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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Isaiah 34


The contents of these chapters form one prophecy, which closes the series written in Isaiah’s active prophetic life, the second series, from Isaiah 40-66, having been prepared more privately for the use, probably, of his disciples, in the prophetic school at Jerusalem. In this chapter the enemies of God generally of whom Edom is the representative are denounced. The prophecy, as a whole, repeats the truth of Israel’s ultimate, entire deliverance from all enemies, and its happier times (Isaiah 35:0) under Messiah.

Verses 1-3

1-3. Come near, ye nations All mankind is summoned, including all creation in the high poetic ideal, to witness the final fate of all Jehovah’s foes. The deliverance is apocalyptic, and the usual imagery in such compositions (see Ezekiel 39:11) is employed. God’s foes are doomed to an utter curse, their corpses are cast out unburied, and are washed away ( melted) as with a descending torrent.

Verse 4

4. The language here relates to the last things in the wicked human world. It is not symbolic, for symbol relates to an idea; it is not typical, for type relates to an antitype in persons or things; it is simply poetical, intended to indicate terrific revolution; sudden, total, appalling change. In the same way is the reference 2 Peter 3:10-12, to be understood. Also, Revelation 6:14. The dissolving of the stars of heaven may come from the idea of their burning out like a lamp wick, and all becoming suddenly dark. The rolling up of the expanse of the heavens is easily conceived from the scroll, or ancient book, (like our map,) being rolled up and removed out of sight.

Verses 5-7

5-7. For my sword Poetical instrument of vengeance, and its use an ethical necessity against conscious wrong doers.

Be bathed Or, made drunk, (Septuagint and Vulgate;) a figure from Deuteronomy 32:42, and kept up in Revelation, from wine of the wrath of God.

In heaven The seat of the divine plans upon Idumaea, or Edom, representatively, used for all peoples and nations warring against Jehovah’s cause. Nothing can expiate their crimes of incorrigible rebellion but their sacrifice. As all sin requires this, through use of the blood and fat of victims, so Edom, in one of its chief localities, Bozrah, for example, situated in its eastern hills, (not the “Bozrah” of the north, in the Hauran,) shall witness a great sacrificial slaughter, thorough, final, making clean sweep of men and animals, even wild, fierce, strong, young and old animals, all representing every class of men ranked among God’s potent and malignant foes.

Unicorns Is of doubtful meaning. Delitzsch and Gesenius translate it buffalo; Bochart, gazelle. Neither is satisfactory. The original word, R’em, means a roaring, untamed animal of great strength and fierceness, and answers as much to wild bull (possibly buffalo bull) as to any thing else which present knowledge of the ancient natural history in of Palestine can supply. The rhinoceros may have rarely touched that territory in the warm jungles of the Ghor near the Dead Sea, but of this there is no other knowledge than what is possibly implied in the word itself. All these go down together, and in this way does Jehovah avenge Edom, a people figuratively comprehending all his enemies.

Verses 8-10

8-10. Day of the Lord’s vengeance Sure as the pillars of God’s throne stand, divine judgment must overtake wrong and wrongdoers, and Zion, or the Church of God, must be vindicated and defended. The ideal of most terrific punishment is found in the terms brimstone and burning pitch; in the unquenchable fire; in the smoke forever ascending, and in the desert gloom and the impassable waste, that befall the land thus visited. These terms, used as mere figures here, are expanded into symbols in the Book of Revelation; symbols answering to the real idea of awful retributions which will fall upon sin, sinners, and all sinful agencies in the world’s last days. Emblematically the land of Edom becomes a wilderness, and, as an antagonistic kingdom, is destroyed forever.

Verses 11-12

11, 12. The picture of a solitary, foul, and marshy land, and of disgusting animals and birds, taking complete possession thereof, is a favourite one with Isaiah, (see Isaiah 13:20-22; Isaiah 14:23,) and others copy him. See Zephaniah 2:14. The cormorant is possibly the pelican, though it be a sea fowl; the bittern is, in the opinion of most, the crane, or heron, though some read hedgehog. And this is the condition of the punished Edom.

The line of confusion And he, or one, stretches a line upon it an architectural idea denoting exact measurement of justice upon Edom. Stones of emptiness, may mean waste stones, desert stones, stones of dark flint, with which the whole desert land there is strewed. These were picked up and used as, or for, a plummet, with the measuring line. So desolate is every thing there that one visiting the region, either in mockery or in mournful seeming, calls out, Where are the once great nobles, or dukes, (Genesis 36:40,) that ruled here? But no answer. Only the same sad question is mockingly echoed back.

Verse 13

13. The natural consequence of Edom’s depopulation follows. In her palaces, and over all her ruined walls of fortresses, there grow up thorns, nettles, and brambles. Thither also the wild beasts of the desert congregate. Wolves, or wild dogs, (not dragons,) have their homes there, and the court, or grassy plots among the ruins, are resorted to by ostriches, (not owls.)

Verse 14

14. The desert animals, ( ziim,) hyenas, for example, (TRISTRAM’S Natural History,) there come in contact with the howlers, ( ijim,) jackals, called an island creature from its dwelling near the coast, and all inhabited, fertile spots.

The satyr Shaggy, fabulous animals, supposed to inhabit desert thickets, and hence called wood devils objected to by Alexander only because fabulous, but without reason here, for Isaiah employs the term poetically, basing his use of it upon Leviticus 17:7, “And they shall no more offer their sacrifices unto devils,” as the Hebrews had been accustomed to while resident in Egypt. It is the same word in the original, שׂעירים , ( s’irim,) rendered here “satyr,” and, in Leviticus 17:7, “devils.” The word means the hairy ones, shaggy animals. The goat was an object of worship in Egypt, according to Herodotus (ii, 46,) and from the shaggy, rough he-goat, sprang those ideal beings supposed to bear a resemblance to the goat, such as figured in the mythology of Greece at an early period, (when the Egyptian and Grecian religions began to mix,) under the names Pan, Satyr, Selene, etc. Real they doubtless were to the ignorant Israelites when in bondage, but ideal, hateful, and forbidding, both to Moses and Isaiah. No doubt Isaiah gave not the least countenance to them as facts in nature, but poetically used the word to express what was ideally horrible to every mind he addressed. The same is to be said of the screech owl, or some nightly sounding creature, though many expositors, and Delitzsch among them, favour the meaning of nocturnal spectres. The superstitions brought from Egypt lingered with the people of Israel till Monotheism in a large measure expelled them from the popular mind. Nevertheless, later in Jewish history, a crop of legends sprung out of them, and were easily moulded into those of Persian origin; and to this day, with the Arabs, the idea is persistent of still existing devils or ghuls and spectres in the desert. The mirages, the exciting air, and the monotony of desert landscapes generally, are very favourable to the persistence of such superstitions. See SPRINGER’S Leben und Lehre des Mohammed.

Verse 15

15. There shall the great owl make her nest Bochart regards the rendering here “great owl” as entirely wrong. It is from a word which means to dart, to spring, and most interpreters at present join with him in calling the animal an arrow snake, which springs like the rattlesnake.

Lay… hatch… shadow This reptile shall make its nest in the ground, or among the ruins, lay eggs, hatch them, and cover its young by its own shadow, or, rather, by its own coiled body. The desert of Sinai, and as far north as Hebron, is full of reptile holes in the ground.

Vultures Tristram thinks these not to be what we call vultures, but generally a smaller bird of prey like the kite, possibly also including the buzzard. The desolate ruins of Edom shall make a secure and undisturbed retreat for these doleful and dreaded creatures; a sad picture of the consequences not in Edom only, except as a figure, but in all the world of fighting against God.

Verses 16-17

16, 17. Seek ye out of the book From the recorded prophecies delivered by Isaiah from Jehovah many a time heretofore, declaring judgments the like unto this one, and read, ponder. Not one of the creatures here alluded to shall fail; not one shall “want,” nor be without, its mate; not one shall miss the other: for, commanded by Jehovah, the prophet assuredly believed what he had declared. He also is to write it down, for other prophets after him to attest its truth by observing its fulfilment in the due time. The creatures named shall surely be gathered by the breath or command, the providence, of Jehovah, into that doomed land, and the “satyr” and the “screech owl,” names used by the prophet for poetic, spectral expression of effect, but which he endorsed not as fact, they too shall be there, fit place for the gathering of devils as the popular belief would have it and as a seclusion truly most appropriate for them in point of fact.

He hath cast the lot Such an allotment Jehovah has accurately, as by a measuring line, laid out for them. It is their legitimate home for ever.

The desolateness of this so graphically described region is also emblematic of the spiritual desolations that shall yet sweep over all nations, and peoples, and individuals who, like ancient Edom, join themselves in hostilities to the overthrow of the truth and kingdom of God. All these shall fall, never to rise again. But the next chapter the contrast to this and the closing part of the prophecy commencing with this, presents an opposite destiny for all who are the friends of God. They pass, as through a dark and sad desert of tribulations, to an entirely new change of scene, when Messiah is fully come, and God’s foes are overthrown.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Isaiah 34". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.