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Bible Commentaries

Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

Isaiah 5


This chapter Isaiah 5:0 commences a new subject, and is in itself an entire prophecy, having no connection with the preceding or the following chapter. “When” it was delivered is unknown; but from the strong resemblance between the circumstances referred to here, and those referred to in Isaiah 2:0, it is probable it was at about the same period. The fact, also, that it is closely connected with that in the place which has been assigned it in the collection of the prophecies of Isaiah, is a circumstance which strongly corroborates that view. The general design of the chapter is to denounce the prevalent vices of the nation, and to proclaim that they will be followed with heavy judgments. The chapter may be conveniently regarded as divided into three parts.

I. A beautiful parable illustrative of the care which God had shown for his people, Isaiah 5:1-23.5.7. He states what he had done for them; calls on them to judge themselves whether he had not done for them all that he could have done; and, since his vineyard had brought forth no good fruit, he threatens to break down its hedges, and to destroy it.

II. The various vices and crimes which prevailed in the nation are denounced, and punishment threatened,Isaiah 5:8-23.5.23; Isaiah 5:8-23.5.23.

1. The sin of covetousness, Isaiah 5:8-23.5.10.

2. The sins of intemperance, revelry, and dissipation, Isaiah 5:11-23.5.17.

3. The sin of despising and contemning God, and of practicing iniquity as if he did not see it, or could not punish it, Isaiah 5:18-23.5.19.

4. The sin of those who pervert things, and call evil good and good evil, Isaiah 5:20.

5. The sin of vain self-confidence, pride, and inordinate self-esteem, Isaiah 5:21.

6. The sin of intemperance is again reproved, and the sin of receiving bribes; probably because these were in fact connected, Isaiah 5:22-23.5.23.

III. Punishment is denounced on the nation for indulgence in these sins, Isaiah 5:24-23.5.30. The punishment would be, that he would, call distant nations to invade their land, and it should be laid waste.

“The subject of this prophecy,” says Lowth, “does not differ materially from Isa. i., but it is greatly superior to it in force, in severity, in variety, in elegance.”

Verse 1

Now will I sing - This is an indication that what follows is poetic, or is adapted to be sung or chanted.

To my well-beloved - The word used here - ידיד yedı̂yd - is a term of endearment. It properly denotes a friend; a favorite; one greatly beloved. It is applied to saints as being the beloved, or the favorites of God, in Psalms 127:2; Deuteronomy 33:12. In this place, it is evidently applied to Yahweh, the God of the Jewish people. As there is some reason to believe that the God of the Jews - the manifested Deity who undertook their deliverance from Egypt, and who was revealed as “their” God under the name of ‘the Angel of the covenant’ - was the Messiah, so it may be that the prophet here meant to refer to him. It is not, however, to the Messiah “to come.” It does not refer to the God incarnate - to Jesus of Nazareth; but to the God of the Jews, in his capacity as their lawgiver and protector in the time of Isaiah; not to him in the capacity of an incarnate Saviour.

A Song of my beloved - Lowth, ‘A song of loves,’ by a slight change in the Hebrew. The word דוד dôd usually denotes ‘an uncle,’ a father’s brother. But it also means one beloved, a friend, a lover; Song of Solomon 1:13-22.1.14, Song of Solomon 1:16; Song of Solomon 2:3, Song of Solomon 2:8, Song of Solomon 2:9; Song of Solomon 4:16. Here it refers to Jehovah, and expresses the tender and affectionate attachment which the prophet had for his character and laws.

Touching his vineyard - The Jewish people are often represented under the image of a vineyard, planted and cultivated by God; see Psalms 80:0; Jeremiah 2:21; Jeremiah 12:10. Our Saviour also used this beautiful figure to denote the care and attention which God had bestowed on his people; Matthew 21:33 ff; Mark 12:1, following.

My beloved - God.

Hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill - Hebrew ‘On a horn of the son of oil.’ The word “horn” used here in the Hebrew, denotes the “brow, apex,” or sharp point of a hill. The word is thus used in other languages to denote a hill, as in the Swiss words “shreckhorn, buchorn.” Thus “Cornwall,” in England, is called in the old British tongue “Kernaw,” as lessening by degrees, like a horn, running out into promontories, like so many horns; for the Britons called a horn “corn,” and in the plural “kern.” The term ‘horn’ is not unfrequently applied to hills. Thus, Pococke tells us (vol. ii. p. 67), that there is a low mountain in Galilee which has both its ends raised in such a manner as to look like two mounts, which are called the ‘Horns of Hutin.’ Harmer, however, supposes that the term is used here to denote the land of Syria, from its resemblance to the shape ofa horn; Obs. iii. 242. But the idea is, evidently, that the land on which God respresents himself as having planted his vineyard, was like an elevated hill that was adapted eminently to such a culture. It may mean either the “top” of a mountain, or a little mountain, or a “peak” divided from others. The most favorable places for vineyards were on the sides of hills, where they would be exposed to the sun. - Shaw’s “Travels,” p. 338. Thus Virgil says:

- denique apertos

Bacchus amat colles.

‘Bacchus loves open hills;’ “Georg.” ii. 113. The phrase, “son of oil,” is used in accordance with the Jewish custom, where “son” means descendant, relative, etc.; see the note at Matthew 1:1. Here it means that it was so fertile that it might be called the very “son of oil,” or fatness, that is, fertility. The image is poetic, and very beautiful; denoting that God had planted his people in circumstances where he had a right to expect great growth in attachment to him. It was not owing to any want of care on his part, that they were not distinguished for piety. The Chaldee renders this verse, ‘The prophet said, I will sing now to Israel, who is compared to a vineyard, the seed of Abraham my beloved: a song of my beloved to his vineyard.’

Verse 2

And he fenced it - Margin, ‘Made a wall about it.’ The word used here is supposed rather to mean “to dig about, to grub,” as with a pick-axe or spade. - “Gesenius.” It has this signification in Arabic, and in one place in the Jewish Talmud. - “Kimchi.” The Vulgate and the Septuagint understands it of making a hedge or fence, probably the first work in preparing a vineyard. And as ‘a hedge’ is expressly mentioned in Isaiah 5:5, it seems most probable that that is its meaning here.

And gathered out the stones ... - That it might be easily cultivated. This was, of course, a necessary and proper work.

And planted it with the choicest vine - Hebrew, ‘With the sorek.’ This was a choice species of vine, the grapes of which, the Jewish commentators say, had very small and scarcely perceptible stones, and which, at this day, is called “serki” in Morocco; in Persia, “kishmis.” - “Gesenius.”

And built a tower - For the sake of watching and defending it. These towers were probably placed so as to overlook the whole vineyard, and were thus posts of observation; compare the note at Isaiah 1:8; see also the note at Matthew 21:33.

And also made a wine-press - A place in which to put the grapes for the purpose of expressing the juice; see the note at Matthew 21:33.

And he looked - He waited in expectation; as a farmer waits patiently for the vines to grow, and to bear grapes.

Wild grapes - The word used here is derived from the verb באשׁ bâ'ash, “to be offensive, to corrupt, to putrify;” and is supposed by Gesenius to mean “monk’s-hood,” a poisonous herb, offensive in smell, which produces berries like grapes. Such a meaning suits the connection better than the supposition of grapes that were wild or uncultivated. The Vulgate understands it of the weed called “wild vine - labruscas.” The Septuagint translates it by “thorns,” ἄκανθας akanthas. That there were vines in Judea which produced such poisonous berries, though resembling grapes, is evident; see 2 Kings 4:39-12.4.41 : ‘And one went out into the fields to gather pot herbs, and he found a field vine, and he gathered from it wild fruit.’ Moses also refers to a similar vine; Deuteronomy 32:32-5.32.33 : ‘For their vine is as the vine of Sodom; their grapes are grapes of gall; their clusters are bitter.’ Hasselquist thinks that the prophet here means the “nightshade.” The Arabs, says he, call it “wolf-grapes.” It grows much in vineyards, and is very pernicious to them. Some poisonous, offensive berries, growing on wild vines, are doubtless intended here.

The general meaning of this parable it is not difficult to understand; compare the notes at Matthew 21:33. Jerome has attempted to follow out the allegory, and explain the particular parts. He says, ‘By the metaphor of the vineyard is to be understood the people of the Jews, which he surrounded or enclosed by angels; by gathering out the stones, the removal of idols; by the tower, the temple erected in the midst of Judea; by the wine-press, the altar.’ There is no propriety, however, in attempting thus minutely to explain the particular parts of the figure. The general meaning is, that God had chosen the Jewish people; had bestowed great care on them in giving them his law, in defending them, and in providing for them; that he had omitted nothing that was adapted to produce piety, obedience, and happiness, and that they had abused it all, and instead of being obedient, had become exceedingly corrupt.

Verse 3

And now ... - This is an appeal which God makes to the Jews themselves, in regard to the justice and propriety of what he was about to do. A similar appeal he makes in Micah 6:3 : ‘O my people, what have I done unto thee? and wherein have I wearied thee? Testify against me.’ He intended to “punish” them Isaiah 5:5-23.5.6, and he appeals to them for the justice of it. He would do to them as they would do to a vineyard that had been carefully prepared and guarded, and which yet was valueless. A similar appeal he makes in Isaiah 1:18; and our Saviour made an application remarkably similar in his parable of the vineyard, Matthew 21:40-40.21.43. It is not improbable that he had his eye on this very place in Isaiah; and it is, therefore, the more remarkable that the Jews did not understand the bearing of his discourse.

Verse 4

What could I... - As a man who had done what is described in Isaiah 5:2, would have done all that “could” be done for a vineyard, so God says that he has done all that he could, in the circumstances of the Jews, to make them holy and happy. He had chosen them; had given them his law; had sent them prophets and teachers; had defended them; had come forth in judgment and mercy, and he now appeals “to them” to say what “could” have been done more. This important verse implies that God had done all that he could have done; that is, all that he could consistently do, or all that justice and goodness required him to do, to secure the welfare of his people. It cannot, of course, be meant that he had no physical ability to do anything else, but the expression must be interpreted by a reference to the point in hand; and that is, an appeal to others to determine that he had done all that could be done in the circumstances of the case. In this respect, we may, without impropriety, say, that there is a limit to the power of God. It is impossible to conceive that he “could” have given a law more holy; or that he could append to it more solemn sanctions than the threatening of eternal death; or that he could have offered higher hopes than the prospect of eternal life; or that he could have given a more exalted Redeemer. It has been maintained (see the “Princeton Bib. Repert.,” April 1841) that the reference here is to the future, and that the question means, ‘what remains now to be done to my vineyard as an expression of displeasure?’ or that it is asked with a view to introduce the expression of his purpose to punish his people, stated in Isaiah 5:5. But that the above is the meaning or the passage, or that it refers to what God had actually done, is evident from the following considerations:

(1) He had specified at length Isaiah 5:2 what he had done. He had performed “all” that was usually done to a vineyard; in fencing it, and clearing it of stones, and planting in it the choicest vines, and building a wine-press in it. Without impropriety, it might be said of a man that, whatever wealth he had, or whatever power he had to do “other” things, he “could do nothing more to perfect a vineyard.”

(2) It is the meaning which is most naturally suggested by the original. Literally, the Hebrew is, ‘What to do more?’ עוד מה־לעשׂות mah-la‛ăs'ôth ‛ôd. Coverdale renders this, as it is in our translation, ‘What more could have been done for it?’ Luther, ‘What should one do more to my vineyard, that I have not done for it?’ Was sollte man doth mehr thun an meinem Weinberge, das ich nicht gethun babe an illin? Vulgate, Quid est quod debui ultra facere. ‘What is there which I ought to do more?’ Septuagint, Τί ποιήσω ἔτι Ti poiēsō eti, ‘What shall I do yet?’ implying that he had done all that he could for it. The Chaldee renders it, ‘What good thing - טבא מה mah ṭâbâ' - shall I say that I will do to my people that I have not done for them?’ implying that he had done for them all the good which could be spoken of. The Syriac, ‘What remains to be done to my vineyard, and I have not done it?’ In all these versions, the sense given is substantially the same - that God had done all that could be done to make the expectation that his vineyard would produce fruit, proper. There is no reference in one of these versions to what he “would” do afterward, but the uniform reference is to what he “had” done to make the expectation “reasonable,” that his vineyard would produce fruit.

(3) That this is the fair interpretation is apparent further, because, when, in Isaiah 5:5, he says what he “would do,” it is entirely different from what he said he “had done.” He “had” done all that could be done to make it proper to expect fruit; he now “would” do what would be a proper expression of his displeasure that no fruit had been produced. He would take away its hedge; break down its walls, and lay it waste. But in the interpretation of the passage proposed by the “Princeton Repert.,” there is an entire omission of this part of the verse - ‘that I have not done in it.’ It is not improper, therefore, to use this passage to show that God had done all that could be consistently done for the salvation of man, and the same appeal may now be made to sinners everywhere; and it may be asked, what God “could” have done for their salvation more than has been done? “Could” he have given them a purer law? “Could” he present higher considerations than have been drawn from the hope of an “eternal” heaven, and the fear of an “eternal” hell? Could he have furnished a more full atonement than has been made by the blood of his own Son? The conclusion to which we should come would be in accordance with what is said in the prophet, that God has done “all” for the salvation of sinners that in the circumstances of the case could be done, and that if they are lost, they only will bear the blame.

Verse 5

Go to - The Hebrew word here is one that is commonly rendered, ‘I pray you,’ and is used “to call the attention to” what is said. It is the word from which we have derived the adverb “now,” נא nā'.

I will take away the hedge - A “hedge” is a fence of thorns, made by suffering thorn-bushes to grow so thick that nothing can pass through them. Here it means that God would withdraw his protection from the Jews, and leave them exposed to be overrun and trodden down by their enemies, as a vineyard would be by wild beasts if it were not protected.

The wall ... - Vineyards, it seems, had a “double” enclosure. - “Gesenius.” Such a double protection might be necessary, as some animals might scale a wall that would yet find it impossible to pass through a thorn-hedge. The sense here is, that though the Jews had been protected in every way possible, yet that protection would be withdrawn, and they would be left defenseless.

Verse 6

I will lay it waste ... - The description here is continued from Isaiah 5:5. The image is carried out, and means that the Jews should be left utterly without protection.

I will also command the clouds ... - It is evident here, that the parable or figure is partially dropped. A farmer could not command the clouds. It is God alone who could do that; and the figure of the vineyard is dropped, and God is introduced speaking as a sovereign. The meaning is, that he would withhold his divine influences, and would abandon them to desolation. The sense of the whole verse is plain. God would leave the Jews without protection; he would remove the guards, the helps, the influences, with which he had favored them, and leave them to their own course, as a vineyard that was unpruned, uncultivated, unwatered. The Chaldee has well expressed the sense of the passage: ‘I will take away the house of my sanctuary (the temple), and they shall be trodden down. I will regard them as guilty, and there shall be no support or defense for them; they shall be abandoned, and shall become wanderers. I will command the prophets, that they shall not prophesy over them.’ The lesson taught here is, that when a people become ungrateful, and rebellious, God will withdraw from them, and leave them to desolation; compare Revelation 2:3.

Verse 7

For the vineyard ... - This is the application of the parable. God had treated the Jews as a farmer does a vineyard. This was “his” vineyard - the object of his faithful, unceasing care. This was his “only” vineyard; on this people alone, of all the nations of the earth, had he bestowed his special attention.

His pleasant plant - The plant in which he delighted. As the farmer had been at the pains to plant the “sorek” Isaiah 5:2, so had God selected the ancient stock of the Jews as his own, and made the race the object of his chief attention.

And he looked for judgment - For justice, or righteousness.

But behold oppression - The word rendered “oppression” means properly “shedding of blood.” In the original here, there is a remarkable “paranomasia,” or play upon words, which is not uncommon in the Hebrew Scriptures, and which was deemed a great beauty in composition:

He looked for “judgment,” משׁפט mishpâṭ,
And lo! “shedding of blood,” משׂפח mis'pâch;
For “rightousness,” צדקה tsedâqâh,
But lo! “a clamor,” צעקה tse‛âqâh.

It is impossible, of course, to retain this in a translation.

A cry. A clamor - tumult, disorder; the clamor which attends anarchy, and covetousness, and dissipation Isaiah 5:8, Isaiah 5:11-23.5.12, rather than the soberness and steadiness of justice.

Verse 8

Wo unto them ... - The prophet now proceeds to “specify” some of the crimes to which he had referred in the parable of the vineyard, of which the Jews had been guilty. The first is “avarice.”

That join house to house - That seek to possess many houses; or perhaps that seek to live in large and magnificent palaces. A similar denunciation of this sin is recorded in Micah 2:2; Nehemiah 5:1-16.5.8. This, together with what follows, was contrary to the law of Moses. He provided that when the children of Israel should enter the land of Canaan, the land should be equitably divided; and in order to prevent avarice, he ordained the “jubilee,” occurring once in fifty years, by which every man and every family should be restored to their former possession; Leviticus 25:0. Perhaps there could have been no law so well framed to prevent the existence, and avoid the evils of covetousness. Yet, in defiance of the obvious requirements and spirit of that law, the people in the time of Isaiah had beome generally covetous.

That lay field to field - That purchase one farm after another. The words ‘that lay,’ mean “to cause to approach;” that is, they “join” on one farm after another.

Till there be no place - Until they reach the “outer limit” of the land; until they possess all.

That they may be placed alone - That they may displace all others; that they may drive off from their lands all others, and take possession of them themselves.

In the midst of the earth - Or rather, in the midst of the “land.” They seek to obtain the whole of it, and to expel all the present owners. Never was there a more correct description of avarice. It is satisfied with no present possessions, and would be satisfied only if all the earth were in its possession. Nor would the covetous man be satisfied then. He would sit down and weep that there was nothing more which he could desire. How different this from that “contentment” which is produced by religion, and the love of the happiness of others!

Verse 9

In mine ears - This probably refers to the prophet. As if he had said, ‘God has revealed it to me,’ or ‘God has said in my ears,’ i. e, to me. The Septuagint reads it, ‘These things are heard in the ears of the Lord of hosts,’ that is, the wishes” of the man of avarice. The Chaldee, ‘The prophet said, In my ears I have heard; a decree has gone from the Lord of hosts,’ etc.

Many houses shall be desolate - Referring to the calamities that should come upon the nation for its crimes.

Verse 10

Yea, ten acres - In this verse a reason is rendered why the houses mentioned in the previous verse should become desolate. The reason is, that the land would become sterile and barren, as a divine judgment for their oppression. To what particular time the prophet refers, here, is not apparent. It is certain, however, that the land of Canaan was frequently given up to sterility. The withholding of the early and latter rains, or the neglect of cultivation from any cause, would produce this. At present, this formerly fertile country is among the most unproductive on the face of the earth.

Ten acres - An “acre,” among the Hebrews, was what could be plowed by one yoke of oxen in a day. It did not differ materially from our acre.

Shall yield one bath - One bath of wine. The “bath” was a Jewish measure for liquids, containing about seven gallons and a half. To say that “ten acres” should produce no more wine than this; was the same as to say that it would produce almost nothing.

And the seed of an homer - An “homer” was a Hebrew measure for grain, containing about eight bushels.

An ephah - The “ephah” contained about three pecks. Of course, to say that an homer of seed should produce about three pecks, would be the same as saying that it would produce almost nothing.

Verse 11

Wo unto them - The prophet, having denounced “avarice,” proceeds now to another vice - that of “intemperance, or dissipation.”

That rise up early ... - That rise “for this purpose,” when nothing else would rouse them. It may illustrate this somewhat, to remark, that it was not common among the ancients to become intoxicated at an early hour of the day; see the note at Acts 2:15; compare 1 Thessalonians 5:7. It indicated then, as it does now, a confirmed and habitual state of intemperance when a man would do this early in the morning. ‘The Persians, when they commit a debauch, arise betimes, and esteem the morning as the best time for beginning to drink wine, by which means they carry on their excess until night.’ - “Morier.”

That they may follow strong drink - - שׁכר shêkār, or sichar. This word is derived from a verb signifying to drink, to become intoxicated. All nations have found out some intoxicating drink. That which was used by the Hebrews was made from grain, fruit, honey, dates, etc., prepared by fermentation. The word sometimes means the same as wine Numbers 28:7, but more commonly it refers to a stronger drink, and is distinguished from it, as in the common phrase, ‘wine and strong drink;’ Leviticus 10:9; Numbers 6:3; Judges 13:4, Judges 13:7. Sometimes it may be used for “spiced wine” - a mixture of wine with spices, that would also speedily produce intoxication. The Chaldee renders the words עתיק חמר chămar ‛atı̂yq, ‘old fermented liquor;’ denoting the “mode” in which strong drink was usually prepared. It may be remarked here, that whatever may be the “form” in which intoxicating drink is prepared, it is substantially the same in all nations. Intoxication is caused by “alcohol,” and that is produced by fermentation. It is never created or increased by distillation. The only effect of distillation is, to collect and preserve the alcohol which existed in the beer, the wine, or the cider. Consequently, the same substance produces intoxication when wine is drank, which does when brandy is drank; the same in cider or other fermented liquor, as in ardent spirits.

That continue until night - That drink all day. This shows that the “strong drink” intended here, did not produce “sudden,” intoxication. This is an exact description of what occurs constantly in oriental nations. The custom of sitting long at the wine, when they have the means of indulgence, prevails everywhere. D’Ar-vieux says, that while he was staying among the Arabs on mount Carmel, a wreck took place on the coast, from which one of the emirs obtained two large casks of wine. He immediately sent to the neighboring emirs, inviting them to come and drink it. They gladly came, and continued drinking for two days and two nights, until not a drop of the wine was left. In like manner, Tavernier relates that the king of Persia sent for him early one morning to the palace, when, with other persons, he was obliged to sit all the day, and late at night, drinking wine with the shah; but at last, ‘the king growing sleepy, gave us leave to depart, which we did very willingly, having had hard labor for seventeen hours together.’

Inflame them - Excite them; or stimulate them. We have the same phrase - denoting the “burning” tendency of strong drink. The American Indians appropriately call “fire-water.”

Verse 12

The prophet proceeds to state still further the extent of their crimes. This verse contains an account of their dissipated habits, and their consequent forgetfulness of God. That they commonly had musical instruments in their feasts, is evident from many passages of the Old Testament; see Amos 6:5-30.6.6. Their feasts, also, were attended with songs; Isaiah 24:8-23.24.9.

The harp - - כנור kinnôr. This is a well-known stringed instrument, employed commonly in sacred music. It is often mentioned as having been used to express the pious feelings of David; Psalms 32:2; Psalms 43:4; Psalms 49:5. It is early mentioned as having been invented by Jubal; Genesis 4:21. It is supposed usually to have had ten strings (Josephus, “Ant.” B. x. ch. xii. Section 3). It was played by the hand; 1Sa 16:23; 1 Samuel 18:9. The “root” of the word כנור kinnôr, is unknown. The word “kinnor” is used in all the languages cognate to the Hebrew, and is recognized even in the Persian. It is probable that the instrument here referred to was common in all the oriental nations, as it seems to have been known before the Flood, and of course the knowledge of it would be extended far. It is an oriental name and instrument, and from this word the Greeks derived their word κινύρα kinura. The Septuagint renders it κιθάρα kithara and κινύρα kinura.

Once they substitute for it ὄργανον organon, Psalms 136:2; and five times ψαλτήριον psaltērion, Genesis 4:20; Psalms 48:4; Psalms 80:2; Psalms 149:3; Ezekiel 26:13. The harp - כנור kinnôr - is not only mentioned as having been invented by Jubal, but it is also mentioned by Laban in the description which be gives of various solemnities, in regard to which he assures the fleeing Jacob that it had been his wish to accompany him with all the testimonials of joy - ‘with music - תף tôph and כנור kinnôr;’ Genesis 31:27. In the first age it was consecrated to joy and exultation. Hence, it is referred to as the instrument employed by David to drive away the melancholy of Saul 1 Samuel 16:16-9.16.22, and is the instrument usually employed to celebrate the praises of God; Psalms 33:1-19.33.2; Psalms 43:4; Psalms 49:5; Psalms 71:22-19.71.23. But the harp was not only used on sacred occasions. Isaiah also mentions it as carried about by courtezans Isaiah 23:16, and also refers to it as used on occasions of gathering in the vintage, and of increasing the joy of the festival occasion.

So also it was used in military triumphs. Under the reign of Jehoshaphat, after a victory which had been gained over the Moabites, they returned in triumph to Jerusalem, accompanied with playing on the כנור kinnôr;” 2 Chronicles 20:27-14.20.28. The harp was generally used on occasions of joy. Only in one place, in Isaiah Isaiah 16:11, is it referred to as having been employed in times of mourning. There is no ancient figure of the כנור kinnôr that can be relied on as genuine. We can only say that it was an instrument made of sounding wood, and furnished with strings. Josephus says that it was furnished with ten strings, and was played with the plectrum (“Ant.” B. viii. ch. x.) Suidas, in his explanation of it, makes express mention of strings or sinews (p. 318); and Pollux speaks of goats’ claws as being used for the plectrum. David made it out of the ברושׁ berôsh, or fir, and Solomon out of the almug. Pfeiffer supposes, that the strings were drawn over the belly of a hollow piece of wood, and that it had some resemblance to our violin. But it is more probable that the common representation of the harp as nearly in the form of a triangle, with one side or the front part missing, is the correct one. For a full discussion of the subject, see Pfeiffer on the Music of the ancient Hebrews, “Bib. Repos.” vol. vi. pp. 366-373. Montfaucon has furnished a drawing of what was supposed to be the ancient כנור kinnôr, which is represented in the book. But, after all, the usual form is not quite certain.

Bruce found a sculpture of a harp resembling that usually put into the hands of David, or nearly in the form of a triangle, and under circumstances which led him to suppose that it was as old as the times of Sesostris.

And the viol - נבל nebel. From this word is derived the Greek word νάβλα nabla, and the Latin nablium and nabla. But it is not very easy to form a correct idea of this instrument. The derivation would lead us to suppose that it was something in the shape of a “bottle,” and it is probable that it had a form in the shape of a leather bottle, such as is used in the East, or at least a vessel in which wine was preserved; 1 Samuel 10:3; 1Sa 25:18; 2 Samuel 16:1. It was at first made of the ברושׁ berôsh or fir; afterward it was made of the almug tree, and occasionally it seems to have been made of metal; 2Sa 6:5; 1 Chronicles 13:8. The external parts of the instrument were of wood, over which strings were drawn in various ways. Josephus says it had twelve strings (“Ant.” B. viii. ch. x.) He says also that it was played with the fingers. - “Ibid.” Hesychius and Pollux reckon it among stringed instruments. The resonance had its origin in the vessel or the bottom part of the instrument, upon which the strings were drawn. According to Ovid, this instrument was played on with both hands:

Quaravis mutus erat, voci favisse putatur

Piscis, Aroniae fabula nora lyrae.

Disce etiam duplice genialia palma


De Arte Amandi, lib. iii. 327.

According to Jerome, Isodorus, and Cassiodorus, it had the form of an inverted Greek Delta δ d. Pfeiffer supposes that this instrument was probably the same as is found represented on ancient monument. The belly of the instrument is a wooden bowl, having a small hole in the under part, and is covered over with a stretched skin, which is higher in the middle than at the sides. Two posts, which are fastened together at the top by a cross piece, pass obliquely through this skin. Five strings pass over this skin, having a bridge for their support on the cross piece. The instrument has no pins or screws, but every string is fastened by means of some linen wound with it around this cross piece. The description of this instrument is furnished by Niebuhr (“Thess.” i. p. 179). It is played on in two ways, either by being struck with the finger, or by a piece of leather, or perhaps a quill hung at its side and drawn across the strings. It cannot with certainty be determined when this instrument was invented, or when it came into use among the Hebrews. It is first mentioned in the time of Saul 1 Samuel 10:5, and from this time onward it is frequently mentioned in the Old Testament. It was used particularly in the public worship of God; 2 Samuel 6:5; 1 Kings 10:12; 2Ch 20:28; 2 Chronicles 29:25; 1 Chronicles 15:16; 1 Chronicles 16:5. It was usually accompanied with other instruments, and was also used in festivals and entertainments; see “Bib. Repos.” vol. vi. pp. 357-365. The usual form of representing it is shown in the preceding cut, and is the form in which the lyre appears on ancient monuments, in connection with the statues of Apollo.

The drawing in the book is a representation of a lyre from a Jewish shekel of the time of Simon Maccabeus, and may have been, not improbably, a form in frequent use among the Jews.

Niebuhr has furnished us with an instrument from the East, which is supposed to bare a very near resemblance to that which is referred to by Isaiah. This instrument is represented by the picture in the book.

The tabret - תף tôph. This was one of the instruments which were struck with the hands. It was the kettle-drum of the ancients, and it is more easy to determine its form and use than it is of most of the instruments used by the Hebrews. The Septuagint and other Greek translators render it by τύμπανον tumpanon. This word, as well as the Latin tympanum, is manifestly derived from the Hebrew. The Arabic word “duf” applied to the same instrument is also derived from the same Hebrew word. It was an instrument of wood, hollowed out, and covered over with leather and struck with the hands - a species of drum, This form of the drum is used by the Spaniards, and they have preserved it ever since the time of the Moors. It was early used. Laban wished to accompany Jacob with its sound; Genesis 31:27. Miriam, the sister of Moses, and the females with her, accompanied the song of victory with this instrument; Exodus 15:20.

Job was acquainted with it Job 17:6; Job 21:12, and David employed it in the festivities of religion; 2 Samuel 6:5. The occasions on which it is mentioned as being used are joyful occasions, and for the most part those who play on it are females, and on this account they are called ‘drum-beating women’ Psalms 68:26 - in our translation, ‘damsels playing with timbrels,’ In our translation it is rendered “tabret,” Isa 5:12; 1 Samuel 10:5; Genesis 31:26; Isaiah 24:8; Isaiah 30:32; 1 Samuel 18:6; Ezekiel 38:13; Jeremiah 31:4; Job 17:6; “tabering,” Nahum 2:7; and “timbrel,” Psalms 81:2; Exodus 15:20; Job 21:12; Psalms 149:3; Psalms 150:4; Judges 11:34; Psalms 68:25. It is no where mentioned as employed in war or warlike transactions. It was sometimes made by merely stretching leather over a wooden hoop, and thus answered to the instrument known among us as the tambourine. It was in the form of a sieve, and is often found on ancient monuments, and particularly in the hands of Cybele. In the East, there is now no instrument more common than this.

Niebuhr (Thes i. p. 181) has given the following description of it: ‘It is a broad hoop covered on one side with a stretched skin. In the rim there are usually thin round pullies or wheels of metal which make some noise, when this drum, held on high with one hand, is struck with the fingers of the other hand. No musical instrument perhaps is so much employed in Turkey as this. When the females in their harems dance or sing, the time is always beat on this instrument. It is called doff.’ See “Bib. Repos.” vol. vi. pp. 398-402. it is commonly supposed that from the word “toph, Tophet” is derived - a name given to the valley of Jehoshaphat near Jerusalem, because this instrument was used there to drown the cries of children when sacrificed to Moloch.

And pipe. - חליל châlı̂yl. This word is derived either from חלל châlal, “to bore through,” and thence conveys the idea of a flute bored through, and furnished with holes (“Gesenius”); or from חלל châlal, “to leap” or “to dance;” and thence it conveys the idea of an instrument that was played on at the dance. - “Pfeiffer.”

The Greek translators have always rendered it by αὐλός aulos. There are, in all, but four places where it occurs in the Old Testament; 1 Kings 1:40; Isaiah 5:12; Isaiah 30:29; Jeremiah 48:36; and it is uniformly rendered “pipe or pipes,” by our translators. The origin of the pipe is unknown. It was possessed by most ancient nations, though it differed much in form. It was made sometimes of wood, at others of reed, at others of the bones of animals, horns, etc. The “box-wood” has been the common material out of which it was made. It was sometimes used for plaintive music (compare Matthew 9:23); but it was also employed in connection with other instruments, while journeying up to Jerusalem to attend the great feasts there; see the note at Isaiah 30:29. Though employed on plaintive occasions, yet it was also employed in times of joy and pleasure. Hence, in the times of Judas Maccabeus, the Jews complained ‘that all joy had vanished from Jacob, and, that the flute and cithera were silent;’ 1 Macc. 3:45; see “Bib. Repos.” vol. vi. pp. 387-392. The graceful figures (shown in the book) will show the manner of playing the flute or pipe among the Greeks. It was also a common art to play the double flute or pipe, in the East, in the manner represented in the book. In the use of these instruments, in itself there could be no impropriety. That which the prophet rebuked was, that they employed them not for praise, or even for innocent amusement, but that they introduced them to their feasts of revelry, and thus made them the occasion of forgetting God. Forgetfulness of God, in connection with music and dancing, is beautifully described by Job:

They send forth their little ones like a flock,

And their children dance;

They take the timbrel and harp,

And rejoice at the sound of the organ;

They spend their days in mirth,

And in a moment go down to the grave.

And they say unto God -

‘Depart from us;

For we know not the knowledge of thy ways.

What is the Almighty, that we should serve him?

And what profit should we have if we pray unto him?’

Job 21:11-18.21.15.

In their feasts - ‘The Nabathaeans of Arabia Petrea always introduced music at their entertainments (Strabo, xvi.), and the custom seems to have been very general among the ancients. They are mentioned as having been essential among the Greeks, from the earliest times; and are pronounced by Homer to be requisite at a feast:

Molpē t' orchēstu; te ta gar t' anathēmata daitos.

Odyssey i. 152.

Aristoxenus, quoted by Plutarch, “De Musica,” says, that ‘the music was designed to counteract the effects of inebriety, for as wine discomposes the body and the mind, so music has the power of soothing them, and of restoring their previous calmness and tranquility.’ “See Wilkinsoh’s Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians,” vol. ii. pp. 248, 249.

But they regard not ... - The reproof is especially, that they forget him in their entertainments. They employ music to inflame their passions; and amid their songs and wine, their hearts are drawn away from God. That this is the tendency of such feasts, all must know. God is commonly forgotten in such places; and even the sweetest music is made the occasion for stealing the affections from him, and of inflaming the passions, instead of being employed to soften the feelings of the soul, and raise the heart to God.

The operation of his hands - The work of his hands - particularly his dealings among the people. God is round about them with mercy and judgment, but they do not perceive him.

Verse 13

Therefore my people are gone - This is evidently used with reference to the “future.” The prophet described events as “passing before his eyes” as a vision (note, Isaiah 1:1); and he here seems to “see” the people going into captivity, and describes it as an event actually occurring.

Into captivity - Referring, doubtless, to the captivity at Babylon.

Because they have no knowledge - Because they do not choose to retain the knowledge of God.

And their honorable men - The Hebrew is, ‘The glory of the people became people of famine;’ that is, they shall be destroyed with famine. This was to be a “punishment” for their dissipation at their feasts.

And their multitude - The mass, or body of the nation; the common people.

Dried up with thirst - Are punished in this manner for their indulgence in drinking. The punishment here specified, refers particularly to a journey through an arid, desolate region, where drink could be obtained only with difficulty. Such was the route which the nation was compelled afterward to take in going to Babylon.

Verse 14

Therefore hell - The word transated “hell,” שׁאול she'ôl, has not the same meaning that we now attach to that word; its usual signification, among the Hebrews, was “the lower world, the region of departed spirits.” It corresponded to the Greek ἅδης Hadēs, “hades,” or place of the dead. This word occurs eleven times in the New Testament Matthew 11:23; Matthew 16:18; Luke 10:15; Luke 16:23; Acts 2:27, Acts 2:31; 1 Corinthians 15:55; Revelation 1:18; Revelation 6:8; Revelation 20:13-66.20.14, in all of which places, except 1 Corinthians 15:55, it is rendered “hell,” though denoting, in most of those places, as it does in the Old Testament, the abodes of the dead. The Septuagint, in this place, and usually, translates the word שׁאול she'ôl by ἅδης Hadēs, “Hades.” It was represented by the Hebrews as “low down, or deep” in the earth - contrasted with the height of heaven; Deuteronomy 32:22; Job 11:8; Psalms 139:7-19.139.8. It was a place where thick darkness reigns; Job 10:21-18.10.22 : ‘The land of darkness and the shadow of death; a land of darkness, as darkness itself.’ It is described as having “valleys, or depths,” Proverbs 9:18. It is represented also as having “gates,” Isaiah 38:10; and as being inhabited by a great multitude, some of whom sit on thrones, occupied in some respects as they were on earth; see the note at Isaiah 14:9. And it is also said that the wicked descend into it by openings in the earth, as Korah, Dathan, and Abiram did; Numbers 15:30, ... In this place, it means evidently the “regions of the dead,” without the idea of punishment; and the poetic representation is, that so many of the Jews would be cut off by famine, thirst, and the sword, that those vast regions would be obliged “to enlarge themselves” in order to receive them. It means, therefore, that while many of them would go into captivity Isaiah 5:13, vast multitudes of them would be cut off by famine, thirst, and the sword.

Opened her mouth - As if to absorb or consume them; as a “cavern,” or opening of the earth does; compare Numbers 16:30.

Without measure - Without any limit.

And their glory - All that they esteemed their pride and honor shall descend together into the yawning gulf.

Their multitude - The multitude of people; their vast hosts.

Their pomp - Noise, tumult; the bustle, and shouting, and display made in battle, or war, or victory; Isaiah 13:4; Amos 2:2; Hosea 10:14.

And he that rejoiceth - All that the nation prided itself on, and all that was a source of joy, should be destroyed.

Verses 15-16

And the mean man ... the mighty man - The expressions here mean that “all” ranks would be subdued and punished; see the note at Isaiah 2:9.

The eyes of the lofty ... - see Isaiah 2:11, note; Isaiah 2:17, note.

Shall be exalted in judgment - In his justice; he shall so manifest his justice as to be exalted in the view of tbe people.

Shall be sanctified - Shall be “regarded” as holy. He shall so manifest his righteousness in his dealings, that it shall be seen and felt that he is a holy God.

Verse 17

Then shall the lambs feed - This verse is very variously interpreted. Most of the Hebrew commentators have followed the Chaldee interpretation, and have regarded it as desired to console the pious part of the people with the assurance of protection in the general calamity. The Chaldee is, ‘Then the just shall feed, as it is said, to them; and they shall be multiplied, and shall possess the property of the inpious.’ By this interpretation, “lambs” are supposed, as is frequently the case in the Scriptures, to represent the people of God. But according to others, the probable design of the prophet is, to denote the state of utter desolation that was coming upon the nation. Its cities, towns, and palaces would be destroyed, so as to become a vast pasturage where the flocks would roam at pleasure.

After their manner - Hebrew, ‘According to their word,’ that is, under their own “command,” or at pleasure. They would go where they pleased without being obstructed by fences.

And the waste places of the fat ones - Most of the ancient interpreters suppose, that the waste places of the fat ones here refer to the desolate habitations of the rich people; in the judgments that should come upon the nation, they would become vacant, and strangers would come in and possess them. This is the sense given by the Chaldee. The Syriac translates it, ‘And foreigners shall devour the ruins which are yet to be restored.’ If this is the sense, then it accords with the “first” interpretation suggested of the previous verse - that the pious should be fed, and that the proud should be desolate, and their property pass into the hands of strangers. By others (Gesenius, etc.), it is supposed to mean that strangers, or foreigners, would come in, and fatten their cattle in the desert places of the nation. The land would be so utterly waste, that they would come there to fatten their cattle in the rank and wild luxuriancy that would spontaneously spring up. This sense will suit the connection of the passage; but there is some difficulty in making it out from the Hebrew. The Hebrew which is rendered ‘the waste places of the fat ones,’ may, however, be translated ‘the deserts that are rich - rank - luxuriant.’ The word “stranger” denotes “foreigners;” or those who are not “permanent” dwellers in the land.

Verse 18

Wo unto them ... - This is a new denunciation. It introduces another form of sin, and threatens its appropriate punishment.

That draw iniquity with cords of vanity - The general idea in this verse and the next, is, doubtless, that of plunging deeper and deeper into sin. The word “sin” here, has been sometimes supposed to mean “the punishment” for sin. The word has that meaning sometimes, but it seems here to be taken in its usual sense. The word “cords” means strings of any kind, larger or smaller; and the expression “cords of vanity,” is supposed to mean “small, slender, feeble” strings, like the web of a spider. The word vanity שׁוא shâv', May, perhaps, have the sense here of falsehood or deceit; and the cords of deceit may denote the schemes of evil, the plans for deceiving people, or of bringing them into a snare, as the fowler springs his deceitful snare upon the unsuspecting bird. The Chaldee translates it, ‘Woe to those who begin to sin by little and little, drawing sin by cords of vanity; these sins grow and increase until they are strong, and are like a cart-rope.’ The Septuagint renders it, ‘Woe to those who draw sin with a long cable;’ that is,” one sin is added to another, until it comes to an enormous length, and the whole is drawn along together. Probably the true idea is that of the ancient interpretation of the rabbis, ‘An evil inclination is at first like a fine hair string, but the finishing like a cart-rope.’ At first, they draw sin with a slender cord, then they go on to greater deeds of iniquity that urge them on, and draw them with their main strength, as with a cart-rope. They make a strong “effort” to commit iniquity.

Verse 19

That say ... - They add one sin to another for “the purpose of defying” God, and provoking him to anger. They pretend that he will not punish sin; and hence, they plunge deeply into it, and defy him to punish them.

Let him make speed - Let him come quick to punish.

And hasten his work - His punishment.

That we may see it - An expression of defiance. We would like to see him undertake it.

The counsel of the Holy One ... - His threatened purpose to punish. This is the language of all sinners. They plunge deep into sin; they mock at the threatenings of God; they defy him to do his utmost; they do not believe his declarations. It is difficult to conceive more dreadful and high-handed iniquity than this.

Verse 20

Wo unto them that call evil good ... - This is the fourth class of sins denounced. The sin which is reprobated here is that of “perverting and confounding” things, especially the distinctions of morality and religion. They prefer erroneous and fake doctrines to the true; they prefer an evil to an upright course of conduct. The Chaldee renders this, ‘Wo to those who say to the impious, who are prospered in this age, You are good; and who say to the meek, Ye are impious.’ Jarchi thinks that the prophet here refers to those who worship idols, but he evidently has a more general reference to those who confound all the distinctions of right and wrong, and who prefer the wrong.

That put darkness for light - “Darkness,” in the Scriptures, is the emblem of ignorance, error, false doctrine, crime. Light denotes truth, knowledge, piety. This clause, therefore, expresses in a figurative, but more emphatic manner, what was said in the previous member of the verse.

That put bitter - “Bitter and bitterness” are often used to denote “sin;” see the note at Acts 8:23; also Romans 3:14; Ephesians 4:31; Hebrews 12:15; Jeremiah 2:19; Jeremiah 4:18. The meaning here does not differ from that expressed in the other parts of the verse, except that there is “implied” the additional idea that sin “is” bitter; and that virtue, or holiness, is sweet: that is, that the one is attended with painful consequences, and the other with pleasure.

Verse 21

Wo unto them that are wise ... - This is the fifth crime specified. It refers to those who are inflated with a false opinion of their own knowledge, and who are, therefore, self-confident and vain. This is expressly forbidden; Proverbs 3:7 : ‘Be not wise in thine own eyes;’ compare Proverbs 26:12.

In their own eyes - In their own opinion, or estimation.

And prudent - Knowing; self-conceited. This was, doubtless, one characteristic of the times of Isaiah. It is known to have been strikingly the characteristic of the Jews - particularly the Pharisees - in the time of our Saviour. The evil of this was,

(1) That it evinced and fostered “pride.”

(2) That it rendered them unwilling to be instructed, and especially by the prophets.

As they supposed that they were already wise enough, they refused to listen to others. This is always the effect of such self-confidence: and hence, the Saviour required his disciples to be meek, and humble, and teachable as children.

Verse 22

Wo unto them that are mighty ... - This is the sixth specification of crime. He had already denounced the intemperate in Isaiah 5:11. But probably this was a prevailing sin. Perhaps there was no evidence of reform; and it was needful to “repeat” the admonition, in order that people might be brought to regard it. The prophet repeats a similar denunciation in Isaiah 56:12.

Mighty - Perhaps those who prided themselves on their ability to drink “much” without becoming intoxicated; who had been so accustomed to it, that they defied its effects, and boasted of their power to resist its usual influence. A similar idea is expressed in Isaiah 56:12.

Men of strength - The Chaldee understands this of “rich” men; but, probably, the reference is to those who boasted that they were able to bear “much” strong drink.

To mingle - To mix wine with spices, dates, drugs, etc., to make it more intoxicating; Proverbs 9:2, Proverbs 9:5. They boasted that they were able to drink, without injury, liquor of extraordinary intoxicating qualities.

Strong drink - Note, Isaiah 5:11. On the subject of the strong drink used in the East, “see Harmer’s Observations,” vol. ii. pp. 140-148. Ed. Lond. 1808.

Verse 23

Which justify - This refers, doubtless, to magistrates. They gave unjust decisions.

For reward - For bribes.

And take away the righteousness - That is, they do not decide the cause in favor of those who have just claims, but are determined by a bribe; see the note at Isaiah 1:23. It is remarkable, that this is introduced in immediate connection with their being mighty to mingle strong drink. One effect of intemperance is to make a man ready to be “bribed.” Its effect is seen as clearly in courts of justice, and in the decisions of such courts, as any where. A man that is intemperate, or that indulges in strong drink, is not qualified to be a judge.

Verse 24

Therefore as the fire ... - The remainder of this chapter is occupied with predicting “judgments,” or punishments, upon the people for their sins which had been specified. The Hebrew here is, ‘The tongue of fire.’ The figure is beautiful and obvious. It is derived from the pyramidal, or tongue-like appearance of “flame.” The concinnity of the metaphor in the Hebrew is kept up. The word “devoureth” is in the Hebrew “eateth:” ‘As the tongue of fire eats up,’ etc. The use of the word “tongue” to denote “flame” is common in the Scriptures; see the note at Acts 2:3.

And the flame consumeth the chaff - The word rendered “chaff here,” means rather “hay, or dried grass.” The word rendered ‘consumeth,’ denotes properly “to make to fall,” and refers to the appearance when a fire passes through a field of grain or grass, consuming the stalks near the ground, so that the upper portion “falls down,” or sinks gently into the flames.

So their root shall be as rottenness - Be rotten; or decayed - of course furnishing no moisture, or suitable juices for the support of the plant. The idea is, that all the sources of national prosperity among the Jews would be destroyed. The word “root” is often used to denote the source of “strength or prosperity;” Isaiah 14:30; Hosea 9:16; Job 18:16.

And their blossom - This word rather means germ, or tender branch. It also means the flower. The figure is kept up here. As the root would be destroyed, so would all that was supported by it, and all that was deemed beautiful, or ornamental.

As dust - The Hebrew denotes “fine dust,” such as is easily blown about. The root would be rotten; and the flower, lacking nourishment, would become dry, and turn to dust, and blow away. Their strength, and the sources of their prosperity would be destroyed; and all their splendor and beauty, all that was ornamental, and the source of national wealth, would be destroyed with it.

They have cast away - They have refused to “obey” it. This was the cause of all the calamities that would come upon them.

Verse 25

Therefore is the anger of the Lord kindled - The Lord is “enraged,” or is angry. Similar expressions often occur; Num 11:33; 2 Kings 23:26; Deuteronomy 11:17; Psa 56:1-13 :40; Job 19:11; Psalms 2:12. The “cause” of his anger was the crimes which are specified in this chapter.

And he hath stretched forth his hand - To stretch forth the hand may be an action expressive of protection, invitation, or punishment. Here it is the latter; compare Isaiah 14:27.

And hath smitten them - Punished them. To what this refers particularly is not clear. Gesenius supposes that the expressions which follow are descriptive of pestilence. Lowth and Rosenmuller suppose that they refer to the earthquakes which occurred in the days of Uzziah, and in the time of the prophets; Amos 1:1; Zechariah 14:5. The words, perhaps, will bear either construction.

And the hills did tremble - This expression is one that is often used in the Scriptures to denote the presence and anger of God. It is well adapted to describe an earthquake; but it is also often used poetically, to describe the presence and the majesty of the Most High; compare Psalms 144:5; Job 9:6; Job 26:11; Psalms 114:7; Jeremiah 4:24; Habakkuk 3:10; Psalms 18:7; Psalms 97:5; Psalms 104:32. The image is one that is very sublime. The earth, as if conscious of the presence of God, is represented as alarmed, and trembling. Whether it refers here to the earthquake, or to some other mode of punishment, cannot be determined. The fact, however, that such an earthquake had occurred in the time of Isaiah, would seem to fix the expression to that. Isaiah, from that, took occasion also to denounce future judgments. This was but the beginning of woes.

And their carcasses were torn - The margin here is the more correct translation. The passage means that their dead bodies were strewed, unburied, like filth, through the streets. This expression would more naturally denote a pestilence. But it may be descriptive of an earthquake, or of any calamity.

For all this - Notwithstanding all this calamity, his judgments are not at an end. He will punish the nation more severely still. In what way he would do it, the prophet proceeds in the remainder of the chapter to specify; compare Isaiah 9:12; Isaiah 10:4.

Verse 26

And he will lift up an ensign ... - The idea here is, that the nations of the earth are under his control, and that he can call whom he pleases to execute his purposes. This power over the nations he often claims; compare Isaiah 44:28; Isaiah 45:1-23.45.7; Isaiah 10:5-23.10.7; Isaiah 9:11; Isaiah 8:18. An “ensign” is the “standard,” or “flag” used in an army. The elevation of the standard was a signal for assembling for war. God represents himself here as simply raising the standard, expecting that the nations would come at once.

And will hiss unto them - This means that he would “collect” them together to accomplish his purposes. The expression is probably taken from the manner in which bees were hived. Theodoret and Cyril, on this place, say, that in Syria and Palestine, they who kept bees were able to draw them out of their hives, and conduct them into fields, and bring them back again, with the sound of a flute or the noise of hissing. It is certain also that the ancients had this idea respecting bees. Pliny (lib. xi. ch. 20) says: Gaudent plausu, atque tinnitu aeris, coque convocantur. ‘They rejoice in a sound, and in the tinkling of brass, and are thus called together.’ AElian (lib. v. ch. 13) says, that when they are disposed to fly away, their keepers make a musical and harmonious sound, and that they are thus brought back as by a siren, and restored to their hives. So Virgin says, when speaking of bees:

Tinnitusque cie, et Matris quate cymbala circum.

Georg. iv. 64.

‘On brazen vessels beat a tinkling sound,

And shake the cymbals of the goddess round;

Then all will hastily retreat, and fill

The warm resounding hollow of their cell.’


So Ovid:

Jamque erat ad Rhodopen Pangaeaque flumina ventum,

Aeriferae comitum cum crepuere manus.

Ecce! novae coeunt volucres tinnitibus actae

Quosque movent sonitus aera sequuntur apes.

Fastor, lib. iii., 739.

See also Columella, lib. x. ch. 7; Lucan, lib. ix. ver. 288; and Claudian, “Panegyric. in sextum consul. Honorii,” ver. 259; compare Bochart, “Hieroz.” P. ii. lib. iv. ch. x. pp. 506, 507. The prophets refer to that fact in several places, Isaiah 8:18; Zechariah 10:8. The simple meaning is, that God, at his pleasure; would collect the nations around Judea like bees, that is, in great numbers.

The end of the earth - That is, the remotest parts of the world. The most eastern nations known to them were probably the Babylonians, Medes, Persians, and perhaps the inhabitants of India. The general idea is, that he would call in the distant nations to destroy them. In Isaiah 7:18, Egypt and Assyria are particularly specified. This was in accordance with the prediction in Deuteronomy 28:49.

Verse 27

None shall be weary - In this verse and the following, the prophet describes the condition of the army that would be summoned to the destruction of Judea. It would be composed of bold, vigorous, courageous men; they would be unwearied by long and painful journies; they would be fierce and violent; they would come fully prepared for conquest. None would be “weary,” that is, fatigued with long marches, or with hard service; Deuteronomy 25:18; 2 Samuel 16:14.

Nor stumble - They shall be chosen, select men; not those who are defective, or who shall easily fall by any impediments in the way of their march.

None shall slumber - They shall be unwearied, and indefatigable, pursuing their purpose with ever watchfull vigilance - so much as not to be off their guard. They cannot be taken by surprise.

Neither shall the girdle of their loins be loosed - The ancients wore a loose, large, flowing robe, or upper garment. When they labored, or ran, it was necessary to “gird” this up round the body, or to lay it aside altogether. The form of expression here may mean, that they will not relax their efforts; they will not unloose their girdle; they will not unfit themselves for vigorous action, and for battle. “In” that girdle, with which they bound up their robes, the orientals usually carried their dirks and swords; see Nehemiah 4:18; Ezekiel 22:15. It means that they should be fully, and at all times, prepared for action.

Nor the latchet of their shoes be broken - They will be constantly prepared for marches. The shoes, sandals, or “soles” were attached to the feet, not by upper leather, but were girded on by thongs or strings; see the notes at Matthew 3:2.

Verse 28

Whose arrows are sharp - Bows and arrows were the common instruments of fighting at a distance. Arrows were, of course, made sharp, and usually pointed with iron, for the purpose of penetrating the shields or coats of mail which were used to guard against them.

And all their bows bent - All ready for battle.

Their horses’ hoofs shall be counted like flint - It is supposed that the ancients did not usually shoe their horses. Hence, a hard, solid hoof would add greatly to the value of a horse. The prophet here means, that their horses would be prepared for any fatigue, or any expedition; see a full description of horses and chariots in Bochart’s “Hieroz.” P. i. lib. ii. ch. viii. ix.

And their wheels like a whirlwind - That is, the wheels of their chariots shall be swift as the wind, and they shall raise a cloud of dust like a whirlwind. This comparison was very common, as it is now; see “Bochart.” See, also, a magnificent description of a war-horse in Job 39:19-18.39.25.

Verse 29

Their roaring ... - Their battle cry, or their shout as they enter into an engagement. Such a “shout,” or cry, was common at the commencement of a battle. War was very much a personal conflict; and they expected to accomplish much by making it as frightful and terrible as possible. A shout served not only to excite their own spirits, but to produce an impression of their numbers and courage, and to send dismay into the opposite ranks. Such “shouts” are almost always mentioned by Homer, and by other writers, in their accounts of battles. They are often mentioned, also, in the Old Testament; Exodus 32:18; Joshua 6:10, Joshua 6:16, Joshua 6:20; Jeremiah 50:15; 1 Samuel 17:20, 1Sa 17:52; 2 Chronicles 13:15; Job 39:25.

Like a lion - This comparison is common in the Bible; Jeremiah 51:38; Hosea 11:10; Amos 3:4; compare Numbers 23:24.

Like young lions - This variation of the expression, from the lion to the young lion, is very common. It is the Hebrew form of poetry, where the second member expresses little more than the first. Here the description is that of a lion, or more probably a “lioness” and her whelps, all ravenous, and all uniting in roaring for prey. The idea is, that the army that would come up would be greedy of plunder; they would rush on to rapine in a frightful manner.

Verse 30

They shall roar against them - The army that shall come up shall roar against the Jews. The image of “the roaring of the sea” indicates the great number that would come; that of the roaring of the “lion” denotes their fierceness and terror.

And if one look unto the land - This expression has given some perplexity, because it is supposed not to be full or complete. The whole image, it has been supposed (see “Lowth”), would be that of looking “upward” to the heaven for help, and then to the land, or “earth;” compare Isaiah 8:22, where the same expression is used. But there is no need of supposing the expression defective. The prophet speaks of the vast multitude that was coming up and roaring like the tumultuous “ocean.” On “that” side there was no safety. The waves were rolling, and everything was suited to produce alarm. It was natural to speak of the “other” direction, as the “land,” or the shore; and to say that the people would look there for safety. But, says he, there would be no safety there. All would be darkness.

Darkness and sorrow - This is an image of distress and calamity. There should be no light; no consolation; no safety; compare Isaiah 59:9; Amos 5:18, Amos 5:20; Lamentations 3:2.

And the light is darkened ... - That which gave light is turned to darkness.

In the heavens thereof - In the “clouds,” perhaps, or by the gloomy thick clouds. Lowth renders it, ‘the light is obscured by the gloomy vapor.’ The main idea is plain, that there would be distress and calamity; and that there would be no light to guide them on their way. On the one hand a roaring, ragtag multitude, like the sea; on the other distress, perplexity, and gloom. Thus shut up, they must perish, and their land be utterly desolate.

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Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Isaiah 5". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.