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The Humiliation of Babylon
1Come down and sit in the dust,
O virgin daughter of Babylon;
sit on the ground without a throne,
O daughter of the Chaldeans!
For you shall no more be called
tender and delicate.
2Take the millstones and grind flour,
put off your veil,
strip off your robe, uncover your legs,
pass through the rivers.
3Your nakedness shall be uncovered,
and your disgrace shall be seen.
I will take vengeance,
and I will spare no one.
4Our Redeemer—the Lord of hosts is his name—
is the Holy One of Israel.
5Sit in silence, and go into darkness,
O daughter of the Chaldeans;
for you shall no more be called
the mistress of kingdoms.
6I was angry with my people;
I profaned my heritage;
I gave them into your hand;
you showed them no mercy;
on the aged you made your yoke exceedingly heavy.
7You said, “I shall be mistress forever,”
so that you did not lay these things to heart
or remember their end.
8Now therefore hear this, you lover of pleasures,
who sit securely,
who say in your heart,
“I am, and there is no one besides me;
I shall not sit as a widow
or know the loss of children”:
9These two things shall come to you
in a moment, in one day;
the loss of children and widowhood
shall come upon you in full measure,
in spite of your many sorceries
and the great power of your enchantments.
10You felt secure in your wickedness,
you said, “No one sees me”;
your wisdom and your knowledge led you astray,
and you said in your heart,
“I am, and there is no one besides me.”
11But evil shall come upon you,
which you will not know how to charm away;
disaster shall fall upon you,
for which you will not be able to atone;
and ruin shall come upon you suddenly,
of which you know nothing.
12Stand fast in your enchantments
and your many sorceries,
with which you have labored from your youth;
perhaps you may be able to succeed;
perhaps you may inspire terror.
13You are wearied with your many counsels;
let them stand forth and save you,
those who divide the heavens,
who gaze at the stars,
who at the new moons make known
what shall come upon you.
14Behold, they are like stubble;
the fire consumes them;
they cannot deliver themselves
from the power of the flame.
No coal for warming oneself is this,
no fire to sit before!
15Such to you are those with whom you have labored,
who have done business with you from your youth;
they wander about, each in his own direction;
there is no one to save you.
1. Come down, and sit in the dust. Isaiah now explains more fully what he had briefly noticed concerning the counsel of God, and the execution of it. He openly describes the destruction of Babylon; because no hope whatever of the return of the people could be entertained, so long as the Babylonian monarchy flourished. Accordingly, he has connected these two things, namely, the overthrow of that monarchy, and the deliverance of the people which followed it; for the elevated rank of that city was like a deep grave in which the Jews were buried, and, when it had been opened, the Lord brought back his people to their former life.
The use of the imperative mood, “Come down,” is more forcible than if he had expressed the same thing in plain words and simple narrative; for he addresses her authoritatively, and as if he were speaking from the judgment-seat; because he proclaims the commands of God, and therefore, with the boldness which his authority entitles him to use, he publishes what shall happen, as we know that God granted this authority to the prophets. “Behold, I have this day set thee over nations and kingdoms, to root out and pull down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” (Jeremiah 1:10.) There is no power that is not added to the authority of the word. In a word, he intended to place the event immediately before the eye of the Jews; for that change could scarcely be imagined, if God did not thunder from heaven.
Virgin daughter of Babylon. It was a figure of speech frequently employed by Hebrew writers, to call any nation by the title of “Daughter.” He calls her “Virgin,” not because she was modest or chaste, but because she had been brought up softly and delicately like “virgins,” and had never been forced by enemies, as we formerly said when speaking of Sidon. 222222 Commentary on Isaiah, vol. 2, p. 155. And at the present day the same thing might be said of Venice and some other towns, which have a great abundance of wealth and luxuries, and, in the estimation of men, are accounted very happy; for they have as good reason as the Babylonians had to dread such a revolution of affairs, even when they appear to be far removed from danger.
For it shall no longer be. That is, “Thou shalt no longer be caressed by men who thought that thou wast happy.”
2. Take millstones. The whole of this description tends to shew that there shall be a great change among the Babylonians, so that this city, which was formerly held in the highest honor, shall be sunk in the lowest disgrace, and subjected to outrages of every kind, and thus shall exhibit a striking display of the wrath of God. These are marks of the most degrading slavery, as the meanest slaves were formerly shut up in a mill. The condition of the captives who were reduced to it must therefore have been very miserable; for, in other cases, captives sometimes received from their conquerors mild and gentle treatment. But here he describes a very wretched condition, that believers may not doubt that they shall be permitted freely to depart, when the Babylonians, who had held them prisoners, shall themselves be imprisoned. Now, though we do not read that the nobles of the kingdom were subjected to such contemptuous treatment, it was enough for the fulfillment of this prophecy, that Cyrus, by assigning to them the operations of slaves, degraded them, and compelled them to abstain from honorable employments.
Unbind thy curled locks. On account of their excessive indulgence in magnificence of dress, he again alludes to the attire of young women, by mentioning “curled locks.” We know that girls are more eager than they ought to be about cuffing their hair, and other parts of dress. Here, on the contrary, the Prophet describes a totally different condition and attire; that is, that ignominy, and blackness, and filth shall cover from head to foot those who formerly dazzled all eyes by gaudy finery.
Uncover the limbs. “Virgins” hardly ever are accustomed to walk in public, and, at least, seldom travel on the public roads; but the Prophet says that the Babylonian virgins will be laid under the necessity of crossing the rivers, and with their limbs uncovered.
3. Thy baseness shall be discovered. This is the conclusion of the former statement. So long as Babylon was in a flourishing condition, she preserved her reputation, and was highly honored; for wealth and power, like veils, often conceal a great number of sores, which, when the veils have been removed, become visible, and are beheld with the greatest disgrace. And, as Demosthenes says, when, speaking of Philip’s condition, — ὥσπερ γὰρ τοῖς σώμασιν ἡμῶν ἕως μὲν ἂν ἐρρωμένος ᾖ τις οὐδὲν ἐπαισθάνεται τῶν καθ ἕκαστα σαθρῶν ἐπ᾿ ἂν δὲ ἀρρώστημα συμβὣ πάντα κινεῖται κἂν ῥη̑γμα κἂν στρέμμα κἂν αλλό τι τῶν ὑπαρχόντων σαθρῶν ᾖ οὕτω καὶ τῶν πόλεων καὶ τῶν τυράννων. “For as, in our bodies, so long as any person is in full vigor, no malady is perceived in any of the members, but if he fall into debility, produced either by a wound or by a strain, or by any other of the diseases to which the body is subject, the whole is affected; so is it with cities and governments.” (Dem., Olynth. 2.) When commotions arise, and when their wealth and troops are taken from them, disgraceful transactions which lay concealed are exposed to view; for cruelty, and fraud, and extortions, and perjury, and unjust oppressions, and other crimes, which were honored during prosperity, being to fall into disgrace.
I will take vengeance, and will not meet (thee) a man. Some think that כ (caph) ought here to be supplied, “As a man;” as if he had said, “Do not think that ye have to deal with man, whose attack ye may be able to resist.” And, indeed, in other passages, when he speaks of the hand of man, it denotes some abatement; but here he means that no remedy is left, because God will reduce them to nothing. Others translate it, “I will not meet a man;” that is, “I will not allow a man to meet me; whoever shall meet me, or intercede in their behalf, I will not spare them, or remit or abate their punishment.” This meaning is highly appropriate, but the construction is somewhat forced; for אפגע (ephgang) must thus be understood to have a passive sense, which could scarcely be admitted. Besides, the Prophet does not absolutely say that no petition shall be presented to God, but that he cannot be appeased. The former exposition, therefore, flows more smoothly, so far as relates to the context; but let every one choose that which he prefers; for, whatever exposition you adopt, the words amount to this, “that the Lord will destroy the Babylonians, and that there will be no room for mercy.” Only, I say, that I prefer the former, because it is more agreeable to the original text.
4. Our Redeemer. The Prophet shews for what purpose the Lord will inflict punishment on the Babylonians; that is, for the salvation of his people, as he had formerly declared. (Isaiah 45:4.) But this statement is much more forcible, because he speaks in what may be called an abrupt manner, and like a person awakened out of sleep, when he sees Babylon ruined, which formerly was wont to subdue other nations and trample them under her feet; and he shews that this happens for no other reason than that the Lord shews himself to be the “Redeemer” and defender of his people.
The Holy One of Israel. As if he had said, that not in vain hath he chosen this people, and separated it from other nations. In this transaction he intended to give a display of his power, and on that account added to the title descriptive of his power, Jehovah of Hosts, the designation “Holy.”
5. Sit silent. He continues the same subject, and shews that the end of the Babylonian monarchy is at hand. As this appeared to be incredible, he therefore repeats the same thing by a variety of expressions, and repeats what might have been said in a few words; and thus he brings forward those lively descriptions, in order to place the event, as it were, before their eyes. When he bids her “sit” and be “silent,” it is an indication of shame or disgrace. Yet this silence may be contrasted with her former condition, while she reigned; for at that time not only did she speak loudly and authoritatively, but she cried with a loud voice, and by her commands terrified the whole of the East. But now, in consequence of the change of her condition, he bids her “sit silent;” because not only will she not venture to utter terrific words, but she will not even venture to make a gentle sound. 223223 “Tant s’en faut qu’elle ose tonner si haut que de coustume, que mesmes elle n’osera desserrer les dents.” “So far as she is from venturing to sound as loudly as she was wont to do, that she will not even venture to open her teeth.” But, since he adds, enter into darkness, I willingly adopt the former view, that it denotes shame; for they whose condition has been changed for the worse shut their mouth through shame, and scarcely venture to whisper.
For it shall no longer be. We know that the Babylonian monarchy was very widely extended, and exercised dominion over large and numerous countries; for it was the chief of many kingdoms. On this account the captive people needed to be fortified by these promises, and to be forewarned of her fall, that they might entertain assured hope of deliverance
6. I was angry with my people. This is an anticipation, by which he forewarns the Jews, as he has often done formerly, that the distressing condition of captivity was a scourge which God had inflicted; because, if it had proceeded from any other, there was no remedy in the hand of God. In order, therefore, that they might be convinced that he who had struck them would heal their wounds, he bids them attribute it to their sins that they were so terribly oppressed. Yet he exhorts them to cherish favorable expectation, because God intends to set a limit to the chastisement; and he even mentions this as the reason why the Babylonians shall be destroyed, that God, who is the just avenger of savageness and cruelty, will much more avenge the injuries done to his people.
Thou didst not shew compassion to them. In the former clause he calls the Jews to repentance, because by their own crimes they drew down upon themselves so many calamities. Next, he accuses the Babylonians of having seized this occasion for exercising cruelty, just as if one were to become the executioner of a child whom a father had put into his hands to be chastised. Hence it follows that the Babylonians have no right to be proud, as if by their own power they had subdued the Jews and carried them into captivity; but, on the contrary, because they have wickedly abused the victory and cruelly treated the captives, he will justly punish them.
I profaned my heritage. When he says that he “was angry,” and that this was the reason why he “profaned his heritage,” let us not imagine that he had changed his purpose, and was offended so far as to cast away the care of his people and the remembrance of his covenant. This is evident both from the event itself and from his deigning still to call them “his people,” though the greater part of them were estranged from him, and though he had the best reasons for “profaning” them. But he has respect to his covenant when he speaks in this manner; for he looks at their source and foundation, that they who were the descendants of Abraham may be accounted the people of God, though very few of them actually belonged to him, and almost all boasted of an empty title.
Thus the word amger, in Scripture, must not be supposed to refer to any emotion in God, who desires the salvation of his people, but to ourselves, who provoke him by our transgressions; for he has just cause to be angry, though he does not cease to love us. Accordingly, while he “profanes” his Church, that is, abandons her, and gives her up as a prey to her enemies, still the elect do not perish, and his eternal covenant is not broken. And yet, in the midst of anger, the Lord remembers his mercy, and mitigates the strokes by which he punishes his people, and at length even inflicts punishment on those by whom his people have been cruelly treated. Consequently, if for a time the Lord “profanes” his Church, if she is cruelly oppressed by tyrants, let us not lose courage, but betake ourselves to this promise, “He who avenged this barbarous cruelty of the Babylonians will not less avenge the savageness of those tyrants.”
It ought also to be carefully observed that no one should abuse victory so as to be cruel to captives, which we know is often done; for men, when they see that they are stronger, lay aside all humanity, and are changed into wild beasts, and spare neither age nor sex, and altogether forget their condition. After having abused their power, they shall not at length pass unpunished; for
“judgment without mercy shall be experienced by those who shewed no mercy.”
But it is asked, “How could the Babylonians go beyond the limit which God had assigned to them, as if their lawless passions were laid under no restraint?” And what will become of that promise,
“Not a hair shall fall from your head without the appointment of your Father?”
The answer is easy. Though it was not in their power actually to go beyond the limit, yet he looked at their cruelty, because they endearvored utterly to ruin unhappy persons who had surrendered at discretion. Thus Zechariah complains of the unbridled rage of the Gentiles, because, when “he was angry with his people for a little,” they rushed forward with violent fury to destroy them. (Zechariah 1:15.)
On the old man. He states an aggravation of their guilt, that they did not spare even “the old men,” for whom age naturally procures reverence; and hence he draws an inference, how savage was their cruelty towards armed foes.
7. And thou saidst, I shall for ever 224224 “He chastises the pride and exeessive confidence of Babylon, by which she promised to herself an eternal reign. Thus Rome is ealled eternal in the constitutions of the emperors, and in inscriptions and coins, and also ‘The mistress of the whole world, the queen and mistress of the world.’” — Rosenmuller. be a mistress. Here he censures the haughtiness of the Babylonians, in promising to themselves perpetual dominion, and in thinking that they could not fall from their elevation through any adverse event. Thus the children of this world are intoxicated by prosperity, and despise all men as compared with themselves; but Isaiah mocks at this confidence, and shews that God regards it with the greatest abhorrence. To say, means here to conclude in one’s own mind, as will be more clearly evident from what the Prophet says shortly afterwards; for proud men do not publicly speak in this manner, but entertain this conviction, though they pretend the contrary. It is intolerable madness when men, forgetting their frailty, look upon themselves as not sharing in the common lot; for in this way they forget that they are men. Believers, too, have their conviction of being safe, because, under the protecting hand of God, they are prepared boldly to encounter every danger. And yet they do not cease to consider that they are liable to many distresses, because nothing in this world is lasting. Irreligious men, therefore, mock God whenever, through a foolish imagination, they promise to themselves lasting peace amidst the constant changes of the world.
Hitherto thou hast not applied thy mind to it. 225225 “It will not be inelegant to view עד (gnad) as meaning until, or so that; and it is so rendered by Jarchi, who explains this verse thus, — “Thou thoughtest with thyself that thou wouldest perpetually be mistress, and that punishment would not be inflicted on thee; and this thought led thee astray until thou didst not recall to mind those afflictions which shall befall thee.’” — Rosenmuller. For the purpose of heightening the description of their madness, he adds that even a long course of time did not render them more moderate. To become elated immediately after having obtained a victory, is not so wonderful; but to become more fierce from day to day, and to throw out taunts against their captives, was altogether savage and intolerable. This arose, as we have said, from pride; because they did not consider that a revolution of affairs would afterwards take place, or that a condition so magnificent could be changed. Consequently, this is the second reason why the Lord overtumed the monarchy of the Babylonians.
And didst not remember her end. 226226 “The apparent solecism of remembering the future may be solved by observing that the thing forgotten was the knowledge of the future once possessed, just as in common parlance we use the word hope in reference to the past, because we hope to find it so, or hope that something now questionable will prove hereafter to be thus and thus.” — Alexander. Some think that there is a change of the person here, but I consider that to be too forced; and indeed I have no doubt that he speaks of the “end” of Jerusalem, which is the opinion most commonly received. The Lord often speaks of the Church, by way of eminence, κατ᾿ ἐξοχὴν without mentioning the name, as we do when our feelings are powerfully affected towards any person. Now, wicked men do not know the “end” of the Church, and the reason why the Lord chastises her. They mock at the calamities of good men, because they would wish them to be utterly destroyed and ruined, and do not consider that God takes care of them.
If it be objected that the Babylonians could not know this, that is nothing to the purpose; for they could not be ignorant that he was the God whom the Israelites worshipped. Consequently, when they treated the Jews with haughtiness and cruelty, they insulted God himself, as if he and the covenant which he had made with his people had been intentionally trampled under their feet.
8. And now hear this, thou delicate woman. The Prophet again threatens the destruction of Babylon, and employs appropriate words for strengthening the hearts of believers, that the prosperity of the Babylonians may not stupify and lead them to despondency; and yet he does not address Babylon in order to produce an impression upon her, but to comfort believers. He adds, that she was intoxicated with pleasures; for prosperity, being the gift of God, ought not in itself to be condemned, but it is well known how prone the children of the world are, to pass from luxury to insolence.
Who saith in her heart. He now explains what is meant by the word to say, of which we spoke in the exposition of the preceding verse, namely, that one convinces himself and believes that it will be thus and thus, as proud and insolent men commonly do, although they often conceal it through pretended modesty, and do not wish it to be publicly known.
I am, and there is none besides me. This arrogance, by which she prefers herself to the whole world, is intolerable. First, she thinks that she is; secondly, she imagines that the rest of the world does not deserve to be compared to her; thirdly, she promises to herself everlasting repose, for she says, I shall not sit as a widow. As to the first, there is none of whom it can be said with truth that he is, but God alone, who has a right to say, “I am what I am,” (Exodus 3:14;) for by this mark he is distinguished from the creatures. Thus, he who thinks that he subsists by his own power robs God of the honor due to him, and so Babylon, by exalting herself, made war with God. Secondly, she treated the whole world with contempt, when she preferred herself to it. In this manner proud men begin with God, by representing him to be their enemy, and they end by making all men, without exception, their enemies, through their haughtiness. The third clause, which may be regarded as the copestone of her pride, is, that she considers her condition to be eternal, and does not take into account the liability of the affairs of men to undergo change; for the higher men have been exalted, they sometimes on that account sink the lower.
9. But those two things shall suddenly come to thee. Because Babylon supposed that she was beyond the reach of all danger, the Prophet threatens against her very sore distress. When she said that she would neither be “a widow” nor “childless,” he declares on the other hand, that both calamities shall come upon her, so that her miserable destitution shall expose her to the utmost contempt.
In their perfection. That is, “completely,” so that in all points, without any exception, she shall be childless. There is also an implied contrast between moderate punishment, some alleviation of which may be expected, and the dreadful vengeance of God, which has no other end than ruin; for, the greater the confidence with which wicked men are elated, the more severely are they punished.
For the multitude of thy divinations. Some render this term diviners; but I think that it denotes the act or the vice rather than the persons. Some explain ב (beth) to mean “on account of,” and understand it to express a cause; and in this sense it frequently occurs in Scripture. Yet it might be suitably interpreted, that the Babylonians shall derive no aid or relief from the deceitful skill in divinations of which they boasted so much; and so it might be translated notwithstanding; 227227 “Ewald agrees with the English Version and the Vulgate in explaining it to mean propter, ‘on account of,’ and supposing it to be a new specific charge against the Babylonians, by assigning a new cause for their destruction, namely, their cultivation of the occult arts. Gesenius and the other recent writers follow Calvin and Vitringa in making it mean notwithstanding, as in Isaiah 5:25, and Numbers 14:11. There is then no new charge or reason assigned, but a simple declaration of the insufficiency of superstitious arts to save them. But a better course than either is to give the particle in its proper sense of in or in the, midst of, which suggests both the other ideas, but expresses more, namely, that they should perish in the very act of using these unlawful and unprofitable means of preservation.” — Alexander. as if he had said, “The abundance of divinations or auguries shall not prevent these things from happening to Babylon.” 228228 “Nonobstant la multitude des derins et augures.” “Notwithstanding the multitude of divinations and auguries.” He ridicules the confidence which they placed in their useless auguries, by which they thought that they foresaw future events; but, as we shall shortly afterwards dwell more largely on this point, I readily admit that it is here reckoned to be one of the causes of the vengeance inflicted on them, that, in consequence of trusting to such delusions, they dreaded nothing. 229229 “Ils ont defie tous dangers.” “They defied all dangers.”
10. For thou trustedst. He explains what he said in the preceding verse, though it may be extended further, so as to be a censure of the fraud and oppression and violence and unjust practices by which the Babylonians raised themselves to so great power. Almost all large kingdoms are, what a distinguished robber pronounced them to be, great robberies; for there is no other way in which they enlarge their dominions than by extorting them from others by violence and oppression, and by driving out the lawful owners from their dwellings, that they alone may reign at large.
In thy malice. He gives the name of “malice” to that which he will afterwards adorn with more plausible names, namely, wisdom and knowledge. In this manner do tyrants usually disguise their tricks, when they lay aside all regard to justice and equity, and cunningly deceive the people; but the Lord detests and exposes them; so that it becomes manifest that it served no purpose to cover their wickedness by useless veils. Thus Job, after having said that “wise men are taken in their own wisdom,” explains this by calling it “craftiness.” (Job 5:13.)
Thou saidst, No one seeth me. When he adds that Babylon thought that her iniquities were not seen, this refers to free indulgence in sinning; for while men are kept in the discharge of duty by fear or shame, he who neither dreads God as a witness, nor thinks that men will know what he does, breaks out into every kind of licentiousness. It is true, indeed, that even the worst of men are often tormented by the stings of conscience; but, by shutting their eyes, they plunge themselves in: stupidity as in a lurking-place, and, in short, harden all their senses. Above all, we see that they have the hardihood to mock God, as if by their craftiness they could dazzle his eyes; for whenever they wish to defraud simpletons, they think it enough that they are not detected, as if they could impose on God. But to no purpose do they flatter themselves in their cunning, for the Lord will speedily take off the mask from them. All men ought therefore to abhor this wisdom, by which men deceive themselves, and accomplish their own ruin.
I, and there is none beside me. He again repeats those blasphemies, that all may plainly understand how greatly God abhors them, and how near to destruction are all who raise themselves higher than they ought.
11. Therefore shall evil come upon thee. Continuing the subject which he had formerly introduced, he ridicules the foolish confidence of the Babylonians, who thought that by the position of the stars they foresaw all events. He therefore says that they shall soon be overtaken by that which Scripture threatens generally against all despisers of God, (1 Thessalonians 5:3,) that, “when they shall say, Peace and safety, sudden destruction shall overwhelm them,” and that at the dawning of the day they shall not know what shall be accomplished in the evening; and it is very clear from the book of Daniel that this happened. (Daniel 5:30.)
12. Stand now amidst thy divinations. The Prophet speaks as we are accustomed to speak to desperate men, on whom no warnings produce any good effect; “Do as thou art wont to do; in the end thou shalt be instructed by the event; thou shalt know what good the augurs and soothsayers do thee.” By the word “stand” he alludes to the custom of the augurs, who remain unmoved in one place till some sign is seen. 230230 “Jusqu’ a ce que quelque oiseau soit apparu.” “Till some bird is seen.” In like manner, the astrologers mark out their divisions in the heavens, even to the minutest points. If it shall be thought preferable to translate חברים (chabarim) diviners instead of divinations, I shall not greatly object; for the meaning of the word is ambiguous.
If perhaps thou shalt prevail. As if he had said, “Thou shalt not be able, by the aid of thy augurs, to mitigate the calamity which is about to overtake thee.” He taunts their perverse confidence on this ground, that when they shall have made every attempt, no advantage will follow.
13. Thou hast wearied thyself. He now declares still more plainly what he had formerly expressed in somewhat obscure language; that all the schemes which Babylon had previously adopted would lead to her ruin; for she nourished within herself a vain confidence arising from a belief of her power and wisdom, as if nothing could do her injury.
In the multitude of thy counsels. He calls them not only “counsels,” but “a multitude of counsels,” in order to declare that there is no good reason for being puffed up or exalting themselves, whatever may be the ingenuity or skill of their efforts to deceive; because their crafty counsels, the more numerous and the more plausible they are, will give them the greater annoyance. This is a general statement against those who, trusting to their own ability, contrive and form counsels of every sort, and, relying on their prudence, collect all the stratagems and annoyances that can be invented for oppressing others; for God scatters all their contrivances, and overtums their fraudulent designs, as he threatened that all unlawful means would be unsuccessful. “They dare,” says he, “to take counsel, but not from me; they weave a web, but not from my Spirit.” (Isaiah 30:1.)
Thus do the consultations of many persons altogether fail of success, because they do not ask counsel of God, from whom (James 1:5) all wisdom should be sought; for, the more they toil, the greater annoyance do they suffer, and they can obtain no advantage. Well does David 231231 In the Latin original the word is “Solomon,” and not “David;” but this oversight has been corrected in the French Version. — Ed. say, (Psalm 127:2,) that “in vain do they toil who rise early in the morning, and go late to rest, and eat the bread of sorrow;” for he speaks of unbelievers, who do not cast their cares on the Lord, but, trusting to their industry, make many daring efforts. The Lord ridicules this confidence, and causes them to be at length disappointed, and to feel how worthless are all their wicked labors and efforts, and how in this way they are punished for their rashness; while at the same time “the beloved of God sleep pleasantly,” as is said in that passage. Not that they are freed from all annoyances, but that they do not weary themselves with useless labor, and they commit to God the result of all their affairs.
Let them stand now. Here we perceive what counsellors are chiefly meant by the Prophet, that is, those diviners who boasted to the people of the empty name of science; as if they understood, all future events by looking at the stars. But we have formerly spoken of that judicial astrology, and of its uselessness. If it be objected, that it was not in the power of those men to mitigate the dangers which were hanging over them, I reply, the Babylonians would have done it at their suggestion, if they had foreseen the calamity; and, since they did not foresee it, the conclusion is, that their art had no foundation whatever. It is idle to pretend, as some do, that the Prophet reproves unskilfulness in the art, and not the art itself; for he addresses the Babylonians, who were the authors of this science.
The binders of the heavens. He says wittily that they “bind the heavens;” because they utter their decisions as boldly as if, by binding and tying the stars, they held mankind in chains. Yet, if any one choose to render the term “inchanters,” the meaning will not be inapplicable, and both are denoted by the verb חבר (chabar). Although to observe the position of the stars is not in itself sinful, the Prophet says that it is carried farther than is proper by those who draw from it conclusions as to doubtful events, and appears indirectly to contrast those observers with the prophets, in order to make them more detested, because they extinguish all divine predictions; for, when men attach to the stars a fatal necessity, all the judgments of God must fall to the ground.
14. Behold, they shall be as stubble. With still greater eagerness he attacks those astrologers who strengthened the pride of Babylon by their empty boasting; for impostors of this sort are wont to take away all fear of God out of the hearts of men, by ascribing everything to the stars, so that nothing is left to the providence of God. Hence arises contempt of God and of all his threatenings; for punishments are not ascribed to the judgment of God, but to some fate and relation of things which they foolishly imagine. For this reason he kindles into such indignation against the Babylonians, and says that they shall be buming “stubble,” which is quickly consumed; for he does not compare them to wood, which is of some use for giving heat, but to “stubble,” in order to shew that nothing is so light or useless.
15. So shal they be to thee. After having threatened destruction to those astronomers, he again retums to the Babylonians, and threatens that they must not look for assistance from that quarter from which they expected it, and that they ought not to rely on those vain counsels, with which they had long and eagerly vexed themselves in vain.
He calls them dealers, or, as we commonly say, traffickers; a metaphor taken from merchants, who are skilled in innumerable arts of deceiving, and in impostures of every kind; for the princes do not consult in a manner suitable to their rank, but traffic in disgraceful transactions. 232232 “It becomes a question whether these are called traders in the literal and ordinary sense, or at least in that of national allies and negotiators; or whether the epithet is given in contempt to the astrologers and wise men of the foregoing context, as trafficking or dealing in imposture. J. D. Michaelis supposes them to be described as travelling dealers, that is, pedlars and hawkers, who removed from place to place, lest their frauds should be discovered. He even compares them with the gipsy fortune-tellers of our own day, but admits that the astrologers of Babylonia held a very different position in society.” — Alexander. Though we may extend this to all the allies by whom the Babylonians were aided, yet the Prophet has his eye chiefly on the diviners. When he adds, from thy youth, he aggravates the guilt of Babylon, in having been infected with this foolish belief from an ancient date, and in having held this error as if it had been born with her.
Every one to his own quarter. 233233 “That is, wherever each person can depart, they disperse and wander, so that every person pursues his own road, for rescuing himself from danger, by fleeing to the farthest boundaries of the kingdom of Babylon. — Rosenmuller. It is supposed that the Prophet here speaks of the flight of the astrologers, that every one shall provide for his own safety; and I fully agree with this, but think that, there is also an allusion to the “quarters” of the heavens, which astrologers divide and measure, so as to deduce their prognostications from them. He therefore ridicules their vain boasting. “They shall withdraw into their quarters, but they shall go astray, and there shall be no means of protection. If any one choose to apply it to the revolt of those whose assistance Babylon thought that at any time she could easily obtain, I have no objection.