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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Isaiah 34

Verse 1

Come near, ye nations, to hear; and hearken, ye people: let the earth hear, and all that is therein; the world, and all things that come forth of it.

Isaiah 34:1-17; Isaiah 35:1-10 form one prophecy, the former part of which denounces Gods judgments against His people's enemies, of whom Edom is the representative; the second part the flourishing state of the Church consequent on those judgments. This forms the termination of the prophecies of the first part of Isaiah, Isaiah 36:1-22; Isaiah 37:1-38; Isaiah 38:1-22; Isaiah 39:1-8 being historical, and is a kind of summary of what went before, setting forth the one main truth, Israel shall be delivered from all its foes, and happier times shall succeed under Messiah.

Come near, ye nations, to hear ... - All creation is summoned to hear Gods judgments (Ezekiel 6:3; Deuteronomy 32:1; Psalms 50:4; Micah 6:1-2), because they set forth His glory, which is the end of creation (Revelation 15:3; Revelation 4:11).

The world, and all things that come forth of it - answering to "all that is therein;" or, Hebrew, 'all whatever fills it,' (margin)

Verse 2

For the indignation of the LORD is upon all nations, and his fury upon all their armies: he hath utterly destroyed them, he hath delivered them to the slaughter.

He hath utterly destroyed them - rather, doomed them to an utter curse; Hebrew, hechªriymaam (H2763) (Horsley).

He hath delivered them - appointed them to the slaughter.

Verse 3

Their slain also shall be cast out, and their stink shall come up out of their carcases, and the mountains shall be melted with their blood.

Their slain also shall be cast out - unburied (Isaiah 14:19).

The mountains shall be melted with their blood - "melted:" washed away as with a descending torrent.

Verse 4

And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig tree.

All the host of heaven shall be dissolved - (Psalms 102:26; Joel 2:31; Joel 3:15; Matthew 24:29.)

Dissolved - (2 Peter 3:10-12.) Violent convulsions of nature are in Scripture made the images of great changes in the human world (Isaiah 29:19-21), and shall literally accompany them at the winding-up of the present dispensation.

The heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll - books were in those days sheets of parchment rolled together (Revelation 6:14).

All their host shall fall down - the stars shall fall when the heavens in which they are fixed pass away.

As a falling (fig) from the fig tree - (Revelation 6:13.)

Verse 5

For my sword shall be bathed in heaven: behold, it shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse, to judgment.

My sword - (Jeremiah 46:10.) Or else, knife for sacrifice; because God does not here appear as a warrior with His sword, but as one about to sacrifice victims doomed to slaughter (Vitringa). (Ezekiel 39:17.)

Shall be bathed - Hebrew, rivvthah; well-soaked, or glutted with blood: rather is intoxicated with blood (so Deuteronomy 32:42). So the Septuagint, Vulgate, Arabic, and Syriac. "In heaven" implies the place where God's purpose of wrath is formed, in antithesis to its 'coming down' in the next clause. Translate present, 'is bathed,' or 'intoxicated.' The thing is already settled in heaven; though the ungodly enjoy unconcerned and undisturbed peace, yet the sword, in God's decree in heaven, is already drunk with their blood.

Behold, it shall come down upon Idumea - originally extending from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea; afterward the Idumeans obtained possession of the country east of Moab, of which Bozrah was capital. Petra, or Selah, called Joktheel by Amaziah, who took it (2 Kings 14:7), was capital of South Edom (note, Isaiah 16:1). David subjugated Edom (2 Samuel 8:13-14). Under Jehoram they regained independence (2 Chronicles 21:8). Under Amaziah they were again subdued, and Selah taken (2 Kings 14:7). When Judah was captive in Babylon, Edom, in every way, insulted over her fallen mistress, and killed many of those Jews whom the Chaldeans had left, and hence, was held guilty of fratricide by God (Esau, their ancestor, having been brother to Jacob). This was the cause of the denunciations of the prophets against Edom (Isaiah 63:1, etc.; Jeremiah 49:7; Ezekiel 25:12-14; Ezekiel 35:3-15; Joel 3:19; Amos 1:11-12; Obadiah 1:8; Obadiah 1:10; Obadiah 1:12-18; Malachi 1:3-4). Nebuchadnezzar humbled Idumea accordingly (Jeremiah 25:15-21).

And upon the people of my curse - i:e., doomed to it.

To judgment - i:e., to execute it.

Verse 6

The sword of the LORD is filled with blood, it is made fat with fatness, and with the blood of lambs and goats, with the fat of the kidneys of rams: for the LORD hath a sacrifice in Bozrah, and a great slaughter in the land of Idumea.

The sword of the Lord is filled with blood - glutted. The image of a sacrifice is continued.

Blood ... fat - the parts especially devoted to God in a sacrifice (2 Samuel 1:22).

Lambs ... goats - sacrificial animals. The Idumeans of all classes, doomed to slaughter, are meant (Zephaniah 1:7).

Bozrah - called Bostra by the Romans, etc., assigned in Jeremiah 48:24 to Moab, so that it seems to have been at one time in the dominion of Edom, and at another in that of Moab (Isaiah 63:1; Jeremiah 49:13; Jeremiah 49:20; Jeremiah 49:22): it was strictly not in Edom, but the capital of Auranitis (the Houran). Edom seems to have extended its dominion so as to include it (cf. Lamentations 4:21).

Verse 7

And the unicorns shall come down with them, and the bullocks with the bulls; and their land shall be soaked with blood, and their dust made fat with fatness.

The unicorns - Hebrew, reem; conveying the idea of loftiness, power, and preeminence (see note, Job 39:9). The Arabian rim is two-horned: it was the oryx (the leucoryx, antelope, bold and pugnacious). The translation 'unicorn' - i:e., one-horned-does not accord with the Hebrew, and has led to vain searches for such a one-horned animal as is described by Ctesias ('Indica,' 4: 25-27), AElian ('Nat. Anim.,' 16: 20), Aristotle ('Hist. Anim.,' 2: 2, sec. 8), Pliny ('Nat. Hist.' 8: 21). Deuteronomy 33:17, Hebrew, is, 'his horns are like the horns of a unicorn.' The two horns of the reem are the ten thousands of Ephraim and the thousands of Mauasseh. The pachydermatous (rhinoceros) was unclean by the law, and would not be mentioned here as a sacrifice. The skipping of the reem, too, is against its being the rhinoceros. But strength, agility, ferocity, and fitness for sacrifice, meet together in the urus, or 'wild ox.' Here is meant the portion of the Edomites which was strong and warlike.

Shall come down - rather, fall down slain (Lowth).

With them - with the "lambs and goats," the less powerful Edomites (Isaiah 34:6).

The bullocks with the bulls - the young and old Edomites: all classes.

Their dust - ground.

Verse 8

For it is the day of the LORD's vengeance, and the year of recompences for the controversy of Zion.

For (it is) the day of the Lord's vengeance, (and) the year of recompences for the controversy of Zion -

i.e., the year when God will retaliate on those who have contended with Zion. Her controversy is His. The "day" marks the brief space of time which the execution of the vengeance on the foe shall occupy. The "year," the lengthened duration of Zion's recompense for her past sufferings. Edom had thought to extend its borders by laying hold of its neighhour's lands, and had instigated Babylon to cruelty toward fallen Judah (Psalms 137:7; Ezekiel 36:5); therefore Edom shall suffer the same herself (Lamentations 4:21-22). The final winding up of the controversy between God and all enemies of Him and His people is also shadowed forth (Isaiah 61:2; Isaiah 63:4; Isaiah 66:14-16; Malachi 4:1; Malachi 4:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9; Revelation 11:18; Revelation 18:20; Revelation 19:2).

Verse 9

And the streams thereof shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone, and the land thereof shall become burning pitch.

The streams thereof ... - images from the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:24-28; so Deuteronomy 29:23; Jeremiah 49:17-18).

Verse 10

It shall not be quenched night nor day; the smoke thereof shall go up for ever: from generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it for ever and ever.

It - the "burning pitch" (Isaiah 34:9).

Smoke ... for ever - (Revelation 14:11; Revelation 18:18; Revelation 19:3).

From generation to generation - (Malachi 1:4.)

None shall pass through. Edom's original offence was, it would not let Israel pass through their land in peace to Canaan: God "recompenses" them in kind; no traveler shall pass through Edom. Volney, the infidel, was forced to confirm the truth of this prophecy: 'From the reports of the Arabs, southeast of the Dead Sea, within three days' journey, are upwards of thirty ruined towns, absolutely deserted.'

Verse 11

But the cormorant and the bittern shall possess it; the owl also and the raven shall dwell in it: and he shall stretch out upon it the line of confusion, and the stones of emptiness.

The cormorant - the Hebrew, quaath, is rendered, in Psalms 102:6, pelican. The best authorities think the pelican is meant here also. Its etymology, from a root, 'to vomit,' refers to the pelican's habit of pressing its under mandible against its breast, in order to disgorge its pouch for its young. Hence, arose the fable of its feeding its young with its blood, the red nail on the upper mandible completing the delusion. The pelican is a water-bird, and after having filled its pouch with fish and mollusks, retires miles inland away from water to some spot where it consumes the contents of its pouch.

Bittern - the hedgehog or porcupine (Gesenius). But see in favour of the English version, note, Isaiah 14:23.

Owl - from its being enumerated among water-birds in Leviticus 11:17; Deuteronomy 14:16. Maurer thinks rather the heron or crane is meant; yanshowp (H3244), from a Hebrew root, nashap (H5398), to blow, as it utters a sound like the blowing of a horn (Revelation 18:2). The Chaldaic and Arabic translate, as the English version, 'the screech owl.' So Bochart, deriving it from a Hebrew root, 'twilight,' neshepth. The Septuagint and Vulgate translate, 'the ibis, the sacred bird of Egypt.'

Confusion - devastation.

Line ... stones - metaphor from an architect with line and plummet-stone (note, Isaiah 18:2; Isaiah 28:17; God will render to it the exact measure of justice without mercy, James 2:13; 2 Kings 21:13; Lamentations 2:8; Amos 7:7-8).

Of emptiness - desolation. Edom is now a waste of "stones."

Verse 12

They shall call the nobles thereof to the kingdom, but none shall be there, and all her princes shall be nothing.

They shall call the nobles thereof to the kingdom, but none (shall be) there - rather, As to her nobles, there shall be none there (there shall no more nobles be left) who shall declare a kingdom,' i:e., a king (Maurer); or else, 'As to her nobles, there shall be no one there whom they shall call to the kingdom (Rosenmuller). (Ch. 3:6, etc.) Idumea was at first governed by dukes (Genesis 36:15), out of them the king was chosen when the constitution became a monarchy.

Verse 13

And thorns shall come up in her palaces, nettles and brambles in the fortresses thereof: and it shall be an habitation of dragons, and a court for owls.

An habitation of dragons - (note, Isaiah 3:21-22.)

Court for owls - rather, a dwelling for ostriches (note, Isaiah 3:21).

Verse 14

The wild beasts of the desert shall also meet with the wild beasts of the island, and the satyr shall cry to his fellow; the screech owl also shall rest there, and find for herself a place of rest.

Wild beasts of the desert ... wild beasts of the island - rather, wild cats ... jackals (Isaiah 13:21-22).

Screech owl - or, the night-spectre: in Jewish superstition a female, elegantly dressed, that carried off children by night. The text does not assert the existence of such objects of superstition, but describes the place as one which superstition would people with such beings. [Hebrew, liyliyt (H3917), from layil (H3915), the night. So the Septuagint, onokentauroi: the Vulgate, 'lamia.' The ghule of Arabian fable. But the Vulgate, Arabic, and Syriac support the English version, the strix flammea.] Irby and Mangles state as to Petra, 'The screaming of eagles, hawks, and owls, which were soaring above our heads in considerable numbers, seemingly annoyed at any one approaching their lonely habitation, added much to the singularity of the scene.'

Verse 15

There shall the great owl make her nest, and lay, and hatch, and gather under her shadow: there shall the vultures also be gathered, every one with her mate.

The great owl - qipowz (H7091); or, the darting tree serpent [the akontias of AElian, the jaculus of Lucan]. Avicenna uses the cognate Arabic term kipaz for the same. The arrow-snake, so called from its darting on its prey (Gesenius). But the context favours a bird: for 'gathering under her shadow' applies best to a mother-bird fostering her young under her wings. The English version therefore is best. The Septuagint, Chaldaic, Arabic, Syriac, and Vulgate read qipowd (H7090), 'hedgehog.' Song of Solomon 6:1-13 Hebrew MSS. (Michaelis, 'Supp.' 2199).

Lay - namely, eggs. Gather under her shadow - cherishes her young under, etc. (Jeremiah 17:11.)

Verse 16

Seek ye out of the book of the LORD, and read: no one of these shall fail, none shall want her mate: for my mouth it hath commanded, and his spirit it hath gathered them.

Seek ye out of the book of the Lord - the volume in which the various prophecies and other parts of Scripture began henceforward to be collected together (Isaiah 30:8; Daniel 9:2). "Seek" (so Isaiah 8:16; Isaiah 8:20; John 5:39; John 7:52).

No one of these shall fail - of these prophecies (Matthew 5:18).

None shall want her mate - image from pairing of animals mentioned Isa. 35:15 ("mate"): no prediction shall want a fulfillment as its companion. Or rather, from the "them" which follows, referring to the animals about to be "gathered" in desolate Edom. 'none of these wild animals (just spoken of) shall be wanting: none shall be without its mate' to pair and breed with, in desolate Idumea.

My mouth ... and his spirit - such changes of person are frequent in Hebrew poetry.

Hath gathered them - the wild beasts.

Verse 17

And he hath cast the lot for them, and his hand hath divided it unto them by line: they shall possess it for ever, from generation to generation shall they dwell therein.

He hath cast the lot - as conquerors apportion lands by lot, so Yahweh has appointed and marked out ("divided") Edom for the wild beasts (Numbers 26:55-56; Joshua 18:4-6).

Remarks: Not one of the prophecies concerning Israel's unnatural enemy, Edom, has failed to take effect. What God's 'mouth hath commanded,' and what has been by inspiration written in "the book of the Lord," has been brought to pass by "His Spirit." The "line of confusion, and the stones of emptiness" have been for long 'stretched out upon' Edom. Its capital, Petra, has been for ages the haunt of the wild birds and beasts of the desert, and its palaces overrun with "nettles and brambles." Let us learn to adore the infinite holiness and justice of Yahweh as manifested in His judgments; and let us 'seek out of' that sure Word which is the fullest exposition of His will, the principles whereby we should order our lives and conversation.

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Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Isaiah 34". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.