Millions miss a meal or two each day.
Help us change that! Click to donate today!
As the following prophecies could not be understood apart from the historical circumstances to which they refer, the prophet commences with a historical announcement. ”It came to pass, in the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah ( Uziyגhu) , king of Judah, that Rezin the king of Aramaea, and Pekah ( Pekach) the son of Remaliah ( Remalyגhu) , king of Israel, went up toward Jerusalem to war against it, and ( he) could not make war upon it.” We have the same words, with only slight variations, in the history of the reign of Ahaz in 2 Kings 16:5. That the author of the book of Kings copied them from the book of Isaiah, will be very apparent when we come to examine the historical chapters (36-39) in their relation to the parallel sections of the book of Kings. In the passage before us, the want of independence on the part of the author of the book of Kings is confirmed by the fact that he not only repeats, but also interprets, the words of Isaiah. Instead of saying, “And (he) could not make war upon it,” he says, “And they besieged Ahaz, and could not make war.” The singular yâcol (he could) of Isaiah is changed into the simpler plural, whilst the statement that the two allies could not assault or storm Jerusalem (which must be the meaning of nilcham ‛al in the passage before us), is more clearly defined by the additional information that they did besiege Ahaz, but to no purpose ( tzur ‛al , the usual expression for obsidione claudere ; cf., Deuteronomy 20:19). The statement that “they besieged Ahaz” cannot merely signify that “they attempted to besiege him,” although nothing further is known about this siege. But happily we have two accounts of the Syro-Ephraimitish war (2 Kings 16 and 2 Chron 28). The two historical books complete one another. The book of Kings relates that the invasion of Judah by the two allies commenced at the end of Jotham's reign (2 Kings 15:37); and in addition to the statement taken from Isaiah 7:1, it also mentions that Rezin conquered the seaport town of Elath, which then belonged to the kingdom of Judah; whilst the Chronicles notice the fact that Rezin brought a number of Judaean captives to Damascus, and that Pekah conquered Ahaz in a bloody and destructive battle. Indisputable as the credibility of these events may be, it is nevertheless very difficult to connect them together, either substantially or chronologically, in a certain and reliable manner, as Caspari has attempted to do in his monograph on the Syro-Ephraimitish war (1849). We may refer here to our own manner of dovetailing the historical accounts of Ahaz and the Syro-Ephraimitish war in the introduction to the present work (p. 23ff.). If we could assume that יכל (not יכלוּ ) was the authentic reading, and that the failure of the attempt to take Jerusalem, which is mentioned here, was occasioned by the strength of the city itself, and not by the intervention of Assyria - so that Isaiah 7:1 did not contain such an anticipation as we have supposed, although summary anticipations of this kind were customary with biblical historians, and more especially with Isaiah - the course of events might be arranged in the following manner, viz., that whilst Rezin was on his way to Elath, Pekah resolved to attack Jerusalem, but failed in his attempt; but that Rezin was more successful in his expedition, which was a much easier one, and after the conquest of Elath united his forces with those of his allies.
It is this which is referred to in Isaiah 7:2: “And it was told the house of David, Aram has settled down upon Ephraim: then his heart shook, and the heart of his people, as trees of the wood shake before the wind.” The expression nuach ‛al (settled down upon) is explained in 2 Samuel 17:12 (cf., Judges 7:12) by the figurative simile, “as the dew falleth upon the ground:” there it denotes a hostile invasion, here the arrival of one army to the support of another. Ephraim ( feminine, like the names of countries, and of the people that are regarded as included in their respective countries: see, on the other hand, Isaiah 3:8) is used as the name of the leading tribe of Israel, to signify the whole kingdom; here it denotes the whole military force of Israel. Following the combination mentioned above, we find that the allies now prepared for a second united expedition against Jerusalem. In the meantime, Jerusalem was in the condition described in Isaiah 1:7-9, viz., like a besieged city, in the midst of enemies plundering and burning on every side. Elath had fallen, as Rezin's timely return clearly showed; and in the prospect of his approaching junction with the allied army, it was quite natural, from a human point of view, that the court and people of Jerusalem should tremble like aspen leaves. וינע is a contracted fut. kal, ending with an a sound on account of the guttural, as in Ruth 4:1 (Ges. §72, Anm. 4); and נוע , which is generally the form of the infin. abs. (Isaiah 24:20), is here, and only here, the infin. constr. instead of נוּע (cf., noach , Numbers 11:25; shob , Joshua 2:16; mōt , Psalms 38:17, etc.: vid., Ewald, §238, b).
In this season of terror Isaiah received the following divine instructions. “Then said Jehovah to Isaiah, Go forth now to meet Ahaz, thou and Shear-jashub thy son, to the end of the aqueduct of the upper pool, to the road of the fuller's field.” The fuller's field ( sedēh cōbēs ) was situated, as we may assume with Robinson, Schultz, and Thenius, against Williams, Krafft, etc., on the western side of the city, where there is still an “upper pool” of great antiquity (2 Chronicles 32:30). Near to this pool the fullers, i.e., the cleaners and thickeners of woollen fabrics, carried on their occupation ( Cōbēs , from C âbas , related to C âbash , subigere , which bears the same relation to râchatz as πλύνειν to λούειν ). Robinson and his companions saw some people washing clothes at the upper pool when they were there; and, for a considerable distance round, the surface of this favourite washing and bleaching place was covered with things spread out to bleach or dry. The road ( m esillâh ), which ran past this fuller's field, was the one which leads from the western gate to Joppa. King Ahaz was there, on the west of the city, and outside the fortifications - engaged, no doubt, in making provision for the probable event of Jerusalem being again besieged in a still more threatening manner. Jerusalem received its water supply from the upper Gihon pool, and there, according to Jehovah's directions, Isaiah was to go with his son and meet him. The two together were, as it were, a personified blessing and curse, presenting themselves to the king for him to make his own selection. For the name Sheâr - yâshub (which is erroneously accentuated with tiphchah munach instead of merchah tiphchah , as in Isaiah 10:22), i.e., the remnant is converted (Isaiah 10:21-22), was a kind of abbreviation of the divine answer given to the prophet in Isaiah 6:11-13, and was indeed at once threatening and promising, but in such a way that the curse stood in front and the grace behind. The prophetic name of Isaiah's son was intended to drive the king to Jehovah by force, through the threatening aspect it presented; and the prophetic announcement of Isaiah himself, whose name pointed to salvation, was to allure him to Jehovah with its promising tone.
No means were left untried. “And say unto him, Take heed, and keep quiet; and let not thy heart become soft from these two smoking firebrand-stumps: at the fierce anger of Rezin, and Aram, and the son of Remaliah.” The imperative השּׁמר (not pointed השּׁמר , as is the case when it is to be connected more closely with what follows, and taken in the sense of cave ne, or even cave ut) warned the king against acting for himself, in estrangement from God; and the imperative hashkēt exhorted him to courageous calmness, secured by confidence in God; or, as Calvin expresses it, exhorted him “to restrain himself outwardly, and keep his mind calm within.” The explanation given by Jewish expositors to the word hisshamēr , viz., conside super faeces tuas (Luzzatto: vivi riposato ), according to Jeremiah 48:11; Zephaniah 1:12, yields a sense which hardly suits the exhortation. The object of terror, at which and before which the king's heart was not to despair, is introduced first of all with Min and then with Beth, as in Jeremiah 51:46. The two allies are designated at once as what they were in the sight of God, who sees through the true nature and future condition. They were two tails, i.e., nothing but the fag-ends, of wooden pokers ( lit. stirrers, i.e., fire-stirrers), which would not blaze any more, but only continue smoking. They would burn and light no more, though their smoke might make the eyes smart still. Along with Rezin, and to avoid honouring him with the title of king, Aram (Syria) is especially mentioned; whilst Pekah is called Ben-Remaliah, to recall to mind his low birth, and the absence of any promise in the case of his house.
The ya‛an 'asher (“ because ”) which follows (as in Ezekiel 12:12) does not belong to Isaiah 7:4 (as might appear from the sethume that comes afterwards), in the sense of “do not be afraid because,” etc., but is to be understood as introducing the reason for the judicial sentence in Isaiah 7:7.
“Because Aram hath determined evil over thee, Ephraim and the son of Remaliah ( Remalyahu) , saying, We will march against Judah, and terrify it, and conquer it for ourselves, and make the son of Tâb'êl king in the midst of it: thus saith the Lord Jehovah, It will not be brought about, and will not take place.” The inference drawn by Caspari ( Krieg, p. 98), that at the time when Isaiah said this, Judaea was not yet heathen or conquered, is at any rate not conclusive. The promise given to Ahaz was founded upon the wicked design, with which the war had been commenced. How far the allies had already gone towards this last goal, the overthrow of the Davidic sovereignty, it does not say. But we know from 2 Kings 15:37 that the invasion had begun before Ahaz ascended the throne; and we may see from Isaiah 7:16 of Isaiah's prophecy, that the “terrifying” ( nekı̄tzennah , from kūtz , taedere, pavere ) had actually taken place; so that the “conquering” ( hibkia‛ , i.e., splitting, forcing of the passes and fortifications, 2 Kings 25:4; Ezekiel 30:16; 2 Chronicles 21:17; 2 Chronicles 32:1) must also have been a thing belonging to the past. For history says nothing about a successful resistance on the part of Judah in this war. Only Jerusalem had not yet fallen, and, as the expression “king in the midst of it” shows, it is to this that the term “Judah” especially refers; just as in Isaiah 23:13 Asshur is to be understood as signifying Nineveh. There they determined to enthrone a man named Tâb'êl (vid., Ezra 4:7; it is written Tâb'al here in pause, although this change does not occur in other words (e.g., Israel) in pause - a name resembling the Syrian name Tab - rimmon ),
(Note: The Hauran inscriptions contain several such composite names formed like Tâb'êl with el : see Wetzstein, Ausgewählte griechische und lateinische Inschriften, pp. 343-4, 361-363). By the transformation into Tab'al , as Luzzatto says, the name is changed from Bonus Deus to Bonus minime .)
a man who is otherwise unknown; but it never went beyond the determination, never was even on the way towards being realized, to say nothing of being fully accomplished. The allies would not succeed in altering the course of history as it had been appointed by the Lord.
“For head of Aram is Damascus, and head of Damascus Rezin, and in five-and-sixty years will Ephraim as a people be broken in pieces. And head of Ephraim is Samaria, and head of Samaria the son of Remalyahu; if ye believe not, surely ye will not remain.” The attempt to remove Isaiah 7:8, as a gloss at variance with the context, which is supported by Eichhorn, Gesenius, Hitzig, Knobel, and others, is a very natural one; and in that case the train of thought would simply be, that the two hostile kingdoms would continue in their former relation without the annexation of Judah. But when we look more closely, it is evident that the removal of Isaiah 7:8 destroys both the internal connection and the external harmony of the clauses. For just as Isaiah 7:8 and Isaiah 7:8 correspond, so do Isaiah 7:9 and Isaiah 7:9. Ephraim, i.e., the kingdom of the ten tribes, which has entered into so unnatural and ungodly a covenant with idolatrous Syria, will cease to exist as a nation in the course of sixty-five years; “and ye, if ye do not believe, but make flesh your arm, will also cease to exist.” Thus the two clauses answer to one another: Isaiah 7:8 is a prophecy announcing Ephraim's destruction, and Isaiah 7:9 a warning, threatening Judah with destruction, if it rejects the promise with unbelief. Moreover, the style of Isaiah 7:8 is quite in accordance with that of Isaiah (on בּעוד , see Isaiah 21:16 and Isaiah 16:14; and on מעם , “away from being a people,” in the sense of “so that it shall be no longer a nation,” Isaiah 17:1; Isaiah 25:2, and Jeremiah 48:2, Jeremiah 48:42). And the doctrinal objection, that the prophecy is too minute, and therefore taken ex eventu , has no force whatever, since the Old Testament prophecy furnishes an abundance of examples of the same kind (vid., Isaiah 20:3-4; Isaiah 38:5; Isaiah 16:14; Isaiah 21:16; Ezekiel 4:5., Isaiah 24:1., etc.). The only objection that can well be raised is, that the time given in Isaiah 7:8 is wrong, and is not in harmony with Isaiah 7:16. Now, undoubtedly the sixty-five years do not come out if we suppose the prophecy to refer to what was done by Tiglath-pileser after the Syro-Ephraimitish war, and to what was also done to Ephraim by Shalmanassar in the sixth year of Hezekiah's reign, to which Isaiah 7:16 unquestionably refers, and more especially to the former. But there is another event still, through which the existence of Ephraim, not only as a kingdom, but also as a people, was broken up - namely, the carrying away of the last remnant of the Ephraimitish population, and the planting of colonies from Eastern Asia by Esarhaddon.
(Note: The meaning of this king's name is Assur fratrem dedit ( Asuṙacḣyiddin ): vid., Oppert, Expedition, t. ii. p. 354.)
on Ephraimitish soil (2 Kings 17:24; Ezra 4:2). Whereas the land of Judah was left desolate after the Chaldean deportation, and a new generation grew up there, and those who were in captivity were once more enabled to return; the land of Ephraim was occupied by heathen settlers, and the few who were left behind were melted up with these into the mixed people of the Samaritans, and those in captivity were lost among the heathen. We have only to assume that what was done to Ephraim by Esarhaddon, as related in the historical books, took place in the twenty-second and twenty-third years of Manasseh (the sixth year of Esarhaddon), which is very probable, since it must have been under Esarhaddon that Manasseh was carried away to Babylon about the middle of his reign (2 Chronicles 33:11); and we get exactly sixty-five years from the second year of the reign of Ahaz to the termination of Ephraim's existence as a nation (viz., Ahaz, 14; Hezekiah, 29; Manasseh, 22; in all, 65). It was then that the unconditional prediction, “Ephraim as a people will be broken in pieces,” was fulfilled ( yēchath m ē‛âm ; it is certainly not the 3rd pers. fut. kal, but the niphal, Malachi 2:5), just as the conditional threat “ye shall not remain” was fulfilled upon Judah in the Babylonian captivity. נאמן signifies to have a fast hold, and האמין to prove fast-holding. If Judah did not hold fast to its God, it would lose its fast hold by losing its country, the ground beneath its feet. We have the same play upon words in 2 Chronicles 20:20. The suggestion of Geiger is a very improbable one, viz., that the original reading was בי תאמינו לא אם , but that בי appeared objectionable, and was altered into כּי . Why should it be objectionable, when the words form the conclusion to a direct address of Jehovah Himself, which is introduced with all solemnity? For this כּי , passing over from a confirmative into an affirmative sense, and employed, as it is here, to introduce the apodosis of the hypothetical clause, see 1 Samuel 14:39, and (in the formula עתּה כּי ) Genesis 31:42; Genesis 43:10; Numbers 22:29, Numbers 22:33; 1 Samuel 14:30: their continued existence would depend upon their faith, as this chi emphatically declares.
Thus spake Isaiah, and Jehovah through him, to the king of Judah. Whether he replied, or what reply he made, we are not informed. He was probably silent, because he carried a secret in his heart which afforded him more consolation than the words of the prophet. The invisible help of Jehovah, and the remote prospect of the fall of Ephraim, were not enough for him. His trust was in Asshur, with whose help he would have far greater superiority over the kingdom of Israel, than Israel had over the kingdom of Judah through the help of Damascene Syria. The pious, theocratic policy of the prophet did not come in time. He therefore let the enthusiast talk on, and had his own thoughts about the matter. Nevertheless the grace of God did not give up the unhappy son of David for lost. “And Jehovah continued speaking to Ahaz as follows: Ask thee a sign of Jehovah thy God, going deep down into Hades, or high up to the height above.” Jehovah continued: what a deep and firm consciousness of the identity of the word of Jehovah and the word of the prophet is expressed in these words! According to a very marvellous interchange of idioms ( Communicatio idiomatum ) which runs through the prophetic books of the Old Testament, at one time the prophet speaks as if he were Jehovah, and at another, as in the case before us, Jehovah speaks as if He were the prophet. Ahaz was to ask for a sign from Jehovah his God. Jehovah did not scorn to call Himself the God of this son of David, who had so hardened his heart. Possibly the holy love with which the expression “ thy God ” burned, might kindle a flame in his dark heart; or possibly he might think of the covenant promises and covenant duties which the words “thy God” recalled to his mind. From this, his God, he was to ask for a sign. A sign ( 'oth , from 'uth , to make an incision or dent) was something, some occurrence, or some action, which served as a pledge of the divine certainty of something else. This was secured sometimes by visible miracles performed at once (Exodus 4:8-9), or by appointed symbols of future events (Isaiah 8:18; Isaiah 20:3); sometimes by predicted occurrences, which, whether miraculous or natural, could not possibly be foreseen by human capacities, and therefore, if they actually took place, were a proof either retrospectively of the divine causality of other events (Exodus 3:12), or prospectively of their divine certainty (Isaiah 37:30; Jeremiah 44:29-30). The thing to be confirmed on the present occasion was what the prophet had just predicted in so definite a manner, viz., the maintenance of Judah with its monarchy, and the failure of the wicked enterprise of the two allied kingdoms. If this was to be attested to Ahaz in such a way as to demolish his unbelief, it could only be effected by a miraculous sign. And just as Hezekiah asked for a sign when Isaiah foretold his recovery, and promised him the prolongation of his life for fifteen years, and the prophet gave him the sign he asked, by causing the shadow upon the royal sun-dial to go backwards instead of forwards (chapter 38); so here Isaiah meets Ahaz with the offer of such a supernatural sign, and offers him the choice of heaven, earth, and Hades as the scene of the miracle.
העמּק and הגבּהּ are either in the infinitive absolute or in the imperative; and שאלה is either the imperative שׁאל with the He of challenge, which is written in this form in half pause instead of שׁאלה (for the two similar forms with pashtah and zakeph , vid., Daniel 9:19), “Only ask, going deep down, or ascending to the height,” without there being any reason for reading שׁאלה with the tone upon the last syllable, as Hupfeld proposes, in the sense of profundam fac (or faciendo ) precationem (i.e., go deep down with thy petition); or else it is the pausal subordinate form for שׁאלה , which is quite allowable in itself (cf., yechpâtz , the constant form in pause for yachpōtz , and other examples, Genesis 43:14; Genesis 49:3, Genesis 49:27), and is apparently preferred here on account of its consonance with למעלה (Ewald, §93, 3). We follow the Targum, with the Sept., Syr., and Vulgate, in giving the preference to the latter of the two possibilities. It answers to the antithesis; and if we had the words before us without points, this would be the first to suggest itself. Accordingly the words would read, Go deep down (in thy desire) to Hades, or go high up to the height; or more probably, taking העמק and הגבה in the sense of gerundives, “Going deep down to Hades, or ( או from אוה , like vel from velle = si velis , malis ) going high up to the height.” This offer of the prophet to perform any kind of miracle, either in the world above or in the lower world, has thrown rationalistic commentators into very great perplexity. The prophet, says Hitzig, was playing a very dangerous game here; and if Ahaz had closed with his offer, Jehovah would probably have left him in the lurch. And Meier observes, that “it can never have entered the mind of an Isaiah to perform an actual miracle:” probably because no miracles were ever performed by Göthe, to whose high poetic consecration Meier compares the consecration of the prophet as described in Isaiah 6:1-13. Knobel answers the question, “What kind of sign from heaven would Isaiah have given in case it had been asked for?” by saying, “Probably a very simple matter.” But even granting that an extraordinary heavenly phenomenon could be a “simple matter,” it was open to king Ahaz not to be so moderate in his demands upon the venturesome prophet, as Knobel with his magnanimity might possibly have been. Dazzled by the glory of the Old Testament prophecy, a rationalistic exegesis falls prostrate upon the ground; and it is with such frivolous, coarse, and common words as these that it tries to escape from its difficulties. It cannot acknowledge the miraculous power of the prophet, because it believes in no miracles at all. But Ahaz had no doubt about his miraculous power, though he would not be constrained by any miracle to renounce his own plans and believe in Jehovah. “But Ahaz replied, I dare not ask, and dare not tempt Jehovah.” What a pious sound this has! And yet his self-hardening reached its culminating point in these well-sounding words. He hid himself hypocritically under the mask of Deuteronomy 6:16, to avoid being disturbed in his Assyrian policy, and was infatuated enough to designate the acceptance of what Jehovah Himself had offered as tempting God. He studiously brought down upon himself the fate denounced in Isaiah 6:1-13, and indeed not upon himself only, but upon all Judah as well. For after a few years the forces of Asshur would stand upon the same fuller's field (Isaiah 36:2) and demand the surrender of Jerusalem. In that very hour, in which Isaiah was standing before Ahaz, the fate of Jerusalem was decided for more than two thousand years.
The prophet might have ceased speaking now; but in accordance with the command in Isaiah 6:1-13 he was obliged to speak, even though his word should be a savour of death unto death. “And he spake, Hear ye now, O house of David! Is it too little to you to weary men, that ye weary my God also?” “He spake.” Who spake? According to Isaiah 7:10 the speaker was Jehovah; yet what follows is given as the word of the prophet. Here again it is assumed that the word of the prophet was the word of God, and that the prophet was the organ of God even when he expressly distinguished between himself and God. The words were addressed to the “house of David,” i.e., to Ahaz, including all the members of the royal family. Ahaz himself was not yet thirty years old. The prophet could very well have borne that the members of the house of David should thus frustrate all his own faithful, zealous human efforts. But they were not content with this (on the expression minus quam vos = quam ut vobis sufficiat , see Num 16; 9; Job 15:11): they also wearied out the long-suffering of his God, by letting Him exhaust all His means of correcting them without effect. They would not believe without seeing; and when signs were offered them to see, in order that they might believe, they would not even look. Jehovah would therefore give them, against their will, a sign of His own choosing.
“Therefore the Lord, He will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin conceives, and bears a son, and calls his name Immanuel. Butter and honey will he eat, at the time that he knows to refuse the evil and choose the good.” In its form the prophecy reminds one of Genesis 16:11, “Behold, thou art with child, and wilt bear a son, and call his name Ishmael.” Here, however, the words are not addressed to the person about to bear the child, although Matthew gives this interpretation to the prophecy;
(Note: Jerome discusses this diversity in a very impartial and intelligent manner, in his ep. ad Pammachium de optimo genere interpretandi .)
for קראת is not the second person, but the third, and is synonymous with קראה (according to Ges. §74. Anm. 1), another form which is also met with in Genesis 33:11; Leviticus 25:21; Deuteronomy 31:29, and Psalms 118:23.
(Note: The pointing makes a distinction between קראת (she calls) and קראת , as Genesis 16:11 should be pointed (thou callest); and Olshausen (§35, b) is wrong in pronouncing the latter a mistake.)
Moreover, the condition of pregnancy, which is here designated by the participial adjective הרה (cf., 2 Samuel 11:5), was not an already existing one in this instance, but (as in all probability also in Judges 13:5, cf., Judges 13:4) something future, as well as the act of bearing, since hinnēh is always used by Isaiah to introduce a future occurrence. This use of hinneh in Isaiah is a sufficient answer to Gesenius, Knobel, and others, who understand hâ ‛ almâh as referring to the young wife of the prophet himself, who was at that very time with child. But it is altogether improbable that the wife of the prophet himself should be intended. For if it were to her that he referred, he could hardly have expressed himself in a more ambiguous and unintelligible manner; and we cannot see why he should not much rather have said אשׁתּי or הנּביאה , to say nothing of the fact that there is no further allusion made to any son of the prophet of that name, and that a sign of this kind founded upon the prophet's own family affairs would have been one of a very precarious nature.
And the meaning and use of the word ‛ almâh are also at variance with this. For whilst bethulâh (from bâtthal , related to bâdal , to separate, sejungere ) signifies a maiden living in seclusion in her parents' house and still a long way from matrimony, ‛ almâh (from ‛ âlam , related to C hâlam , and possibly also to אלם , to be strong, full of vigour, or arrived at the age of puberty) is applied to one fully mature, and approaching the time of her marriage.
(Note: On the development of the meanings of ‛ âlam and C hâlam , see Ges. Thes., and my Psychol. p. 282 (see also the commentary on Job 39:4). According to Jerome, alma was Punic also. In Arabic and Aramaean the diminutive form guleime , ‛alleimtah , was the favourite one, but in Syriac ‛alı̄mto (the ripened).)
The two terms could both be applied to persons who were betrothed, and even to such as were married (Joel 2:16; Proverbs 30:19: see Hitzig on these passages). It is also admitted that the idea of spotless virginity was not necessarily connected with ‛ almâh (as in Genesis 24:43, cf., Genesis 24:16), since there are passages - such, for example, as Song of Solomon 6:8 - where it can hardly be distinguished from the Arabic surrı̄je ; and a person who had a very young-looking wife might be said to have an ‛almah for his wife. But it is inconceivable that in a well-considered style, and one of religious earnestness, a woman who had been long married, like the prophet's own wife, could be called hâ‛almâh without any reserve.
(Note: A young and newly-married wife might be called Callâh (as in Homer νύμφη = nubilis and nupta ; Eng. bride); and even in Homer a married woman, if young, is sometimes called κουριδίη ἄλοχος , but neither κούρη nor νεῆνις .)
On the other hand, the expression itself warrants the assumption that by hâ‛almâh the prophet meant one of the ‛ alâmoth of the king's harem (Luzzatto); and if we consider that the birth of the child was to take place, as the prophet foresaw, in the immediate future, his thoughts might very well have been fixed upon Abijah ( Abi) bath-Zechariah (2 Kings 18:2; 2 Chronicles 29:1), who became the mother of king Hezekiah, to whom apparently the virtues of the mother descended, in marked contrast with the vices of his father. This is certainly possible. At the same time, it is also certain that the child who was to be born was the Messiah, and not a new Israel (Hofmann, Schriftbeweis, ii. 1, 87, 88); that is to say, that he was no other than that “wonderful” heir of the throne of David, whose birth is hailed with joy in chapter 9, where even commentators like Knobel are obliged to admit that the Messiah is meant. It was the Messiah whom the prophet saw here as about to be born, then again in chapter 9 as actually born, and again in chapter 11 as reigning - an indivisible triad of consolatory images in three distinct states, interwoven with the three stages into which the future history of the nation unfolded itself in the prophet's view. If, therefore, his eye was directed towards the Abijah mentioned, he must have regarded her as the future mother of the Messiah, and her son as the future Messiah. Now it is no doubt true, that in the course of the sacred history Messianic expectations were often associated with individuals who did not answer to them, so that the Messianic prospect was moved further into the future; and it is not only possible, but even probable, and according to many indications an actual fact, that the believing portion of the nation did concentrate their Messianic wishes and hopes for a long time upon Hezekiah; but even if Isaiah's prophecy may have evoked such human conjectures and expectations, through the measure of time which it laid down, it would not be a prophecy at all, if it rested upon no better foundation than this, which would be the case if Isaiah had a particular maiden of his own day in his mind at the time.
Are we to conclude, then, that the prophet did not refer to any one individual, but that the “virgin” was a personification of the house of David? This view, which Hofmann propounded, and Stier appropriated, and which Ebrard has revived, notwithstanding the fact that Hofmann relinquished it, does not help us over the difficulty; for we should expect in that case to find “daughter of Zion,” or something of the kind, since the term “virgin” is altogether unknown in a personification of this kind, and the house of David, as the prophet knew it, was by no means worthy of such an epithet.
No other course is left, therefore, than to assume that whilst, on the one hand, the prophet meant by “the virgin” a maiden belonging to the house of David, which the Messianic character of the prophecy requires; on the other hand, he neither thought of any particular maiden, nor associated the promised conception with any human father, who could not have been any other than Ahaz. The reference is the same as in Micah 5:3 (“she which travaileth,” yōlēdah ). The objection that hâ‛almâh (the virgin) cannot be a person belonging to the future, on account of the article (Hofmann, p. 86), does not affect the true explanation: it was the virgin whom the spirit of prophecy brought before the prophet's mind, and who, although he could not give her name, stood before him as singled out for an extraordinary end (compare the article in hanna‛ar in Numbers 11:27 etc.). With what exalted dignity this mother appeared to him to be invested, is evident from the fact that it is she who gives the name to her son, and that the name Immanuel. This name sounds full of promise. But if we look at the expression “therefore,” and the circumstance which occasioned it, the sign cannot have been intended as a pure or simple promise. We naturally expect, first, that it will be an extraordinary fact which the prophet foretells; and secondly, that it will be a fact with a threatening front. Now a humiliation of the house of David was indeed involved in the fact that the God of whom it would know nothing would nevertheless mould its future history, as the emphatic הוּא implies, He ( αὐτός , the Lord Himself), by His own impulse and unfettered choice. Moreover, this moulding of the future could not possibly be such an one as was desired, but would of necessity be as full of threatening to the unbelieving house of David as it was full of promise to the believers in Israel. And the threatening character of the “sign” is not to be sought for exclusively in Isaiah 7:15, since both the expressions “therefore” ( lâcēn ) and “behold” ( hinnēh ) place the main point of the sign in Isaiah 7:14, whilst the introduction of Isaiah 7:15 without any external connection is a clear proof that what is stated in Isaiah 7:14 is the chief thing, and not the reverse. But the only thing in Isaiah 7:14 which indicated any threatening element in the sign in question, must have been the fact that it would not be by Ahaz, or by a son of Ahaz, or by the house of David generally, which at that time had hardened itself against God, that God would save His people, but that a nameless maiden of low rank, whom God had singled out and now showed to the prophet in the mirror of His counsel, would give birth to the divine deliverer of His people in the midst of the approaching tribulations, which was a sufficient intimation that He who was to be the pledge of Judah's continuance would not arrive without the present degenerate house of David, which had brought Judah to the brink of ruin, being altogether set aside.
But the further question arises here, What constituted the extraordinary character of the fact here announced? It consisted in the fact, that, according to Isaiah 9:5, Immanuel Himself was to be a פּלא (wonder or wonderful). He would be God in corporeal self-manifestation, and therefore a “wonder” as being a superhuman person. We should not venture to assert this if it went beyond the line of Old Testament revelation, but the prophet asserts it himself in Isaiah 9:5 (cf., Isaiah 10:21): his words are as clear as possible; and we must not make them obscure, to favour any preconceived notions as to the development of history. The incarnation of Deity was unquestionably a secret that was not clearly unveiled in the Old Testament, but the veil was not so thick but that some rays could pass through. Such a ray, directed by the spirit of prophecy into the mind of the prophet, was the prediction of Immanuel. But if the Messiah was to be Immanuel in this sense, that He would Himself be El (God), as the prophet expressly affirms, His birth must also of necessity be a wonderful or miraculous one. The prophet does not affirm, indeed, that the “ ‛ almâh ,” who had as yet known no man, would give birth to Immanuel without this taking place, so that he could not be born of the house of David as well as into it, but be a gift of Heaven itself; but this “ ‛ almâh ” or virgin continued throughout an enigma in the Old Testament, stimulating “inquiry” (1 Peter 1:10-12), and waiting for the historical solution. Thus the sign in question was, on the one hand, a mystery glaring in the most threatening manner upon the house of David; and, on the other hand, a mystery smiling with which consolation upon the prophet and all believers, and couched in these enigmatical terms, in order that those who hardened themselves might not understand it, and that believers might increasingly long to comprehend its meaning.
In Isaiah 7:15 the threatening element of Isaiah 7:14 becomes the predominant one. It would not be so, indeed, if “butter (thickened milk) and honey” were mentioned here as the ordinary food of the tenderest age of childhood (as Gesenius, Hengstenberg, and others suppose). But the reason afterwards assigned in Isaiah 7:16, Isaiah 7:17, teaches the very opposite. Thickened milk and honey, the food of the desert, would be the only provisions furnished by the land at the time in which the ripening youth of Immanuel would fall. חמאה (from המא , to be thick) is a kind of butter which is still prepared by nomads by shaking milk in skins. It may probably include the cream, as the Arabic semen signifies both, but not the curds or cheese, the name of which (at least the more accurate name) if gebı̄nâh . The object to ידע is expressed in Isaiah 7:15, Isaiah 7:16 by infinitive absolutes (compare the more usual mode of expression in Isaiah 8:4). The Lamed prefixed to the verb does not mean “until” (Ges. §131, 1), for Lamed is never used as so definite an indication of the terminus ad quem ; the meaning is either “towards the time when he understands” (Amos 4:7, cf., Leviticus 24:12, “to the end that”), or about the time, at the time when he understands (Isaiah 10:3; Genesis 8:11; Job 24:14). This kind of food would coincide in time with his understanding, that is to say, would run parallel to it. Incapacity to distinguish between good and bad is characteristic of early childhood (Deuteronomy 1:39, etc.), and also of old age when it relapses into childish ways (2 Samuel 19:36). The commencement of the capacity to understand is equivalent to entering into the so-called years of discretion - the riper age of free and conscious self-determination. By the time that Immanuel reached this age, all the blessings of the land would have been so far reduced, that from a land full of luxuriant corn-fields and vineyards, it would have become a large wooded pasture-ground, supplying milk and honey, and nothing more. A thorough devastation of the land is therefore the reason for this limitation to the simplest, and, when compared with the fat of wheat and the cheering influence of wine, most meagre and miserable food. And this is the ground assigned in Isaiah 7:16, Isaiah 7:17. Two successive and closely connected events would occasion this universal desolation.
“For before the boy shall understand to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land will be desolate, of whose two kings thou art afraid. Jehovah will bring upon thee, and upon thy people, and upon thy father's house, days such as have not come since the day when Ephraim broke away from Judah - the king of Asshur.” The land of the two kings, Syria and Israel, was first of all laid waste by the Assyrians, whom Ahaz called to his assistance. Tiglath-pileser conquered Damascus and a portion of the kingdom of Israel, and led a large part of the inhabitants of the two countries into captivity (2 Kings 15:29; 2 Kings 16:9). Judah was then also laid waste by the Assyrians, as a punishment for having refused the help of Jehovah, and preferred the help of man. Days of adversity would come upon the royal house and people of Judah, such as ( 'asher , quales , as in Exodus 10:6) had not come upon them since the calamitous day ( l'miyyōm , inde a die ; in other places we find l'min - hayyom , Exodus 9:18; Deuteronomy 4:32; Deuteronomy 9:7, etc.) of the falling away of the ten tribes. The appeal to Asshur laid the foundation for the overthrow of the kingdom of Judah, quite as much as for that of the kingdom of Israel. Ahaz became the tributary vassal of the king of Assyria in consequence; and although Hezekiah was set free from Asshur through the miraculous assistance of Jehovah, what Nebuchadnezzar afterwards performed was only the accomplishment of the frustrated attempt of Sennacherib. It is with piercing force that the words “the king of Assyria” ( 'eth melek Asshur ) are introduced at the close of the two verses. The particle 'eth is used frequently where an indefinite object is followed by the more precise and definite one (Genesis 6:10; Genesis 26:34). The point of the v. would be broken by eliminating the words as a gloss, as Knobel proposes. The very king to whom Ahaz had appealed in his terror, would bring Judah to the brink of destruction. The absence of any link of connection between Isaiah 7:16 and Isaiah 7:17 is also very effective. The hopes raised in the mind of Ahaz by Isaiah 7:16 are suddenly turned into bitter disappointment. In the face of such catastrophes as these, Isaiah predicts the birth of Immanuel. His eating only thickened milk and honey, at a time when he knew very well what was good and what was not, would arise from the desolation of the whole of the ancient territory of the Davidic kingdom that had preceded the riper years of his youth, when he would certainly have chosen other kinds of food, if they could possibly have been found. Consequently the birth of Immanuel apparently falls between the time then present and the Assyrian calamities, and his earliest childhood appears to run parallel to the Assyrian oppression. In any case, their consequences would be still felt at the time of his riper youth. In what way the truth of the prophecy was maintained notwithstanding, we shall see presently. What follows in Isaiah 7:18-25, is only a further expansion of Isaiah 7:17. The promising side of the “sign” remains in the background, because this was not for Ahaz. When Ewald expresses the opinion that a promising strophe has fallen out after Isaiah 7:17, he completely mistakes the circumstances under which the prophet uttered these predictions. In the presence of Ahaz he must keep silence as to the promises. But he pours out with all the greater fluency his threatening of judgment.
“And it comes to pass in that day, Jehovah will hiss for the fly which is at the end of the Nile-arms of Egypt, and the bees that are in the land of Asshur; and they come and settle all of them in the valleys of the slopes, and in the clefts of the rocks, and in all the thorn-hedges, and upon all grass-plats.” The prophet has already stated, in Isaiah 5:26, that Jehovah would hiss for distant nations; and how he is able to describe them by name. The Egyptian nation, with its vast and unparalleled numbers, is compared to the swarming fly; and the Assyrian nation, with its love of war and conquest, to the stinging bee which is so hard to keep off (Deuteronomy 1:44; Psalms 118:12). The emblems also correspond to the nature of the two countries: the fly to slimy Egypt with its swarms of insects (see Isaiah 18:1),
(Note: Egypt abounds in gnats, etc., more especially in flies ( m uscariae ), including a species of small fly ( nemâth ), which is a great plague to men throughout all the country of the Nile (see Hartmann, Natur-geschichtlich-medicinische Skizze der Nilländer, 1865, pp. 204- 5).)
and the bee to the more mountainous and woody Assyria, where the keeping of bees is still one of the principal branches of trade. יאר , pl. יארים , is an Egyptian name ( yaro , with the article phiaro , pl. yarōu ) for the Nile and its several arms. The end of the Nile-arms of Egypt, from a Palestinian point of view, was the extreme corner of the land. The military force of Egypt would march out of the whole compass of the land, and meet the Assyrian force in the Holy Land; and both together would cover the land in such a way that the valleys of steep precipitous heights (nachalee habbattoth), and clefts of the rocks ( nekikē hasselâ‛im ), and all the thorn-hedges ( nâ‛azūzı̄m ) and pastures ( nahalolim , from nihēl , to lead to pasture), would be covered with these swarms. The fact that just such places are named, as afforded a suitable shelter and abundance of food for flies and bees, is a filling up of the figure in simple truthfulness to nature. And if we look at the historical fulfilment, it does not answer even in this respect to the actual letter of the prophecy; for in the time of Hezekiah no collision really took place between the Assyrian and Egyptian forces; and it was not till the days of Josiah that a collision took place between the Chaldean and Egyptian powers in the eventful battle fought between Pharaoh-Necho and Nebuchadnezzar at Carchemish (Circesium), which decided the fate of Judah. That the spirit of prophecy points to this eventful occurrence is evident from Isaiah 7:20, where no further allusion is made to Egypt, because of its having succumbed to the imperial power of Eastern Asia.
“In that day will the Lord shave with a razor, the thing for hire on the shore of the river, with the king of Assyria, the head and the hair of the feet; and even the beard it will take away.” Knobel takes the hair to be a figurative representation of the produce of the land; but the only thing which at all favours the idea that the flora is ever regarded by biblical writers as the hairy covering of the soil, is the use of the term nâzir as the name of an uncultivated vine left to itself (Leviticus 25:5). The nation of Judah is regarded here, as in Isaiah 1:6, as a man stript naked, and not only with all the hair of his head and feet shaved off ( raglaim , a euphemism), but what was regarded as the most shameful of all, with the hair of his beard shaved off as well. To this end the Almighty would make use of a razor, which is more distinctly defined as hired on the shore of the Euphrates ( Conductitia in litoribus Euphratis : nâhâr stands here for hannâhâr ), and still more precisely as the king of Asshur (the latter is again pronounced a gloss by Knobel and others). “ The thing for hire:” hassecı̄râh might be an abstract term (hiring, Conductio ), but it may also be the feminine of sâcı̄r , which indicates an emphatic advance from the indefinite to the more definite; in the sense of “with a razor, namely, that which was standing ready to be hired in the lands on both sides of the Euphrates, the king of Assyria.” In hassecı̄râh (the thing for hire) there was involved the bitterest sarcasm for Ahaz. The sharp knife, which it had hired for the deliverance of Judah, was hired by the Lord, to shave Judah most thoroughly, and in the most disgraceful manner. Thus shaved, Judah would be a depopulated and desert land, in which men would no longer live by growing corn and vines, or by trade and commerce, but by grazing alone.
“And it will come to pass in that day, that a man will keep a small cow and a couple of sheep; and it comes to pass, for the abundance of the milk they give he will eat cream: for butter and honey will every one eat that is left within the land.” The former prosperity would be reduced to the most miserable housekeeping. One man would keep a milch cow and two head of sheep (or goats) alive with the greatest care, the strongest and finest full-grown cattle having fallen into the hands of the foe ( היּה , like החיה in other places: shtē , not shnē , because two female sheep or goats are meant). But this would be quite enough, for there would be only a few men left in the land; and as all the land would be pasture, the small number of animals would yield milk in abundance. Bread and wine would be unattainable. Whoever had escaped the Assyrian razor, would eat thickened milk and honey, that and nothing but that, without variation, ad nauseam. The reason for this would be, that the hills, which at other times were full of vines and corn-fields, would be overgrown with briers.
The prophet repeats this three times in Isaiah 7:23-25: “And it will come to pass in that day, every place, where a thousand vines stood at a thousand silverlings, will have become thorns and thistles. With arrows and with bows will men go, for the whole land will have become thorns and thistles. And all the hills that were accustomed to be hoed with the hoe, thou wilt not go to them for fear of thorns and thistles; and it has become a gathering-place for oxen, and a treading-place for sheep.” The “thousand silverlings” ( 'eleph ceseph , i.e., a thousand shekels of silver) recall to mind Song of Solomon 8:11, though there it is the value of the yearly produce, whereas here the thousand shekels are the value of a thousand vines, the sign of a peculiarly valuable piece of a vineyard. At the present time they reckon the worth of a vineyard in Lebanon and Syria according to the value of the separate vines, and generally take the vines at one piastre (from 2nd to 3rd) each; just as in Germany a Johannisberg vine is reckoned at a ducat. Every piece of ground, where such valuable vines were standing, would have fallen a prey to the briers. People would go there with bow and arrow, because the whole land had become thorns and thistles (see at Isaiah 5:12), and therefore wild animals had made their homes there. And thou (the prophet addresses the countryman thus) comest not to all the hills, which were formerly cultivated in the most careful manner; thou comest not thither to make them arable again, because thorns and thistles deter thee from reclaiming such a fallow. They would therefore give the oxen freedom to rove where they would, and let sheep and goats tread down whatever grew there. The description is intentionally thoroughly tautological and pleonastic, heavy and slow in movement. The writer's intention is to produce the impression of a waste heath, or tedious monotony. Hence the repetitions of hâyâh and yihyeh . Observe how great the variations are in the use of the future and perfect, and how the meaning is always determined by the context. In Isaiah 7:21, Isaiah 7:22, the futures have a really future sense; in Isaiah 7:23 the first and third yihyeh signify “will have become” ( factus erit omnis locus ), and the second “was” ( erat ); in Isaiah 7:24 יבוא means “will come” ( veniet ), and tihyeh “will have become” ( facta erit terra ); in Isaiah 7:25 we must render yē‛âdērūn , sarciebantur (they used to be hoed). And in Isaiah 7:21, Isaiah 7:22, and Isaiah 7:23, hâyâh is equivalent to fiet (it will become); whilst in Isaiah 7:25 it means factum est (it has become). Looked at from a western point of view, therefore, the future tense is sometimes a simple future, sometimes a future perfect, and sometimes an imperfect or synchronistic preterite; and the perfect sometimes a prophetic preterite, sometimes an actual preterite, but the sphere of an ideal past, or what is the same thing, of a predicted future.
This ends Isaiah's address to king Ahaz. He does not expressly say when Immanuel is to be born, but only what will take place before he has reached the riper age of boyhood - namely, first, the devastation of Israel and Syria, and then the devastation of Judah itself, by the Assyrians. From the fact that the prophet says no more than this, we may see that his spirit and his tongue were under the direction of the Spirit of God, who does not descend within the historical and temporal range of vision, without at the same time remaining exalted above it. On the other hand, however, we may see from what he says, that the prophecy has its human side as well. When Isaiah speaks of Immanuel as eating thickened milk and honey, like all who survived the Assyrian troubles in the Holy Land; he evidently looks upon and thinks of the childhood of Immanuel as connected with the time of the Assyrian calamities. And it was in such a perspective combination of events lying far apart, that the complex character of prophecy consisted. The reason for this complex character was a double one, viz., the human limits associated with the prophet's telescopic view of distant times, and the pedagogical wisdom of God, in accordance with which He entered into these limits instead of removing them. If, therefore, we adhere to the letter of prophecy, we may easily throw doubt upon its veracity; but if we look at the substance of the prophecy, we soon find that the complex character by no means invalidates its truth. For the things which the prophet saw in combination were essentially connected, even though chronologically separated. When, for example, in the case before us (chapters 7-12), Isaiah saw Asshur only, standing out as the imperial kingdom; this was so far true, that the four imperial kingdoms from the Babylonian to the Roman were really nothing more than the full development of the commencement made in Assyria. And when he spoke of the son of the virgin (chapter 7) as growing up in the midst of the Assyrian oppressions; this also was so far true, that Jesus was really born at a time when the Holy Land, deprived of its previous abundance, was under the dominion of the imperial power, and in a condition whose primary cause was to be traced to the unbelief of Ahaz. Moreover, He who became flesh in the fulness of time, did really lead an ideal life in the Old Testament history. He was in the midst of it in a pre-existent presence, moving on towards the covenant goal. The fact that the house and nation of David did not perish in the Assyrian calamities, was actually to be attributed, as chapter 8 presupposes, to His real though not His bodily presence. In this way the apparent discrepancy between the prophecy and the history of the fulfilment may be solved. We do not require the solution proposed by Vitringa, and recently appropriate by Haneberg - namely, that the prophet takes the stages of the Messiah's life out of the distant future, to make them the measure of events about to take place in the immediate future; nor that of Bengel, Schegg, Schmieder, and others - namely, that the sign consisted in an event belonging to the immediate future, which pointed typically to the birth of the true Immanuel; nor that of Hofmann, who regards the words of the prophet as an emblematical prediction of the rise of a new Israel, which would come to the possession of spiritual intelligence in the midst of troublous times, occasioned by the want of intelligence in the Israel of his own time. The prophecy, as will be more fully confirmed as we proceed, is directly Messianic; it is a divine prophecy within human limits.
The Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Isaiah 7". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12