Lectionary Calendar
Friday, June 14th, 2024
the Week of Proper 5 / Ordinary 10
StudyLight.org has pledged to help build churches in Uganda. Help us with that pledge and support pastors in the heart of Africa.
Click here to join the effort!

Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 47

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-15


Isaiah 47:1-15

A SONG OF TRIUMPH OVER THE FALL OF BABYLON. The song divides itself into four strophes, or stanzas—the first one of four verses (Isaiah 47:1-4); the second of three (Isaiah 47:5-7); the third of four (Isaiah 47:8-11); and the fourth also of four (Isaiah 47:12-15). The speaker is either Jehovah (see Isaiah 47:3, ad fin.) or "a chorus of celestial beings" (Cheyne), bent on expressing their sympathy with Israel

Isaiah 47:1

.—Come down, and sit in the dust; i.e. "descend to the lowest depth of humiliation" (comp. Isaiah 3:26 and Job 2:8). O virgin daughter of Babylon. The "virgin daughter of Babylon" is the Babylonian people as distinct from the city (comp. Isaiah 23:12). "Virgin" does not mean "unconquered;'' for Babylon had been taken by the Assyrians some half-dozen times. Sit on the ground: there is no throne; rather, sit on the ground throneless, or without a throne. Hitherto the "virgin daughter" had sat, as it were, on a throne, ruling the nations. Now she must sit on the ground—there was no throne left for her. It is the fact that Babylon was never, after her capture by Cyrus, the capital. of a kingdom. Under the Achsemenian kings she was the residence of the court for a part of the year; but Susa was the capital. Under Alexander she was designated for his capital; but he died before his designs could be carried out. Under the Seleucidae she rapidly dwindled in consequence, until she became a ruin. Thou shalt no more be called tender and delicate; or, delicate and luxurious (Cheyne). Babylon had hitherto been one of the chief seats of Oriental luxury. She was "the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees' excellency" (Isaiah 13:19), "the golden city" (Isaiah 14:4). She was given to revelry and feasting, to mirth and drunkenness, to a shameless licensed debauchery. All this would now be changed. Her population would have to perform the hard duties laid upon them by foreign masters.

Isaiah 47:2

Take the millstones, and grind meal. Do the hard work commonly allotted to female slaves. Turn the heavy upper millstone all day long upon the nether one (comp. Exodus 11:5). Babylon having been personified as a female captive, the details have to be in unison. Uncover thy locks. Babylonian women are represented in the Assyrian sculptures as wearing closefitting caps upon their heads. Make bare the leg … pass over the rivers. On the way from their own city to the land of their captivity, they would have to wade through streams, and in so doing to expose parts of their persons which delicacy required to be concealed.

Isaiah 47:3

I will not meet thee as a man; literally, I shall not meet a man; i.e. "I shall not find any one to oppose me."

Isaiah 47:4

As for our Redeemer, etc. Mr. Cheyne suspects, with some reason, that this is "the marginal note of a sympathetic scribe, which has made its way by accident into the text." It is certainly quite unlike anything else in the song, which would artistically be improved by its removal. If, however, it be retained, we must regard it as a parenthetic ejaculation of the Jewish Church on hearing the first strophe of the song—the Church contrasting itself with Babylon, which has no one to stand up for it, whereas it has as "Redeemer the Lord of hosts, the Holy One of Israel."

Isaiah 47:5

Sit thou silent, and get thee into darkness. The second strophe begins, like the first, with a double imperative. The fallen people is recommended to hide its shame in silence and darkness, as disgraced persons do who shrink from being seen by their fellows. Thou shalt no more be called The lady of kingdoms. Babylon can scarcely have borne this title in Isaiah's time, or at any earlier period, unless it were a very remote one. She had been secondary to Assyria for at least six hundred years when Isaiah wrote, and under Sennacherib was ruled by viceroys of his appointment. But Isaiah's prophetic foresight enables him to realize the later period of Babylon's prosperity and glory under Nabopolassar and Nebuchadnezzar, when she became the inheritress of the greatness of Assyria, and exercised rule over a large portion of Western Asia. Nebuchadnezzar was, no doubt, as he is called by both Ezekiel (Ezekiel 26:7) and Daniel (Daniel 2:37), a "king of kings;" and Babylon was then an empress-state, exercising authority over many minor kingdoms. It is clear that, both in the earlier and the later chapters, the prophet realizes this condition of things (see Isaiah 13:19; Isaiah 14:4-6, Isaiah 14:12-17; as well as the present passage).

Isaiah 47:6

I was wroth with my people. I have polluted … and given; rather, I polluted and gave. The reference is to the conquest of Judaea by Nebuchadnezzar. Thou didst show them no mercy. We have very little historical knowledge of the general treatment of the Jewish exiles during the Captivity. A certain small number—Daniel and the Three Children—were advanced to positions of importance (Daniel 1:19; Daniel 2:48, Daniel 2:49; Daniel 3:30), and, on the whole, well treated. On the other hand, Jehoiachin underwent an imprisonment of thirty-seven years' duration (2 Kings 25:27). Mr. Cheyne says that "the writings of Jeremiah and Ezekiel do not suggest that the [bulk of the] exiles were great sufferers." This is, no doubt, true; and we may, perhaps, regard Isaiah's words in this place as sufficiently made good by the "cruelties which disfigured the first days of the Babylonian triumph" (Lamentations 4:16; Lamentations 5:12; 2 Chronicles 36:17). Still, there may well have been a large amount of suffering among the rank-and-file of the captives, of which no historic record has come down to us. Psalms 138:1-8. reveals some of the bitter feelings of the exiles. Upon the ancient; rather, upon the aged. The author of Chronicles notes that Nebuchadnezzar, on taking Jerusalem, "had no compassion on young man or maiden, old man or him that stooped for age" (l.s.c.). There is no reason for giving the words of the present passage an allegorical meaning.

Isaiah 47:7

And thou saidst, I shall be a lady for ever. The idea of "continuance" is one of the primary instincts of human nature. Hence we regard it as certain that the sun will rise on the morrow. We expect things to "continue in one stay," and "to-morrow to be as to-day," if not even "more abundant." Babylon was not much more arrogant than other nations when she assumed that silo would be "a lady for ever." And she had more excuse than almost any other nation. Her capital was one of the most ancient cities, if not the most ancient city in the world (Genesis 10:10; Genesis 11:1-9). Though not unconquered (see the comment on Isaiah 47:1), she had yet for two millennia or more maintained a prominent position among the chief peoples of the earth, and had finally risen to a prouder eminence than any that she had previously occupied. Still, she ought to have remembered that "all things come to an end," and to have so comported herself in the time of her prosperity as not to have provoked God to anger. So that thou didst not lay these things to thy heart. "These things" must refer to the calamities about to fall upon Babylon, of which she may have heard before the end came—since they had been prophesied so long previously—but which she did not take to heart. The latter end of it; i.e. "the probable issue of her pride and cruelty" (Kay).

Isaiah 47:8

Therefore; rather, and now. The third strophe begins here, but with a single, instead of a double, imperative. So also the fourth strophe in Isaiah 47:12. Thou that art given to pleasures (see the comment on Isaiah 47:1, sub fin.). That dwellest carelessly; or, that sittest securely; i.e. in an imagined security. Herodotus says that, when Cyrus invested the city, the inhabitants "made light of his siege" (1.190), and occupied themselves "in dancing and revelry" (1.191). The Nabonidus Tablet seems to show that very slight and insufficient preparations for defence were made.! am, and none else Beside me. This is not self-deification, but only a boast of superiority to all other earthly powers. Zephaniah expresses in exactly similar terms the pride and arrogance of Assyria (Zephaniah 2:15). I shall not sit as a widow; i.e. in solitude and desolation (Lamentations 1:1), deserted by the crowds who had sought her marts and delighted in her luxury. This result, which now impended, had never been anticipated by the "careless" one, who had expected to be for ever "the lady of kingdoms." The loss of children; i.e. diminution of population.

Isaiah 47:9

In a moment in one day. The day of the capture of the city by Cyrus, which was the third of Marchesvan, b.c. 539. Then, "in a moment," Babylon lost the whole of her prestige, ceased to reign, ceased to be an independent power, became a "widow," had a portion of her population turn from her, was brought down to the dust. Loss of children, and widowhood came upon her in their perfection; i.e. "in the full extent of their bitterness" (Cheyne). Not that Cyrus imitated her common practice by carrying off her entire population; on the contrary, she continued for more than two centuries to be a flourishing and populous town. Twice she revolted from Darius Hystaspis ('Beh. Ins.,' Colossians 1:0. par. 16; Colossians 3:0, par. 13), once, perhaps, from Xerxes (Ctes; 'Ext. Pers,' § 22). Alexander the Great found her walls and her great buildings in ruins, but still she was a considerable place. Cyrus, however, no doubt, carried off a portion of her population, which thenceforth begun to dwindle, and continually became less and less as time went on, until she sank into a solitude. That extreme desolation which the prophets paint in such vivid colours (Isa 12:1-6 :19-22; Isaiah 14:22, Isaiah 14:23; Jeremiah 50:10 :15, Jeremiah 50:38-40; Jer 2:36 -43) was potentially contained in the capture by Cyrus, which was the work of a single day. For the multitude of thy sorceries … of thine enchantments (comp. Isaiah 47:13; and see also Daniel 2:2; Daniel 5:7). The word here translated "sorceries" probably means "incantations" or "enchantments," while that translated "enchantments" means "spells." The addiction of the Babylonians to marc is largely attested by the classical writers, and has been proved beyond a doubt by the lately discovered native remains. By these it appears that their magic fell under three principal heads:

(1) the preparation and use of spells and talismans, which were written forms engraved on stone or impressed on clay, and worn on the person or attached to the object on which their influence was to be exerted;

(2) the composition and recitation of formulae of incantation, which were supposed to act as charms, and to drive away demons and diseases; and

(3) the taking of observations and framing of tables of prognostics and of omens for general use, together with the casting of horoscopes for the special advantage of individuals. The first and second forms of marc are glanced at in the present passage; the third is noticed in Isaiah 47:13.

Isaiah 47:10

Thou hast trusted in thy wickedness; i.e. in thy incantations and spells, which were supposed to work in secret, and which could not be counteracted if their victim was not aware of them. Thy wisdom and thy knowledge, it hath perverted thee. The astronomical "wisdom and knowledge" of the Babylonians, confessed by the Greeks to have been the origin of their own astronomical knowledge, led them on to that perversion of true science, astrology, which, when once entered upon, seduces the mind from all genuine and fruitful study of the celestial phenomena, and leads it into a labyrinth of absurdities. It also puffed them up, and made them regard themselves as altogether superior to other nations (see the comment on Isaiah 47:8, sub fin.).

Isaiah 47:11

Therefore shall evil come upon thee. Connect this with the first clause of Isaiah 47:10, "Thou hast trusted in thine own evil (moral), therefore shall evil (physical) fall upon thee." The same word, ra'ah, is used in both places. Thou shalt not know from whence it riseth. So the Vulgate, Vitringa, Gesenius, and Dr. Kay. But the bulk of modern commentators (Hitzig, Ewald, Delitzsch, Nagelsbach, Weir, Cheyne) render, "Thou wilt not know how to charm it away." Both meanings are possible, and are almost equally good; but the parallelism of the clauses is in favour of the latter rendering. Shakhrah should correspond in construction, as in sound, with kapp'rah. To put it off; literally, to expiate; i.e. to get rid of it by means of expiatory rites. Which thou shalt not know; or, of which thou shalt not be aware. (On the carelessness and want of foresight displayed by the Babylonians, see the comment on Isaiah 47:8.)

Isaiah 47:12

Stand now. The fourth and concluding strophe now begins; it opens, like the third, with a single imperative. It has, as Mr. Cheyne observes, "a strongly ironical tinge, reminding us of Elijah's language to the priests of Baal in 1 Kings 18:27." The irony is, however, confined to the first half (1 Kings 18:12, 1 Kings 18:13); giving place in 1 Kings 18:14 and 1 Kings 18:15 to a scathing sentence of judgment and ruin. Enchantments … sorceries; rather, spells, enchantments (see the comment on 1 Kings 18:9). If so be, etc.; rather, perchance thou wilt be able to profit; perchance thou wilt cause terror. The prophet gives a pretended encouragement to Israel's adversaries. "If Babylon uses all the resources of her magical art, perhaps she may succeed—who knows? Perhaps she may strike terror into the hearts of her assailants."

Isaiah 47:13

Thou art wearied in the multitude of thy counsels. Mr. Cheyne's rendering is more intelligible, "Thou hast wearied thyself with the multitude of thy consultations.'' Those at the head of affairs had consulted the diviners of all classes, till they were utterly weary of so doing (compare the "consultations" of Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar with such persons, Daniel 2:2-11; Daniel 5:7, Daniel 5:8). Yet let one further effort be made. Let now the astrologers, the stargazers, the monthly prognosticators, stand up. These are scarcely three classes of persons, but rather the same class under three designations: "astrologers" (literally, "dividers of the heavens"); "star-gazers," or observers of the stars; and "monthly prognosticators," or almanack-makers. The astronomy of the Babylonians consisted primarily in "dividing the heavens" into "houses," or constellations, and thus mapping them out in such a way that the infinite multiplicity, which at first baffles the beholder, might be grasped, reduced to order, and brought within the sphere of distinct cognizance. This work was an eminently useful one, and maintains its place in astronomy to the present day. After the heavens were mapped out, and the courses of the sun and moon through the "houses" laid down, "star-gazers" directed their attention mainly to sun, moon, and planets, noting eclipses, occultations, conjunctions, and the like. All this was legitimate science; but, finally, the greater part of the astronomers launched into astrology, and undertook to prognosticate events from the changing phenomena of the heavens. Almanacks were put forth, in which predictions were made, either specially for a particular year, or generally for all time, based upon astronomical considerations; and on these great dependence was placed.

Isaiah 47:14

Behold, they shall be as stubble (comp. Isaiah 5:24; Isaiah 40:24; Isaiah 41:2). A favourite metaphor with Isaiah for extreme weakness and incapacity of resistance. In Isaiah 5:24 it is connected, as here, with fire. No doubt in Palestine, as elsewhere, an accidental fire from time to time caught hold of a stubble-field, and speedily reduced it to a mass of blackened ashes. The threat here is that God's wrath shall similarly sweep over Babylon. They shall not deliver themselves from the power of the flame. Mr. Cheyne translates, with much spirit, "They cannot rescue their soul from the clutch of the flame." Like those who are caught in the midst of a fire in a prairie or jungle, they have no escape—the flame is on all sides—and they cannot but perish. There shall not be a coal to warm at; rather, it is not a charcoal-fire to warm one's self at. A return to the sarcastic tone of Isaiah 5:12, Isaiah 5:13. The conflagration which spreads around is something more than a fire to warm one's self at—it is an awful widespread devastation.

Isaiah 47:15

Thus shall they be unto thee with whom thou hast laboured. The foreigners who have participated in the toils and labours of Babylon shall share in her punishment. The flame of judgment shall not spare even them. Even thy merchants. Babylonian commerce is the subject of an important chapter in Heeren's 'Asiatic Nations', and is discussed also in the present writer's 'Egypt and Babylon'. It was carried on both by land and sea, and was very extensive, including both a large import and a large export trade. Her merchants were, in part natives, in part foreigners. It is the latter who are here specially intended. Seeing the gradual closing in upon Babylon of the Persian armies, and anticipating the worst, they fly in haste from the doomed city, each one making for his own country, and having no thought of interposing to save the people which have so long encouraged and protected them. Probably the greater number of these foreign merchants were either Phoenicians or Arabians. They shall wander every one to his quarter. Not his own quarter of the town, but his own quarter of the earth; i.e. his own country (comp. Isaiah 13:14, "They shall every man turn to his own people, and flee every one into his own land.").


Isaiah 47:1-15

The fall of ancient states a warning to modern ones.

History has been defined as "philosophy teaching by examples." It is only on the supposition that there are lessons to be learnt from them that historical inquiries or historical records can be regarded as of any value or importance. In a certain sense it is no doubt true to say that "history never repeats itself." The exact circumstances, even of those historical events which most nearly resemble each other, are always in many respects dissimilar. But the value and use of history lies in the fact that, speaking broadly, history does repeat itself. Its events, as Thucydides observes, recur—"the same, or nearly the same"—and will do so "while human nature remains what it is" (Thucyd; i. 22). Hence history teaches lessons, and among its most important lessons are those that it teaches to existing states or communities, by the example which it sets before them of the careers and ultimate fates of former states and communities, which existed under more or less similar circumstances. In most cases we have to speculate on the causes which produced the decline and fall of empires, kingdoms, countries; and thus our conclusions can seldom be more than probable conjectures on the subject. Still, they are often of a high value. But a very much higher value attaches to the instances when an inspired writer delivers to us the Divine view of the causes which brought about the fall of a nation; for here we stand on firm ground—we have a solid and assured basis upon which to rest; and we may draw out the lesson which the writer's words convey with a certainty that we shall not mislead or cause an unfounded alarm. Now, according to Isaiah, the downfall of Babylon was produced by four principal causes; and the lesson to be learnt from her fall is avoidance of four vices. The fall of Babylon warns states—

I. AGAINST LUXURY. Babylon was "given to pleasure" (verse 8), was "tender and delicate" (verse 1), or "delicate and luxurious." It is generally allowed that luxury saps the vigour of states, destroying the severer virtues of courage, manliness, and endurance, and at the same time producing a degeneracy of the physical nature, a loss of muscle, of tone, of fibre. It is, no doubt, difficult to draw the line, and to say what exactly constitutes luxury; but certain practices, common in most modern as well as in many ancient states, may be distinctly regarded as "luxurious." The worst and most fatal of these is unchastity. If the manhood of a nation indulges generally, or widely, in licentiousness, if purity in man is a rare thing, we may be sure that the national character and the national strength are being undermined. The vice of unchastity gnaws at the roots of a nation's vigour, and brings a premature decay. States should take such measures against it as they take against a pestilence. They should strive to keep it out. Having once admitted it, they should seek to stamp it out. If they cannot do this, if the vice is too deeply ingrained to be got rid of, then they must look out for speedy disaster, culminating in ruin. Another dangerous vice, likewise to be carefully guarded against, is intemperance. This, too, affects both body and soul, inflames and so exhausts the one, degrades and enfeebles the other. Of less account, but still coming under the head of luxury, and therefore to be avoided, are gluttony, sloth, effeminacy, over-refinement. Of such it may be said, "Hoc nigrum est; hoc tu, Romane, caveto."

II. AGAINST CRUELTY. Babylon "showed no mercy" (verse 6); "upon the aged, very heavily she laid her yoke" (verse 6). Cruelty has less direct tendency to weaken a nation than luxury; but still it weakens in certain ways. It alienates the subject races towards whom it is shown. It exasperates foreign enemies, and causes a people to be hated even by those who have not themselves suffered at their bands. But its deleterious effect is probably, in the main, due to God's hatred of it. God abominales oppressors (Isaiah 1:21-24; Isaiah 3:12; Isaiah 5:23, etc.), and takes care to punish them. "Woe to the oppressing city!" says God by Zephaniah (Zephaniah 3:1); and again, by Nahum (Nahum 3:1), "Woe to the bloody city!" "Behold, I am against thee, O destroying mountain, saith the Lord, which destroyest all the earth" (Jeremiah 51:25). God pours out his anger against the cruel and truculent, making them experience in their turn the sufferings they have caused to others, and thus bringing them to destruction.

III. AGAINST PRIDE. Babylon thought that she was "a lady for ever" (verse 7). She "said in her heart, I am, and none else beside me" (verses 8, 10). She had such an overweening opinion of herself that she "dwelt carelessly" (verse 8), despised her enemies, made slight preparation against them. Her pride, therefore, like her luxury, by its natural working, seriously diminished her strength for resistance, making her negligent and improvident. But it was also among the causes which especially called down God's judgment. "Pride," as we are told, "goeth before destruction" (Proverbs 16:18), and nothing seems so to provoke the Divine vengeance. "By that sin fell the angels." God "brings down the high looks of the proud." "The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of man shall be bowed down, and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day" (ch. Isaiah 2:11). When God brought low Assyria, the object was to "punish the fruit of the stout heart of the King of Assyria, and the glory of his high looks" (Isaiah 10:12). When Babylon was chastised, it was "because she had been proud against the Lord—therefore were her young men slain in the streets, and all her men of war cut off" (Jer 1:1-19 :29, 30). Pride, therefore, is a vice especially to be eschewed by states, if they desire continuance, and would fain be "ladies for ever."

IV. AGAINST FOOLISH SUPERSTITION. There is a δεισιδαιμονία which is praiseworthy, rather than blamable, as was that of the Athenians (Acts 18:22, Revised Version). Babylon is not rebuked because she really venerated her gods, poor shadows of Divinity as they were. She is blamed because she superseded, or overlaid the worship of her gods with various meaner superstitions. Bereavement and widowhood came upon her "for the multitude of her sorceries, and for the great abundance of her enchantments" (verse 9). It is addiction to magic which is especially "her wickedness" (vet. 10), in which she has "trusted;" and it is this wickedness, together with the other three vices already spoken of, that has caused the sentence of destruction to go forth against her. Modern states may well take the warning to heart. When religion is discredited, superstitions speedily usurp her place. Such monstrosities as Mormonism and spirit-rapping, which disgrace the nineteenth century, are superstitions as degrading as any to which the Babylonians gave way, and may well bring down a Divine judgment on the nations which encourage them or think lightly of them. Such superstitions certainly cannot "save" those who trust in them (verse 13); but it is not so certain that they may not destroy.


Isaiah 47:1-15

The fall of Babylon.

This is a scoffing song at the overthrow of Babylon. It is divided into four nearly equal stanzas. Luxury, ambition, and the practice of magic—the one sin worse than the others—were prevalent at Babylon. Each of these is lashed in the first three stanzas. There is a climax, the scorn of the prophet reaching its highest point in the last stanza (Ewald). Spiritually considered, the picture may represent the course of "this present world" in its godless pride.

I. BABYLON AS TYPICAL OF LUXURY. The city in ancient fancy is ever thought of as a woman—in all her beauty and glory, or in all her shame. The great city here appears as the haughty and luxurious courtesan. The just judgment has fallen upon her impurity. She is violently torn away from her life of softness and refinement, and reduced to the status of a common slave—has to ply the hard labour of grinding meal (Exodus 11:5, 12; Job 31:10). Or, like a captive stripped of all her finery, she has to wade barefoot through streams. Every hidden shame will be exposed to the light of day. Only in Israel—as Isaiah 42-46, have repeatedly proclaimed—is salvation to be found. These calamities of the proud city are in retribution for her sins—the just vengeance of an offended God.

II. BABYLON AS TYPICAL OF PRIDE AND AMBITION. This "daughter of the Chaldeans" is no longer to be termed "lady, or mistress, of kingdoms." When Jehovah was wroth with his people, and desecrated his heritage, giving them into her hands, she showed no pity, but laid a heavy yoke upon the aged, thinking in her heart, "I shall be mistress for ever." She did not consider the end, which has now come upon her. While Israel enjoys freedom, she must pass into the darkness of the prison-house (Isaiah 42:7, Isaiah 42:22).

III. AS TYPICAL OF SUPERSTITION. In her carelessness and pride she has exalted herself above Jehovah (Zephaniah 2:15). She thinks she will never lose her protector, the Chaldean king; and her children, the stout burghers of the city. But sudden conquest will deprive her of both, and she will be as a widow, forlorn. Her third and inexcusable sin is superstition. Her wisdom and science have led her astray to a point of blinding self-conceit. But now an evil has come upon her which no incantations and spells can charm away—a mischief for which none of her rites can atone. Her false confidence has blinded her to the true faith in the eternal God (with Isaiah 46:10, Isaiah 46:11, cf. Isaiah 45:18; Isaiah 19:11, etc.). And tile result must be sudden and crushing ruin.

IV. BABYLON'S FALL AS TYPICAL OF THE WISDOM THAT IS BROUGHT TO NOUGHT. What can all her learned astrologers and magicians do for her now—they whose guidance has so long been followed (cf. Isaiah 46:6, Isaiah 46:7; Isaiah 44:12; Isaiah 43:23)? Let them stand by her in her need, those star-gazers and moon-gazers. But all are dumb, and, so far from helping, flee for their own safety from the fire—no gently warming hearth-fire (Isaiah 44:16), but one most horrible and devouring, from which there is no escape (Isaiah 1:11; Isaiah 33:11-14; Isaiah 5:24).

V. LESSONS. All the great sins are connected together as links in a chain. They are drawn as with a cart-rope. Sensuality and luxury bring pride and contempt in their train; and these, again, blindness and bewilderment of mind. And where no affliction nor humiliation have been known, there will be no sympathy nor pity towards others. Yet religion is ever a necessity to man; and, if the true religion be rejected, some counterfeit must take its place. The most foolish and the darkest superstitions flourish in such times. So it was again when Christianity was making its way in the decaying Roman world. True religion, rooted in humanity and the fear of God, and in light-loving intelligence, alone can deliver the nation and the individual.—J.


Isaiah 47:13

Many counsellors.

"Thou art wearied in the multitude of thy counsels." The mind of man will seek counsel. For men everywhere, in the old Athenian groves and gardens, and in the fellowship of modern clubs and associations, will seek for "opinion" to guide and help them. They are so slow to trust alone to conscience and to God.

I. THE UNSATISFYING ORACLES. "Thou art wearied." You have tried them so often without results of guidance and good. All is vain. Men go here and there, but, alas! too often to those who are the most likely to fall in with their desires and whims. Like Absalom, men consult counsellors like Ahithophel, who pander to their folly. Then, when times of real emergency and anxiety come, when the poor tired heart needs rest and peace, it is led to new pleasures, new excitements and interests, until weariness ensues. How contrasted is the Christian's lot! "Commit thy way unto him."

II. THE MANIFOLD FAILURE. It is a failure all round. Think of the multitude of counsellors. Men go to a minister instead of to the Bible; or to a priest instead of to a Saviour; or to their passions instead of their conscience; or to man instead of to God. Humbly let us seek the heavenly guidance. "The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way."—W.M.S.


Isaiah 47:6

What we owe to the aged.

"Upon the ancient hast thou very heavily laid thy yoke." This wrong-doing is selected, out of all others, to point the reproaches of the prophet. If Babylon would do that, it was merciless enough to do anything. Hard, indeed, is the heart that will show no pity for old age, but will lay a heavy yoke on its shoulders. We may let this sentence suggest to us the light in which a Christian man will look at age. What is its due? How shall we exhibit the temper our Master would approve in our bearing towards it?

I. THE CONSIDERATENESS WHICH IS DUE TO THE WEAK. Many passages from both Testaments invite our attention to the considerateness of the Divine Father, of the gracious Lord, to the weak, to the burdened, to the defenceless (see Isaiah 40:11). To be patient and considerate in our relations with those whose power is reduced, and who are going back to the feebleness out of which they once came, is to be "the children of our Father who is in heaven," is to be "disciples indeed" of the great Exemplar.

II. THE RESPECT WHICH IS DUE TO THE EXPERIENCED. There are truths which nothing but experience seems able to teach. What evils might not be shunned, what sorrows escaped, what happiness and what usefulness secured, if we would but let the wisdom of the experienced direct our thoughts and guide our steps! They only who have sounded the waters of life can tell their depth; they only who have drunk of its many cups can tell us where the killing poison or where the curing medicine is to be found. Age, instructed by experience, has a wisdom Which youth and maturity do well to reverence and to master.

III. THE GRATITUDE WHICH IS DUE TO THOSE WHO HAVE SERVED US. There are many aged men who have lived selfish lives, and to whom we owe no gratitude at all; but there are others who have toiled and suffered, not perfunctorily or of constraint, but freely and magnanimously,—to these far more is due than the pecuniary payment they may have received, and they win go to the grave unrecompensed if those who reap the fruits of their labours and trials do not render them the honour they have earned.

IV. THE SERVICE WE SHOULD RENDER TO THOSE WHO WILL SOON BE BEYOND OUR REACH It is an affecting and constraining thought that there remain but a very few times more when we can do anything for one of our neighbours—that he will soon be where our band cannot reach to rescue or to enrich him. The aged will soon be gone from amongst us. A few weeks or months will take them where no kindness of ours can make their path smoother, their heart happier, their character more noble. To them, most of all, applies the gracious sentiment '' Be kind to each other; The night's coming on, When friend and when brother, Perchance, will be gone."

1. Unkindness to the aged is peculiarly displeasing to God.

2. Considerateness and succour shown to the aged will draw down the special favour of Christ. They, too, are among the "little ones" whom it is at our peril that we "offend," to render whom the simplest act of love is to win a Saviour's blessing.—C.

Isaiah 47:7-11

Spiritual infatuation.

This is a striking picture of infatuation. We note—

I. ITS ESSENTIAL NATURE. Under the perverting influence of sin men come into a mental and spiritual condition in which everything is strange, unnatural, distorted. Something has "perverted" them (Isaiah 47:10). It is a condition in which things seem to them other than they are—in which they fail to discern what ought to be quite palpable to them, in which they are subject to unhappy and hurtful delusions. Knowledge does not instruct them, facts do not affect them, reasons do not convince them, truth does not enlighten them. They are duped by semblances, betrayed by errors, ruined by the falsehoods which they entertain and cherish.


1. An extravagant and offensive egotism. "Thou sayest in thine heart, I am, and none else beside me." It is a very common effect of sin to produce in men a sense of their own importance carried to a painfully high degree; they think and feel as if their present interests were the only things to be consulted. Everything else must make way, every one else must give way to them; their comfort, their advantage, absorbs all other considerations whatever. None else beside them is of any account.

2. A blind disregard of the future. "Neither didst remember the latter end of it." Many men regulate their lives as if they would always remain as strong and healthy as they are to-day. Many indulge in courses which tend to weakness or to dishonour, or even to utter ruin, without concerning themselves as to the goal toward which they are travelling. They know that death is in front of them, that judgment awaits them; but they do not "lay it to heart"—they remember not "the latter end of it."

3. An overweening estimate of their own power. "I shall be a lady for ever I shall not sit as a widow." Men "say in their heart," "Other men have made great mistakes, but I shall avoid them; other men have suffered in their circumstances or in their health, but I shall escape; on other men judgment and penalty have fallen, but I know how to avert the blow," etc. They imagine themselves to be possessed of an ingenuity, a sagacity, a power of defeating the operation of penal laws, which does not. belong to them. No one else credits them with this extraordinary faculty; everybody else is convinced that they will he bitterly undeceived: they are infatuated by their sinful folly.

4. A belief in the excellency of animal enjoyment. They are "given to pleasures" (Isaiah 47:8). One of the infatuations of sin is that sensuous delights will satisfy a human soul. It is a complete delusion. As men yield to the temptations of the flesh they find that pleasure lessens as the craving grows: they eat, but are hungry still; they drink, but are thirsty as before. The lower gratifications do not fill the heart which God created for himself and for his service and friendship.

5. A fatuous infidelity. "None seeth me" (Isaiah 47:10).

III. ITS INEVITABLE DOOM. "Therefore shall evil come upon thee," etc. (Isaiah 47:11). The doom of spiritual infatuation is:

1. Sometimes sudden. "Desolation comes suddenly;" when men are saying, "Peace, peace," then sudden destruction.

2. Often mysterious. Men do "not know whence it ariseth." Concealed beneath the surface are the seeds of sorrow and of death; they are invisible, but they are there.

3. Always inevitable. Men are "not able to put it off." Wealth cannot purchase its departure; authority cannot order it away; ingenuity cannot escape its power. A voice which none may disregard or disobey will be heart exclaiming, "Get thee into darkness" (Isaiah 47:5).—C.


Isaiah 47:1, Isaiah 47:2

Humiliation the Divine judgment on pride.

The point here, according to some, is that Babylon loudly boasted about her never having been captured; so she called herself, and was called, a "virgin" city. The figure suggests all the delicacy, all the luxuriousness, all the pride, of the Eastern princess. "Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall." The humiliation of Babylon is presented in precise accordance with the circumstances and sentiments of a grand and proud princess. The hands that were never soiled shall do menial work; the lady who sat in state, in her lovely boudoir, shall sit on the ground and work the household handmill; she who walked alone, attended by her maids, shall be tied to a group of captives, and dragged to foreign slavery; and the delicate dame who had been royally clothed and modestly veiled shall be exposed to the jests and sneers and rude gaze of rough and brutal men. It is a picture of crushing judgments, such as must surely, sooner or later, overtake proud persons, proud cities, and proud nations. God works by humblings, as well as by actual sufferings. The force of the picture presented here lies in the command to the exquisite princess to "take the millstones, and grind meal." This was the most servile form of female labour, and those engaged in it are often squalid and half-clad. Poor blind people go from house to house to grind, and thus earn a pittance. The indignity expressed in the command to "uncover thy locks" can only be understood as it is known that Jewish women are not permitted to show their hair after marriage, and their head-dress is so contrived as completely to conceal the hair. The expression, "pass over the rivers," alludes to the demand to wade the streams as the humiliated princess journeys to the place of her captivity. Illustrate—

I. THE HUMILIATION OF PROUD NATIONS. Such striking cases may be dealt with as the ruin of commercial Tyre; the dismantling of strong and gorgeous Babylon; the overthrow of imperial Rome; the discomfiture of Xerxes and his immense army; the prostration of :Napoleonic France. Bushnell has a fine argument for the dignity of human nature as shown by its ruins, and he illustrates by references to the utter desolation and ruin of what were once the great cities of great nations.

II. THE HUMILIATION OF PROUD CLASSES. The calamities of war, famine, pestilence, trade depression, most quickly and grievously affect them, because of the thousandfold fictitious wants which their pride creates. There are no miserable creatures so miserable as those who are born to riches, and, having none or losing all, are left in their helplessness.

III. THE HUMILIATION OF PROUD INDIVIDUALS. Show the various shapes it takes in this life, and illustrate from the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the certainty and hopelessness of it in the next life. Of this we may be quite sure—God has woe in store, in this life and in the next, for all the proud.—R.T.

Isaiah 47:6

Doing God's work unworthily.

"Thou didst not show them compassion." God had entrusted Babylon with the work of executing his Divine judgments on his people. The work was done, but God could not approve of the way in which it was done. Compare, for illustrative purposes, the cases of King Saul and of John. Saul was made executioner of the Divine judgment on Amalek, but God could not approve of his work: he erred on the side of laxity. Jehu was made executioner of the Divine judgment on the house of Ahab, but God could not approve of his work: he erred on the side of severity. The complaint God makes against Babylon is that it had "shown no mercy," and one specific instance is given—there had been no considerateness shown towards the aged among the captives; even "upon the ancient hast thou very heavily laid thy yoke." Even the old people were made to do the tasks of bond-slaves. "They respected not the persons of the priests, they favoured not the elders" (Lamentations 4:16); "Princes are hanged up by their hand: the faces of elders were not honoured" (Lamentations 5:12); "I am very sore displeased with the heathen that are at ease: for I was but a little displeased, and they helped forward the affliction" (Zechariah 1:15). "The writings of Jeremiah and Ezekiel do not suggest that the Jewish exiles were great sufferers. Perhaps the prophet may refer to the cruelties which disfigured the first days of the Babylonian triumph; or possibly the conduct of the Babylonians varied, according to the flexibility and submissiveness of the conquered" (Cheyne). The general topic suggested is that God's work entrusted to us becomes a Divine agency for the searching and testing of our characters. God will be sure to take account, not only of the fact that we have done the work, but also of the spirit and the manner in which we have done it. No parent can be satisfied with obedience that is a mere act. God watches the character of our obedience. It may be shown that we do God's work unworthily, and come under his reproof, when we—

I. DO IT TO SERVE SELFISH ENDS. This spoils all obedience. The motive in it is wrong. But how searching it would be to us all to try and read our actions in the light of the motives that prompted them! Babylon served itself, so it can expect no approval or acceptance from God.

II. DO IT OTHERWISE THAN AS GOD WISHES. For he who properly takes up a work for God keeps himself open to Divine leadings and teachings as to the way in which it should be carried out. We often err by taking up work, and then severing ourselves from any close and daily dependence on God in the doing of it.

III. DO IT WITHOUT DUE CONSIDERATIONS AND QUALIFICATIONS. Here the reproach is that no "mercy" was shown. God's judgments are always considerate in their applications; they are mercy-tempered; they take due account of "remnants" and "faithful few." In this man almost always tails, and so he does not represent or honour God even in his work for him.—R.T.

Isaiah 47:7

Due regard to consequences.

"Neither didst remember the latter end of it." The experiences of mankind have brought the conviction that moral laws are always and uniformly working, as surely as physical laws. Wrong universally leads on to ruin. Whatsoever a man sows he reaps. "Sin, when it is finished, brings forth death." This is all so certain that, if any man proposes to take any particular course in life, he may duly consider the "latter end of it"—he may estimate it in the light of that "latter end." He is foolish indeed if he does not take into account final issues and results. And yet this is precisely what men usually fail to do. The thief takes no account of the prison; the forger of penal servitude; or the murderer of the gallows. The proud will not see the certainty of life-humblings, or the violent the evil which the bitterness of the crushed and insulted will bring upon them. If we asked ourselves, before entering on self-willed courses, Where shall we be, what shall we be, ten years hence? we should hesitate and step back. Babylon enjoyed pride, and refused to see any consequences resulting from high-handedness and defiance of God and cruelty to man. But if the Nemesis moves slowly, it moves surely; its tread is firm, its advance is certain. The "lady for ever," in her own vain imaginations, sits down at last a desolate captive, a humbled, childless widow, the most helpless and miserable creature that Eastern imagination can conceive (Isaiah 47:8, Isaiah 47:9). "The guilt of Babylon is intensified by her reckless arrogance. She presumed that the colossus of her power would never be broken, forgetting the danger of provoking the God of gods."

I. CONSEQUENCES HELP US TO UNDERSTAND THE CHARACTER OF THE COURSES WE CHOOSE. We may be hurried into acts and scenes of life by excitement and passions; we may be deluded by the mere appearances of things as they pass. We only know what things really are as we sit down quietly and count up their issues, see them working out their results. We know sensuality thus; for he that soweth to it reaps corruption. We know frivolity thus; for it works out into a wretched unfitness for all the solemn scenes and responsibilities that must come to us all. We know pride thus, when we see it driving from us all who could render us service of love, and leaving us to suffer and die in the hands of the hireling.

II. CONSEQUENCES SHOULD WARN US FROM EVIL COURSES. The drunkard should run from the cup, at the bottom of which lies the awful picture of the drunkard's body, the drunkard's mind, the drunkard's home, the drunkard's hell. And so of other deceitful sins and lusts. Alas! that men will not "consider their ways" in the light of their "latter end"!—R.T.

Isaiah 47:11

Man's helplessness in presence of Divine calamities.

The point impressed is that disaster takes unexpected and overwhelming forms, against which the wisest man fails to take precautions. Man can only affect the smallest of circumstances that are put into his control, and the few persons who are under his immediate influence. But each one of us belongs to a great whole, and is affected by great forces, which God alone controls. We are carried whither we would not. We are borne down by evils which we seem to have done nothing to create. We are helpless before the hurricanes and earthquakes and pestilences with which God can smite. After illustrating and impressing this point, show how we ought to stand to the Divine order. We may so stand that no event arranged by the Divine wisdom can take shape for us as calamity.



III. WE MAY PUT OURSELVES IN HARMONY WITH THE DIVINE ORDER, That involves our fitting our will to the Divine will; and that self-seeking man will never do until he is "humbled under God's mighty hand."—R.T.

Isaiah 47:13

The weariness of self-service.

"Thou art wearied in the multitude of thy counsels." Babylon was trusting self, trying to find its own way out of calamities; and it was proving what weary, hopeless work that always is. Astrologer was the final resource of the despairing Babylonians.

I. THE WEARINESS OF VARIETY. A vain searching for some new device. A restless dissatisfaction with everything.

II. THE WEARINESS OF MULTIPLICITY. Bewildered with the many helpers, who yet were all vain helpers. Multitude is suggested by the different terms, "astrologers, star-gazers, monthly prognosticators." Illustrate by the weariness of Athens, in her multiplicity of idols and altars.

III. THE WEARINESS OF REPEATED FAILURES. Nothing is more depressing than to fail again and again. Yet precisely this is the ever-repeated consequence of self-trust and self-help. Blessed is it when weariness does not pass into despair, but leads to the abandonment of self-reliances, that full trust may be placed in God.—R.T.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Isaiah 47". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/isaiah-47.html. 1897.
Ads FreeProfile