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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
Isaiah 7

 

 

Verse 1

Isaiah 7:1. And it came to pass in the days of Ahaz — Of whose idolatries and abominable wickedness the reader will find a particular account, 2 Chronicles 28:1-4. Rezin and Pekah went up toward Jerusalem — “The confederacy of these two kings against the kingdom of Judah was formed in the time of Jotham; and perhaps the effects of it were felt in the latter part of his reign. See 2 Kings 15:37. However, in the very beginning of the reign of Ahaz, they jointly invaded Judah with a powerful army, and threatened to destroy, or to dethrone the house of David. The king and royal family being in the utmost consternation on receiving advices of their designs, Isaiah is sent to them to support and comfort them in their present distress, by assuring them that God would make good his promises to David and his house. This makes the subject of this and the following chapter, and the beginning of the ninth.” But could not prevail against it — That is, against Jerusalem. But yet they carried away a multitude of captives out of Judea, slew a vast number of the people, and Rezin restored Elah to his own dominions. See notes on 2 Kings 16:5, and on 2 Chronicles 28:5-6.


Verse 2

Isaiah 7:2. And it was told the house of David — Ahaz and his royal relations and courtiers. He calls them the house of David, to intimate that the following comfortable message was sent to Ahaz, not for his own sake, but only for the sake of his worthy progenitor David, to whom God had promised an everlasting kingdom. Syria is confederate with Ephraim — With the kingdom of the ten tribes, commonly called Ephraim, because that tribe was by far the most numerous and potent of them. And his heart was moved — Namely, the heart of Ahaz; and the heart of his people — With excessive fear, arising partly from a consciousness of their own guilt, whereby they had put themselves out of God’s protection; and partly from the consideration of the great strength and power of their enemies.


Verse 3

Isaiah 7:3. Then said the Lord unto Isaiah — This fifth discourse, delivered as immediately from the Lord, which extends from hence to the end of chap. 12., is of a very mixed and various argument. It may be divided into five parts: the first contained in this chapter; the second from Isaiah 8:1, to Isaiah 9:7; the third from Isaiah 9:7, to Isaiah 10:5; the fourth from Isaiah 10:5, to the end of that chapter; and the fifth is contained in the eleventh and twelfth chapters. The first part of this prophecy, which foretells the invasion of Judea by the Ephraimites, the Syrians, and Assyrians, contains a kind of introduction to the subsequent prophecies in this discourse. Its design is two-fold; first, to comfort the pious in Jerusalem, amidst this great calamity which threatened their nation, and to testify the singular providence of God toward the house of David, which he had hitherto preserved, and would continue to preserve till the completion of his great design: and, secondly, to upbraid the folly and ingratitude of Ahaz. See Vitringa. Go forth now to meet Ahaz — Here we have an eminent instance of God’s preventing mercy toward one who neither inquired of him, nor sought his help. Thus God is often found of those who seek him not: much more will he be found of those who seek him diligently! And Shear-jashub thy son — Whose very name, signifying, A remnant shall return, carried in it a sign and pledge of the promised deliverance. At the end of the conduit — Whither he probably went to take care about the waters which thence were brought into the city, to secure them to himself, or keep them from the enemy, as Hezekiah afterward did, 2 Chronicles 32:3-4.


Verse 4

Isaiah 7:4. Say unto him, Take heed, and be quiet — Settle thy mind by the belief of that joyful message which I am now to deliver to thee from the Lord; Fear not for the two tails, &c. — These two kings and their forces, which, though they seem to threaten utter destruction, yet shall not be able to do much mischief, being not whole fire-brands, but only small pieces or ends of them, taken out of the fire, in which there is more smoke than fire: and the fire will be speedily extinguished. They have more of show and terror than of strength, their power being much wasted and almost consumed. He terms the king of Israel, the son of Remaliah, by way of contempt, intimating that he was unworthy of the name of king, his father being an obscure person, and he having got into the throne by usurpation, and the murder of his master Pekahiah, 2 Kings 15:25.


Verse 5-6

Isaiah 7:5-6. Syria and Ephraim have taken evil, or mischievous counsel, saying, Let us go up against Judah, and vex it — Hebrew, נקיצנה, harass, weary, or distress it; and make a breach therein — Violently break in upon the land, or break their power and kingdom, and subdue it to ourselves; and set a king in the midst of it — Or viceroy, that shall act by our authority; even the son of Tabeal — Some considerable captain, in whose fidelity both of them had great confidence; but whether he was an Israelite or Syrian is uncertain, and not material.


Verses 7-9

Isaiah 7:7-9. It shall not stand — Namely, their evil counsel. For the head of Syria is Damascus — As if he had said, As Damascus is the head city of Syria, and Rezin is the head, or king, of Damascus, so shall they continue to be, and not advance themselves, and enlarge their territories, by possessing themselves of Jerusalem and the kingdom of Judah as they design. Rezin shall be kept within his own bounds, and be head of Damascus only. And, in a similar sense, (Isaiah 7:9,) Samaria shall continue to be the chief city of the kingdom of Israel, and Pekah shall not conquer Jerusalem as he hopes to do. The Hebrew particle כי, however, which introduces this passage, instead of being tendered for, may, with propriety, be translated though, as it frequently is, (see Joshua 17:18; 1 Samuel 14:39,) and then the meaning will be, Though the head of Syria be Damascus, and the head of Damascus Rezin, and the head of Ephraim be Samaria, &c., yet within threescore and five years shall Ephraim be broken, &c. In this sense Bishop Lowth understands the words, joining the first clause of the ninth verse to the first of the eighth, judging that, by some means, a transposition of it has taken place, which seems very probable. As to the chronological difficulty, which has embarrassed commentators in this place, the best solution seems to be that of Archbishop Usher, (see his Annals of the Old Testament, A.M. 3327,) who explains the latter clause of Isaiah 7:8, not of the first captivity of the ten tribes by Shalmaneser, but of their final deportation by Esar-haddon, who totally dispeopled the land, and brought new inhabitants from Babylon, Cuthah, and other cities of the Assyrians, to inhabit the cities of Israel. See Ezra 4:2, compared with 2 Kings 17:24. “Compute,” says Bishop Newton, who adopts this explication, “sixty-five years in the reigns of Ahaz, Hezekiah, and Manasseh, and the end of them will fall about the twenty-second year of Manasseh; when Esar-haddon, king of Assyria, made the last deportation of the Israelites, and planted other nations in their stead, and in the same expedition probably took Manasseh captive, and carried him to Babylon, 2 Chronicles 33:11. Ephraim was broken from being a kingdom before; but now he was broken from being a people, and from that time to this what account can be given of the people of Israel, as distinct from the people of Judah?” On the Prophecies, vol. 1. p. 204. This interpretation of the passage is also approved by Bishop Lowth. It may seem strange, at first sight, that the prophet, who here foretels the entire destruction of Ephraim, should say nothing about the Syrians. But the Syrians were now in confederacy with Ephraim, and therefore what is here said of one may be well supposed to be spoken of both; and that the destruction of both, at or near the same time, is indicated. In fact, the Syrians and Israelites were such near neighbours, that the Israelites could scarcely be invaded by a foreign army, without Syria being subdued. If ye will not believe, &c. — If ye will not believe what I now speak to you in the name of God; if ye will not put confidence in him, but, distrusting his providence, will seek to the Assyrians for succour; ye shall not be established — Or, preserved in your possessions, any more than the Syrians or Israelites: your state, whether political or ecclesiastical, shall not be upheld and confirmed; but ye shall be distressed and consumed by those to whom you seek for help: the accomplishment of which threatening is recorded 2 Chronicles 28:20. The design of the prophet was to raise up their fainting minds to a reliance on God, rather than on the king of Assyria. See a passage very like this, 2 Chronicles 20:20.


Verses 10-12

Isaiah 7:10-12. The Lord spake again unto Ahaz — Namely, by Isaiah. “From hence to Isaiah 7:16, we have the confirmation of the promise, by a sign to Ahaz, in the name of God; in which we have, first, the prophet’s address to Ahaz, exhorting him, by the divine command, to ask whatever sign he would, with the reply of Ahaz, Isaiah 7:10-12 : and, secondly, a declaration of God’s good pleasure to give an illustrious sign, which he offers rather to the true believers than to a hypocritical and incredulous king, Isaiah 7:13-16.” Through the strong and forcible objections which some learned men have made against applying the prophecy contained in these verses to Christ, in its primary sense, Huetius, Grotius, and some other commentators, have been led to suppose that it immediately related to the birth of a child in a natural way, and that it only refers in a secondary sense to the birth of Christ. Thus Bishop Lowth observes, “The obvious, literal meaning of the prophecy, not excluding a higher secondary sense, is this: ‘That, within the time that a young woman, now a virgin, should conceive, and bring forth a child, and that child should arrive at such an age as to distinguish between good and evil, that is, within a few years,

(compare Isaiah 8:4,) the enemies of Judah should be destroyed.’” But, surely, as Dr. Doddridge observes, on Matthew 1:23, “A son’s being born of one, then a virgin, when she was married, was no such miraculous event as to answer such a pompous introduction” as we have here. Of this the reader may easily judge by attending to the prophet’s words, and a short and easy paraphrase upon them. Ask thee a sign of the Lord thy God A sign is a miracle wrought for the confirmation of some message, promise, or doctrine delivered from God. “Some unusual or extraordinary effect, production, or phenomenon, which could not be explained from natural causes, but only from the omnipotence of the Ruler of the universe; which, moreover, signified that God was present, and ratified the word, or declaration, for which the sign was given.” See Exodus 4:8; 6:17; Isaiah 38:22. Ask it either in the depth, or in the height above — Demand some prodigy to be wrought, either in earth or heaven, at thy pleasure. By speaking thus, the prophet signified that “all nature was subject to the power and control of that God, whom he calls the God of Ahaz, as being the God of his fathers, and in order to admonish him wherein to place his confidence.” But Ahaz said, I will not ask — This refusal did not proceed from faith in God and true humility, but rather from his contempt of God, and disregard of his word, as is sufficiently evident from the history of his life. He probably feared lest, if such a sign should be given as he did not choose, he should be compelled to desist from his purpose of calling in the aid of Assyria, which he could not well have called in after Jehovah had given a sign to the contrary. Besides, he did not dare to commit himself to that divine favour and providence, which he had heretofore so proudly despised; preferring to it the protection of other and false deities. See Vitringa. Neither will I tempt the Lord — By distrusting his providence, or asking a sign, as if I questioned the truth of his word. But this was deep hypocrisy, as appears by the prophet’s answer.


Verse 13-14

Isaiah 7:13-14. And he said, Hear now, O house of David — The prophet no longer addresses himself to Ahaz singly, who would not regard his words, but to the whole royal family, all of whom he reproves, as being the king’s counsellors, and promoting the design of sending for the Assyrian succours. Is it a small thing for you — Is it not wickedness enough; to weary men? — To vex God’s prophets and people with your oppressions and horrid impieties? But will ye weary my God also? — By your ingratitude, unbelief, and disobedience to his commands? Therefore — Because you despise me, and the sign which I now offer you, God, of his own free grace, will send you a more honourable messenger, and give you a nobler sign. Or, Nevertheless, (as the particle לכןoften signifies,) the Lord will give you a sign — Although you deserve no sign nor favour, yet for the comfort of those few believers who are among you, and to leave you without excuse, I shall remind you of another and greater sign, namely, of your deliverance and preservation; which God hath promised, and will in his due time perform. Behold, a virgin shall conceive, &c. — One, in the strictest sense, a virgin, as the Hebrew word, עלמה, almah, here used, properly signifies, and is translated by all the ancient interpreters, being never once used in Scripture in any other sense, as several learned men have proved, against the pretensions of the modern Jews. See particularly Bishop Kidder’s Demonstration of the Messias, part 2. chap. 5., and Dr. Whitby on Matthew 1:23. Indeed, independent of the term rendered virgin, the text implies it. For, as the last-mentioned writer observes, “this promise is made as a sign, or miracle, to confirm the house of David in God’s promise made to him of the perpetuity of his kingdom. Now what sign or miracle could it be, that a woman should be with child, after the ordinary manner? Where is the sign or wonder in this? Had no more been intended, what need was there of these words, The Lord himself shall give you a sign? What need of that solemn notice, Behold! there being nothing new or strange in all this.” Add to this, that the original expressions are very emphatical, and are literally rendered by Bishop Lowth, Behold, the virgin conceiveth, and beareth a son, namely, that only woman, who ever was, or should be a mother, while she was still a virgin: and whose offspring, being conceived and born without the concurrence of man, was, therefore, with peculiar propriety, denominated and characterized, the seed of the woman, being her seed exclusively.

But it is inquired, how this birth from a virgin, which was not to happen till many ages after, could be a sign to Ahaz and the Jews, of their deliverance from present danger; and it is urged, that “this promise, being made to Ahaz as a sign, must have relation to a child born in his time, and therefore not to our Jesus, born above seven hundred years after his death.” To this, Dr. Whitby answers, “This objection is founded on a mistake: this promise, or sign, being not given to Ahaz, who, we have just seen, refused to ask a sign; but to the house of David, according to Isaiah 7:13. Now the house of David being then in great danger of being cut off and extinguished, by the kings of Israel and Syria, the promise of a Messiah, who was to be of the seed of David, and to sit upon his throne, was a great security that that house should not be extinguished, and so was a proper remedy against those fears.” To this may be added, that this promised birth of the Messiah supposed not only the preservation of the house of David, but also the preservation of that city, and nation, and tribe, in and of which he was to be born: therefore there was no cause to fear that ruin which their enemies now threatened. This argument is greatly strengthened by the following clause: And shall call — That is, his virgin mother shall call; his name Immanuel — The mother usually giving the name to the child, and this mother having a peculiar right to do it, the child having no human father. To be called, in Scripture language, is the same thing as to be: the meaning is, He shall be Immanuel, that is, God with us; God dwelling among us in our nature, the Word made flesh, John 1:14. God and man meeting in one person, and being a mediator between God and men. Now to whom but the Messiah was this applicable? Or waiving the import of the name; supposing the being called by this name did not imply that the child or person should be what his name signified, namely God with us, what other person, save the Messiah can be pointed out, that was called by this name? To what other event can this passage of the prophecy be made to accord? What woman, then a virgin, and afterward marrying, and bearing a son, called that son Immanuel? Surely they who contend for this sense of the prophet’s words, should point out the person so called. None have done this, and none can do it. No such person ever existed. As to what some have suggested, that Hezekiah, the son of Ahaz, might be meant, and be said to be called by that name, because he was the future governor of the land, (see chap. 8:8,) and God was with him, it must be observed, that he was born at least nine years before this prophecy was delivered, even before Ahaz came to the throne, and therefore his birth could not be intended by the prophet here. But not to pursue the argument further, which certainly is not necessary in so clear a case; we will only add, that even if it could be supposed that the prophet did first and immediately refer to some child to be then born, yet, as Bishop Lowth observes, (in words hardly consistent with what he had said, as quoted above, of the primary sense of the passage,) “The prophecy is introduced in so solemn a manner; the sign is so marked, as a sign selected and given by God himself, after Ahaz had rejected the offer of any sign of his own choosing, out of the whole compass of nature; the terms of the prophecy are so peculiar, and the name of the child so expressive, containing in them much more than the circumstances of the birth of a common child required, or even admitted; that we may easily suppose, that, in minds prepared by the general expectation of a great deliverer, to spring from the house of David, they raised hopes far beyond what the present occasion suggested; especially when it was found that in the subsequent prophecy, delivered immediately afterward, this child, called Immanuel, is treated as the Lord and Prince of the land of Judah. Who could this be, other than the heir of the throne of David? under which character a great, and even a divine person had been promised. St. Matthew, therefore, in applying this prophecy to the birth of Christ, does it, not merely in the way of accommodating the words of the prophet to a suitable case, not in the prophet’s view; but takes it in its strictest, clearest, and most important sense, and applies it according to the original design, and principal intention of the prophet.”


Verse 15

Isaiah 7:15. Butter and honey shall he eat — The common food of children in that country, where these articles were in great abundance, and of the best sort. The principal meaning of the verse seems to be, that this child, called Immanuel, should be brought up in the usual manner, “the same republic still continuing, and the cultivated fields, unoccupied by the enemy, abundantly supplying all necessary food; and that thus he should grow up to maturity.” The words, however, also signify, that though he should be miraculously conceived, and should be possessed of a nature truly divine, yet he should be also human, subject to all the infirmities of our nature, standing in need of food for his support as other children do, and by the help thereof growing up from childhood to manhood. That he may know — Or rather, till he know, as לדעתוmay be properly rendered; to refuse the evil and choose the good — That is, till his faculties be fully unfolded, or, as Bishop Lowth renders it, when he knows, &c.; when they are unfolded, and he is arrived at mature age. Both in childhood and in manhood, he shall be sustained by the usual diet of the country, which, being neither invaded nor distressed by any foreign enemy, shall yield food sufficient for all its inhabitants.


Verse 16

Isaiah 7:16. For before the child, &c. — “The learned Vitringa,” says Dr. Dodd, “seems to have proved beyond any doubt, that the child spoken of in this verse can be no other than he who is spoken of in the preceding verses. The connecting particle for, and the repetition of the words, refusing the evil and choosing the good, evidently demonstrate,” he thinks, “that the IMMANUEL is here meant, and that, in order to enter into the immediate design of the prophet, we are to consider that, rapt, as it were, into future times, he proposes the Immanuel, as a sign of salvation to the people of God, as if present, Behold a virgin conceives; as if he understood him to be at this time conceived in the womb of the virgin, and shortly to be born: and he says, that more time shall not elapse from his birth to his capability of discerning between good and evil, than from hence to the desertion of the land of the two kings,” or the time specified, Isaiah 8:4. Archbishop Usher, however, Poole, Henry, Dr. Kennicott, and some other celebrated writers, conceive that we have a two-fold prophecy in this passage, the former part, contained in Isaiah 7:14-15, referring to the Messiah, and the latter, contained in this verse, to Shear-jashub, the son of Isaiah. “That the 16th verse,” says Dr. Kennicott, “contains a distinct prophecy, appears from hence: 1st, The words preceding have been proved to be confined to the Messiah, whose birth was then distant above seven hundred years; whereas the words here are confined to some child who was not to arrive at years of discretion before the kings, then advancing against Jerusalem, should be themselves cut off. 2d, Some end was undoubtedly to be answered by the presence of Isaiah’s son, whom God commanded him to take with him when he went to visit Ahaz; and yet no use at all appears to have been made of this son, unless he be referred to in this sentence; and, 3d, These prophecies are manifestly distinguished by being addressed to different persons. The first was addressed to the house of David, for the consolation of the pious in general; as it assured them, not only of the preservation of that house, but of God’s fidelity to his great promise: whereas the second promise is addressed to the king in particular, as it foretold the speedy destruction of the two kings, his enemies.” Dr. Doddridge, who also thinks that this verse refers to Shear-jashub, judging with Dr. Kennicott, that Isaiah “was ordered to take him in his hand for no other imaginable reason, but that something remarkable was to be said of him,” defines the general sense of these verses from the 13th to be this: “You have affronted God by refusing a sign now; yet his transcendent mercy will make your present forfeited deliverance, (by the death of these confederate kings, which shall happen before, הנער, this child in my hand is grown up to the exercise of reason,) a sign of a much nobler deliverance by the Messiah; who shall be born of an immaculate virgin, and shall condescend to pass through the tender scenes of infancy, as other children do.” In the latter part of the verse, the land that thou abhorrest, means the countries of Syria and Israel, which Ahaz abhorred for their cruel designs and practices against him. Shall be forsaken of both her kings — So far shall Rezin and Pekah be from conquering thy land, that they shall lose their own lands, and their lives too: which they did within two years after this time, being both slain by the king of Assyria, 2 Kings 15:29-30; and 2 Kings 16:9.


Verse 17

Isaiah 7:17. The Lord shall bring upon thee — But although God will deliver you at this time, for his own name’s sake, yet he will remember and requite your wickedness, and hath a dreadful judgment in store for you. And upon thy people, and thy father’s house — Upon thy subjects, and upon thy sons and successors, the kings of Judah: the accomplishment of which threatening is recorded in their history. Part of the Assyrian storm fell in Ahaz’s reign, 2 Chronicles 28:20; and he began to reap the bitter fruit of his confiding in the king of Assyria, rather than in the Lord of hosts. Days that have not come — Namely, evil days, or calamities; from the day that Ephraim departed, &c. — When the ten tribes revolted from thy father’s house, and set up another opposite kingdom. The king of Assyria might well be called their plague or calamity, as he is called the rod of God’s anger, Isaiah 10:5.


Verse 18-19

Isaiah 7:18-19. In that day — Known to God, and appointed by him for the execution of these judgments; the Lord shall hiss for the fly — The flies, rather. Thus he calls these enemies, to signify either their great number, or their speedy march: see on Isaiah 5:26. As the word hiss carries with it a low idea, and does not properly express the meaning of the original word שׁרק, sherek, which properly signifies, sibilando advocare, to call by whistling, it seems desirable that it should not have been used here and Isaiah 5:26. Bishop Lowth renders it, Jehovah shall hist the fly, shall call them softly, bring them by a slight intimation of his will. In the uttermost part of the rivers, &c. — In their extremity, where they go out into the sea. The river Nile is undoubtedly intended, which may be called rivers, either for its greatness, or because toward the end of it it is divided into seven streams. When the Chaldeans had, in good measure, subdued the Egyptians, it is probable great numbers of the Egyptian soldiers listed themselves in the Chaldean army, and with them invaded the land of Judah. And for the bee, &c. — The Assyrian army, compared to bees, as for their numerous forces and orderly march, so for their fierce attempts and mischievous effects. In the land of Assyria — In the empire of Assyria or Babylon; for these two were united into one empire, and therefore in Scripture are promiscuously called sometimes by one title, and sometimes by the other. They shall come — The flies, and especially the bees. And shall rest all of them — They shall have an easy victory; few or none of them shall be slain in the attempt. In the desolate valleys — Such as they found very fruitful, but made desolate. And in the holes of the rocks — To which possibly the Israelites fled for refuge. Upon all bushes — Which he mentions, because flies and bees use frequently to rest there; and to intimate, that no place should escape their fury.


Verse 20

Isaiah 7:20. The Lord shall shave — Shall utterly spoil, as shaving takes away the hair; with a razor that is hired — Hired by Ahaz; for he purchased the aid of the Assyrians with large sums of silver and gold, 2 Kings 16:7-8. And so the prophet signifies the just judgment of God, in scourging them with a rod of their own making. By them beyond the river — Euphrates, called the river, by way of eminence, beyond which Assyria lay. By the king of Assyria — By the successive kings of the Assyrian empire, Sennacherib, Esar-haddon, and especially by Nebuchadnezzar, who, having subdued the Assyrian monarchy, from thenceforth was king of Assyria as well as of Chaldea. The head and the hair of the feet, &c. — This highly parabolical mode of expression is used to denote “the utter devastation of the country from one end to the other, and the plundering of the people from the highest to the lowest. The hairs of the head are those of the highest order in the state; those of the feet, or lower parts, are the common people: the beard is the king, the high-priest, the very supreme in dignity and majesty: for the eastern people have always held the beard in the highest veneration, and have been extremely jealous of its honour.”


Verses 21-25

Isaiah 7:21-25. These verses “contain an elegant and very expressive description of a country depopulated, and left to run wild, from its adjuncts and circumstances; the vineyards and corn-fields, before well cultivated, now overrun with briers and thorns; much grass, so that the few cattle that are left, a young cow and two sheep, have their full range, and abundant pasture; so as to yield milk in plenty to the scanty family of the owner: the thinly-scattered people living not on corn, wine, and oil, the produce of cultivation, but on milk and honey, the gifts of nature; and the whole land given up to the wild beasts; so that the miserable inhabitants are forced to go out armed with bows and arrows, either to defend themselves against the wild beasts, or to supply themselves with necessary food by hunting.” — Bishop Lowth.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Isaiah 7:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/isaiah-7.html. 1857.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 15th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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