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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
Isaiah 14

 

 

Verse 1

Isaiah 14:1. For the Lord will have mercy on Jacob — Will pity and deliver his people; and therefore will destroy Babylon. which hinders their deliverance, and will raise up and exalt Cyrus, who shall promote it; and he will not prolong the time, but do these things speedily, as the prophet had just affirmed. For he is continuing his discourse concerning Babylon, and assigning the reason, not only of its fall, but of the speedy approach of that fall, as predicted in the last clause of the preceding chapter. It was not to be delayed, because the deliverance of the church of God depended upon it. And will yet choose Israel — Will renew his choice of them, for he had appeared to reject and cast them off: or he will still regard them as his chosen people, however he may seem to desert them by giving them up to their enemies, and scattering them among the nations. Israel is put for Judah, as it frequently is. Israel being the name which God gave to Jacob, as a mark of his favour, it is chiefly made use of by the prophets when they deliver some gracious promise, or announce some blessing from the mouth of God, especially such a one as concerns the twelve tribes, all equally descended from Jacob, as this prophecy, in its ultimate sense, undoubtedly does. And the strangers shall be joined to them — It is probable that many strangers were made proselytes to the Jewish religion during their captivity, who were willing to go along with them into Judea, there to enjoy the free exercise of their religion. And others, who had not been proselytes before, might be induced to become such, and unite themselves to them, either through the favour shown to the Jews in the Persian court, or by consideration of their wonderful deliverance taking place exactly at the time foretold by the prophets. But what was then begun was more fully accomplished at the coming of the Messiah.


Verse 2

Isaiah 14:2. And the people shall take them, &c. — They shall provide them with all necessary accommodations for their journey: see Ezra 4:1. And Israel shall possess them for servants — Those of the Chaldeans who left their own country for the sake of religion, and went along with the Jews into Judea, would probably be content to live among them in an inferior condition, and give them the benefit of their service. Or, the meaning may be, that many of the Jewish people should be in such circumstances as to be able to procure servants in the land where they were captives, and to take them with them into their own land as their servants. So that the people of the country where they had been captives, became captives or servants to the Jews, in their own land; who might therefore be said strictly to rule over those who had oppressed them. But, without question, these words have a further meaning in them, and point at those times under the gospel, when the apostles, and other ministers of Christ, who were of the Jewish nation, should conquer a great part of the Gentile world, and subject them to the worship of the true God, obedience to the Jewish Messiah, and the laws of Christianity.


Verses 3-5

Isaiah 14:3-5. And in the day that the Lord shall give thee rest from thy sorrow — From thy grief, fear, and the hard bondage of former times; wherein thou wast made to serve — According to the pleasure of thy cruel lords and masters; thou shalt take up this proverb — Into thy mouth, as it is expressed; Psalms 50:16; and say, How hath the oppressor ceased! — This is spoken by way of astonishment and triumph, as if he had said, Who would have thought this possible? The golden city ceased! — So they used to call themselves; which he expresses here in a word of their own language. The Lord hath broken the staff, &c. — This is an answer to the foregoing question. It is God’s own work, and not man’s; and therefore it is not strange that it is accomplished. But before we proceed with our remarks on some particular passages of this song, we shall present our readers with the general view which Bishop Lowth has given of its unparalleled beauties, which he has pointed out, in a very striking manner, as follows: “A chorus of Jews is introduced, expressing their surprise and astonishment at the sudden downfall of Babylon, and the great reverse of fortune that had befallen the tyrant, who, like his predecessors, had oppressed his own, and harassed the neighbouring kingdoms. These oppressed kingdoms, or their rulers, are represented under the image of the fir-trees, and the cedars of Libanus, frequently used to express any thing in the political or religious world that is super-eminently great and majestic: the whole earth shouteth for joy: the cedars of Libanus utter a severe taunt over the fallen tyrant; and boast their security now he is no more. The scene is immediately changed, and a new set of persons is introduced; the regions of the dead are laid open, and Hades is represented as rousing up the shades of the departed monarchs: they rise from their thrones to meet the king of Babylon at his coming; and insult him on his being reduced to the same low estate of impotence and dissolution with themselves. This is one of the boldest prosopopœias that ever was attempted in poetry; and is executed with astonishing brevity and perspicuity, and with that peculiar force which, in a great subject, naturally results from both. The Jews now resume the speech; they address the king of Babylon as the morning-star fallen from heaven, as the first in splendour and dignity in the political world, fallen from his high state: they introduce him as uttering the most extravagant vaunts of his power, and ambitious designs in his former glory: these are strongly contrasted in the close with his present low and abject condition. Immediately follows a different scene, and a most happy image, to diversify the same subject, and to give it a new turn and an additional force. Certain persons are introduced, who light upon the corpse of the king of Babylon, cast out, and lying naked on the bare ground, among the common slain, just after the taking of the city; covered with wounds, and so disfigured, that it is some time before they know him. They accost him with the severest taunts, and bitterly reproach him with his destructive ambition, and his cruel usage of the conquered; which have deservedly brought upon him this ignominious treatment, so different from that which those of his rank usually meet with, and which shall cover his posterity with disgrace. To complete the whole, God is introduced declaring the fate of Babylon, the utter extirpation of the royal family, and the total desolation of the city; the deliverance of his people, and the destruction of their enemies; confirming the irreversible decree by the awful sanction of his oath. I believe it may, with truth, be affirmed, that there is no poem of its kind extant in any language, in which the subject is so well laid out, and so happily conducted, with such a richness of invention, with such variety of images, persons, and distinct actions, with such rapidity and ease of transition, in so small a compass as in this ode of Isaiah. For beauty of disposition, strength of colouring, greatness of sentiment, brevity, perspicuity, and force of expression, it stands among all the monuments of antiquity unrivalled.”


Verses 6-11

Isaiah 14:6-11. He that ruled the nations in anger — With rigour, and not with clemency; is persecuted and none hindereth — Neither the Babylonians themselves nor their confederates. The whole earth is at rest — The subjects of that vast empire who groaned under his cruel bondage. Yea, the cedars of Lebanon — Which were felled for the service of his pride and luxury, but are now suffered to stand and flourish. It is a figure usual in sacred and profane writers. Hell — The invisible world, or rather, the grave, as the same word is rendered Isaiah 14:11, and in innumerable other places; to which he elegantly ascribes sense and speech, as poets and orators frequently do; is moved to meet thee at thy coming — And to compliment thee on thy arrival in their dark regions. “This image of the state of the dead, or the Infernum Poeticum of the Hebrews, is taken from their custom of burying, those at least of the higher rank, in large sepulchral vaults hewn in the rock. Of this kind of sepulchres there are remains at Jerusalem now extant; and some that are said to be the sepulchres of the kings of Judah: see Maundrell, p. 76. You are to form to yourself an idea of an immense subterraneous vault, a vast gloomy cavern, all round the sides of which are cells to receive the dead bodies; here the deceased monarchs lie in a distinguished sort of state, suitable to their former rank, each on his own couch, with his arms beside him, his sword at his head, and the bodies of his chiefs and companions round about him: see Ezekiel 32:27. These illustrious shades rise at once from their couches, as from their thrones; and advance to the entrance of the cavern to meet the king of Babylon, and to receive him with insults on his fall.” — Bishop Lowth. All they shall say, Art thou become weak as we? — Thou, who wast king of kings, and far superior to us in power and authority? that didst neither fear God nor reverence man, but rather didst rank thyself among the immortals; thou, before whom all people, nations, and languages trembled and feared, art thou come to take thy fate with us poor mortal men? Where now is thy power and thy glory? Thy pomp is brought down to the grave — Is lost and buried with thee; and the noise of thy viols — All thy musical instruments, which were much used in Babylon, and were doubtless used in Belshazzar’s solemn feasts, (Daniel 5:1,) at which time the city was taken; to which possibly the prophet here alludes. The worm is spread under thee — Instead of those stately carpets upon which thou didst frequently tread.


Verses 12-14

Isaiah 14:12-14. How art thou fallen from heaven — From the height of thy glory; O Lucifer — Lucifer is properly a bright star, that ushers in the morning; but is here metaphorically taken for the mighty king of Babylon, who outshone all the kings of the earth by his great splendour. Son of the morning — The title of son is given in Scripture, not only to a person or thing begotten or produced by another, but also to any thing which is related to it, in which sense we read of the son of a night, Jonah 4:10, a son of perdition, John 17:12, and, which is more agreeable to the present case, the sons of Arcturus, Job 38:32. How art thou cut down to the ground — Thou, whose power raised thee, in the estimation of men, even to heaven itself? Thou, who didst trample on, and destroy all the nations! For thou hast said in thy heart — Which lay open to God’s inspection; I will ascend into heaven — I will advance myself above the state of weak and mortal men. I will exalt my throne above the stars of God — Above all other kings and potentates; or, above the most eminent persons of God’s church. I will sit upon the mount of the congregation — I will establish my royal throne upon mount Zion, where the Jews meet together to worship God: in the sides of the north — This is added as a more exact description of the place of the temple; it stood upon mount Moriah, which was northward from the hill of Zion, strictly so called. I will be like the Most High — In the uncontrollableness of my power, and the universal extent of my dominion. By putting these and such like words into the mouths of the kings of Babylon, the prophet means to show their excessive pride, and the confidence which they entertained, that they should perpetually reign over the Jews.


Verses 15-17

Isaiah 14:15-17. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell — To the grave, and the state of the dead; to the sides of the pit — And lodged there in the lowest state of misery and degradation. They that see thee — In this humbled and wretched state, shall narrowly look upon thee — As not knowing thee at first sight, and hardly believing their own eyes, because of this great alteration of thy condition, a change which, to them, seemed next to impossible. Is this the man that made the earth to tremble — All the nations of the earth? that did shake the kingdoms — At his pleasure? that made the world a wilderness — By slaying or carrying away captive its inhabitants, and destroying its produce: that opened not the house of his prisoners — That did not restore them to their own country, as Cyrus afterward did the Jews; but kept them in perpetual slavery, Jeremiah 50:33. By this the prophet signifies both his irresistible power, and his continued cruelty.


Verses 18-20

Isaiah 14:18-20. All the kings of the nations — That is, other kings generally; lie in glory, &c. — Are buried in their own sepulchres, having stately monuments erected to their memory. The persons who are represented as uttering these words are supposed to have before their eyes the carcass of the king of Babylon, lying on the bare ground among the common slain, greatly disfigured and covered with blood and wounds. But thou art cast out of thy grave — Deprived of a grave, or burying-place. Which very probably happened to Belshazzar, who, according to Daniel 5:30, was slain in the night in which the city was taken by Cyrus, when his people had neither opportunity nor heart to bestow an honourable interment upon him, and the conquerors would not suffer them to do it. Like an abominable branch — Like a rotten twig of a tree, which he that prunes the trees, casts away: and as raiment of those that are slain — Which, being mangled, and besmeared with mire and blood, is cast away with contempt. That go down to the pit — Who, being slain, are cast into some pit. He saith, to the stones of the pit, because when dead bodies are cast in thither, men use to throw a heap of stones upon them. As a carcass trodden under feet — Neglected, like such a carcass. And this might literally happen to Belshazzar’s dead body. Thou shalt not be joined with them in burial — Not buried, as they are. Because thou hast slain thy people — Thou hast exercised great tyranny and cruelty, not only to thine enemies, but even to thine own subjects. The seed of evil-doers — Such as Belshazzar was, being descended from that Nebuchadnezzar who had made such horrid slaughters and devastations in the world, merely to gratify his own insatiable lusts, and who had been so impious toward God and his temple, and so bloody toward his church and people; shall never be renowned — Or, shall not be renowned for ever: although I have long borne with thee and thy family.


Verses 21-23

Isaiah 14:21-23. Prepare slaughter for his children — O ye Medes and Persians, cut off all the branches of the royal family. This, it is probable, was actually done, for Belshazzar being slain, and the monarchy translated to the people last mentioned, it is not likely that any related to the family of the former monarchs were suffered to survive. That they do not rise, nor possess the land — Not recover their former power, nor fill the face of the world with cities — “It was the ambition of the great monarchs of those times, to build new cities, and call them by their own names, thereby to perpetuate their memory. Hence the cities took their rise, which were called by the names of Seleucia, Ptolemais, Alexandria, &c. Some render the latter part of the verse, Nor fill the face of the world with enemies, such as should continue a succession of war and bloodshed, and disturb the peace and quiet of mankind.” — Lowth. I will cut off from Babylon the name, &c. — The remembrance of those that are dead, and the persons of those who yet survive. I will make it a possession for the bittern — A great water-fowl, which delights in solitary places, as also in watery grounds, such as those were about Babylon. And pools of water — The ground about Babylon was of itself very moist, because of the great river Euphrates running by it, which was kept from overflowing the country with charge and labour; this being neglected, when the city was destroyed, it was easily turned into pools of water. And I will sweep it with the besom of destruction — I will make a clear riddance of all its wealth and substance: see similar expressions 2 Kings 21:13. Bishop Lowth translates this clause nearly according to the version of the LXX. And I will plunge it in the miry gulf of destruction, saith Jehovah, God of hosts.


Verses 24-27

Isaiah 14:24-27. The Lord of hosts hath sworn, &c. — Here begins another prophecy against the Assyrians, which was to be fulfilled much sooner than the foregoing, even in the life-time of the prophet. But, “though of a peculiar and different, it is not of a totally foreign argument: it contains the epilogue and conclusion of the foregoing prophecy. As what the prophet foretold concerning the destruction of Babylon might justly seem great beyond expectation, he was desirous that the truth of the prediction should be collected from another remarkable and not dissimilar divine judgment, which should precede the completion of this prophecy, namely, the wonderful slaughter which the king of Assyria should meet with in Canaan itself, as an example of the divine indignation, and a pledge of the truth of similar predictions denouncing the destruction of the enemies of the people of God.” And here, to give his people greater assurance of the accomplishment of this prediction, and thereby to confirm their faith in it, and all other prophecies which his prophet was commissioned to deliver, God adds his solemn oath; saying, Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass, that I will break the Assyrian — Sennacherib and his Assyrian army; in my land — In Judea, which was God’s land in a peculiar sense, chosen by him, and inhabited by his people; and upon my mountains tread him under foot — In my mountainous country, for such Judea was, especially about Jerusalem, where his army was destroyed; then shall his yoke depart, &c. — See on Isaiah 10:27. This the purpose upon the whole earth — Upon this vast empire, now in the hands of the Assyrians, and shortly to come into the hands of the Babylonians; and this is the hand, &c. — The providence of God executing his purpose.


Verse 28-29

Isaiah 14:28-29. In the year Ahaz died was this burden — This is the second sermon of this second part of Isaiah’s prophecies, (see the general argument, and the contents of chap. 13.,) in which the prophet denounces judgment against the Philistines, exulting in the prosperous state of their affairs, under the reign of Ahaz, and conceiving on the death of that king, when this prophecy was delivered, still greater hopes of increasing prosperity. Rejoice not thou, whole Palestina — Hebrew, Palestina, כלךְ, all of thee, that is, all thy tribes, or clans. For they were still, as formerly, it seems, under the government of five lords or heads, 1 Samuel 6:16; because the rod of him that smote thee is broken — Because Ahaz, the son of Uzziah, thy deadly enemy, is cut off; or, because the power of the kings of Judah, who were wont to be a great scourge to thee, is now much impaired. Uzziah had smitten and subdued the Philistines, 2 Chronicles 26:6-7; but, taking advantage of the weak reign of Ahaz, they had since then not only recovered their former power, but had gained much more, had even invaded Judea, and taken and held in possession divers cities and villages in the southern part of that kingdom, 2 Chronicles 28:18. But the prophet here foretels the grievous calamities which they should suffer as well from Hezekiah, the son of Ahaz, as from the Assyrians; thus humbling their pride and boasting, and encouraging the pious and afflicted Jews with the hope of better times. For out of the serpent’s root shall come forth a cockatrice — Or basilisk, as Bishop Lowth translates צפע, a serpent of the most poisonous kind, termed שׂרŠ מעופŠ, a fiery flying serpent, in the next clause. As if he had said, As much as a basilisk, or fiery flying serpent, is more to be dreaded than a common viper; so much more reason have you to fear Hezekiah than his grandfather Uzziah, because the grandson will gain greater victories over you. This Hezekiah did, for he smote the Philistines even unto Gaza, and the borders thereof, 2 Kings 18:8. “A flying serpent,” says Lowth, “is what the Latins call serpens jaculus, which darts itself against any creature it meets; and they are called fiery, because they cause an inflammation where they sting.”


Verse 30

Isaiah 14:30. And the firstborn of the poor — Those who are most remarkably poor; shall feed — Shall have plenty of provisions, in spite of all thy attempts against them. The same Hezekiah, who shall be such a scourge to thee, Palestina, shall be a mild and gracious governor to his own subjects; he shall take care of them as a shepherd does of his flock, and relieve those who were oppressed in his father’s time. It is probable, that the inhabitants of the southern parts of Judea, who were particularly exposed to the incursions of the Philistines, the Idumeans, and the Arabs, are chiefly meant here by the firstborn of the poor: and concerning these the prophet foretels, that under Hezekiah’s government they should have food and security for themselves and flocks. And I will kill thy root, &c. — When the root is killed, the plant or tree is wholly destroyed. The meaning therefore is, I will utterly destroy thee, both root and branch, so that there shall be no remnant of thy people reserved, as it follows. This utter extirpation of the Philistines, here threatened, was begun by Hezekiah, and was completed by famine and various calamities, which came upon them afterward.


Verse 31

Isaiah 14:31. Howl, O gate — O people, who used to pass through the gates; cry, O city — O inhabitants of the city; or city may be put collectively for all their cities. Thou, whole Palestina, art dissolved — Hebrew, נמוג, art melted, which may be understood, either of the faintness of their spirits and courage, or of the dissolution of their state; there shall come from the north a smoke — A grievous judgment, or calamity, often signified by smoke, as Genesis 15:17; Joel 2:30; both because smoke is generally accompanied with fire, and because it darkens the air, and afflictions are frequently signified by fire and darkness. Many interpreters understand the prophet as speaking here of the calamity brought on the Philistines by Hezekiah, foretold in the preceding verses, observing that Judea lay to the north of some parts of Palestine. But certainly it lay more to the east than north of the greater part of that country: and accordingly, the Scriptures generally speak of the Philistines as being to the west of the Jews: see Isaiah 11:14. It seems, therefore, that Chaldea, and not Judea, is here meant by the north, as it generally is in the writings of the prophets; and that the calamity intended is not that spoken of in Isaiah 14:29-30, but a new affliction to be brought upon them by the Assyrians or Babylonians: probably the same which Jeremiah predicted as coming from the north on the Philistines, Jeremiah 47:2, &c. And none shall be alone in his appointed times — When God’s appointed time shall come, not one of all that numerous army that shall invade Palestine, shall desert his colours, lag behind the rest, or withdraw his hand, till the work of destruction be finished.


Verse 32

Isaiah 14:32. What shall one then answer the messengers of the nation — At the same time that “the prophet sees, as it were, a thick cloud, coming from the north, darkening the heavens, an emblem of the calamity coming from that quarter on the Philistines, he sees the messengers of that nation, as in a common danger, going to the king of Judah, and deliberating concerning the common safety. While he beholds the first he turns his discourse to the Philistines, and excites them to lamentation: but observing the second, he teaches the Jews what answer they should give to the messengers of that nation on this occasion:” see Jeremiah 47:2, and Vitringa. What shall a Jew say in that day, when not only the Philistines, but even the Jews themselves, shall fall by the hands of one and the same enemy? That the Lord hath founded Zion, &c. — They shall give them this answer, That although Zion at present be in a very distressed and deplorable condition, and seems to be forsaken by her God, yet she stands upon a firm foundation, and God, who first founded her, will again restore and establish her; and his poor, despised people, shall resort to her, as to a strong and sure refuge. This verse seems evidently to be added, to express the very different condition of God’s people from that of the Philistines, in the events of the Babylonian invasion: that, whereas the Philistines should be irrevocably destroyed thereby, and no remnant of them should be left, as was said Isaiah 14:30; God’s people, though they should be sorely scourged, and carried into captivity, yet should be strangely preserved, and, after some years, delivered, and restored to their own land; whereby it would appear that Zion stood upon a sure foundation, and although it was grievously shaken, yet it could not be utterly and finally overthrown.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Isaiah 14:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/isaiah-14.html. 1857.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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