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Bible Commentaries

Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary


- Isaiah

by Karl Keil and Franz Delitzsch

The Prophecies of Isaiah


Time of the Prophet

The first prerequisite to a clear understanding and full appreciation of the prophecies of Isaiah, is a knowledge of his time, and of the different periods of his ministry. The first period was in the reigns of Uzziah (b.c. 811-759) and Jotham (759-743). The precise starting-point depends upon the view we take of Isaiah 6:1-13. But, in any case, Isaiah commenced his ministry towards the close of Uzziah's reign, and laboured on throughout the sixteen years of the reign of Jotham. The first twenty-seven of the fifty-two years that Uzziah reigned run parallel to the last twenty-seven of the forty-one that Jeroboam II reigned (b.c. 825-784). Under Joash, and his son Jeroboam II, the kingdom of Israel passed through a period of outward glory, which surpassed, both in character and duration, any that it had reached before; and this was also the case with the kingdom of Judah under Uzziah and his son Jotham. As the glory of the one kingdom faded away, that of the other increased. The bloom of the northern kingdom was destroyed and surpassed by that of the southern. But outward splendour contained within itself the fatal germ of decay and ruin in the one case as much as in the other; for prosperity degenerated into luxury, and the worship of Jehovah became stiffened into idolatry. It was in this last and longest time of Judah's prosperity that Isaiah arose, with the mournful vocation to preach repentance without success, and consequently to have to announce the judgment of hardening and devastation, of the ban and of banishment. The second period of his ministry extended from the commencement of the reign of Ahaz to that of the reign of Hezekiah. Within these sixteen years three events occurred, which combined to bring about a new and calamitous turn in the history of Judah. In the place of the worship of Jehovah, which had been maintained with outward regularity and legal precision under Uzziah and Jotham; as soon as Ahaz ascended the throne, open idolatry was introduced of the most abominable description and in very various forms. The hostilities which began while Jotham was living, were perpetuated by Pekah the king of Israel and Rezin the king of Damascene Syria; and in the Syro-Ephraimitish war, an attack was made upon Jerusalem, with the avowed intention of bringing the Davidic rule to an end. Ahaz appealed to Tiglath-pileser, the king of Assyria, to help him out of these troubles. He thus made flesh his arm, and so entangled the nation of Jehovah with the kingdom of the world, that from that time forward it never truly recovered its independence again. The kingdom of the world was the heathen state in its Nimrodic form. Its perpetual aim was to extend its boundaries by constant accretions, till it had grown into a world-embracing colossus; and in order to accomplish this, it was ever passing beyond its natural boundaries, and coming down like an avalanche upon foreign nations, not merely for self-defence or revenge, but for the purpose of conquest also. Assyria and Rome were the first and last links in that chain of oppression by the kingdom of the world, which ran through the history of Israel. Thus Isaiah, standing as he did on the very threshold of this new and all-important turn in the history of his country, and surveying it with his telescopic glance, was, so to speak, the universal prophet of Israel. The third period of his ministry extended from the accession of Hezekiah to the fifteenth year of his reign. Under Hezekiah the nation rose, almost at the same pace at which it had previously declined under Ahaz. He forsook the ways of his idolatrous father, and restored the worship of Jehovah. The mass of the people, indeed, remained inwardly unchanged, but Judah had once more an upright king, who hearkened to the word of the prophet by his side - two pillars of the state, and men mighty in prayer (2 Chronicles 32:20). When the attempt was afterwards made to break away from the Assyrian yoke, so far as the leading men and the great mass of the people were concerned, this was an act of unbelief originating merely in the same confident expectation of help from Egypt which had occasioned the destruction of the northern kingdom in the sixth year of Hezekiah's reign; but on the part of Hezekiah it was an act of faith and confident reliance upon Jehovah (2 Kings 18:7). Consequently, when Sennacherib, the successor of Shalmaneser, marched against Jerusalem, conquering and devastating the land as he advanced, and Egypt failed to send the promised help, the carnal defiance of the leaders and of the great mass of the people brought its own punishment. But Jehovah averted the worst extremity, by destroying the kernel of the Assyrian army in a single night; so that, as in the Syro-Ephraimitish war, Jerusalem itself was never actually besieged. Thus the faith of the king, and of the better portion of the nation, which rested upon the word of promise, had its reward. There was still a divine power in the state, which preserved it from destruction. The coming judgment, which nothing indeed could now avert, according to Isaiah 6:1-13, was arrested for a time, just when the last destructive blow would naturally have been expected. It was in this miraculous rescue, which Isaiah predicted, and for which he prepared the way, that the public ministry of the prophet culminated. Isaiah was the Amos of the kingdom of Judah, having the same fearful vocation to foresee and to declare the fact, that for Israel as a people and kingdom the time of forgiveness had gone by. But he was not also the Hosea of the southern kingdom; for it was not Isaiah, but Jeremiah, who received the solemn call to accompany the disastrous fate of the kingdom of Judah with the knell of prophetic denunciations. Jeremiah was the Hosea of the kingdom of Judah. To Isaiah was given the commission, which was refused to his successor Jeremiah - namely, to press back once more, through the might of his prophetic word, coming as it did out of the depths of the strong spirit of faith, the dark night which threatened to swallow up his people at the time of the Assyrian judgment. After the fifteenth year of Hezekiah's reign, he took no further part in public affairs; but he lived till the commencement of Manasseh's reign, when, according to a credible tradition, to which there is an evident allusion in Hebrews 11:37 (“they were sawn asunder”),

What I have said here on Isaiah 1:1 as the heading to the whole book, or at any rate to Isaiah 1-39, has been said in part by Photios also in his Amphilochia, which Sophocles the M.D. has published complete from a MS of Mount Athos (Athens 1858, 4).

Isaiah 6:13

Hofmann in his Schriftbeweis (ii. 2, 541) maintains with Knobel, that מצּבת cannot be shown to have any other meaning than “plant.” It is never met with in this sense, which it might have (after נצב נטע נ ), though it is in the sense of statua and cippus , which, when applied to a tree deprived of its crown, can only mean stipes or truncus . - We take this opportunity of referring to a few other passages of his work: Isaiah 8:22. “And the deep darkness is scared away: m e nuddâch with the accusative of the object used with the passive.” But this is only possible with the finite verb, not with the passive participle. Isaiah 9:2. “By the fact that Thou hast made the people many, Thou hast not made the joy great; but now they rejoice before Thee (who hast appeared).” It is impossible that הרבית and הגדלת , when thus surrounded with perfects relating to the history of the future, should itself relate to the historical past - Isaiah 18:1-7. “It is Israel in its dispersion which is referred to here as a people carried away and spoiled, but which from that time forward is an object of reverential awe - a people that men have cut in pieces and trampled under foot, whose land streams have rent in pieces.” But does not this explanation founder on נורא מן־הוא והלאה ? In the midst of attributes which point to ill-treatment, can this passage be meant to describe the position which Israel is henceforth to hold as one commanding respect (see our exposition)? - Isaiah 19:18. “Egypt the land of cities will be reduced to five cities by the judgment that falls upon it.” But how can the words affirm that there will be only five cities in all, when there is nothing said about desolation in the judgment predicted before? - Isaiah 21:1-10. “What the watchman on the watch-tower see is not the hostile army marching against Babel, but the march of the people of God returning home from Babel.” Consequently tsemed pârâshı̄m does not mean pairs of horsemen, but carriages full of men and drawn by horses. But we can see what tsemed pârâshı̄m is from 2 Kings 9:25 ( ro ̄ kh e bhı̄m ts e mâdı̄m ), and from the combination of rekhebh and pârâshı̄m (chariots and horsemen) in Isaiah 22:7; Isaiah 31:1. And the rendering “carriages” will never do for Isaiah 21:7, Isaiah 21:9. Carriages with camels harnessed to them would be something unparalleled; and rekhebh gâmâl (cf., 1 Samuel 30:17) by the side of tsemed pârâshı̄m has a warlike sound.

Isaiah 10:28-32

Professor Schegg travelled by this very route to Jerusalem (cf., p. 560, Anm. 2): From Gifneh he went direct to Tayibeh (which he imagined to be the ancient Ai), and then southwards through Muchmas, Geba, Hizmeh, 'Anata, and el-Isawiye to Jerusalem.

Isaiah 33:21-22

No ( No ̄ ' 'Amo ̄ n in Nahum 3:8) is the Egyptian nu - Amun = Διόσπολις ( nu the spelling of the hieroglyphic of the plan of the city, with which the name of the goddess Nu̇ t = Rhea is also written). The ordinary spelling of the name of this city corresponds to the Greek ̓Αμμωνόπολις .

Isaiah 33:23

(Compare Grashof, Ueber das Schiff bei Homer und Hesiod, Gymnasial-programm 1834, p. 23ff.). The μεσόδμη (= μεσοδόμη ) is the cross plank which connects the two sides of the ship. A piece is cut out of this on the side towards the rudder, in which the mast is supported, being also let into a hole in the boards of the keel ( ἱστοπέδη ) and there held fast. The mast is also prevented from falling backwards by ropes or stays carried forward to the bows ( πρότονοι ). On landing, the mast is laid back into a hollow place in the bottom of the ship ( ἱστοδόκη ). If the stays are not drawn tight, the mast may easily fall backwards, and so slip not only out of the μεσόδμη but out of the ἱστοπέδη also. This is the meaning of the words בּל־יהזּקוּ כן־תּרנם . It would be better to understand ke ̄ n as referring to the ἱστοπέδη than to the μεσόδμη . The latter has no “hole,” but only a notch, i.e., a semicircular piece cut out, and serves as a support to the mast; the former, on the contrary, has the mast inserted into it, and serves as a ke ̄ n , i.e., a basis, theca, loculamentum . Vitringa observes (though without knowing the difference between μεσόδμη and ἱστοπέδη ): “ Oportet accedere funes, qui thecam firment, h. e. qui malum sustinentes thecae succurrant, qui quod theca sola per se praestare nequit absque funibus cum ea veluti concurrentes efficiant .”

Isaiah 34:16

This transition from words of Jehovah concerning Himself to words relating to Him, may also be removed by adopting the following rendering: “For my mouth, it has commanded it, and its (my mouth's) breath, it has brought it together” ( ru ̄ cho ̄ = ru ̄ a ̆ ch pı̄ , Psalms 30:6; Job 15:30).

Isaiah 37:30

I am wrong in describing it here as improbable that the land would have to be left uncultivated during the year 713-12 in consequence of the invasion that had taken place, even after the departure of the Assyrians. Wetzstein has referred me to his Appendix on the Monastery of Job (see Comm. on Job, Appendix), where he has shown that the fallow-land ( wâghia ) of a community, which is sown in the autumn of 1865 and reaped in the summer of 1866, must have been broken up, i.e., ploughed for the first time, in the winter of 1864-65. “If this breaking up of the fallow ( el - Būr ) were obliged to be omitted in the winter of 1864-65, because of the enemy being in the land, whether from the necessity for hiding the oxen in some place of security, or from the fact that they had been taken from the peasants and consumed by the foe, it would be impossible to sow in the autumn of 1865 and reap a harvest in the summer of 1866. And if the enemy did not withdraw till the harvest of 1865, only the few who had had their ploughing oxen left by the war would find it possible to break up the fallow. But neither the one nor the other could sow, if the enemy's occupation of the land had prevented them from ploughing in the winter of 1864-65. If men were to sow in the newly broken fallow, they would reap no harvest, and the seed would only be lost. It is only in the volcanic and therefore fertile region of Haurân (Bashan) that the sowing of the newly broken fallow ( es - sikak ) yields a harvest, and there it is only when the winter brings a large amount of rain; so that even in Haurân nothing but necessity leads any one to sow upon the sikak . In western Palestine, even in the most fruitful portions of it (round Samaria and Nazareth), the farmer is obliged to plough three times before he can sow; and a really good farmer follows up the breaking up of the fallow ( sikak ) in the winter, the second ploughing ( thânia ) in the spring, and the third ploughing ( tethlith ) in the summer, with a fourth ( terbı̄a ) in the latter part of the summer. Consequently no sowing could take place in the autumn of 713, if the enemy had been in the land in the autumn of 714, in consequence of his having hindered the farmer from the sikak in the winter of 714-3, and from the thânia and tethlith in the spring and summer of 713. There is no necessity, therefore, to assume that a second invasion took place, which prevented the sowing in the autumn of 713.”

Isaiah 38:7-8

On 2 Kings 20:9 - Even הלך is syntactically admissible in the sense of iveritne ; see Genesis 21:7; Psalms 11:3; Job 12:9.

Isaiah 47:12-15

ἀλμενιχακά in Plut., read Porph., viz., in the letter of Porphyrios to the Egyptian Anebo in Euseb. praep. iii. 4, init.: τάς τε εἰς τοὺς δεκανοὺς τομὰς καὶ τοὺς ὡροσκόποὺς καὶ τοὺς λεγομένους κραταιοὺς ἡγεμόνας , ὧν καὶ ὀνόματα ἐν τοῖς ἀλμενιχιακοῖς φέρεται ; compare Jamblichos, de Mysteriis, viii. 4: τά τε ἑν τοῖς σαλμεσχινιακοῖς μέρος τι βραχύτατον περιέχει τῶν ̔Ερμαικῶν διατάξεων . This reading σαλμεσχινιακοῖς has been adopted by Parthey after two codices and the text in Salmasius, de annis clim . 605. But ἀλμενιχιακοῖς is favoured by the form Almanach (Hebr. אלמנק , see Steinschneider, Catal. Codd. Lugduno-Ba tav. p. 370), in which the word was afterwards adopted as the name of an astrological handbook or year-book. In Arabic the word appears to me to be equivalent to 'l - mnâch , the encampment (of the stars); but to all appearance it was originally an Egyptian word, and possibly the Coptic monk (old Egyptian mench ), a form or thing formed, is hidden beneath it.

Isaiah 57:10

נואשׁ - Fleischer says: “Just as in Arabic 'ml and rj' the meaning of hope springs out of the idea of stretching and drawing out, so do Arabic ayisa and ya'isa ( spem deposuit , desperavit ) signify literally to draw in, to compress; hence the old Arabic ya'asun = sillun , consumption, phthisis . And the other old Arabic word waysun , lit., squeezing, res angustae = fakr wa-faka , want, need, and penury, or in a concrete sense the need, or thing needed, is also related to this.”

Isaiah 65:11

Μήνη appears in μ ηναγύρθς = μ ητραγύρθς as the name of Cybele, the mother of the gods. In Egyptian, Menhi is a form of Isis in the city of Hat-uer. The Ithyphallic Min, the cognomen of Amon, which is often written in an abbreviated form with the spelling men (Copt. MHIN , signum ), is further removed.

Isaiah 65:23

לבּהלה . Fleischer says: “ בּהל and Arabic bahala are so far connected, that the stem בהל , like בלהּ , signifies primarily to let loose, or let go. This passes over partly into outward overtaking or overturning, and partly into internal surprise and bewildering, and partly also (in Arabic) into setting free on the one hand, and outlawing on the other (compare the Azazel-goat of the day of atonement, which was sent away into the wilderness); hence it is used as an equivalent for Arabic la‛ana ( execrare ).”