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Bible Commentaries

Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary

Isaiah 27

Verse 1

Upon whom the judgment of Jehovah particularly falls, is described in figurative and enigmatical words in Isaiah 27:1: “In that day will Jehovah visit with His sword, with the hard, and the great, and the strong, leviathan the fleet serpent, and leviathan the twisted serpent, and slay the dragon in the sea.” No doubt the three animals are emblems of three imperial powers. The assertion that there are no more three animals than there are three swords, is a mistake. If the preposition were repeated in the case of the swords, as it is in the case of the animals, we should have to understand the passage as referring to three swords as well as three animals. But this is not the case. We have therefore to inquire what the three world-powers are; and this question is quite a justifiable one: for we have no reason to rest satisfied with the opinion held by Drechsler, that the three emblems are symbols of ungodly powers in general, of every kind and every sphere, unless the question itself is absolutely unanswerable. Now the tannin (the stretched-out aquatic animal) is the standing emblem of Egypt (Isaiah 51:9; Psalms 74:13; Ezekiel 29:3; Ezekiel 32:2). And as the Euphrates-land and Asshur are mentioned in Isaiah 27:12, Isaiah 27:13 in connection with Egypt, it is immediately probable that the other two animals signify the kingdom of the Tigris, i.e., Assyria, with its capital Nineveh which stood on the Tigris, and the kingdom of the Euphrates, i.e., Chaldea, with its capital Babylon which stood upon the Euphrates. Moreover, the application of the same epithet Leviathan to both the kingdoms, with simply a difference in the attributes, is suggestive of two kingdoms that were related to each other. We must not be misled by the fact that nâchâsh bâriach is a constellation in Job 26:13; we have no bammarōm (on high) here, as in Isaiah 24:21, and therefore are evidently still upon the surface of the globe. The epithet employed was primarily suggested by the situation of the two cities. Nineveh was on the Tigris, which was called Chiddekel,

(Note: In point of fact, not only does Arab. tyr signify both an arrow and the Tigris, according to the Neo-Persian lexicons, but the old explanation “Tigris, swift as a dart, since the Medes call the Tigris toxeuma ” (the shot or shot arrow; Eustath, on Dion Perieg. v. 984), is confirmed by the Zendic tighri , which has been proved to be used in the sense of arrow or shot ( Yesht 8, 6, yatha tighris mainyavacâo ), i.e., like a heavenly arrow.)

on account of the swiftness of its course and its terrible rapids; hence Asshur is compared to a serpent moving along in a rapid, impetuous, long, extended course ( bâriach , as in Isaiah 43:14, is equivalent to barriach, a noun of the same form as עלּיז , and a different word from berriach , a bolt, Isaiah 15:5). Babylon, on the other hand, is compared to a twisted serpent, i.e., to one twisting about in serpentine curves, because it was situated on the very winding Euphrates, the windings of which are especially labyrinthine in the immediate vicinity of Babylon. The river did indeed flow straight away at one time, but by artificial cuttings it was made so serpentine that it passed the same place, viz., Arderikka, no less than three times; and according to the declaration of Herodotus in his own time, when any one sailed down the river, he had to pass it three times in three days (Ritter, x. p. 8). The real meaning of the emblem, however, is no more exhausted by this allusion to the geographical situation, than it was in the case of “the desert of the sea” (Isaiah 21:1). The attribute of winding is also a symbol of the longer duration of one empire than of the other, and of the more numerous complications into which Israel would be drawn by it. The world-power on the Tigris fires with rapidity upon Israel, so that the fate of Israel is very quickly decided. But the world-power on the Euphrates advances by many windings, and encircles its prey in many folds. And these windings are all the more numerous, because in the prophet's view Babylon is the final form assumed by the empire of the world, and therefore Israel remains encircled by this serpent until the last days. The judgment upon Asshur, Babylon, and Egypt, is the judgment upon the world-powers universally.

Verses 2-5

The prophecy here passes for the fourth time into the tone of a song. The church recognises itself in the judgments upon the world, as Jehovah's well-protected and beloved vineyard.

In that day a merry vineyard - sing it!

I, Jehovah, its keeper,

Every moment I water it.

That nothing may come near it,

I watch it night and day.

Wrath have I none;

O, had I thorns, thistles before me!

I would make up to them in battle,

Burn them all together.

Men would then have to grasp at my protection,

Make peace with me,

Make peace with me.

Instead of introducing the song with, “In that day shall this song be sung,” or some such introduction, the prophecy passes at once into the song. It consists in a descending scale of strophes, consisting of one of five lines (Isaiah 27:2, Isaiah 27:3), one of four lines (Isaiah 27:4), and one of three lines (Isaiah 27:5). The thema is placed at the beginning, in the absolute case: cerem chemer . This may signify a vineyard of fiery or good wine (compare cerem zaith in Judges 15:5); but it is possible that the reading should be c erem c hemed , as in Isaiah 32:12, as the lxx, Targum, and most modern commentators assume. ענּה ל signifies, according to Numbers 21:17; Psalms 147:7 (cf., Exodus 32:18; Psalms 88:1), to strike up a song with reference to anything - an onomatopoetic word (different from ענה , to begin, literally to meet). Cerem (the vineyard) is a feminine here, like בּאר , the well, in the song of the well in Numbers 21:17-18, and just as Israel, of which the vineyard here is a symbol (Isaiah 3:14; Isaiah 5:1.), is sometimes regarded as masculine, and at other times as feminine (Isaiah 26:20). Jehovah Himself is introduced as speaking. He is the keeper of the vineyard, who waters it every moment when there is any necessity ( lirgâ‛im , like labb e kârim in Isaiah 33:2, every morning), and watches it by night as well as by day, that nothing may visit it. על פּקד (to visit upon) is used in other cases to signify the infliction of punishment; here it denotes visitation by some kind of misfortune. Because it was the church purified through afflictions, the feelings of Jehovah towards it were pure love, without any admixture of the burning of anger ( c hēmâh ). This is reserved for all who dare to do injury to this vineyard. Jehovah challenges these, and says, Who is there, then, that gives me thorns, thistles! &#עיתּנני לי יתּן , as in Jeremiah 9:1, cf., Joshua 15:19.) The asyndeton, instead of ושׁית שׁמיר , which is customary elsewhere, corresponds to the excitement of the exalted defender. If He had thorns, thistles before Him, He would break forth upon them in war, i.e., make war upon them ( bâh , neuter, upon such a mass of bush), and set it all on fire ( &#הצית הצּית ). The arrangement of the strophes requires that we should connect כּמּלחמה with אפשׂעה (var. אפשׂעה ), though this is at variance with the accents. We may see very clearly, even by the choice of the expression bammilchâmâh , that thorns and thistles are a figurative representation of the enemies of the church (2 Samuel 23:6-7). And in this sense the song concludes in Isaiah 27:5: only by yielding themselves to mercy will they find mercy. או with a voluntative following, “unless,” as in Leviticus 26:41. “ Take hold of: hechezik b' , as in 1 Kings 1:50, of Adonijah, who lays hold of the horns of the altar. “ Make peace with: ‛ âsâh shâlōm l' , as in Joshua 9:15. The song closes here. What the church here utters, is the consciousness of the gracious protection of its God, as confirmed in her by the most recent events.

Verse 6

The prophet now adds to the song of the vineyard, by way of explanation. “In future will Jacob strike roots, Israel blossom and bud, and fill the surface of the globe with fruits.” We may see from הבּאים ( acc. temp. as in Ecclesiastes 2:16, equivalent in meaning to “Behold, the days come,” Jeremiah 7:32, etc.), that the true language of prophecy commences again here. For the active וּמלאוּ , compare Jeremiah 19:4; Ezekiel 8:17, etc. The prophet here says, in a figure, just the same as the apostle in Romans 11:12, viz., that Israel, when restored once more to favour as a nation, will become “the riches of the Gentiles.”

Verses 7-8

The prophet does not return even now to his own actual times; but, with the certainty that Israel will not be exalted until it has been deeply humbled on account of its sins, he placed himself in the midst of this state of punishment. And there, in the face of the glorious future which awaited Israel, the fact shines out brightly before his eyes, that the punishment which God inflicts upon Israel is a very different thing from that inflicted upon the world. “Hath He smitten it like the smiting of its smiter, or is it slain like the slaying of those slain by Him? Thou punishedst it with measures, when thou didst thrust it away, sifting with violent breath in the day of the east wind.” Its smiter ” ( maccēhū ) is the imperial power by which Israel had been attacked (Isaiah 10:20); and “those slain by Him” ( הרגיו ) are the slain of the empire who had fallen under the strokes of Jehovah. The former smote unmercifully, and its slain ones now lay without hope (Isaiah 26:14). Jehovah smites differently, and it is very different with the church, which has succumbed in the persons of its righteous members. For the double play upon words, see Isaiah 24:16; Isaiah 22:18; Isaiah 10:16. When Jehovah put Israel away (as if by means of a “bill of divorcement,” Isaiah 50:1), He strove against it (Isaiah 49:25), i.e., punished it, “ in measure,” i.e., determining the measure very exactly, that it might not exceed the enduring power of Israel, not endanger the existence of Israel as a nation (cf., b e mishpât in Jeremiah 10:24; Jeremiah 30:11; Jeremiah 46:28). On the other hand, Hitzig, Ewald, and Knobel read בּסאסאה , from a word סאסא ,

(Note: Böttcher refers to a Talmudic word, הסיא (to remove), but this is to be pronounced הסּיא (= הסּיע ), and is moreover, very uncertain.)

related to זעזע , or even טאטא , “when thou didst disturb (or drive forth);” but the traditional text does not indicate any various reading with ה mappic., and the ancient versions and expositors all take the word as a reduplication of סאה , which stands here as the third of an ephah to denote a moderately large measure. The clause hâgâh b e rūchō is probably regarded as an elliptical relative clause, in which case the transition to the third person can be best explained: “thou, who siftedst with violent breath.” Hâgâh , which only occurs again in Proverbs 25:4, signifies to separate, e.g., the dross from silver (Isaiah 1:25). Jehovah sifted Israel (compare the figure of the threshing-floor in Isaiah 21:10), at the time when, by suspending captivity over it, He blew as violently upon it as if the east wind had raged (vid., Job 2:1-13:19). But He only sifted, He did not destroy.

Verse 9

He was angry, but not without love; He punished, but only to be able to pardon again. “Therefore will the guilt of Jacob be purged thus: and this is all the fruit of the removal of his son: when He maketh all altar-stones like chalk-stones that are broken in pieces, Astarte images and sun-pillars do not rise up again.” With the word “therefore” ( lâcēn ) a conclusion is drawn from the expression “by measure.” God punished Israel “by measure;” His punishment is a way to salvation: therefore it ceases as soon as its purpose is secured; and so would it cease now, if Israel would thoroughly renounce its sin, and, above all, the sin of all sins, namely idolatry. “Thus” (by this) refers to the בּשׂומו which follows; “by this,” namely the breaking to pieces of the altars and images of the moon goddess; or possibly, to speak more correctly, the goddess of the morning-star, and those of the sun-god as well (see Isaiah 17:8). By the fact that Israel put away the fundamental cause of all mischief, viz., idolatry, the guilt for which it had yet to make atonement would be covered, made good, or wiped away (on cuppar , see at Isaiah 22:14). The parenthesis (cf., Isaiah 26:11) affirms that this very consequence would be all the fruit ( cŏl - peri ) desired by Jehovah of the removal of the sin of Israel, which the chastisement was intended to effect.

Verses 10-11

The prophet said this from out of the midst of the state of punishment, and was therefore able still further to confirm the fact, that the punishment would cease with the sin, by the punishment which followed the sin. “For the strong city is solitary, a dwelling given up and forsaken like the steppe: there calves feed, and there they lie down, and eat off its branches. When its branches become withered, they are broken: women come, make fires with them; for it is not a people of intelligence: therefore its Creator has no pity upon it, and its Former does not pardon it.” The nation without any intelligence (Isaiah 1:3), of which Jehovah was the Creator and Former (Isaiah 22:11), is Israel; and therefore the fortress that has been destroyed is the city of Jerusalem. The standpoint of the prophet must therefore be beyond the destruction of Jerusalem, and in the midst of the captivity. If this appears strange for Isaiah, nearly every separate word in these two vv. rises up as a witness that it is Isaiah, and no other, who is speaking here (compare, as more general proofs, Isaiah 32:13-14, and Isaiah 5:17; and as more specific exemplifications, Isaiah 16:2, Isaiah 16:9; Isaiah 11:7, etc.). The suffix in “ her branches” refers to the city, whose ruins were overgrown with bushes. Synonymous with סעפּים , branches (always written with dagesh in distinction from סעפים , clefts, Isaiah 2:21), is kâtzir , cuttings, equivalent to shoots that can be easily cut off. It was a mistake on the part of the early translators to take kâtzir in the sense of “harvest” (Vulg., Symm., Saad., though not the lxx or Luther). As kâtzir is a collective term here, signifying the whole mass of branches, the predicate can be written in the plural, tisshâbarnâh , which is not to be explained as a singular form, as in Isaiah 28:3. אותהּ , in the neuter sense, points back to this: women light it האיר , as in Malachi 1:10), i.e., make with it a lighting flame ( אור ) and a warming fire ( אוּר , Isaiah 54:16). So desolate does Jerusalem lie, that in the very spot which once swarmed with men a calf now quietly eats the green foliage of the bushes that grow between the ruins; and in the place whence hostile armies had formerly been compelled to withdraw without accomplishing their purpose, women now come and supply themselves with wood without the slightest opposition.

Verses 12-13

But when Israel repents, the mercy of Jehovah will change all this. “And it will come to pass on that day, Jehovah will appoint a beating of corn from the water-flood of the Euphrates to the brook of Egypt, and ye will be gathered together one by one, O sons of Israel. And it will come to pass in that day, a great trumpet will be blown, and the lost ones in the land of Asshur come, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt, and cast themselves down before Jehovah on the holy mountain in Jerusalem.” I regard every exposition of Isaiah 27:12 which supposes it to refer to the return of the captives as altogether false. The Euphrates and the brook of Egypt, i.e., the Wady el-Arish, were the north-eastern and south-western boundaries of the land of Israel, according to the original promise (Genesis 15:18; 1 Kings 8:65), and it is not stated that Jehovah will beat on the outside of these boundaries, but within them. Hence Gesenius is upon a more correct track, when he explains it as meaning that “the kingdom will be peopled again in its greatest promised extent, and that as rapidly and numerously as if men had fallen like olives from the trees.” No doubt the word c hâbat is applied to the beating down of olives in Deuteronomy 24:20; but this figure is inapplicable here, as olives must already exist before they can be knocked down, whereas the land of Israel is to be thought of as desolate. What one expects is, that Jehovah will cause the dead to live within the whole of the broad expanse of the promised land (according to the promise in Isaiah 26:19, Isaiah 26:21). And the figure answers this expectation most clearly and most gloriously. Châbat as the word commonly applied to the knocking out of fruits with husks, which were too tender and valuable to be threshed. Such fruits, as the prophet himself affirms in Isaiah 28:27, were knocked out carefully with a stick, and would have been injured by the violence of ordinary threshing. And the great field of dead that stretched from the Euphrates to the Rhinokoloura,

(Note: Rhinokoloura (or Rhinokoroura): for the origin of this name of the Wady el-Arish, see Strabo, xvi. 2, 31.)

resembled a floor covered over with such tender, costly fruit. There true Israelites and apostate Israelites lay mixed together. But Jehovah would separate them. He would institute a beating, so that the true members of the church would come to the light of day, being separated from the false like grains sifted from their husks. “Thy dead will live;” it is to this that the prophet returns. And this view is supported by the choice of the word shibboleth , which combines in itself the meanings of “flood” (Psalms 69:3, Psalms 69:16) and “ear” (sc., of corn). This word gives a fine dilogy (compare the dilogy in Isaiah 19:18 and Habakkuk 2:7). From the “ ear ” of the Euphrates down to the Peninsula of Sinai, Jehovah would knock - a great heap of ears, the grains of which were to be gathered together “one by one,” i.e., singly (in the most careful manner possible; Greek, καθεῖς κατη ̓ ἓνα ). To this risen church there would be added the still living diaspora, gathered together by the signal of God (compare Isaiah 18:3; Isaiah 11:12). Asshur and Egypt are named as lands of banishment. They represent all the lands of exile, as in Isaiah 19:23-25 (compare Isaiah 11:11). The two names are emblematical, and therefore not to be used as proofs that the prophecy is within the range of Isaiah's horizon. Nor is there any necessity for this. It is just as certain that the cycle of prophecy in chapters 24-27 belongs to Isaiah, and not to any other prophet, as it is that there are not two men to be found in the world with faces exactly alike.

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The Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.
Bibliographical Information
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Isaiah 27". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. 1854-1889.