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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Isaiah 8

 

 

Introduction

Chapter 8 Isaiah’s Testimony.

In this chapter Isaiah writes a strange series of words on a large tablet for public display. The words were maher-shalal-hash-baz (‘haste the spoil, speed the prey’). It is a warning that the times of judgment that he has prophesied are speedily coming on Syria, Israel and Judah. Then a son is born to him and he is told to give him that name, because before the child has passed his tender years both Syria and Israel will have been despoiled and devastated.

He then warns of what is first coming on the land of the coming Immanuel, but promises that after coming judgment there will be final deliverance for God’s people, and it will be because of Immanuel, because ‘God is with us’. Meanwhile he must withdraw from all political manoeuvring and write down and seal his testimony and establish the Law among his followers. For those who refuse that testimony and Law can only look forward to darkness. (This will be followed in chapter 9 by the promise of the coming of the expected King, of Immanuel).


Verses 1-4

The Birth of the Prophet’s Son (Isaiah 8:1-4).

As previously mentioned, one central point in this passage is the sign given to Israel in terms of the birth of three sons, two of whom were sons of Isaiah, and one of a virgin, in each case, at least partially, indicated by their names. Here we now have described the birth of Isaiah’s second son.

Analysis.

a And Yahweh said to me, “Take for yourself a great tablet, and write on it with the pen (engraving tool) of a man, For maher-shalal-hash-baz” (Isaiah 8:1).

b And I will take to myself faithful witnesses to record, Uriah the priest and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah (Isaiah 8:2).

b And I went in to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son (Isaiah 8:3 a).

a Then Yahweh said to me, “Call his name Maher-shalal-hash-baz”, for before the child will have sufficient knowledge to cry ‘my father’ and ‘my mother’, the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away before the king of Assyria (Isaiah 8:3-4).

In ‘a’ and parallel the emphasis is on the name Maher-shalal-hash-baz. In ‘b’ the faithful witnesses take note of his record of the name and in the parallel the prophetess produces a son of that name.

Isaiah 8:1

‘And Yahweh said to me, “Take for yourself a great tablet, and write on it with the pen (engraving tool) of a man, For maher-shalal-hash-baz.” ’

God tells Isaiah to write a series of words on a large tablet, probably for public display, for it is to be witnessed by two witnesses. The words were maher-shalal-hash-baz and its meaning was ‘haste the spoil, speed the prey’. It would be a cryptic message to all in Jerusalem of what God was going to do. We are not specifically told timewise how this relates to chapter 7 apart from the fact that both occur before the desolating of Syria and Israel, but the inference is that it was after Ahaz’s rejection. The public tablet would raise questions which Isaiah would be able to answer. At this stage it is not directly associated with the birth of his son. It is an enigma.

Isaiah 8:2

‘And I will take to myself faithful witnesses to record, Uriah the priest and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah.’

The tablet is to be witnessed by two prominent men. It was necessary that when the events took place no one would be able to deny the source or veracity of the words or the timing of the tablet. It should be noted that the element of sign here was in the tablet, not in the subsequent birth of the son. That merely confirmed the prophecy.

Month by month passed and the strange tablet, with its strange cryptic message, was on display. It was like an advertising board. And as men in Jerusalem saw it, it would make them wonder about what was coming.

Isaiah 8:3-4

‘And I went in to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son. Then Yahweh said to me, “Call his name Maher-shalal-hash-baz”, for before the child will have sufficient knowledge to cry ‘my father’ and ‘my mother’, the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away before the king of Assyria.” ’

Isaiah now produces a son and is immediately informed that he must give him a name utilising the mysterious words on the tablet. If this was to be seen as the fulfilment of Isaiah 7:14 it is remarkably well concealed. The prophetess is not an ‘almah, and the child’s name is in absolute contrast to that of Immanuel. There is no direct hint of connection, and instead of a triumphant cry it is a word of judgment. This is therefore, rather a third sign following that of Sheerjashub and Immanuel. The threefold sign confirms the completeness of the prophecies, the coming of judgment ‘with haste’, the need for the return of a remnant, the appearance of Immanuel Whose promised birth has doomed the house of Ahaz.

‘The prophetess.’ We do not know whether the prophetess was a prophetess in her own right, a prophetess because married to a prophet, or a ‘prophetess’ because her period of childbearing proclaimed Yahweh’s word. It was at least the second for the description is primarily in order to indicate that she was Isaiah’s wife. But it may well be all three.

It should be noted that here the birth of the child is confirming, and making permanent, the previous sign of the publicised tablet and is therefore being used to indicate the nearness of its fulfilment. The child is not the prophecy. That was given on the tablet. This naming of the new born child with the same words rather confirms the prophecy already made, and demonstrates its soon fulfilment.

The inference seems to be that this was slightly closer in time to the event than chapter 7 because here it is before the child can say ‘Dada’ and ‘Mama’ that the events will happen, a shorter period than the period of growing up to discernment (Isaiah 7:16).

However while we do not see this as the fulfilment of Isaiah 7:14, it was certainly intended to be in parallel with it, and confirmation of Ahaz’s rejection, although in this case in terms of the coming judgment. On the one hand ‘God is with us’, but not with Ahaz, on the other ‘haste the spoil, speed the prey’ which will directly affect Ahaz. It could not be a more emphatic choice. While not the son described in Isaiah 7:14, this was the birth of a son whose birth was indeed a kind of sign, even though of an inferior nature (as was the birth of Isaiah’s first son). It confirmed the second part of the previous prophecy, and actually acted as a reminder to all of that previous prophecy. But this was not the one promised. They must continue to look for the rise of a greater, miraculously born, son of David.

The birth of this son would increase the apprehension in Ahaz’s mind that he himself was shortly to be replaced by Immanuel, for he had no knowledge of when he would be born.


Verses 5-10

Judah Having Made Their Final Choice Even Immanuel’s Land Will Suffer. Nevertheless Final Triumph Is Certain Because It Is Immanuel’s Land (Isaiah 8:5-10).

Two facts emerge from the words that follow. The first is that Immanuel’s coming cannot be too near, for the land is first to be possessed by Assyria. And the second is that when Immanuel does come none will be able to resist him.

a And Yahweh spoke to me yet again, saying, “Forasmuch as this people have refused the waters of Shiloah which go softly, and rejoice in Rezin and Remaliah’s son (Isaiah 8:5-6).

b Now therefore, behold, Yahweh brings up on them the waters of the River, strong and many, the king of Assyria and all his glory (Isaiah 8:7 a).

c And he will come up over all his channels, and go up over all his banks, and he will sweep on into Judah, he will overflow and pass through (Isaiah 8:7-8 a).

c He will reach even to the neck. And the stretching out of his wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel” (Isaiah 8:8 b).

b Make an uproar, O you peoples, and you will be broken in pieces, and give ear all you of far off countries, gird yourselves, and you will be broken in pieces, gird yourselves and you will be broken in pieces (Isaiah 8:9).

a Take counsel together and it will be brought to nought, speak the word and it will not stand. For God is with us (or ‘because of Immanu-el’) (Isaiah 8:10).

In ‘a’ the northern kingdom of Israel have rejected the house of David and sought to other kings, while in the parallel His true people will finally look to the true son of David, Immanuel. In ‘b’ Israel will be swamped by the waters of The River, by the Assyrian might, but in the parallel the final result can only be that all peoples will be broken in pieces (by Immanuel). In ‘c’ and parallel both Israel and Judah will be swamped by the king of Assyria.

Isaiah 8:5-8

‘And Yahweh spoke to me yet again, saying, “Forasmuch as this people have refused the waters of Shiloah which go softly, and rejoice in Rezin and Remaliah’s son, now therefore, behold, Yahweh brings up on them the waters of the River, strong and many, the king of Assyria and all his glory. And he will come up over all his channels, and go up over all his banks, and he will sweep on into Judah, he will overflow and pass through. He will reach even to the neck. And the stretching out of his wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel.” ’

The choice that Israel, the northern kingdom, have made is now clearly outlined. (For ‘this people’ as referring to Israel see Isaiah 9:16. Right from the beginning Isaiah has been concerned for Israel as well as Judah. All the prophets considered them to be one kingdom. See on Isaiah 1:3). They have refused the gentle waters of Shiloah, Jerusalem and the son of David, and have chosen Rezin and the son of Remaliah.

The waters of Shiloah (Siloam) ran from the spring Gihon into Jerusalem. They represented the lifeblood of Jerusalem, especially in time of siege, and were the place of coronation for the Davidic house (1 Kings 1:33; 1 Kings 1:38; 1 Kings 1:45). Furthermore the continual reference to ‘Remaliah’s son’ without giving a name is drawing attention to the fact that they have rejected ‘David’s son’. They have continually turned from Jerusalem, the place of God’s earthly dwelling, and from Yahweh’s anointed, the Davidic king, to a stranger to that house.

But instead of the gentle waters of Shiloah, which could have been theirs and which they have refused, their choice will bring on them the raging torrent of Assyria. ‘The River’ is the Euphrates, and symbolises the king of Assyria with his mighty and splendid forces, his ‘glory’. He will come like a great river overflowing its channels and banks, sweeping away Syria and Israel, and then continuing on into Judah, overflowing and passing through at such depth that it reaches to the neck. So in spite of Ahaz’s hopes Judah will not escape. He will discover just what it means to be a tributary of Assyria.

The reference to ‘even to the neck’ may be intended to indicate a deep flood (see Ezekiel 47:3-5), or it may suggest that it would not quite drown Judah as it would Israel. Or indeed it may indicate both of these (compare Isaiah 30:28). Although Judah may be caught up to the neck, it will not overwhelm them. They will finally survive. This may refer to the effects of the large Assyrian army as it stations itself in Judah as its tributary, as a warning of its presence to nations round about, or it may more likely have in mind the future when inevitably Judah will seek to withhold tribute and will become the objects of Assyrian anger. It could be seen as a fair picture of the later situation when the whole of Judah was subdued, Lachish was taken and Jerusalem stood alone (Isaiah 36:2). It was then certainly in it up to the neck. But either way Judah will not be swept away, because it is the land promised to Immanuel.

What now follows takes up what has been said, and will shortly be said (Isaiah 9:5-6), about the coming Immanuel. The point being made is that the coming of Immanuel is not to be seen as so near that it will prevent the consequences of Ahaz’s disobedience, and this is expressed for his hearer’s sake in terms of prophetic words spoken to the future Immanuel.

‘And the stretching out of his wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel.’ Let the coming Immanuel be aware of what will happen before he comes. We must most probably see this as depicting Yahweh as speaking warningly through Isaiah into the future, as though speaking to the coming child, the coming Immanuel. The coming child of the house of David must ‘recognise’ the true situation (although the intention is really that his listeners, and those who follow them, will recognise the situation). None must think that because Immanuel is coming they will escape the consequences of Ahaz’s behaviour (and subsequently of Hezekiah’s behaviour - Isaiah 39:3-5). While the land will still belong to Judah when he comes, nevertheless when he does come he must not expect to come to a powerful throne. He must expect rather to find that he comes in a time of need when his land has been possessed by the enemies of Judah, with enemy forces everywhere.

And this process of occupation will begin shortly with the descent of Assyria like a bird outstretching its wings, who will fill the whole land (compare Isaiah 36:1). Those who have travelled in the wilderness and been aware of vultures hovering overhead when they sense the possibility of a dead carcase, casting the shadow of their wings over what is below, will best appreciate these words. But the shadow of Assyria’s outstretched wings will be so threatening that it will darken the whole land.

This was thus a portent, a portent of the fact that, as a result of disobedience and folly, the land would continue thus to be overshadowed until Immanuel came to deliver it. And as we now know, the Assyrian shadow would continue on through their successors. There would come the Babylonian shadow, and then the Persian shadow, and then the Greek shadow, and then the Roman shadow, and all as a result of disobedience. Judah would never again be truly free from such shadows for long, and there will rarely be any relief from them, until Immanuel comes, so that Immanuel must recognise that He will inevitably come to a war torn country suffering under a continuing powerful threat, because as a result of God’s rejection of the seed of Ahaz, Jerusalem’s continual independence is over until He comes.

‘O Immanuel (‘God is with us’).’ This cryptic reference, coming here following the prophetic declaration in Isaiah 7:14, must be seen as confirming the centrality of the Immanuel idea to the whole passage from Isaiah 7:1 onwards up to Isaiah 9:6. All has in mind that Immanuel is coming. Ahaz, having been rejected, will fail. The king of Assyria will come, and Syria and Israel will be desolated. Then Assyria will descend on Judah, who up to this point had been free, and will take it all under his threatening wing. All this must precede his coming. But at last, once man has done his worst Immanuel will eventually come. For he will come in the midst of disaster, as a result of God’s miraculous intervention, with the guarantee that after disaster hope will spring up, even in the midst of that disaster. (It is a kind of pre-run in respect of His first coming of the second coming teaching of imminence connected with delay).

Alternately some see the ‘He’ here as referring to God. Then it is saying ‘the stretching out of His wings will fill the breadth of your land, (but) God is with us’, indicating that while God will allow them to be submerged to the neck He will not finally allow Judah and Jerusalem to fall. His outstretched wings would protect them because ‘God is with us’. For in Scripture outstretched wings regularly indicate protection (Psalms 17:8; Psalms 36:7; Psalms 57:1; Psalms 63:7; Psalms 91:4).

A third possible alternative, although Isaiah 8:10 might be seen as against it, is that here Ahaz is sarcastically being referred to as considering himself to be Immanuel. The people saw him as the Davidic representative, ‘the breath of their nostrils’ (Lamentations 4:20), the proof that God was with them, and he may possibly have thought in that way of himself. But what is to happen will prove otherwise. So in terms of this interpretation Isaiah is saying in a sarcastic tone, ‘O Immanuel’, in other words ‘you think you are Immanuel but you are not’. The first interpretation seems to us the most likely as it takes the term in its plain meaning, and is in keeping with the idea of hope for the future, which is a constant Isaianic theme (Isaiah 1:24-27; Isaiah 2:2-4; Isaiah 4:2-6).

Isaiah 8:9-10

‘Make an uproar, O you peoples, and you will be broken in pieces, and give ear all you of far off countries, gird yourselves, and you will be broken in pieces, gird yourselves and you will be broken in pieces. Take counsel together and it will be brought to nought, speak the word and it will not stand. For God is with us (or ‘because of Immanu-el’).’

Once Immanuel Does Come All Will Be Broken Before Him.

Isaiah now challenges the nations about their dealings with Immanuel’s people. Let them beware, for while God may allow them to be downtrodden in the short term, resistance against Immanuel when he comes will be futile. Whoever then comes against his people will be confounded. For whatever may happen at the present time, they can be confident of one thing, that once Immanuel comes all will be well. None will be able to stand against him, because God will be with him. So let all nations who have their eyes on Judah beware and take note that on the coming of the anticipated triumphant son of David all who oppose him will in the end face disaster. If the people make an uproar against him they will be broken in pieces, if they hear the call to go against him and prepare themselves, they will be broken in pieces, Yes, if they prepare themselves for battle against him they will be broken in pieces. Note the threefold repetition (typical of Isaiah, compare Isaiah 7:23-25) of ‘broken in pieces’. For to fight against the coming Immanuel will, to use a modern illustration, be like battering their heads against a brick wall. Even if they take counsel together it will be brought to nothing (see Psalms 2:1-2; Acts 4:24-27), if they speak the word to move against him it will only result in disaster. For in the end whatever happens Immanuel will triumph. (For the whole of this idea compare Psalms 2:1-6). And this is because Immanuel is destined to rule. It will be because for his sake ‘immanu El’, ‘God will be with us’. The deliberate use of El here (rather than Elohim) stresses the specific connection with the name of Immanuel.


Verses 11-18

Meanwhile Isaiah And His Followers Are Not To Align Themselves With Any Political Party. All Are Heading For Disaster. Rather He Must Seal The Testimony of Yahweh (Isaiah 8:11-18).

In the light of this future hope Isaiah now calls on the faithful to stand firm. Like him they must renounce the present conspiracies that are rivalling each other, (what he describes as, ‘the way of this people’). On the one hand are one set of plotters saying ‘we must persuade the king to yield to Syria and Ephraim or else we will be destroyed’, on the other another set saying, ‘we must persuade him to gain the help of the king of Assyria, or we are done for’, and possibly a third set muttering ‘we must persuade him to put our trust in Egypt, for they have promised to save us’. But the common factor is that they are all seeking to put their trust in men. What his followers must do, however, is put all their hope and trust in God for the future. If He is the One Whom they fear, and in Whom they put their trust, they will find Him to be all the sanctuary that they need, and this will be in direct contrast with those who see such an idea as a stumbling stone, and God’s call to faith in Him as a rock of offence. The attitude of such people to Him and His call to faith will trip them up and bring them crashing down.

So like him what his disciples must do is seal up his words, and wait for Yahweh to act in His own way, and have nothing to do with conspiracies. For while He is as yet hiding His face from Judah, nevertheless He has given an indication of what lies ahead for both houses of Israel (Israel and Judah) in the naming of Isaiah’s two sons, ‘a remnant will return’ and ‘haste the spoil, speed the prey’. And all this in the light of their expectation of the coming of Immanuel. So while at first they must expect disaster, in the end they can be sure of restoration.

Analysis.

a For Yahweh spoke thus to me with a strong hand (literally ‘strength of hand’), and instructed me that I should not walk in the way of this people (Isaiah 8:11).

b Saying, “Do not say (the verb is plural) ‘a conspiracy’ concerning all of which this people say ‘a conspiracy’, nor fear their fear, nor be in dread (Isaiah 8:12).

c Yahweh of hosts, Him you will sanctify, and let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread, and He shall be for a sanctuary (Isaiah 8:13-14 a).

d But for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel,

d For a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and many will stumble on it and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken (Isaiah 8:14-15)

c Bind up the testimony. Seal the Instruction (Torah - the Law) among those whom I have taught (Isaiah 8:16).

b And I will wait for Yahweh who hides His face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for Him (Isaiah 8:17).

a Behold I, and the children whom Yahweh has given me, are for signs and for wonders in Israel from Yahweh of hosts who dwells in mount Zion (Isaiah 8:18).

In ‘a’ Yahweh speaks to Isaiah with a strong hand telling him not to walk in the way of the people, and in the parallel his children are for signs and wonders from Yahweh. In ‘b’ his people are not to look to conspiracies, but rather, in the parallel, are to wait for Yahweh and look for Him. In c’ they are to set apart Yahweh as holy, and in the parallel are to bind up His testimony and seal His instruction among his disciples. In ‘d’ Yahweh will be a stumbling stone and rock which causes offence and in the parallel will be a snare and a cause of stumbling to all who do not believe.

Isaiah 8:11-14

‘For Yahweh spoke thus to me with a strong hand (literally ‘strength of hand’), and instructed me that I should not walk in the way of this people, saying, “Do not say (the verb is plural) ‘a conspiracy’ concerning all of which this people say ‘a conspiracy’, nor fear their fear, nor be in dread. Yahweh of hosts, him you will sanctify, and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread, and he shall be for a sanctuary.’

Isaiah now comes back to his present situation. He stresses that in some way which he does not describe Yahweh has spoken powerfully and emphatically to him, ‘with a strong hand’. This might suggest some unpleasant experience that he had had to go through. Possibly this had been necessary because he and his followers had begun to entangle themselves with an anti-Assyria party who would have been happy to enrol such an important figure in their cause. But, as Yahweh had warned him emphatically, they were not to get caught up in conspiracies, or rumours of conspiracies, but were simply to trust in Him.

Judah was clearly rife with conspiracies, with each seeing the other parties as guilty of conspiracy and being filled with dread because of it, and because of what they saw as coming if they had their way. Fear was on every side, for all were afraid of what might come on them if their own idea was not followed. There would be the pro-Israel and Syria party, the anti-Assyria party, the pro-Assyria party, the pro-Egyptian party, and so on. We must recognise that these threats on the horizon were real. On the one hand Syria and Israel were even then about to invade. On the other was the dislike and fear of the ultra-foreign king of Assyria, which was strong among many. A third group were convinced that submission to Assyria was the only hope. But those, including the king, who saw hope nowhere else, must still have been apprehensive. So Jerusalem and Judah were divided in their thoughts. None of the choices really looked appealing. Conspiracy theories abounded everywhere. To them it was just a matter of finding the least disastrous of the alternatives.

But Isaiah was told that he and his followers were not to get entangled with any of these. Rather they were to set their hearts on Yahweh. They were to set ‘Yahweh of hosts’ apart in their minds, and thoughts, and behaviour and think only of Him and His will. By fearing and dreading Him they would be freed from any other fear and dread, and would be a testimony to those around them. And by doing this they would discover that Yahweh really was the true and reliable sanctuary, in contrast with all these false sanctuaries.

But while the sanctuary was a place of safety for those seeking protection the thought is more than that. It was also a holy place, it was the sanctuary of God. Thus they would receive not just protection, but positive sustenance and strength. Yahweh would be their strength, set apart in their hearts.

Isaiah 8:14-15

‘But for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many will stumble on it and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken.’

However to others Yahweh would instead be a stone which caused men to trip up, a rock which caused them to stumble. Because they had wrong ideas about Him and His will, through refusing to consider and believe His word (Isaiah 8:16), they would be led astray and go forward into disaster. They were not the first or the last to think that God was on their side whatever they purposed and however they thought. But they would soon discover otherwise.

‘Both houses of Israel’, that is, Israel and Judah. Both still come within the ambit of God’s warnings through Isaiah. Both could still listen if they would. But they will not, and therefore they will stumble as a result of what they believe about Yahweh. Their wrong belief and ideas lead will lead them into disaster.

‘For a gin and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.’ God’s people under David were politically split into three parts, Israel, Judah, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. The last named saw their city primarily as the city of David rather than as of Judah. But all three parts will find themselves entrapped by their wrong beliefs about Yahweh, especially Jerusalem.

‘And many will stumble on it, and fall and be broken, and be snared and be taken.’ So this stone of stumbling and snare will bring many to disaster. They will fall and be broken, they will be snared and taken, stumbling along, tripping over obstacles, and then finding themselves caught in a snare, and all because they have the wrong ideas about God.

The Sealing of Isaiah’s Testimony In The Light Of The Coming King.

Having come to the end of this part of his ministry Isaiah now arranges for his words to be recorded and sealed. He warns that men must either look to God’s Instruction (Law) and His word through Isaiah, and trust in Him, or must walk in darkness and come to despair. Then he elucidates what he has prophesied in Isaiah 7:14. Finally the great expected king will come and he will bring light to all who receive him, and the everlasting kingdom will be established (Isaiah 9:1-7). It is simply a question of believing and trusting until that time.

Isaiah 8:16-18

‘Bind up the testimony. Seal the Instruction (Torah - the Law) among those whom I have taught. And I will wait in expectancy for Yahweh who hides his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him. Behold I, and the children whom Yahweh has given me, are for signs and for wonders in Israel from Yahweh of hosts who dwells in mount Zion.’

‘Bind’ and ‘seal’ are in the singular. Isaiah now gives instructions (we are not told to whom, but it was clearly to a trusted follower) for his testimony (possibly Isaiah 6:1 to Isaiah 8:15) and the teaching of the Law which he has expounded to them, to be bound up and sealed. They are to be kept among his followers as a sealed and witnessed testimony to what he has prophesied and taught. They alone have been privileged to know the truth, and it must be preserved so that future generations may know what God had told all of Israel and Judah to do. Then they will see that the coming disasters were not His fault. Meanwhile Isaiah himself will wait for Yahweh, Whose face is at present hidden from the house of Jacob (all Israel and Judah), and will look for Him. He will await with expectancy the fulfilment of the promises of judgment, and of the glorious future beyond. All is within God’s timing and he is confident in God.

The hiding of the face from the house of Judah is in contrast with the general thought of His face shining on them (Numbers 6:25; Psalms 31:16; Psalms 67:1; Psalms 80:3; Psalms 80:7; Psalms 80:19). Previously His face had shone on them. Even recently they had just enjoyed the good times during the reign of Uzziah. Now He has withdrawn His face and presence from them for a little while so that it no longer shines on them. But if only all would trust in Yahweh He would bring them through unscathed. (In the Psalms His face shines on them that they might be saved). Thus Isaiah knows that he must learn yet more from God that he may continue to appeal to them.

Some, however, see the first instruction, ‘Bind up -- among those whom I have taught (my instructed ones)’, as given by Yahweh to Isaiah.

‘Behold I, and the children whom Yahweh has given me, are for signs and for portents in Israel from Yahweh of hosts who dwells in mount Zion.’ But God’s truth need not have been hidden from the people. They had had a clear testimony. The first sign was Isaiah himself, and his name (‘in Yahweh is salvation’) and his vivid experience of Yahweh. And then there were his children, Shearjashub (‘a remnant shall return’) and Maher-shalal-hash-baz (‘haste the spoil, speed the prey’). All three were for signs and for portents among them. And they were given by Yahweh of hosts from His holy hill, from His dwellingplace in Mount Zion. It was indeed on Mount Zion that Isaiah had had his unique experience and call (chapter 6) and from which he had come with his testimony to the people as a prophet from God. So he especially had cause to know that Mount Zion was where Yahweh came to reveal Himself, and where He had revealed Himself. Thus he could not understand why the people would not trust the ever present Yahweh

So he is reminding all that they should not forget that God has been pleased to place His earthly dwellingplace among them on the holy mount, symbolised by the Ark of the covenant of Yahweh, and has sent Isaiah as a sign and a portent through his revelation of God’s truth, and through his children, with their unusual names (‘a remnant shall return’ and ‘haste the spoil, speed the prey’), especially Maher-shalal-hash-baz whose birth had been so mysteriously proclaimed on the public tablet beforehand. What more evidence do they need?

We should note when interpreting these passages that Isaiah was equally a sign and portent with his sons. Indeed more so. He was the major sign. They were only involved because of his prophetic ministry. Thus the emphasis here is on God’s revelation through Isaiah, which has included the giving of unusual prophetic names to his sons. His being a sign and portent may well be especially referring back to his experience of chapter 6 on the holy mount. (Thus the new sign of Immanuel was not referring to these signs, for there all the attention had been on Immanuel). Note that we have here the threefold sign of Isaiah and his two sons.


Verse 19-20

The People Must Now Make Their Choice Between the Occult and the Word of Yahweh (Isaiah 8:19-20).

It may be that like Saul before him (1 Samuel 28), Ahaz, recognising his rejection by Yahweh, had begun to seek to mediums and spirits. Or it may be that that was what some of his advisers were suggesting. When people do not like what God says to them they often turn to such alternatives, especially when they have no faith and do not know what to do. But whoever is in mind Isaiah’s instruction is clear. Let them rather look to God’s Law, and His testimony through the prophets, including his own.

Analysis.

a And when they shall say to you, “Seek to those who have familiar spirits, and the wizards, that chirp and mutter” (Isaiah 8:19 a).

b Should not a people seek to their God? Should we seek on behalf of the living to the dead? (Isaiah 8:19 b).

b To the Instruction (the Law) and to the testimony! (Isaiah 8:20 a).

a If they speak not according to this word, surely there is no morning (approach of light, dawning) for them (Isaiah 8:20 b).

Note that in ‘a’ they are warned against seeking the occult, and in the parallel are warned that to do so is to enter darkness, without the hope of light. In ‘b’ they should rather seek to their God, and in the parallel are to look to His Instruction and testimony.

Isaiah 8:19-20

‘And when they shall say to you, “Seek to those who have familiar spirits, and the wizards, that chirp and mutter”, should not a people seek to their God? Should we seek on behalf of the living to the dead? To the Instruction (the Law) and to the testimony! If they speak not according to this word, surely there is no morning (approach of light, dawning) for them.’

Isaiah now draws attention to where many of the leaders and the people are looking for guidance in their desperation, they are looking to mediums and to necromancers, to fortune-telling and spiritualism, and he urges his followers not to listen to those who encourage such things, but to turn to the only place where truth can be found, God’s Instruction (Law) and His testimony through Isaiah and the prophets. He expresses the folly of seeking to the dead about the living. They see not neither do they know anything. How then can they advise the living?

Those who seek to familiar spirits, mediums and spiritists, are like the medium of Endor (1 Samuel 28:7-25), who sought to call up her familiar spirit only to be thwarted by God. Such doings are strictly condemned in God’s Instruction (Law) for they are seen as defiling (Leviticus 19:31; Leviticus 20:6; Deuteronomy 18:11 compare 2 Kings 21:6; 2 Kings 23:24). Rather they are to look to God’s prophets (Deuteronomy 18:15). It was because Saul had sinned grievously and was rejected that he had no word from a prophet (1 Samuel 28:6) and had to look to such sources. Such familiar spirits are therefore looked on as evil.

The wizards (necromancers), those possessed by spirits, who seek to the dead, who ‘chirp and mutter (moan)’, are aptly described with their mutterings and strange sounds. But they seek to those who know nothing of the land of the living. They are condemned along with mediums in the above Biblical references.

All must be tested by God’s Instruction as given in His written word, and by Isaiah’s testimony which is in accordance with that word. If ‘they’, those who seek to mediums and necromancers, do not speak in accordance with that word then it is because they have no light, there is for them no dawning. They have exchanged light for darkness.

Alternatively ‘no morning’ might signify no future, no dawning of a new day. If they turn from God’s word they have no future.


Verse 21

Darkness Awaits Those Who Turn From Yahweh But In The Latter Times Will Come Light in Galilee (Isaiah 8:21 to Isaiah 9:1).

The offer having been made of light or darkness most of the people will choose darkness. A bleak future awaits them. But all is not despair. For there is the promise of Immanuel yet to come. And in the latter times light will come to Galilee, (and it will lead up to the triumph of the great coming King - Isaiah 9:6-7).

Analysis.

a And they will pass through it hardly pressed and hungry, and it will be that when they are hungry they will fret themselves and curse by their king and their God, and turn their faces upward (Isaiah 8:21).

b And they will look to the earth, and behold distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish, and into thick darkness they will be driven away (Isaiah 8:22).

b But there will be no gloom to her who was in anguish (Isaiah 9:1 a).

a In the former time He brought into contempt the land of Zebulun, and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time He has made it glorious, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the nations (Isaiah 9:1 b).

In ‘a’ they will pass through it hardly pressed and hungry, and it will be that when they are hungry they will fret themselves and curse by their king and their God, and turn their faces upward and in the parallel this turning upward in their despair will finally result in Galilee of the nations being made glorious (filled with His glory). In ‘b’ they will look to the earth, and behold distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish, and into thick darkness they will be driven away, and in the parallel there will be no gloom to her who was in anguish (those who suffered first will be blessed first).

Isaiah 8:21-22

‘And they will pass through it hardly pressed and hungry, and it will be that when they are hungry they will fret themselves and curse by their king and their God, and turn their faces upward, and they will look to the earth, and behold distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish, and into thick darkness they will be driven away.’

The significance of ‘no morning’ is now explained. There is great stress on continuing darkness. They will be in despair and in great need, they will have nowhere to look, their king and God will be merely swear words, names by which to curse, whether they look upwards or to the earth they will be in desolation and thick darkness. Because for those who turn from God’s word there is only darkness.

‘They will pass through it.’ The ‘it’ is not defined. It could refer to their time of hopelessness, to the land through which they will pass into exile, or to the time of darkness which will never turn into morning. The verbs are in the singular. We could therefore translate, ‘each of them will --’, emphasising the personal effect for all.

The picture is one of total hopelessness and despair. They will be hard pressed and hungry. They will be under stress and fret themselves. The king, whom they at present see as the anointed of Yahweh, will be simply a name to curse by, or even curse at. God too will be the same. But then, in despair, some will turn their faces upwards.

But all most will see when they look to the earth (or the land) will be distress and darkness, gloom and anguish. And finally they will be driven away into thick darkness. The future without God must in the end be harsh.

Isaiah 9:1

(Isa 8:23 in the Hebrew text) ‘But there will be no gloom to her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun, and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made it glorious, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the nations.’

For those who turn their face upwards there will be hope (Isaiah 8:2). Most of the verbs in this and the following verses are in the perfect tense. In Hebrew the perfect tense does not necessarily indicate the past, it indicates something which is completed. Thus the prophets used the tense to indicate that which, while future, was certain. Because God was going to do it, it was already seen as completed.

For, for one part of Israel and Judah, Galilee of the nations, there will be no such gloom. That will be because having already passed through their gloom in the earlier invasion they are under the Assyrian heel. They are not therefore in a position to make any choice with respect to present circumstances. They will not be involved in the present disobedience. Thus they need not fear, for when Immanuel comes he will bring them light in their darkness (see Isaiah 60:1-2). The next thing therefore that they await is for the light which will come to Galilee. But that will only be once they have passed through their ‘gloom of anguish’ (Isaiah 8:22). It is to them, walking as they are in darkness, that great light will come, so that their gloom will vanish.

Galilee were the first to suffer in any invasion from the north and had been seized in about 733 BC during the initial invasions (2 Kings 15:29). So while their leaders were exiled in accordance with Assyrian policy (leaderless people were more easily controlled) it is probable that they escaped the worst kind of treatment, for at that stage of their capture there would still be hope in Assyria’s mind that Israel would submit and escape the final vengeance, which in fact under Hoshea they did, although being left that much smaller.

Thus when Hoshea later rebelled and Samaria was finally taken Galilee had already long since been in submission as part of Megiddo, one of the three Assyrian provinces which had been set up, and was therefore probably not settled by the foreigners brought into Israel by Esarhaddon (2 Kings 17:24). Indeed being a land of mixture, with many ‘Gentiles’ settled there and surrounding it, something which brought them into contempt in Israel, they may well have been seen by Assyria as not fully Israel at all but as a subject people (there were no maps and no boundaries permanently laid down). It should be noted in this regard that they were never seen as part of the mixture who arose from the settling of foreign nations in Israel.

This prophecy may have first arisen at the time of their separation, which would explain why Galilee is selected out for mention, as an assurance to them not to despair in their plight because there was hope for their future in the latter times in the coming king. Or it may simply be pointing out that in their case they had no choice whether to obey or disobey, and did not therefore share the guilt of Israel and Judah. But God clearly had a greater purpose in this in that it was in Galilee that the King when He came would grow to mature years, and it was in Galilee where He would first widely proclaim the Kingly Rule of God as at hand (Mark 1:14-15). It was to be a chosen land. Light would arise first in Galilee. It was a clear indication that God’s light was to be shared with Gentiles.

The land of Naphtali lay on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee and extended northwards, Zebulun was west and south-west of Naphtali, in the centre of the northern part of the land. As we know these areas were where Jesus particularly ministered

‘In the latter time He has made it glorious, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the nations.’ The origin of the name Galilee is unknown, although it is very ancient. It is nowhere else described as ‘of the nations’ but its position made it susceptible to Gentile influence and penetration. Presumably the name had been given because Israel saw it jestingly, and contemptuously, as ‘half-Gentile’. The sea may be the Sea of Galilee beyond the part of Jordan familiar to Judah, or the ‘way of the sea’ may define territory on the way to the Great Sea (the Mediterranean) going from Jordan. The thought of Galilee being ‘made glorious’ would bring a smile to the faces of men of Judah, but here Isaiah declares that in the latter time it will indeed be so. As a prophet he spoke on behalf of the whole of God’s people. He wanted all to know that God had not finally forsaken them, even Galilee. Little did any realise at the time that Galilee would bring forth the Light of the world to the nations.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Isaiah 8:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/isaiah-8.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, June 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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