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Bible Commentaries

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Isaiah 34

A.M. 3279. B.C. 725.

The contents of this and the next chapter make one distinct prophecy; “an entire, regular, and beautiful poem,” says Bishop Lowth, “consisting of two parts: the first containing a denunciation of divine vengeance against the enemies of the people or church of God; the second describing the flourishing state of the church of God, consequent upon the execution of those judgments.” The former of these parts of the prophecy is contained in this chapter, in which we have,

(1,) A demand of universal attention, Isaiah 34:1 .

(2,) A direful scene of blood and confusion presented, Isa 34:2-7

(3,) The reason given for these judgments, Isaiah 34:8 .

(4,) The continuance of this desolation, the country being made like the lake of Sodom, Isaiah 34:9 , Isaiah 34:10 ; and the cities abandoned to wild beasts and melancholy fowls, Isaiah 34:11-15 .

(5,) The solemn ratification of all this, Isaiah 34:16 , Isaiah 34:17 .

Verse 1

Isaiah 34:1. Come, &c. Here begins the third discourse of the third part of Isaiah’s prophecies, and is continued to the end of the next chapter. It is connected with the preceding, and, Vitringa thinks, was delivered at the same time. It is divided into two sections: the first, contained in this chapter, exhibits judgments upon the adversaries of the church, and particularly upon Edom; the latter, in chap. 35., the jubilee of the church, and its happy, flourishing state. The events foretold are represented as being of the highest importance, and of universal concern, and all nations are called upon to attend to the declaration of them. Thus the prophet: Come near, ye nations, and hear; hearken, ye people As if he had said, Let the people of all nations take notice of what I am about to say, as that wherein they are generally concerned, and by the consideration whereof they may be instructed and reformed, and so delivered from the calamity here denounced.

Verses 2-3

Isaiah 34:2-3. For the indignation of the Lord is upon all nations Not only upon the Assyrians, and those nations which are confederate with them in their expedition against Judea, but upon all other enemies of my people. He hath utterly destroyed them He will infallibly destroy all of them. Their slain also shall be cast out Into the fields, where they shall lie unburied, and be left a prey to ravenous beasts and birds. In which words he implies, either that such vast numbers would be slain, that the survivers would not be able to find time or place to bury them, or that they should be held in such contempt and abhorrence that none would be inclined to do them that office: and the mountains About Jerusalem, where they are supposed to be gathered to fight against her, like the Assyrians; shall be melted with their blood Shall be covered with their blood, which shall flow down abundantly from them with great force, and dissolve, and carry down with it a part of the soil of the mountains, as great showers of rain frequently do. This sentence upon the nations, which thus exhibits a kind of general judgment, to be executed upon the enemies of God and his people, by the sword of God, is sufficient to strike terror into every hearer.

Verse 4

Isaiah 34:4. And all the host of heaven The sun, moon, and stars; shall be dissolved We have frequently had occasion to observe, that, in the prophetic language, the heavenly luminaries represent kings, empires, and states: see note on Isaiah 13:10. The prophet here foretels the overthrow and dissolution of such states and kingdoms as were hostile to his church, whether under the Jewish or Christian dispensation. Or, alluding to a horrid tempest raging furiously, during which the heavens grow black, the sun disappears, and the stars seem to fall to the earth, and it appears as if the whole body of the heavens were about to be utterly dissolved, he intends to signify, that, during these destructive judgments, of which he speaks, the confusion and consternation of mankind would be as great as if all the frame of the creation were broken into pieces. Some, indeed, understand the words as intended of the day of general and final judgment, but the context preceding and following will not agree with such an interpretation. And it is very usual for the prophetic writers, both of the Old and New Testaments, to represent great and general changes and calamities in such words and phrases as properly agree to the day of judgment, and the dissolution of all things: as, on the contrary, they often set forth the glorious deliverances of God’s people by such expressions as properly and literally belong to the resurrection from the dead.

Verses 5-6

Isaiah 34:5-6. For my sword shall be bathed In the blood of these people; in heaven Where God dwells; in which this is said to be done, because it was there decreed and appointed. Or, it shall, as it were, be sharpened and made ready in heaven, to bathe itself on earth. It shall come down upon Idumea Upon the Edomites, who, though they were nearly related to the Israelites, yet were their implacable enemies. But these are named for all the enemies of God’s church, of whom they were an eminent type. The people of my curse Whom I have devoted to utter destruction, as the word properly signifies. The sword of the Lord is filled with blood Shall drink its fill of blood. The metaphor is taken from a great glutton, who is almost insatiable, With the blood of lambs, &c. By lambs, and goats, and rams, he means people of all ranks and conditions, high and low, rich and poor. Dr. Waterland renders the verse, “When my sword in heaven is bathed, behold it shall sink deep into Idumea, into the people whom I have devoted to judgment.” For the Lord hath a sacrifice So the prophet terms this bloody work, because it was done by God’s command, and for the honour of his justice and righteous government, and therefore was a service acceptable to him; in Bozrah A chief city of Edom, (Isaiah 63:1,) and a type of those cities which should be most hostile to God’s people.

Verses 7-8

Isaiah 34:7-8. And the unicorns shall come down The word ראמים , reemim, here rendered unicorns, is the same with that used Numbers 23:22, where see the note. Bishop Lowth renders it here, wild goats; and Dr. Waterland, stags. But many learned men prefer the marginal reading, rhinoceros. It is impossible to determine precisely what sort of a creature is meant, but it is allowed by all that it was a beast of great strength and fierceness, and that it is here used metaphorically, together with the bullocks and bulls, for princes and potentates, which should be brought down and humbled, or should fall down, as Bishop Lowth reads it, according to the LXX. and Syriac, namely, as beasts do when they have received a deadly blow; that is, they shall be sacrificed, with the lambs, goats, and rams, the inferior people, mentioned Isaiah 34:6. And their land shall be soaked with blood Hebrew, רותה , watered, as with rain coming oft upon it, and in abundance; and their dust Their dry and barren land; made fat with fatness With the fat of the sacrifices, namely, of the slain men, mingled with it. For it is the day of the Lord’s vengeance This is the time which God hath long since appointed and fixed to vindicate the cause of his oppressed and persecuted people against all their enemies; for the controversy of Zion Dr. Waterland reads, for the avenging of Zion. Upon the whole, “the meaning of this period,” from Isaiah 34:5, “is, that on a certain day of judgment, which is elsewhere called the great day of the Lord’s vengeance, a mighty slaughter should be made of the hardened enemies of the church, (which had been a long time oppressed and afflicted by them,) with the effusion of much blood, and the destruction of many great, noble, and powerful men. The figure is taken from the master of a family, who, preparing a great feast, and a sacrifice, finds it necessary to slay many lambs, rams, and fatted animals, so that his knife may be said to be inebriated with the blood and fat of the slain.” As to the application of this prophecy, in which the Edomites are particularly mentioned, it may be observed that they, together with the rest of the neighbouring nations, were ravaged and laid waste by Nebuchadnezzar, and the general devastation spread through all these countries by him may be the event which the prophet had first in view in this chapter: but, as Bishop Lowth observes, “this event, as far as we have any account of it in history, seems by no means to come up to the terms of the prophecy, or to justify so highly wrought and so terrible a description. And it is not easy to discover what connection the extremely flourishing state of the church or people of God, described in the next chapter, could have with those events, or how it could be the consequence of them, as it is there represented to be. By a figure, very common in the prophetical writings, any city or people, remarkably distinguished as enemies of the people and kingdom of God, is put for those enemies in general. This seems here to be the case with Edom and Bozra. It seems, therefore, reasonable to suppose, with many learned expositors, that this prophecy has a further view to events still future; to some great revolutions to be effected in later times, antecedent to that more perfect state of the kingdom of God upon earth, and serving to introduce it, which the Scriptures warrant us to expect.” Vitringa is of opinion, that Papal, as well as heathen Rome, red or drunken with the blood of the saints and martyrs of Jesus, is here meant. And he observes, that “Rome, which, in the Hebrew, signifies fortification, well answers to Bozra, which signifies a fortified city.” Is not the destruction of the anti-christian powers foretold in the xviith, xviiith, and xixth chapters of the Revelation by St. John, here intended by Isaiah? and especially the destruction in Armageddon, termed the great day of God Almighty, Revelation 16:14, and that described Isa 19:17-19 ? Certainly these terrible destructions are to prepare the way for that millennial reign of Christ, described Revelation 20:0., and which seems to be intended in the next chapter of this prophecy.

Verses 9-15

Isaiah 34:9-15. And the streams thereof The rivers, which seem most secure from the judgment here threatened; shall be turned into pitch, &c. The country shall be dealt with as Sodom and Gomorrah were, even utterly destroyed, as it were, by fire, or burning pitch and brimstone, thrown down upon it from heaven. From generation to generation it shall lie waste It shall be irrecoverably ruined, and shall remain a spectacle of God’s vengeance to all succeeding ages. The cormorant, &c., shall possess it The inhabitants shall be wholly cut off, and it shall be entirely possessed by those creatures which delight in deserts and waste places: see Isaiah 13:21-22; and Isaiah 14:23. He shall stretch out upon it the line of confusion, &c. He shall use the line, and the stone, or plummet, joined to it, not to build it up, but to mark it out for destruction and desolation. Thus the prophet goes on to “paint, in the most chosen figures, an image of the land and city desolated by war, wasted by fire, and devoted to eternal desolation, by the divine judgment; which should not only be deprived of its inhabitants, and left to impure beasts and birds, but also, by the desolations brought upon it, should be rendered uninhabitable, and present the appearance of the infernal flames, like another Sodom and Gomorrah, sending forth continually black smoke and horrid smells. The desolation of Babylon is set forth in similar terms, Isaiah 13:19, &c. Though Rome pagan and the Roman powers have already suffered great desolation from the Goths and others, yet Vitringa is of opinion that this prophecy has not yet had its full completion, but will hereafter have it in the destruction of Papal Rome. The state of Italy, and the sulphurous soil in the vicinity of Rome, render the probability of this devastation greater.” Dodd.

Verses 16-17

Isaiah 34:16-17. Seek ye out of the book of the Lord Here the prophet confirms the preceding prediction; and, “to convict hypocrites, and confirm the pious, assures them of the certain completion of his prophecy.” He terms it, and his other prophecies, The book of the Lord. as being a part of divine revelation; and he supposes they would be extant at the time of the completion of their contents, and therefore invites all men to seek into and consider them in all their parts, in order that, comparing the events with the predictions, they might be fully satisfied of the truth of them, and thereby might find their faith in them, and all the other parts of God’s book, confirmed. Not one of these shall fail No, not so much as the minutest circumstance, even respecting the impure beasts now mentioned. None shall want her mate As I have said that the vultures should all have their mates, so it shall be: for my mouth The mouth of the Lord; it hath commanded The direful muster of the beasts and fowls; these marks and evidences of desolation; and his Spirit That is, his power; it hath gathered Shall gather all his creatures together, as he formerly brought the creatures to Adam and to Noah, by an instinct which he put into them. And he hath cast the lot for them, &c. He hath divided the land to them, as it were, by lot and line, as Canaan was divided among the Israelites.

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Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Isaiah 34". Benson's Commentary. 1857.