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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Isaiah 14

 

 

Verses 1-23

Isaiah 13:1 to Isaiah 14:23. The Utter Ruin of Babylon and Triumphal Ode over her Monarch's Death.—Historical conditions are here presupposed entirely different from those of Isaiah's time. The subject of Isaiah 13 is the overthrow of Babylon by the Medes a century and a half after his age. Since the downfall is said to lie in the near future, the prophecy must have been written very near the close of the Exile. The description of Babylon is also not true to the situation of Isaiah's day. The great oppressing empire, whose downfall he predicted, was Assyria. Babylon was subject to it, though it revolted from time to time, and it was united in friendly relations with Judah by hate for the common oppressor. In our prophecy Babylon is no longer a subject state, but "the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldeans' pride," proud and arrogant, haughty and terrible. The ode in Isaiah 14:4 b - Isaiah 14:21 probably belongs to the same date. It is a song of triumph over the fall of an unnamed oppressor. The writer pictures with undisguised exultation the taunts that will be aimed at the fallen tyrant in Sheol. Although the king is not named, the close connexion with the preceding prophecy makes it likely that the king of Babylon is meant. Isaiah 14:1-4 a is apparently an editorial link between Isaiah 13 and the ode that follows. If so, the reference to the restoration is to the return from the Dispersion rather than simply from Babylon. Prophecies of the return were not necessarily composed before the return under Cyrus, for neither that nor the subsequent return led by Ezra embraced more than a comparatively small remnant of the Jewish population out of Palestine. Long afterwards the hope of restoration was still cherished.

Isaiah 14:1-23. For Yahweh in His pity will restore Israel to its own land, and some of the heathen will join Israel as proselytes (cf. Isaiah 56:3; Isaiah 56:6 f.). The nations will bring them back to Palestine (Isaiah 49:22 f., Isaiah 60:9-14, Isaiah 66:20), and the oppressors will serve those whom they had oppressed. Then when Israel has been rescued it will utter this taunting song over the king of Babylon. The song is written m the so-called lamentation rhythm, which was used largely, though not exclusively, for dirges and elegies. Now has the oppressor ceased, ceased the terror! The tyrant staff is broken that smote the nations in incessant anger and trampled them with a trampling that none could cheek. The earth is at peace, the trees rejoice that they will no longer be felled by the oppressor to provide timber for ships, buildings, and implements of war. The poet now depicts the fortunes of the fallen tyrant after his death, first of his shade (Isaiah 14:9-15), then of his corpse (Isaiah 14:16-20). First he follows the king's shade to Sheol. This was the underworld, to which the shades of men were supposed to go after death, leading there a shadowy existence, regarded here apparently as the counterpart or pale reflection of the life which they led on earth. Thus the kings of the nations still sit on thrones. The passage should be compared with the striking description in Ezekiel 32:18-32*, which differs from this to some extent in its representation. Here the kings are said to rise in amazement to meet the king of Babylon. They had not expected this invincible monarch to be overthrown, but now he is with them, as weak as they. This is the end of his pomp and his music; worms are his couch and his coverlet. So far from sitting on a throne like his fellow-kings, he is doomed to lie on the soil of the underworld, which is pictured as infested with worms, an indication of the close associations between Sheol and the grave. Later he is said to be brought down to the furthest recesses of the pit (Isaiah 14:15). He is thus dishonourably cast aside, no longer the centre of observation. The reason is, it would seem, the fact that his corpse remains unburied (Isaiah 14:19). Son of the Goddess of the Dawn (Job 3:9*), he aspired, as himself a demigod and king of a world empire, to become one of the gods (Ezekiel 28), sitting in their assembly on their mountain home in the far North. He is like the morning star, which shines brightly, but only for a brief period, quickly disappearing before the sun. The falling of the star (cf. Revelation 9:1) is probably suggested by the falling of a meteor. How startling the contrast between the height he hoped to reach in the uttermost North and the depth into which he is plunged in the furthest recesses of Sheol! The scene changes to the battlefield (Isaiah 14:16), where the corpse of the king lies unburied. Those who see it will, as they closely scrutinise it, moralise on the change of fortune. Invincible though he had been, and holding his conquests so firmly, yet, unlike other kings, he is not honoured with burial in his own tomb. The text of Isaiah 14:17-20 has apparently suffered from transposition and corruption (see below). Not only is he excluded from his royal tomb, his whole brood falls and their very names are forgotten (Isaiah 14:20). Let the conquerors extirpate his children, that his dynasty may not perpetuate the mischief of his rule. Isaiah 14:22 f. is perhaps an editorial conclusion describing the desolation of Babylon. When its irrigation system fell into neglect, the overflow of the Euphrates formed marshes, since it was no longer carried off by the canals (p. 50).

Isaiah 14:4. golden city: read "the raging" or "terror."

Isaiah 14:9. the dead: i.e. Rephaim (Genesis 14:5*).

Isaiah 14:11. viols: perhaps we might illustrate from Isaiah 21:5, where the princes of Babylon are represented as at a banquet when the enemy were at their gates, and from the account of Belshazzar's feast in Daniel 5.

Isaiah 14:19. The text seems to mean that the king's body is cast away unburied, like a worthless branch, cut off the tree and thrown aside; that it is flung into a pit with the rest of the bodies of the slain, so that he is surrounded by them on every side. But the language is strange, especially the phrase, "that go down to the stones of the pit." Probably we should read, "but thou art cast forth with the slain that are thrust through with the sword, that go down to the base of the pit, as a carcase trodden under foot." The remaining words then form an introduction to Isaiah 14:20. They do not make a complete sentence, and probably some words have dropped out. It has been suggested to read: "[How art thou out off] from thy grave, like an abominable branch. [How liest thou there without honour] clothed [with shame]." This is a largely conjectural restoration, but it gives a good sense and avoids the difficulties raised by the present text. Something like this is very probably right. The king is called "an abominable branch" in the sense that he is a shoot disgraceful to the family tree, and therefore deserving to be lopped off (cf. Isaiah 11:1, John 15:6).

Isaiah 14:20. with them in this context can refer only to the kings of the nations (Isaiah 14:18), which is very awkward, since the pronoun ought naturally to refer to the slain. But neither is satisfactory. He should be spoken of as buried with his ancestors. Read with Duhm, "as for thy fathers, thou shalt not be joined," etc.

Isaiah 14:21. cities: read "heaps of ruins," unless the word, which is unnecessary and metrically inconvenient, should be struck out. With this verse the ode comes to an end.

Isaiah 14:23. porcupine: AV "bittern" probably suits the passages where it occurs better, though porcupine is philologically much the best supported (see EBi, HDB, SDB2).


Verses 24-27

Isaiah 14:24-27. The Destruction of Assyria.—This is usually regarded as a genuine fragment by Isaiah, asserting, as in Isaiah 10:5-34, the approaching destruction of Assyria in Palestine, and uttered probably not long before Sennacherib's invasion in 701. Some take it to be post-exilic, mainly on the ground that, just as in the later eschatology, the judgment is to be inflicted on all the nations, while Isaiah limits his view to a much narrower horizon. It is also said to be put together out of Isaianic phrases. It is true that numerous parallels occur in the other prophecies, but the piece is so free and vigorous in style, that it does not make the impression of having been composed by a mere copyist. Nor was it possible for the Assyrian Empire to be broken up without affecting the other nations in a vital and far-reaching way. The view taken of a fragment like this necessarily depends to a large extent on the attitude adopted to some of the larger critical questions raised by the book.

Yahweh has sworn to accomplish His purpose of breaking Assyria to pieces in the mountainous land of Palestine. It is a purpose of world-wide import, and, since Yahweh has decreed it, none will be able to thwart His design.

Isaiah 14:25 a. The destruction takes place in Yahweh's land, that it may be plain to the world that Yahweh has accomplished it. It was a common feature in Apocalyptic that the judgment on the nations should take place before Jerusalem.

Isaiah 14:25 b. Perhaps a gloss. We are not told whom the prophet means by "them." If the passage is original here, this should have been clearly expressed. We naturally think of the people of Judah as in the writer's mind, but the next verse contemplates a wider field. Besides, Isaiah 14:26 connects better with Isaiah 14:25 a than with Isaiah 14:25 b. It is very similar to Isaiah 10:27 (cf. Isaiah 9:4), and may have been written on the margin and then admitted to the text.


Verses 28-32

Isaiah 14:28-32. Philistia's Exultation is Premature: Worse Calamities are at Hand.—The Philistines are warned not to rejoice that the rod which has oppressed them is broken, for the tyrant's successor will smite them with greater severity. At first sight it might seem, on account of the title, that the breaking of the rod referred to the death of Ahaz. But we do not know that the Philistines were at this time in any way subject to Judah, and it is likely that both Jews and Philistines were subject to Assyria. Nor does the prophecy favour this view, since it represents Judah as in poverty, while the description of the enemy that is coming upon Philistia points unmistakably to Assyria, if Isaiah is the author. Probably, then, the reference is to the death of an Assyrian king. We might think of Tiglath-Pileser's death in 727, or Shalmaneser's in 722, or Sargon's in 705 (pp. 59, 70f.). Titles are often untrustworthy, but there is nothing intrinsically suspicious in the title to this prophecy, while the fact that the year 727, assigned on independent grounds as the death-year of Ahaz, was also the death-year of Tiglath-pileser, is a striking coincidence, which makes it probable that this is the date of the prophecy. Duhm dates it between the battle of Issus (333 B.C.) and the capture of Gaza by Alexander the Great in the following year. In that case the Persian monarchy will be the broken rod; and the writer warns the Philistines that, instead of gaining their freedom through its overthrow, they will find Alexander a severer oppressor. But the breaking of the staff probably refers to the death of a king from whom they had greatly suffered. The rod and the serpent mean the same thing, viz. the oppressing empire or king. The serpent's root is the root from which the serpent has sprung, probably the royal house of Assyria. Since the basilisk springs from the same root as the serpent, it is hardly likely that the prophet can mean that one oppressing empire will be succeeded by another. It is the same power throughout that is referred to. The basilisk and fiery flying serpent are symbols of worse and worse oppressors. The Philistines seem to have sent ambassadors to Judah to form an alliance against the enemy. It was not unusual, when an Assyrian king died, for numerous rebellions among the subject nations to break out in the empire. The Philistines were very turbulent, and probably it is to one of these attempts that the passage refers. The answer is quite in the spirit of Isaiah. Yahweh has founded Zion; it is therefore safe, and needs no earthly alliance. The several petty kingdoms which make up Philistia are all rejoicing at the oppressor's death; but their joy is premature, for his successor will be far more formidable. But the poor shall feed on Yahweh's mountains and rest in safety, but the seed (LXX) of Philistia will be destroyed by famine and her remnant shall be slain. Philistia may lament for her extermination; the Assyrians are coming from the North, their track marked by the smoke of blazing towns. The soldiers march in a close, compact order, with no straggler in the ranks (mg.). The Philistian ambassadors must take back the message that Yahweh has established Zion, and in her the afflicted people take refuge.

Isaiah 14:29. basilisk: probably a mythical creature.

Isaiah 14:30. firstborn of the poor: if MT is correct, this means the poorest of the poor. Probably we should read, "and the poor shall feed on my mountains."

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Isaiah 14:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/isaiah-14.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, October 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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