Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

Isaiah 33:18

Your heart will meditate on terror: "Where is he who counts? Where is he who weighs? Where is he who counts the towers?"
New American Standard Version

Bible Study Resources

Concordances:
Nave's Topical Bible - Church;   Israel, Prophecies Concerning;   Tax;   Scofield Reference Index - Kingdom;   Torrey's Topical Textbook - Fear, Unholy;  
Dictionaries:
Fausset Bible Dictionary - Scribes;   Holman Bible Dictionary - Isaiah;   Remnant;   Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible - Messiah;   Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament - Quotations;   People's Dictionary of the Bible - War;  
Encyclopedias:
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia - Isaiah;   Meditation;   Receiver;   Writing;  

Adam Clarke Commentary

Where is the scribe? - The person appointed by the king of Assyria to estimate their number and property in reference to their being heavily taxed.

Where is the receiver? - Or he who was to have collected this tribute.

Where is he that counted the towers? - That is, the commander of the enemy's forces, who surveyed the fortifications of the city, and took an account of the height, strength, and situation of the walls and towers, that he might know where to make the assault with the greatest advantage; as Capaneus before Thebes is represented in a passage of the Phoenissae of Euripides, which Grotius has applied as an illustration of this place: -

Εκεινος ἑπτα προσβασεις τεκμαιρεται��<-144 �Πυργων, ανω τε και κατω τειχη μετρων.

Ver. 187.

"To these seven turrets each approach he marks;

The walls from their proud summit to their base

Measuring with eager eye."

He that counted the towers "Those who were ordered to review the fortified places in Judea, that they might be manned and provisioned for the king of Assyria. So sure was he of gaining Jerusalem and subduing the whole of Judea, that he had already formed all these arrangements." - Dodd's notes.

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Bibliographical Information
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Isaiah 33:18". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/isaiah-33.html. 1832.

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

Thine heart - The heart of the people of Jerusalem.

Shall meditate terror - This is similar to the expression in Virgil:

- forsan et haec olim meminisse jurabit.

AEn. ii. 203.

The sense here is, ‹You shall hereafter think over all this alarm and distress. When the enemy is destroyed, the city saved, and the king shall reign in magnificence over all the nation then enjoying peace and prosperity, you shall recall these days of terror and alarm, and shall then ask with gratitude and astonishment, Where are they who caused this alarm? Where are now they who so confidently calculated on taking the city? They are all gone - and gone in a manner suited to excite astonishment and adoring gratitude.‘ ‹Sweet is the recollection,‘ says Rosenmuller, ‹of dangers that are passed.‘

Where is the scribe? - How soon, how suddenly has he vanished! The word scribe here (ספר sı̂phēr ) evidently refers to some prominent class of officers in the Assyrian army. It is from ספר sâphar to count, to number, to write; and probably refers to a secretary, perhaps a secretary of state or of war, or an inspector-general, who had the charge of reviewing an army 2 Kings 25:19; Jeremiah 37:15; Jeremiah 52:25.

Where is the receiver? - Margin, as in Hebrew, ‹Weigher.‘ Vulgate, ‹Where is he that ponders the words of the law?‘ The Septuagint, ‹Where are the counselors ( ουμβουλεύοντες sumbouleuontes )?‘ Probably the word refers to him who weighed the tribute, or the pay of the Soldiers; and means, doubtless, some officer in the army of the Assyrian; probably one whose office it was to have charge of the military chest, and to pay the army.

Where is he that counted the towers? - That is, who made an estimate of the strength of Jerusalem - either Sennacherib, or someone appointed by him to reconnoitre and report on the means which the city bad of defense (compare Isaiah 36:4).

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Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Isaiah 33:18". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/isaiah-33.html. 1870.

John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

Thine heart shall meditate terror,.... shall recollect, and think of with pleasure and thankfulness, the terror they were formerly seized with, when surrounded and oppressed by their enemies, particularly at the time of the slaying of the witnesses, which will be a terrible time to the church and people of God; but when that is over, they will call it to mind with gratitude, for deliverance from itF5So Ben Melech interprets it,

"thine heart, which was meditating terror before this.' . This is commonly understood of the terror and consternation the Jews were in when besieged by the Assyrian army; and so the following words,

Where is the scribe? where is the receiver? where is he that counted the towers? are taken to be either the words of the Jews in their distress, calling for such and such officers to go to their respective posts, and do their duty; as the "scribe", or muster master, to see that he has his full quota of men; the "receiver" or treasurer, and paymaster of the soldiers, to give the men money and wages, that they may be encouraged to fight; and "the counter of towers", or engineer, to take care of the fortifications, and give directions about them: or else, as now insulting the Assyrians after the defeat of them, inquiring where were now such and such officers in their army, whom before they dreaded, signifying they were all perished and gone. The apostle cites these words, or at least alludes to them, 1 Corinthians 1:20 when he says, "where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world?" triumphing over the wise doctors of the Jews, and the philosophers of the Gentiles, as not being able to face and withstand the power and wisdom of the Gospel; See Gill on 1 Corinthians 1:20. So here, when the people of God will be recovered from their fright, and be brought out of their low estate, and will have ascended into heaven, or be come into a glorious church state, they will then triumph over their enemies, who will be no more, and say, where are the pope and his clergy? his cardinals, archbishops, bishops, priests, monks, friars, &c.; what are become of them? they are all gone, and will be no more. The Targum is,

"thine heart shall think of great things; where are the scribes? where are the princes? where are the counters? let them come, if they can count the numbers of the slain, the heads of mighty armies;'

which may well enough be illustrated by Revelation 11:13.

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The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855
Bibliographical Information
Gill, John. "Commentary on Isaiah 33:18". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/isaiah-33.html. 1999.

Geneva Study Bible

Thy heart y shall meditate terror. Where [is] the scribe? where [is] the receiver? where [is] he that counted the towers?

(y) Before this liberty comes you will think that you are in great danger: for the enemy will so sharply assail you that one will cry "Where is the clerk that writes the names of them who are taxed?" another, "Where is the receiver?" another will cry for him that values the rich houses, but God will deliver you from this fear.
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Bibliographical Information
Beza, Theodore. "Commentary on Isaiah 33:18". "The 1599 Geneva Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/gsb/isaiah-33.html. 1599-1645.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

meditate — on the “terror” caused by the enemy, but now past.

where, etc. — the language of the Jews exulting over their escape from danger.

scribe — who enrolled the army [Maurer]; or, who prescribed the tribute to be paid [Rosenmuller]; or, who kept an account of the spoil. “The principal scribe of the host” (2 Kings 25:19; Jeremiah 52:25). The Assyrian records are free from the exaggerations of Egyptian records. Two scribes are seen in every Assyrian bas-relief, writing down the various objects brought to them, the heads of the slain, prisoners, cattle, sheep, etc.

receiver — “weigher,” Margin. Layard mentions, among the Assyrian inscriptions, “a pair a scales for weighing the spoils.”

counted  …  towers — he whose duty it was to reconnoitre and report the strength of the city to be besieged.

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These files are a derivative of an electronic edition prepared from text scanned by Woodside Bible Fellowship.
This expanded edition of the Jameison-Faussett-Brown Commentary is in the public domain and may be freely used and distributed.
Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Isaiah 33:18". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfb/isaiah-33.html. 1871-8.

Wesley's Explanatory Notes

Thine heart shall meditate terror. Where is the scribe? where is the receiver where is he that counted the towers?

Thine heart — This is a thankful acknowledgment of deliverance from their former terrors and miseries.

Where — These words they spoke in the time of their distress. The scribe, whom we call muster-master, was to make and keep a list of the soldiers, and to call them together as occasion required: the receiver, received and laid out the money for the charges of the war; and he that counted the towers, surveyed all the parts of the city, and considered what towers or fortifications were to be made or repaired. And unto these several officers the people resorted, with great distraction and confusion.

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These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
Bibliographical Information
Wesley, John. "Commentary on Isaiah 33:18". "John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wen/isaiah-33.html. 1765.

John Trapp Complete Commentary

Isaiah 33:18 Thine heart shall meditate terror. Where [is] the scribe? where [is] the receiver? where [is] he that counted the towers?

Ver. 18. Thine heart shall meditate terror.] But thou shalt now think of it as "waters that are past," calling to mind what speeches among those late distractions had fallen from thee. (a)

Where is the scribe?] Or, The muster master of the Assyrian army? Verba sunt insultantium et exultantium, saith Piscator; they are the words of God’s people insulting over the enemy, now overthrown and dispersed. See the like done by the apostle. [1 Corinthians 1:10]

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Trapp, John. "Commentary on Isaiah 33:18". John Trapp Complete Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jtc/isaiah-33.html. 1865-1868.

Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

Thine heart shall meditate terror: this is either,

1. A premonition concerning a future judgment, as if he said, Before these glorious promises shall be accomplished, thou shalt be brought into great straits and troubles. Or rather,

2. A thankful acknowledgment of deliverance from a former danger; as if he had said, When thou art delivered, thou shalt, with pleasure and thankfulness, recall to mind thy former terrors and miseries.

Where is the scribe, & c.? these words are either,

1. Words of gratulation, and insultation over the enemy. Thou shalt then say, Where are the great officers of the Assyrian host? They are no where, they are not, they are dealt or slain. Or rather,

2. The words of men dismayed and confounded, such as proceeded from the Jews in the time of their distress, and are here remembered to aggravate the present mercy. For the officers here mentioned seem not to be those of the Assyrian army, who were actually fighting against the Jews and Jerusalem, (for then he would rather have mentioned the captains of the host, as the Scripture commonly doth in these cases, than the scribes and receivers, &c.,) but rather of the Jews in Jerusalem who, upon the approach of Sennacherib, began to make military preparations for the defence of the city, and to choose such officers as were necessary and usual for that end; such as these were, to wit,

the scribe, whom we call muster-master, who was to make and keep a list of the soldiers, and to call them together, as occasion required.

The receiver; who received and laid out the money for the charges of the war; and he

that counted the towers, who surveyed all the parts of the city, and considered what towers or fortifications were to be made or repaired for the security of the city. And unto these several officers the people resorted, with great distraction and confusion, to acquaint them with all occurrences, or to quicken them to their several works, or to transact matters with them, as occasion required.

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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Isaiah 33:18". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mpc/isaiah-33.html. 1685.

George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Ones. These questions were put by the people, when the enemy approached; or they now rejoice that their severe masters were gone.

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Haydock, George Leo. "Commentary on Isaiah 33:18". "George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hcc/isaiah-33.html. 1859.

E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible Notes

scribe. = the counter.

receiver = the weigher.

he that counted, &c. Referring to Sennacherib"s besieging army.

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Bullinger, Ethelbert William. "Commentary on Isaiah 33:18". "E.W. Bullinger's Companion bible Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bul/isaiah-33.html. 1909-1922.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Thine heart shall meditate terror. Where is the scribe? where is the receiver? where is he that counted the towers?

Thine heart shall meditate terror - shall meditate on the "terror" caused by the enemy, but now past.

Where (is) the scribe? - the language of the Jews exulting over their escape from danger.

Scribe - who enrolled the army (Maurer); or who prescribed the tribute to be paid (Rosenmuller); or who kept an account of the spoil. "The principal scribe of the host" (2 Kings 25:19; Jeremiah 52:25). The Assyrian records are free from the exaggerations of the Egyptian records. Two scribes are seen in every Assyrian bas-relief, writing down the various objects brought to them-the heads of the slain, prisoners, cattle, sheep, etc.

The receiver - margin, weigher. Layard mentions, among the Assyrian inscriptions, 'a pair of scales for weighing the spoils.'

He that counted the towers - he whose duty it was to reconnoitre and report the strength of the city to be besieged.

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Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Isaiah 33:18". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/isaiah-33.html. 1871-8.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

(18) Thine heart shall meditate terror—i.e., shall recall the memory of the past evil days, as a dream that had passed away, leaving behind it the thankful joy which rises out of such recollections.

Where is the scribe?—Then, in those times of panic, each Assyrian official was an object of dread. There was the “scribe,” who fixed the amount of tribute to be paid by each village or landowner; the “receiver” (literally, weigher), who weighed the gold and silver as it was brought in for payment; the “counter of towers,” who formed his plans for the operation of the “siege.” In Psalms 48:13 the same phrase is used of those who defend the city.

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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Isaiah 33:18". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/isaiah-33.html. 1905.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

Thine heart shall meditate terror. Where is the scribe? where is the receiver? where is he that counted the towers?
heart
38:9-22; 1 Samuel 25:33-36; 30:6; Psalms 31:7,8,22; 71:20; 2 Corinthians 1:8-10; 2 Timothy 3:11
Where is the scribe
1 Corinthians 1:20
receiver
Heb. weigher.
Genesis 23:16; 2 Kings 15:19; 18:14,31
where is he
10:16-19
Reciprocal: Psalm 48:12 - tell;  Isaiah 51:13 - where is;  Daniel 4:9 - no secret

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Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on Isaiah 33:18". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tsk/isaiah-33.html.

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

18.Thy heart shall meditate terror. Believers are again informed what calamities are at hand, lest, by being suddenly overtaken with such heavy afflictions, they should sink under them. יהגה (yehgeh) is translated by some in the preterite, “meditated,” and by others in the future, “shall meditate;” because such an exchange of tenses is customary in the Hebrew language. For my own part, believing that he warns the people of approaching distresses, instead of relating those which had been formerly endured, I willingly retain the future tense, which is also the tense employed by the Prophet, “shall meditate.”

Where is the scribe? He relates in a dramatic and lively manner ( μιμητικῶς) the speeches of those who, overcome by terror, break out into these exclamations: Where is the scribe? Where is the weigher? thus expressing the powerful impression made on their minds. If any one suppose that the line of thought is suddenly broken off, because the Prophet, having in the former verse spoken of “the kings beauty,” now brings forward terrors, I have no doubt that he magnifies the kindness of God by means of comparison, in order that believers, when they have been delivered, may set a higher value on the condition to which they have attained. Men are forgetful and niggardly in judging of God’s favors, and, after having been once set free, do not consider what was the depth of their misery. Such persons need to be reminded of those wretched and disastrous times, during which they endured great sufferings, in order that they may more fully appreciate the greatness of the favor which God has bestowed on them. We ought also to observe another reason why it was advantageous that the people should be forewarned of that terror. It was that, after having heard of the kings magnificence, they might not promise themselves exemption from all uneasiness, but might be prepared to undergo any kind of troubles and distresses, and that, even while they were subject to tribute and placed under siege, they might, know that the kingdom of Judah was the object of God’s care, and would be rescued from the hands of tyrants.

It is a very wretched condition which the Prophet describes, that a free people should be oppressed by such cruel tyranny as to have all their property valued, and an inventory taken of their houses, possessions, families, and servants. How grievous this slavery is, many persons formerly unaccustomed to it actually know by experience in our times, when their property is valued to the very last farthing, and a valuation is made not only of their undoubted incomes but also of their expected gains, and not only their money and possessions, but even their names are placed on record, while new methods of taxation are contrived, not only on food but on the smallest articles, so that tyrants seize on a large portion of those things which are indispensably necessary to the wretched populace; and yet those calamities do not restrain men from insolence, licentiousness, and rebellion. What then will happen when they shall be free and at full liberty? Will they not, forgetful of all their distresses, and unmindful of God’s kindness, abandon themselves more freely than before to every kind of indulgence and licentiousness? It is not without good reason, therefore, that the Prophet places before the eyes of the people that wretched condition, that they may not, when delivered from it, giveway to their unlawful passions, but may acknowledge their deliverer and may love him with all their heart.

Some have falsely imagined that Paul (1 Corinthians 1:20) quotes this passage; for that would spoil the Prophet’s meaning and torture his words to a different purpose. They have been led into a mistake by the mere use of the word “scribe,” which there denotes a Teacher. Isaiah gives the name of “the scribe” to the person who took account of persons, families, lands, and houses, and, in short, who kept the registers of the taxes. By “the weigher,” he means the person who received the taxes, for he “weighed” the money which was paid. That office is discharged in the present day by those who are called treasurers.

Where is he who singles out the principal houses? He now.adds a very troublesome and exceedingly disliked class of men, “the describers of the towers,” that is, of the more remarkable buildings; for they visit and examine each person’s house, in order to know who are more wealthy than others, that they may demand a larger sum of money. Such men,like huntinghounds, are commonly employed by tyrants to scent the track of money, for the sake of laying on some unusual impost in addition to the ordinary taxes. The arrival of such persons must have been exceedingly annoying to the people, for they never cease till they have sucked all the blood and marrow. If any one prefer to view this term as denoting the servants of the king himself, whose business it was to destroy the houses adjoining to the walls of the city, let him enjoy his opinion. For my own part, I think it probable that the Prophet speaks of the receivers of taxes, whom conquerors appoint over vanquished nations for the sake of maintaining their authority.

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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Isaiah 33:18". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/isaiah-33.html. 1840-57.