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(1) Woe unto them that decree unrighteous decrees . . .—The division of the chapters is again misleading. Isaiah 10:1-4 continue the discourse of Isaiah 9:0, and end with the final knell, “For all this . . .” With Isaiah 10:5 a new section begins, and is carried on to Isaiah 12:6, which deals, for the first time in the collection of Isaiah’s writings, exclusively with Assyria, and is followed in its turn by utterances that deal with Babylon and other nations. The formula with which the section opens reminds us of that of Isaiah 5:8; Isaiah 5:11; Isaiah 5:18; Isaiah 5:22, and suggests the thought that the prophet is speaking not only or chiefly of the northern kingdom, as in Isaiah 9:21, but of Israel as including Judah. The evils the prophet denounces are, it will be noted, identical with those in Isaiah 1:23; Isaiah 5:23. For the second clause of the verse, read, “and the scribes who register oppression.” All the formalities of justice were observed punctiliously. The decision of the unjust judge was duly given and recorded, but the outcome of it all was that the poor, the widow, and the fatherless got no redress. The words for “prey” and “rob” are those used in the mysterious name of Isaiah 8:1. They occur again in Isaiah 10:6. It would seem as if the prophet sought in this way to impress the thought of the great law of divine retribution. Men were reaping as they had sown.
(3) And what will ye do in the day of visitation . . .?—The question was not without a certain touch of irony. Had those corrupt judges asked themselves what they would do when the Supreme Judge should call them to account? Had they an ally who could protect them against Jehovah? Or had they found a hiding-place for the treasures which they had made their “glory”? Had they made a covenant with Hades and with death? (Isaiah 28:18).
(4) Without me they shall bow down . . .—The Hebrew text is obscure, but these words were probably intended as the answer to the taunting question that had preceded them. Dropping the direct address, and passing to the third person, the prophet seems to say as with a kind of ominous “aside,” “No, there is no ally, no hiding-place but this, except they bow down among the captives or fall among the slain.” Exile or death, that was their only alternative. When that sentence has been uttered, the doom-bell, as we have called it, “For all this . . .” tolls once more. If we adopt the Authorised version we have the same fact asserted, with the suggested thought that there was a refuge to be found in God.
(5) O Assyrian.—The words open, as has been said above, a perfectly distinct section. Assyria had been named in connection with the Syro-Ephraim alliance against Judah (Isaiah 7:17-20; Isaiah 8:7-8); but this is the first prophetic utterance of which it is the direct subject. Anticipating the phraseology of Isaiah 13:1, we might call it the “burden of Assyria.” In the judgment of the best Assyrian scholars, some years had passed since the date of the alliance and invasion. Tiglath – pileser had taken Damascus and reduced Samaria to submission. Pekah and Ahaz had met at Damascus to do homage to their common suzerain. In B.C. 727 Salmaneser succeeded to the throne of Assyria, and began the conquest of Samaria and the deportation of the Ten Tribes in B.C. 722 (2 Kings 17:3-6). On his death, in B.C. 721, the throne was seized by Sargon, who had been his Tartan, or commander-in-chief (Isaiah 20:1). The achievements of this king are recorded at length in an inscription discovered by M. Botta at Khorsabad (Records of the Past, vii. 28. Lenormant’s Manual, 1 p. 392). In it he says:—“I besieged, took, and occupied the city of Samaria, and carried into captivity 27,280 of its inhabitants. I changed the form of government of the country, and placed over it lieutenants of my own.” In another inscription discovered at Kouyunyik, but unfortunately incomplete, Sargon speaks of himself as “the conqueror of the far-off land of Judah” (Layard, Inscriptions, 33:8). It was probably to this king, exulting in his triumphs and threatening an attack on Judah, and not (as was commonly thought prior to the discovery of the inscription) to his son Sennacherib, who succeeded him B.C. 704, that the prophet now addressed himself. The first words proclaim that the great king was but an instrument working out the Divine intent, the “rod,” and the “staff,” the “axe” and the “saw” (Isaiah 10:15). So in Isaiah 7:20, the earlier king of Assyria is as “the razor that is hired.” So Nebuchadnezzar in Jeremiah 51:20 is the “battle-axe” or “hammer” of Jehovah. (Comp. Isaiah 37:26.)
(6) I will send him against an hypocritical nation.—Better, impious. The verb admits of the various renderings, “I will send,” “I did send,” and “I am wont to send.” The last seems to give the best meaning—not a mere fact in history, nor an isolated prediction, but a law of the Divine government.
To take the spoil.—The series of words, though general in meaning, contains probably a special reference to the recent destruction of Samaria, walls pulled down, houses and palaces turned into heaps of rubbish, the soldiers trampling on flower and fruit gardens, this was what the Assyrian army left behind it. Judah had probably suffered in the same way in the hands of Sargon.
(7) Howbeit he meaneth not so.—The thoughts which Isaiah puts into the mouth of the Assyrian are exactly in accord with the supreme egotism of the Sargon inscription, “I conquered,” “I besieged,” “I burnt,” “I killed,” “I destroyed”; this is the ever-recurring burden, mingled here and there with the boast that he is the champion of the great deities of Assyria, of Ishtar and of Nebo.
(8) Are not my princes altogether kings?—So Tiglath-pileser names the twenty-three kings (Ahaz and Pekah among them) who came to do homage and pay tribute at Damascus (Records of the Past, v. 5-26).
(9) Is not Calno as Carchemish?—The six names obviously pointed to more recent conquests in which Sargon and his predecessors had exulted. One after another they had fallen. Could Judah hope to escape? (1) Calno, the Calneh of Genesis 10:10, Amos 6:2. That prophet had held up its fate in vain as a warning to Samaria. It has been identified by Kay with Ctesiphon on the east bank of the Tigris, by Lenormant (Manual, i. 80) with Ur of the Chaldees and with the ruins known now as the Mugheir, by Rawlinson (Five Great Monarchies, i. 20) with Nipur. The Assyrian form, Kil-Anu, means the “house” or “temple” of Anu, an Assyrian deity). Sennacherib (Lenormant i. 398), speaks of having reconquered it after a Chaldean revolt, and sold its inhabitants as slaves. The LXX. version, which instead of naming Carchemish, gives “Calanè, where the tower was built,” seems to imply a tradition identifying that city with the Tower of Babel of Genesis 11:4. (2) Carchemish. Few cities of the ancient world occupied a more prominent position than this. Its name has been explained as meaning the Tower of Chemosh, and so bears witness to the widespread cultus of the deity whom we meet with in Biblical history as the “abomination of the Moabites” (1 Kings 11:7). It has been commonly identified with the Circesium of Greek historians, but the inscriptions found by Mr. George Smith at Tarabolos (the Hierapolis of the Greeks) on the banks of the Euphrates, at its junction with the Kyabur, prove that this is the true representative of the great commercial city of the old Hittite kings (Times, Aug. 23, 1876). Its importance is shown by the frequent occurrence of the name, in its Egyptian form of Karakumusha, in the record of Egyptian kings. Thothmes I. (circa B.C. 1600) conquered it, and, as a result of his campaign, strengthened the forces of Egypt with the chariots and horses for which it was afterwards conspicuous (Lenormant, Manual, 1 p. 229). Thothmes III. built a fortress there to guard the passage of the Euphrates (ibid. 1 p. 232), the ruins of which, with Egyptian inscriptions and works of Egyptian manufacture, have recently been found there (ibid. 1 p.,263). It revolted against Ramses II. (the Sesostris of the Greeks), with the Hittites and Phœnicians, and other nations, but was subdued by him in the expedition in which the victorious issue is recorded on the monument on the Nahr-el-Kelb near Beyrût. Shalmaneser IV. (contemporary with Ahab) records that he demolished and burnt it (ibid. 1 p. 380). Tiglath-pileser II., the king to whom Ahaz paid tribute, received tribute from its king in B.C. 742 (ibid. 1 p. 389). The last two victories are probably referred to in the boast now before us. At a later period it was conspicuous for the great defeat of Pharaoh Necho’s army by Nebuchadnezzar (see notes on Jeremiah 46:2). Its commercial importance is indicated by the fact that the “mana (Heb., manah) of Carchemish” appears in numerous cuneiform inscriptions as the standard weight of the time, just as that of Troyes, in the commerce of the Middle Ages, is shown by the survival of the name in the “Troy weight” of our arithmetic books (Records of the Past, vii. 114).
Is not Hamath as Arpad?—(1) Hamath on the Orontes, the capital of an Aramæan kingdom, was prominent in the history of the East. Under its kings Toi and Joram it paid tribute to David (2 Samuel 8:9-10). It fell under the power of Jeroboam II. of Israel (2 Kings 14:25). In conjunction with Damascus it revolted against Shalmaneser IV., and was subdued by him (Lenormant’s Manual, 1 p. 380). Its king was first among the tributary princes under Tiglath-pileser II. after having joined with Pekah and Rezin in their revolt (ibid. 1 p. 389). Lastly, to come to the date of the present prophecy, it again revolted, in conjunction, as before, with Damascus and Samaria, and was again subdued by Sargon (ibid. 1 p. 393). (2) Of the early history of Arpad we know less, but it appears as having sustained a three years’ siege from the forces of Tiglath-pileser II. It joined Hamath in its revolt against Sargon, and was again, as this verse implies, subdued by him. It is always united in the Old Testament with Hamath (Isaiah 36:19; Isaiah 37:13). Under the name of Erfad it is still traceable about nine miles from Aleppo (Lenormant, 1 pp. 389, 393).
Is not Samaria as Damascus?—These cities, which under Rezin and Remaliah had, as we have seen (Isaiah 7:0) revolted against Tiglath-pileser, and the latter of which had sought to strengthen itself by an alliance with the Egyptian king So, or Sabaco (2 Kings 17:4), of the Ethiopian dynasty, against Shalmaneser IV., close for the present the list of Sargon’s conquests.
(10) As my hand hath found the kingdoms of the idols.—The word “idols” seems hardly appropriate as a word of scorn in the mouth of an idolatrous king; but Isaiah probably puts into his lips the words which he himself would have used. It is, however, quite in character with the Assyrian inscriptions that Sargon should ascribe his victories to Asshur as the Supreme God, before whose sovereignty all local deities were compelled to bow. To the Assyrian king the name of Jehovah would represent a deity whose power was to be measured by the greatness of the nation that worshipped Him, and inferior, therefore, to the gods of Carchemish or Hamath. The worship of Baal, Moloch, and other deities, in both Israel and Judah, had of course tended to strengthen this estimate. (Comp. Rabshakeh’s language in Isaiah 36:18-19.)
(11) Shall I not, as I have done . . .—The verse gives the occasion of Isaiah’s utterance. Sargon was threatening Jerusalem, probably in the early years of Hezekiah’s reign. The inscriptions show, as Isaiah 20:1 also does, that he made war against Philistia and besieged Ashdod (Records of the Past, vii. 40).
(12) Wherefore it shall come to pass . . .—Better, And it shall come to pass . . . The boast of the proud king is interrupted by the reassertion of the fact that he is but an instrument in the hand of Jehovah, and that when his work was done he too will be punished for his pride. The “fruit” of the “stout heart” includes all the words and acts in which his arrogance had shown itself.
(13) For he saith, By the strength of my hand . . .—Another reproduction of the style of the royal inscriptions of Assyria. (Comp. Isaiah 37:10-13.)
I have removed the bounds of the people.—The practice has, of course, more or less characterised the conquerors of all ages in their attempts to merge independent nationalities into one great empire; but it was pursued more systematically by Assyria than by most others. To be “a remover of boundaries and landmarks “was the title in which an Assyrian king most exulted. (Comp. inscription of Rimmon-nirari, in Smith’s Assyrian Discoveries, pp. 243, 244. Records of the Past, xi. 3).
I have put down the inhabitants like a valiant man.—Better, I have put down those that sat firmly. The Hebrew word for “valiant man” means primarily a “bull,” and then figuratively, as in Isa xxxiv, 7; Psalms 22:12, a “mighty one.” The fact that the bull appears so frequently in Assyrian monuments as a symbol of sovereignty, mates it probable that the word is used in that symbolic sense here. In Psalms 78:25, the “mighty ones” to whom it is applied are those of the host of heaven, the angels of God.
(14) My hand hath found as a nest.—The inscription of Sargon presents an almost verbal parallelism (Records of the Past, vii. 28). In other documents the king looks on himself as a colossal fowler, and the kingdoms are but as birds’-nests for him to spoil, and the nests are left empty.
There was none that . . . peeped—i.e., chirped. See Note on Isaiah 8:19. Not a fledgling was left in the nests which the royal fowler had despoiled.
(15) Shall the ax boast itself . . .?—The words spoken by the prophet as the mouthpiece of Jehovah remind us of the way in which Christian writers of the fifth century spoke of Attila as “the scourge of God.” There was comfort in that thought for the nations that were scourged. The man’s lust for power might be limitless, but there was the limit of the compassion and longsuffering of God.
As if the rod should shake itself against them that lift it up.—Better, As if the rod should shake them. The plural is used either as generalising the comparison, or more probably as suggesting the thought that Elohim (God) is the true wielder of the rod. (Comp. Isaiah 10:5.)
As if the staff should lift up itself, as if it were no wood.—The multiplied italics show that the translators found the clause difficult. Better and more simply, As if the staff should lift that which is not wood, i.e., the living arm that holds it. Was it for the king of Assyria to assume that he could alter and determine the purposes of Jehovah? Did the man wield the rod, or the rod the man?
(16) Therefore shall the Lord . . . send among his fat ones leanness.—The overthrow of the Assyrian is painted in the two-fold imagery of famine and of fire. (Isaiah 17:4; comp. Pharaoh’s vision in Genesis 41:18-24.) The “fat ones” are the warriors of the Assyrian army. The fire that burns the glory of the king is explained in the next verse as the wrath of Jehovah.
(17) And the light of Israel shall be for a fire.—The Divine glory, which is as a consuming fire (Isaiah 27:4) to the enemies of Israel, is to Israel itself as the very light of life. The “briars and thorns” (we note the recurrence of the combination of Isaiah 9:18) are the host of the Assyrian army (comp. 2 Samuel 23:6; Ezekiel 2:6), as “the glory of his forest” in the next verse are the captains and princes. The emphatic “in one day” points to some great catastrophe, such as that which afterwards destroyed the army of Sennacherib.
(18) Both soul and body.—Literally, from the soul even to the flesh. The metaphor is for a moment dropped, and the reality is unveiled.
As when a standardbearer fainteth.—The Authorised version represents the extremity of misery and exhaustion. The “standard-bearer” was chosen for his heroic strength and stature. When he “fainted” and gave way, what hope was there that others would survive? A more correct rendering, however, gives As a sick man pineth away.
(19) And the rest of the trees of his forest shall be few.—To number the host of an army, to count killed and wounded after a battle, was commonly the work of the royal scribe, who appears so often as in that employment in Assyrian sculptures. Here the survivors (the “remnant” as before) were to be so few (literally, a number) that even the boy who could hardly count but on his fingers would be skilled enough to number them.
(20) The remnant of Israel . . .—For the remnant of Assyria there is as yet no word of hope. (See, however, Isaiah 19:23.) For that of Israel, the prophet, falling back on the thought embodied in the name Shear-jashub (see Note on Isaiah 7:3), predicts a brighter future.
Shall no more again stay upon him that smote them.—The smiter is the king of Assyria, whose protection Ahaz and his counsellors had courted instead of trusting in the Holy One of Israel. Their experience of the failure of that false policy should lead them to see that faith in God was, after all, the truest wisdom.
(21) The remnant shall return . . .—The very form of the words (Shear-jashub) shows that the prophet had the “Immanuel promise in his thoughts, just as “the mighty God” (the same word as in Isaiah 9:6) must have reminded men of the Child who was to bear that name in the age to come. (Comp. Hezekiah’s proclamation in 2 Chronicles 30:6.)
(22) Though thy people Israel be as the sand of the sea.—The word “remnant” has, however, its aspect of severity as well as of promise. Men are not to expect that they, the hypocrites and evil-doers, shall escape their punishment. The promise of restoration is for the remnant only. (Comp. St. Paul’s application of the text in Romans 9:27-28).
The consumption decreed shall overflow with righteousness.—Literally, a finished (or final) work, decisive, overflowing with righteousness. A like phrase meets us again in Isaiah 28:22; Daniel 9:27. The “finished work” is that of God’s judgment, and it “overflows with righteousness” at once punitive and corrective.
(24) O my people . . . be not afraid of the Assyrian.—The practical conclusion of all that has been said is, that the people should not give way to panic as they had done in the days of Ahaz (Isaiah 7:2), but should abide the march of Sargon, or his successor, with the tranquillity of faith. They were not to faint beneath the blows of the “rod” and “staff,” even though it were to reproduce the tyranny of Egypt. In that very phrase, “after the manner of Egypt,” there was a ground of hope, for the cruelty of Pharaoh was followed by the Exodus. As the later Jewish proverb had it, “When the tale of bricks is doubled, then Moses is born.”
(25) The indignation shall cease . . .—The “indignation” is the wrath of Jehovah poured out upon His people. That wrath is to cease, and His anger shall be for the destruction of their enemies.
(26) According to the slaughter of Midian.—The historical associations of Isaiah 9:4 are still in the prophet’s mind. In the history of Judges (Judges 7:25), Oreb and Zeeb are the names at once of the Midianite chiefs and of the places where they were slain.
As his rod was upon the sea.—The italics spoil the sense. Better, His rod upon the sea . . . He shall lift it up after the manner of Egypt. The ambiguous formula which had been taken as primarily of evil boding in Isaiah 10:24, is repeated as an augury of good. There was another rod prominent in that Egyptian history besides that of the oppressor, and that rod had been wielded by the deliverer.
(27) The yoke shall be destroyed because of the anointing . . .—The English, as it stands, is scarcely intelligible, but suggests the idea that the “anointing” was that which marked out the kings and priests of Judah as a consecrated people, and the remembrance of which would lead Jehovah to liberate them from bondage. Most commentators, however, render “by reason of the fat,” the implied figure being that of a bullock which grows so fat that the yoke will no longer go round his neck, as the symbol of a people waxing strong and asserting its freedom. Comp. “Jeshurun waxed fat and kicked” (Deuteronomy 32:15).
(28) He is come to Aiath . . .—There is an obvious break between this and the preceding verse, and a new section begins, connected with the former by unity of subject, both referring to Sargon’s invasion of Judah. That such an invasion took place at or about the time of that king’s attack on Ashdod (Isaiah 20:1) the inscriptions leave no doubt. The Koujunyik cylinder names the king of Judah as having joined with the king of Ashdod; and in another, Sargon speaks of himself as “the subduer of the lands of Judah” (Layard, Inscriptions, xxxiii. 8). There is nothing in the passage itself to determine whether Isaiah 10:28-32 are predictive or historical, or when they were first uttered. Assuming that the Messianic prophecy of chap 11 is in close connection with them, it seems most probable that now, as in the earlier attack of Pekah and Rezin (Isaiah 7:0), as in the later invasion of Sennacherib (Isaiah 37:0), the bright vision of the future came to sustain the people when they were at their lowest point of depression. This would obviously be when Sargon’s armies were actually encamped round the city, when they had reached the last halting-place of the itinerary which Isaiah traces out. We may infer accordingly that the Assyrian armies were then at or near Nob, and that the prophet, supplied, either by human agency or supernaturally, with a knowledge of the movements of the Assyrian armies, describes their progress to a terrified and expectant people, and fixes the final goal. That progress we now have to trace. (1) Aiath is probably identical with the Ai of Joshua 7:2, the Aija of Nehemiah 11:31, in the tribe of Benjamin, not far from Bethel. (2) Migron. The route taken was not the usual one, but passed over three valleys, probably with a view to surprise Jerusalem by an unexpected attack. The modern name, Bure Magrun, survives, a short distance from Bethel. (3) Michmash. Now Muchmas, on the east side of the Migron valley. Here the carriages, i.e., the baggage (Acts 21:15; 1 Samuel 17:22), the impedimenta, of the Assyrian army was left behind that the host might advance with greater rapidity to immediate action. (4) Geba, in the tribe of Benjamin (1 Chronicles 6:60). Here, after defiling through the “passages,” probably the gorge of Wady Suweinit memorable for Jonathan s adventure (1 Samuel 14:4-5), the army halted and encamped. (5) The panic spread rapidly to Ramah, memorable as the chief residence of Samuel (1 Samuel 7:17). (6) The inhabitants of Gibeah, still retaining in its name its old association with the hero-king of Israel (1 Samuel 11:4), left their town deserted and undefended. (7) Gallim, not now identifiable, but mentioned in 1 Samuel 25:44. (8) Laieh, not the northern city of that name (Judges 18:29), but near Jerusalem. Read, Listen, O Laish, as if to the tramp of the armies as they passed. (9) Anathoth; about four miles north of Jerusalem, the birth-place of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:1). There is a special pathos in the prophet’s accents, anîyah Anathôth. A various reading adopted by many critics gives, Answer, O Anathoth. (10) Madmenah, or Madmen, appears in Jeremiah 48:2, as a Moabite city. The name (“dung-hill”) was, however, not an uncommon one. It is named (Joshua 15:31) as one of the south-eastern cities of Judah. (11) The people of Gebim (“water-pits;” locality not identified) gather their goods for flight. (12) At last the army reaches Nob, memorable as having been one of the resting-places of the Tabernacle in the time of Saul (1 Samuel 21:1). The site has not been identified with certainty, but it was obviously a position that commanded Jerusalem, between it and Anathoth, probably not far from the hill Scopos (“watch-tower”) where Titus and his troops encamped during the siege of Jerusalem. The prophet’s narrative leaves the invader there shaking his hand, as with defiant menace, against the holy city. For “that day,” read this very day, fixing, as it were, the very hour at which Isaiah spoke.
(33) Behold, . . . the Lord of hosts . . .—The sudden change of tone indicates another pressure of the “strong hand” of Jehovah (Isaiah 8:11), another burst of intensest inspiration. So far shalt thou go, the prophet says to Sargon, as he said afterwards to Sennacherib (Isaiah 37:28-32), and no farther. In the “boughs” that are to be lopped, and the “thickets of the forest” that are to be cut down, we have the same imagery as in Isaiah 10:17-19. The constant boasts of the Assyrian kings that they cut down the forests of the nations they conquered, gave a special fitness to this emblem of the work of the Divine Nemesis. High as the cedars of Lebanon might rise in their majesty, the “Mighty One” of Israel (better, Glorious One; comp. Isaiah 10:18, Isaiah 33:21; Psalms 93:4) would lay them low.
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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Isaiah 10". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/
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