the liberal - This seems also to have the force of a proverbial expression. The word ‘liberal’ means generous, noble, large-hearted, benevolent; a man of large views and of public spirit; a man above covetousness, avarice, and self-seeking; a man who is willing to devote himself to the welfare of his country, and to the interests of his fellow-men. It is implied here that such persons would be selected to administer the affairs of the government I under the wise and virtuous prince of whom the prophet speaks.

Deviseth liberal things - He purposes those things which will tend to promote the public welfare, and not those merely which will conduce to his private ends and gratification.

And by liberal things shall he stand - Margin, ‘Be established.’ That is, according to the connection, he shall be confirmed, or approved in the government of the virtuous king referred to. It is, however, a proposition in a general form, and means also that a man by a liberal course shall be established; that is, his character, reputation, hopes, shall be established by it. This is true now. If a man wishes to obtain permanent peace and honor, the esteem of his fellow-men, or the evidence of divine approbation, it can be best done by large and liberal schemes to advance the happiness of a dying world. He who is avaricious and narrow-minded has no happiness, and no durable reputation; he who is large-hearted and benevolent, has the approbation of the wise and good, the favor of God, and a firm and unshaken support in the trials of life, and in the agonies of death.

Verse 9

Rise up ... - Rosenmuller supposes that this commences a new vision or prophecy; and that the former part Isaiah 32:9-14 refers to the desolation of Judea by the invasion of Sennacherib, and the latter Isaiah 32:15-20 to the prosperity which would succeed that invasion. It cannot be doubted that this is the general reference of the passage, but there does not seem to be a necessity of making a division here. The entire prophecy, including the whole chapter, relates in general to the reign of Hezekiah; and as these events were to occur during his reign, the prophet groups them together, and presents them as constituting important events in his reign. The general design of this portion of the prophecy Isaiah 32:9-14 is to show the desolation that would come upon the land of Judea in consequence of that invasion. This he represents in a poetical manner, by calling on the daughters of fashion and ease to arouse, since all their comforts were to be taken away.

Ye women that are at ease - They who are surrounded by the comforts which affluence gives, and that have no fear of being reduced to wang (compare Isaiah 3:16-26).

Ye careless daughters - Hebrew, ‘Daughters confiding;’ that is, those who felt no alarm, and who did not regard God and his threatenings.

Verse 10

Many days and years - Margin, ‘Days above a year.’ This is a literal translation of the Hebrew. Septuagint, ‘Make mention of a day of a year in sorrow, with hope.’ Targum, ‘Days with years.’ Kimchi supposes it means ‘two years.’ Grotius supposes it means ‘within three years.’ Various other interpretations may be seen in Poole’s Synopsis. Gesenius renders it, ‘For a year’s time,’ according to the common expression ‘a year and a day,’ denoting a complete year, and supposes that it means a considerable time, a long period. The phrase literally means ‘the days. upon (or beyond) a year,’ and may denote a long time; as the entire days in a year would denote a long period of suffering. Lowth renders it, not in accordance with the Hebrew, ‘Years upon years.’ Noyes, ‘One year more, and ye shall tremble.’ Perhaps this expresses the sense; and then it would denote not the length of time which they would suffer, but would indicate that the calamities would soon come upon them.

For the vintage shall fail - A large part of the wealth and the luxury of the nation consisted in the vintage. When the vine failed, there would be, of course, great distress. The sense is, that in consequence of the invasion of the Assyrians, either the people would neglect to cultivate the lands, or they would fail to collect the harvest. This might occur either from the dread of the invasion, or because the Assyrian would destroy everything in his march.

Verse 11

Strip ye, and make ye bare - That is, take off your joyful and splendid apparel, and put on the habiliments of mourning, indicative of a great calamity.

And gird sackcloth - (See the note at Isaiah 3:24).

Verse 12

They shall lament for the teats - Interpreters have been not a little perplexed by this expression. Lowth supposes it is to be taken in connection with the previous verse, and that it denotes that sackcloth was to be girded upon the breast as well as upon the loins. Others have supposed that it denotes to ‘smite upon the breasts,’ as a token of grief; others, that the word ‘breast’ here denotes children by a synecdoche, as having been nourished by the breast, and that the women here were called to mourn over their children. But it is evident, I think, that the word breasts here is used to denote that which nourishes or sustains life, and is synonymous with fruitful fields. It is so used in Homer (Iliad, ix. 141), where οίθαρ ἀρούρης oithar arourēs denotes fertility of land. And here the sense doubtless is, that they would mourn over the fields which once contributed to sustain life, but which were now desolate. In regard to the grammatical difficulties of the place, Rosenmuller and Gesenius may be consulted.

The pleasant fields - Margin, as in Hebrew, ‘Fields of desire.’

Verse 13

Upon the land of my people - A description similar to this, in regard to the consequences of the invasion of Sennacherib, is given in Isaiah 7:20-25 (see the notes at that passage).

Yea, upon all the houses of joy - Margin, ‘Burning upon.’ The marginal readling has originated from the supposition that the word כי kı̂y is derived from כיה kâvâh, “to be burned.” This conjecture has been adopted by Junius and Tremellius, and by some others. But it is evidently mere conjecture, and is not demanded. The word ‘yea’ will express the sense, meaning that desolation, indicated by the growth of thorns and briers, would come upon the cities that were then filled with joy. This does not refer to Jerusalem, which was not taken by Sennacherib, but to the other cities that were destroyed by him in his march, and this account accords with the statement in Isaiah 7:20-25.

Verse 14

Because the palaces shall be forsaken - That is, the palaces in the cities and towns which Sennacherib would lay waste. Or, if it refers, as Lowth supposes, to the invasion of the land in the time of the Chaldeans, then it relates to the palaces in Jerusalem. Vitringa supposes that the temple at Jerusalem is particularly designated by the word rendered palaces. But that is not the usual word to denote the temlple, and it is not necessary to suppose that that is particularly referred to. The word ארמון 'armôn usually denotes a palace, or royal residence in some part of the royal citadel (see 1 Kings 16:18; Isaiah 25:2; Jeremiah 30:18; Amos 1:4, Amos 1:7, Amos 1:10, Amos 1:12).

The forts - Margin, ‘Cliffs and watch-towers.’ Hebrew, עפל opel. This word properly denotes a hill or a cliff, such as is an advantageous situation for fortresses. It is translated in Micah 4:8, ‘the stronghold;’ in 2 Kings 5:24, ‘the tower;’ in 2 Chronicles 27:3; 2 Chronicles 30:14; Nehemiah 3:27; Nehemiah 11:21, ‘Ophel.’ With the article (the hill) it was given, by way of eminence, to a bluff or hilt lying northeast of mount Zion, and south of mount Moriah, which was surrounded and fortified with a wall (Jos. Jewish Wars, vi. 6). It extends south from mount Moriah, running down to the fountain of Siloam, lying between the valley of Jehoshaphat on the east, and the Tyropeon or valley of Cheesemongers on the west. It terminates over the pool of Siloam in a steep point of rock forty or fifty feet high. The top of the ridge is flat, and the ground is now tilled, and planted with olive and other fruit trees (see Robinson’s Bib. Researches, vol. i. pp. 341, 394). It may be used here, however, to denote a hill or cliff, a strongly-fortified place in general, without supposing of necessity that it refers to the mountain in Jerusalem.

Towers - Towers were erected on the walls of cities at convenient distances for purposes of observation.

Shall be for dens - Shall become places where banditti and robbers may abide, and secure themselves.

Forever - This is evidently one instance in which the word ‘forever’ (עד־עולם ad-‛ôlâm), denotes a long time, because in the verse When the word is used without any suet limitation, it denotes proper eternity

A joy of wild asses - A place where wild animals will have unlimited range.

Verse 15

Until the Spirit - The Spirit of God, as the source of all blessings, and especially as able to meet and remove the ills of the long calamity and desolation. This evidently refers to some future period, when the evils which the prophet was contemplating would be succeeded by the spread of the true religion. If the prophet meant to confine his description of calamities to those which would attend the invasion of Sennacherib, then this refers to the piety and prosperity which would prevail after that during the reign of Hezekiah. If he designed, as Lowth supposes, to describe the calamites which would attend the invasion of the Chaldeans and the desolation of the city of Jerusalem during the captivity, then this refers to the prosperous times that would occur after their return to their own land. And if he looked forward beyond even that, then this refers to the times of the Messiah also, and he designed to describe the happy period when the Messiah should have come, and when the Spirit should be poured out. Vitringa supposes that all three of these events are referred to. But although the expressions are such as are used in reference to the times of the Messiah, yet the word ‘until’ seems to limit the prediction to some event previous to that. The plain sense of the passage is, that the city would lie waste, and would be a pasture for flocks, until the Spirit should be poured out; that is, would lie waste a long time, and then be succeeded by the merciful interposition of God restoring them to their land and privileges. This idea would seem to limit it. at the utmost, to the return from Babylon.

Be poured out - This is a common and usual mode of indicating that the influences of the Spirit of God would be imparted Isaiah 44:3; Ezekiel 39:29; Joel 2:28-29; Acts 2:17-18.

From on high - From heaven (compare Luke 24:49).

And the wilderness be a fruitful field - Until that change shall come when the places that are desolate shall become fertile, and the places which are now fertile and prosperous shall become desolate and barren. This may refer to the time when Jerusalem, that would have lain so long waste, would be again inhabited and cultivated, and when Babylon, then so prosperous, would become desolate and ruined. The expression has a proverbial cast and denotes change and revolution (see the note at Isaiah 29:17).

Verse 16

Then judgment shall dwell - Or, justice shall make its appropriate dwelling-place there.

In the wilderness - In the place that was a wilderness, but that shall now be turned to a fruitful field.

In the fruitful field - In the nation that is like a fruitful field; in Judea restored.

Verse 17

And the work of righteousness - That which righteousness produces; or the effect of the prevalence of righteousness on the nation.

Shall be peace - There shall be no internal agitation, and no conflicts with foreign nations.

Quietness and assurance - This is a beautiful description of the happy effect of the prevalence of piety; and it is as true now as it was in the time of Isaiah. True religion would put an end to strifes and litigations; to riots and mobs; to oppressions and tumults; to alarms and robbery; to battle, and murder, and conflict.

Verse 18

And my people shall dwell in a peaceable habitation - In cities and towns that would not be alarmed bv internal or external foes.

And in sure dwellings - In dwellings that would be secure from invasion. - All this is descriptive of the peaceful times, and the general security which followed the return from Babylon. To this period of happiness and prosperity, Isaiah, as well as the other prophets, often refers.

Verse 19

When it shall hail - Hebrew, ברדת ברד bârad beredeth - ‘And it shall hail in coming down. There is a paranomasia in the original here, which cannot be expressed in a translation - a figure of speech, which, as we have seen, is common in Isaiah. ‘Hail’ is an image of divine vengeance or punishment; and the reference here is, doubtless, to the storms of indignation that would come on the enemies of the Jews, particularly on the Assyrians (see the notes at Isaiah 30:30).

Coming down on the forest - Coming down on the army of the Assyrian, which is here called ‘a forest.’ The same term ‘forest’ is given to the army of the Assyrians in Isaiah 10:18-19, Isaiah 10:33-34. The sense is, that the divine judgment would come down on that army with as much severity as a storm of hail descends on a forest - stripping the leaves from the trees, destroying its beauty, and laying it waste.

And the city - According to Gesenius, this is Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian empire. According to Rosenmuller, Grotius, and others, it is Babylon. Hensler supposes that it is Jerusalem, and that the sense is, that as a city that is situated in a valley is safe when the storm and tempest sweep over the hills, so would it be to Jerusalem when the storm of wrath should sweep away the army of the Assyrian. But the connection evidently requires us to understand it of the capital of the enemy; though whether it be Nineveh or Babylon perhaps cannot be determined.

Shall be low in a low place - Margin, ‘Utterly abased.’ Hebrew, ‘In humility shall be humbled.’ The sense is, shall be completely prostrate. Those who refer this to Jerusalem suppose it refers to the time when God should humble it by bringing the enemy so near, and exciting so much consternation and alarm. Those who refer it to Babylon suppose it relates to its destruction. If referred to Nineveh, it must mean when the pride of the capital of the Assyrian empire should be iratabled by the complete overthrow of their army, and the annihilation of their hopes. The connection seems to require us to adopt this latter interpretation. The whole verse is very obscure; but perhaps the above will express its general sense.

Verse 20

Blessed are ye - The sense of this verse is, that while the enemies of the Jews would be overthrown, they themselves would be permitted to cultivate their lands in security. Instead of predicting this directly, the prophet implies that this would occur, by declaring that those who were permitted to do this were happy.

That sow beside all waters - Hebrew, ‘Upon (על al) all waters.’ This may mean that they selected places near running streams as being most fertile; or it may refer, as Lowth supposes, to the manner of sowing grain, and particularly rice, in eastern countries. This is done by casting the seed upon the water. This custom is referred to in Ecclesiastes 11:1 : ‘Cast thy bread,’ that is, thy seed, ‘upon the waters, for thou shalt find it after many days;’ that is, cast thy seed upon the waters when the river overflows the banks, and the seed will sink into the slime and mud, and will spring up when the waters subside, and you will find it again after many days in a rich and luxuriant harvest. Sir John Chardin thus describes this mode of sowing: They sow it (the rice) upon the water; and before sowing, while the earth is covered with water, they cause the ground to be trodden by oxen, horses, and asses, who go mid-leg deep; and this is the way they prepare the ground for sowing’ (Harmer’s Obs. vol. i. p. 280).

That send forth thither the feet of the ox and the ass - That is, for the purpose of treading the earth while the water is on it, and preparing it for the seed. In this way the ground would need no plowing, but the seed would fall into the slime, and be sufficiently covered when the waters should subside. The idea in this verse is, that there would be a state of security succeeding the destruction of their enemies; and that they would be permitted to pursue the cultivation of the soil, unannoyed and undisturbed.

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Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Isaiah 32". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.