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7. Sign of Immanuel
1And it came to pass in the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin the king of Syria, and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up to Jerusalem to war against it, but could not prevail against it. 2And it was told the house of David, saying, Syria is confederate with Ephraim. And his heart trembled, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the forest tremble with the wind. 3Then said Jehovah unto Isaiah, Go forth now to meet Ahaz, thou, and Shear-jashub thy son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool, in the highway of the fuller's field; 4and say unto him, Take heed, and be quiet; fear not, neither let thy heart be faint, because of these two tails of smoking firebrands, for the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria, and of the son of Remaliah. 5Because Syria, Ephraim, and the son of Remaliah, have purposed evil against thee, saying, 6Let us go up against Judah, and vex it, and let us make a breach therein for us, and set up a king in the midst of it, even the son of Tabeel; 7thus saith the Lord Jehovah, It shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass. 8For the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin; and within threescore and five years shall Ephraim be broken in pieces, so that is shall not be a people: 9and the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is Remaliah's son. If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established. 10And Jehovah spake again unto Ahaz, saying, 11Ask thee a sign of Jehovah thy God; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above. 12But Ahaz said, I will not ask, neither will I tempt Jehovah. 13And he said, Hear ye now, O house of David: Is it a small thing for you to weary men, that ye will weary my God also? 14Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. 15Butter and honey shall he eat, when he knoweth to refuse the evil, and choose the good. 16For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land whose two kings thou abhorrest shall be forsaken. 17Jehovah will bring upon thee, and upon thy people, and upon thy father's house, days that have not come, from the day that Ephraim departed from Judah-even the king of Assyria. 18And it shall come to pass in that day, that Jehovah will hiss for the fly that is in the uttermost part of the rivers of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria. 19And they shall come, and shall rest all of them in the desolate valleys, and in the clefts of the rocks, and upon all thorn-hedges, and upon all pastures. 20In that day will the Lord shave with a razor that is hired in the parts beyond the River, even with the king of Assyria, the head and the hair of the feet; and it shall also consume the beard. 21And it shall come to pass in that day, that a man shall keep alive a young cow, and two sheep; 22and it shall come to pass, that because of the abundance of milk which they shall give he shall eat butter: for butter and honey shall every one eat that is left in the midst of the land. 23And it shall come to pass in that day, that every place, where there were a thousand vines at a thousand silverlings, shall be for briers and thorns. 24With arrows and with bow shall one come thither, because all the land shall be briers and thorns. 25And all the hills that were digged with the mattock, thou shalt not come thither for fear of briers and thorns; but it shall be for the sending forth of oxen, and for the treading of sheep.
1. And it came to pass. Here is related a remarkable prophecy about the wonderful deliverance of Jerusalem, when it appeared to have been utterly ruined. Now the Prophet explains all the circumstances, that by means of them the miracle may be more fully displayed, and to make it manifest, that not by the wisdom or power of man, but by the favor of God, the city has been preserved. For so ungrateful were the people, that, at the close of this transaction, they would not have understood that they had been delivered by the hand of the Lord, if all the circumstances had not been expressly brought to their remembrance. And, indeed, there were very few persons who, in the hour of danger, ventured to hope what Isaiah promised; because they judged of themselves and of the state of public affairs from present appearances. In order, therefore, to make known the remarkable kindness of God, he enters into all the details, that they may perceive from what danger and from whose hand they have been delivered. Let us also understand that this kindness was conferred on ungrateful men, that the Church might be preserved, and that Christ might afterwards appear.
It ought to be observed that the Prophet speaks of the second war which was fought by Rezin and Pekah; and this may easily be inferred from the sacred history; for in the former war Ahaz was vanquished, and a vast multitude were carried into captivity, who were at length restored by the Israelites, when the Prophet, in the name of God, commanded that it should be done. Having again collected an army, (2 Kings 16:5,) the kings of Israel and Syria attacked Ahaz, because they thought that he had been worn out by the former war, and had no power to resist. The mention of this second war is intended to show the greatness of the miracle; for Ahaz had not strength left to resist so great a multitude, the flower of the whole nation having been swept away by the former war, and such of the people as remained being quite dispirited, and not yet recovered from the terror arising out of their recent defeat. So much the more, therefore, are the goodness and power of God displayed, that, pitying so great distress, he gave assistance to his people, and in a moment rescued them from the jaws of death, when all regarded their condition as hopeless.
Went up. This may be regarded as a statement and summary of the whole transaction; for he mentions the subjects on which he is about to speak, and in the Hebrew modes of expression briefly glances at those matters which he will afterwards explain more fully and at large. From the first he tells the result, that the expedition of the two kings was unsuccessful, and afterwards he will assign the reasons why Jerusalem could not be stormed; but before coming to that, he briefly notices the plan or design of King Ahaz.
2. And it was told the house of David. He does not mean that, at the very time when the two kings were approaching to the city, the king received intelligence about the league; for it would not have been safe for Ahaz to go out, when the invading army was spread over the country; but before they had collected their forces, it is said that King Ahaz trembled. Hence there is reason to believe that his consternation became greater when he saw the danger nearer. The house of David means the king’s palace and court; as if the Prophet had said that Ahaz and his counsellors had been informed about the conspiracy which had been formed against Judea.
As to the words, נחה (nachah) is variously rendered by interpreters. The signification of this Hebrew word being to lead, some draw from it this meaning, “The King of Syria led his soldiers to aid the army;” and they think that על (al) with ע (ain) is put for אל (al) with א (aleph). Others derive it from נוח (nuach), as if the letter ו (vau) were wanting, and render it, he rested. According to others, it is rather an inversion of the letters, and נחה (nahah) is put for חנה (chanah), which means to pitch a camp; and, therefore, they choose to render it, Syria is confederate 101101 “Syria is arm in arm with Ephraim; leans on the arm of the king of Israel, as on that of a friend.” — Stock. Nothing else was meant by the Prophet than that a league in war hath been formed between the Israelites and the Syrians, that with their united forces they might attack Jerusalem. In the use of the word Ephraim there is a figure of speech (synecdoche) very frequent in the Prophets, by which a part is taken for the whole. Under Ephraim the whole kingdom of Israel is included, not only because that tribe was superior to the rest in numbers and wealth, but because their first king, Jeroboam, was descended from it. (1 Kings 11:26.)
And his heart was moved. We see that by the house of David is here meant nothing else than “the king’s palace,” from which the terror spread to the whole nation; and indeed it was impossible but that, when they heard of the alarm of the king and the princes, the body of the people should be moved by the same kind of terror. As soon as this intelligence was received, all were struck with such dread that no man was master of himself. He expresses their trembling by an appropriate metaphor, which is also frequently employed by ourselves, (Il tremble comme la fueille en l’arbre,) he trembles like the leaf of a tree. The design of this is to heighten the miracle; for we learn from it that not only in the opinion of others, but likewise in their own opinion, their case was desperate. They would therefore have been utterly ruined if the Lord had not seasonably interposed.
This passage sets before us a very bright mirror, in which we may behold the thoughtlessness of the ungodly, when they do not feel the hand of God; and, on the other hand, the fearful trembling with which they are suddenly seized, when the Lord presents to them any danger. In the midst of their prosperity they are so much at their ease that they hardly believe that they are subject to the government of God, and undoubtedly imagine that they are placed beyond the reach of all danger. Adversity stuns them in such a manner that they suddenly fall down, and their senses are so entirely overpowered by terror that they lie like people who are lifeless or bereft of their senses. Such is the punishment by which the Lord arouses them from their deep slumber. At first they appear to be firm and immovable, as if nothing could throw them down from their rank; but now, at the slightest noise, they are suddenly seized with trembling. That terror is the righteous vengeance of God, to whom they never do homage until they are compelled.
Let us learn, that if we have any spark of faith, we ought not to distrust God when we are in any danger. It is indeed impossible that we should not be agitated and alarmed when dangers press upon us; but we ought not to tremble so as to be tossed about by our anxiety in every direction, and unable to see a harbour to which we may safely direct our course. There must always be this difference between the fear of the godly and of the ungodly, that the ungodly find no remedy for composing their minds; but the godly immediately betake themselves to God, in whom, knowing that they have a very safe harbour, though they be harassed by uneasiness, still they remain calm.
3. Then said the LORD. First, we see how God, remembering his covenant, anticipates this wicked king by sending the Prophet to meet him; for he does not wait for his prayers, but of his own accord promises that he will grant deliverance. His son Shear-jashub is joined with the Prophet as a witness of the prediction, and there is reason to believe that his name, Shear-jashub, was not given at random, but by the secret inspiration of the Spirit, or by an immediate command of God, and in order to point out the future deliverance of the people. He, therefore, carried in his name what might be regarded as an engraven seal, both of the approaching captivity and of the return. It is also probable that this symbol of the prediction was generally known, for he would not have been joined with his father on any other account than because he bore in his person some authority.
To the way of the fuller’s field. The place is mentioned in order to give authenticity to the history. It is possible that the king, for the purpose of repelling the enemy, may have set out to watch his approach, which appears more clearly from the sacred history. (2 Kings 18:17.) It is called the way of the fuller’s field, perhaps because it was customary to wash clothes there, or because the name arose out of some ancient occurrence. However that may be, it was an evidence of anxiety and dread, that this wretched hypocrite was running about in all directions, when Isaiah came forth to meet him and to soothe his mind.
4. And thou shalt say to him 102102 And say unto him. — Eng. Ver. The Hebrew word שמר (shamar,) which signifies to keep, is here put in the Hiphil; 103103 This is an oversight; for השמר (hishshamer) is in the Niphal conjugation. — Ed and the greater part of interpreters take it for beware; but they erroneously apply this to an unnatural and far-fetched meaning, that Ahaz should beware of carrying on war. A more natural meaning is, that he ought not to waver or wander about in uncertainty, but to remain calm and serene. Accordingly, I have rendered it refrain. The meaning therefore is, that Ahab should be composed, and should not be agitated or harass his mind by uneasiness, as fickle and unsteady persons are wont to do when they are struck with terror.
This interpretation is confirmed by the word which follows, Be quiet; for these two are connected, first, to keep quiet watch, so as not to be distracted by a variety of opinions, or gaze around in all directions; and, secondly, to have a calm and composed mind. Such are the highly delightful fruits which are yielded by faith; for through a variety of attacks unbelievers give way, and wander in uncertainty, and know not to which hand they ought to turn, while believers keep themselves under restraint, and quietly betake themselves to God. Ungodliness is never at rest; but where faith exists, there the mind is composed, and does not tremble to an immoderate degree. These words very fitly express the power of faith.
Fear not. After having pointed out the remedy for allaying the distresses of the mind, he likewise bids them not fear; for faith, which places our salvation in the hand of God, is not more opposite to anything than to fear. It is impossible, I acknowledge, not to fear when dangers threaten, for faith does not deprive us of all feeling. On the contrary, the children of God are undoubtedly moved by two kinds of fear, one of which arises from the feeling of human nature, even though they be endued with perfect faith. The other arises from the weakness of faith; for no man has made such proficiency as not to have any remains of that distrust against which we ought continually to strive. We must not, therefore, understand the exhortation of the Prophet to mean that the Lord forbids every kind of fear, but he enjoins believers to be armed with such firmness as to overcome fear. As if he had said, “Do not suffer yourselves to be discouraged; and if you are assailed by fierce and severe attacks, maintain unshaken resolution, that you may not be overpowered by dangers, but, on the contrary, live to God and overcome all your distresses.” For the same reason he immediately adds, —
And let not thy heart be faint. To be faint means “to melt away,” for not without reason does the Apostle exhort us to strengthen our hearts by faith. (Hebrews 11:27; 13:9.) It is the softness of indolence, when we forget God and melt away, as it were, through our unbelief. You would not call that man soft or effeminate who relies on the Spirit of God and steadfastly resists adversity. Hence we infer that the Prophet meant nothing else than that Ahaz should undauntedly await the accomplishment of what the Lord had promised to him.
For the two tails. Isaiah employs an elegant metaphor to lessen the conception which the Jews had formed about those two very powerful kings which had filled their minds with terror. Their rage and cruelty appeared to be a devouring fire, which was sufficient to consume the whole of Judea, and could not be quenched. Isaiah, on the other hand, calls them not firebrands, (for that might have been thought to be something great,) but tails, that is, some fragments or ends of firebrands, and these, too, not burning, but only smoking, as if some firebrand snatched from the fire were going out, and gave out nothing else than a slight smoke. This metaphor yields high consolation, for it warns us to form a very different opinion about the violence of the ungodly from what it appears to be. One would think that they are endued with so great power that they could burn and destroy the whole world. To put down the excess of terror, the Lord declares that what we imagined to be a burning, and a perpetual burning, is but a slight smoke and of short duration.
5. The king of Syria hath taken evil counsel against thee. Though he foretold that empty would be the threats, and vain the attempts of the enemies of the people of God, yet he does not conceal that their devices are cruel, if the Lord do not restrain them. By evil counsel he means destructive counsel, for these two kings had leagued together to destroy Judea. To express it more fully, and to place it as it were before their eyes, he relates their very words.
6. Let us go up. That is, Let us make an invasion נקיצנה (nekitzennah) is rendered by some, Let us distress or afflict; which is also expressed by the derivation of the word. But in this conjugation it rather signifies “to stir up and arouse.” Though I do not reject the former interpretation, yet I prefer the latter, because it agrees better with the scope of the passage. Again, I understand the word arouse as meaning to disturb, and to cause revolutions; as we commonly say, to raise disturbances, 104104 Remuer les affaires. so as not to allow the tranquillity of that kingdom to be preserved.
Let us open it to us. The following word, נבקיענה, (nabkignennah,) is interpreted by some, Let us break into it 105105 Let us make a breach therein for us. — Eng. Ver. Others render it, Let us cause it to break up to us. I have rendered it, Let us open; for בקע (bakang) also signifies what we commonly express by the phrase, to make a breach or opening 106106 Faire bresche ou overture. Now, the way to open up the entrance to Judea was to rush through its fortifications by the force of arms, or, through the influence of fear, to induce timid and fickle persons to revolt; for so long as they continue to be loyal, entrance cannot be obtained; but when everything is disturbed by insurrections, an entrance is made, so that it becomes easy to break through into the strongest and best fortified places.
Thus, these two kings hoped that, as soon as they came into Judea, they would immediately terrify the whole nation by the extent and power of the army, so that there would be no ability or inclination to resist. When they brought together an army so prodigiously numerous, it is not probable that they placed any dependence on a long siege; for Jerusalem was strongly fortified; but they thought that the inhabitants of Jerusalem would be terrified and alarmed at the sight of their forces, and would be induced to make an immediate surrender. Yet I leave it to every person to adopt any interpretation of these words that he pleases, for whatever sense be put upon them, the meaning of the Prophet is not doubtful.
The son of Tabeal. Who this Tabeal was cannot easily be learned from history. Probably he was some Israelite, an enemy of the house of David, whom those kings were desirous to set up as one of their own dependents.
7. It shall not stand. What he had formerly stated was intended to show more fully that the deliverance was great and uncommon; for when the Lord intends to assist us in our trials, he represents the greatness of the danger, that we may not think that he promises less than the necessity requires. He does not usually give a mitigated view of the evils which press upon us, but rather holds out their full extent, and afterwards makes a promise, and shows that he is able to deliver us, though we may appear to be ruined. Such was the method adopted by the Prophet; for he might have told them in plain terms what would happen, and might have encouraged the king and the nation not to be terrified or discouraged at the sight of those armies. But he opened up the scheme and design of those kings, with which he now contrasts the promise and decree of God, that his wonderful assistance may be more strikingly displayed.
This is the sacred anchor which alone upholds us amidst the billows of temptations; for in adversity we shall never be able to stand if God take away his word from us. Although, therefore, the king was almost overwhelmed with despair, Isaiah shows that there is nothing so dreadful that it may not be despised, provided that he fortify himself by the promise of God, and patiently look for that which is not yet seen, and which even appears to be incredible. He affirms, that whatever men attempt, after the manner of the giants, in rising up against God, it shall not stand. He uses the word תקים, (thakum,) shall arise, in the same sense in which that metaphor is employed in the Latin language, that a work is making progress; and, in a word, he declares that such daring sacrilege shall not stand
Still more emphatic is that which he adds, לא תהיה, (lo thihyeh,) it shall not be; that is, it shall be reduced to nothing, as if it had never existed. This mode of expression deserves notice, for it was the bare and naked word of God which was contrasted with the vast army and scheme of the kings.
8. For the head of Syria is Damascus. As if he had said, “Those two kings shall have their limits, such as they have them now. They aspire to thy kingdom; but I have set bounds to them which they shall not pass.” Damascus was the metropolis of Syria, as Paris is of France. He says, therefore, that those kings ought to be satisfied with their possessions, and that their future condition would be the same as it then was.
And Ephraim shall be broken. After having said that it is now useless to attempt to extend their boundaries, he foretells the calamity of the kingdom of Israel; for by the word broken he means that the kingdom of Israel shall be annihilated, so that it shall no longer exist. The Israelites were carried into captivity, and incorporated with another nation, just as in our own time a part of Savoy has passed under the government of France, and has lost its name. This is what the Prophet means, when he says מעם, (megnam,) that it be not a people; for at that time Israel was mixed with foreign nations, and its peculiar name was blotted out.
Within sixty-five years. The Israelites were led into captivity in the sixth year of King Hezekiah, and Ahaz reigned not more than sixteen years; and, therefore, it is certain that this calculation ought not to be made from the day on which Isaiah was sent to deliver this message, for it was only twenty years to the time when the ten tribes were carried into captivity. Amoz had prophesied of that captivity; and there can be no doubt that this prophecy of Amoz, (Amos 3:11,) and the time specified in it were generally known, and that all understood the reckoning of the number of years. If, therefore, we reckon from the time when Amoz makes this prediction, we shall find it to be sixty-five years; for Jotham reigned sixteen years, (2 Kings 15:33;) Ahaz as many, (2 Kings 16:2;) to those must be added six years of King Hezekiah, which brings us down to the year when the ten tribes were carried into captivity; and if we afterwards add twenty-seven years, during which Uzziah reigned after the publication of the prophecy, there will be sixty-five years This conjecture is highly probable; and there ought not to be any doubt that this was Isaiah’s meaning; for there is a prediction of the Prophet Amoz, in which the Lord warned the people that they might not meet with anything unexpected, and complain that they had been overtaken suddenly. Isaiah confirms that prediction, and announces the same time which already was universally known.
Moreover, by these words he sharply reproves the thoughtlessness of the Israelitish nation, that, when they had been warned of the destruction of their country and their name, not only did they freely indulge in despising the judgment of God, but as if they had purposely intended to mock at the heavenly predictions, they opened their mouth to devour Judea; for a long period was already past, and they thought that they had escaped. The Prophet ridicules this madness, in imagining that the word of God grew old in so small a number of years. But because the Israelites were deaf, Isaiah assigns to the Jews a time when they may look for the destruction of their enemies. Now, this passage shows that the Prophets faithfully assisted each other, that by their united labors they might serve God.
9. Meanwhile 107107 And the head of Ephraim. — Eng. Ver. the head of Ephraim is Samaria. As it is a repetition by which he confirms what he formerly said, that God had set bounds to the kingdom of Israel for an appointed time, I have rendered the copulative ו, (vau,) meanwhile. Otherwise, it would have been absurd to say that the metropolis of the kingdom would be preserved, after that the kingdom had been destroyed, as he lately foretold. The meaning therefore is, “In the meantime, till the sixty-five years are fulfilled, Israel enjoys a kind of truce. His head shall be Samaria. Let him be satisfied with his boundaries, and not aim at anything beyond them; for such shall be his condition, until he be utterly destroyed, and be no longer reckoned to be a people.”
If you do not believe. The particle כי (ki) is placed in the middle of the sentence, to mark the reason or cause; and, therefore, some render it, “If you do not believe, the reason is, that you are not believers.” They limit the former clause to the prophecy of Isaiah, but extend the latter to any part of the word of God, as if he had said, “If you have no faith in my sayings, this gives a general proof of your unbelief.” But in that way, the verb תאמינו, (thaaminu,) which is in Hiphil conjugation, will not differ from the verb תאמנו, (theamenu,) which is in the Niphal. It is not without reason, however, that the Prophet has changed the termination; and, from many passages of Scripture, it is abundantly evident that the Hebrew verb אמן, (aman,) in the Niphal conjugation, signifies to stand, or, to remain fixed in its condition. I interpret it, therefore, as if he had said, “This is the only support on which you can rely. Wait calmly and without uneasiness of mind for what the Lord has promised, that is, deliverance. If you do not wait for it, what else remains for you than destruction?”
The particle כי, (ki,) therefore, as in many other instances, means truly; for he declares that they cannot stand, if they do not rely on the promise; and indirectly he expresses still more, that God will stand, though they disbelieve his word, and, as far as lies in their power, endeavor to destroy its stability; but that they will not stand, unless they rely on the promise which has been made to them.
Hence we ought to draw a universal doctrine, that, when we have departed from the word of God, though we may suppose that we are firmly established, still ruin is at hand. For our salvation is bound up with the word of God, and, when this is rejected, the insult offered to it is justly punished by him who was ready to uphold men by his power, if they had not of their own accord rushed headlong to ruin. The consequence is, that either we must believe the promises of God, or it is in vain for us to expect salvation.
10. And Jehovah added to speak to Ahaz. 108108 Moreover, the LORD spake again to Ahaz. — Eng. Ver. As the Lord knew that King Ahaz was so wicked as not to believe the promise, so he enjoins Isaiah to confirm him by adding a sign; for when God sees that his promises do not satisfy us, he makes additions to them suitable to our weakness; so that we not only hear him speak, but likewise behold his hand displayed, and thus are confirmed by an evident proof of the fact. Here we ought carefully to observe the use of signs, that is, the reason why God performs miracles, namely, to confirm us in the belief of his word; for when we see his power, if we have any hesitation about what he says to us, our doubt is removed by beholding the thing itself; for miracles added to the word are seals.
11. Either in the deep. I understand it simply to mean Either above or below. He allows him an unrestricted choice of a miracle, to demand either what belongs to earth or what belongs to heaven. But perhaps in the word deep there is something still more emphatic; as if he had said, “It belongs to you to choose. God will immediately show that his dominion is higher than this world, and that it likewise extends to all depths, so that at his pleasure he can raise the dead from their graves.” It was undoubtedly astonishing forbearance towards this wicked king and people of God, that not only did he patiently bear their distrust for a time, but so graciously condescended to them that he was willing to give them any pledge of his power which they chose. Yet he had in his eye not unbelievers only, but he intended likewise to provide for the benefit of the weak, in whom there was a seed of godliness; that they might be fully convinced that Isaiah did not speak at random, for he could easily give a proof of the power of God in confirmation of what he had said.
The same goodness of God is now also displayed towards men, to whom he exercises such forbearance, when he might justly have been offended at them; for how shockingly do they insult God, when they doubt his truth? What do you leave to God, if you take that from him? And whatever may be our doubts, not only does he pardon us, but even aids our distrust, and not only by his word, but by adding miracles; and he exhibits them not only to believers, but also to the ungodly, which we may behold in this king. And if he was at that time so kind to strangers, what ought not his own people to expect from him?
12. And Ahaz said. By a plausible excuse he refuses the sign which the Lord offered to him. That excuse is, that he is unwilling to tempt the LORD; for he pretends to believe the words of the Prophet, and to ask nothing more from God than his word. Ungodliness is certainly detestable in the sight of God, and in like manner God unquestionably sets a high value on faith. Accordingly, if a man rely on his word alone, and disregard everything else, it might be thought that he deserves the highest praise; for there can be no greater perfection than to yield full submission and obedience to God.
But a question arises. Do we tempt God, when we accept what he offers to us? Certainly not. Ahaz therefore speaks falsehood, when he pretends that he refuses the sign, because he is unwilling to tempt God; for there can be nothing fitter or more excellent than to obey God, and indeed it is the highest virtue to ask nothing beyond the word of God; and yet if God choose to add anything to his word, it ought not to be regarded as a virtue to reject this addition as superfluous. It is no small insult offered to God, when his goodness is despised in such a manner as if his proceedings towards us were of no advantage, and as if he did not know what it is that we chiefly need. We know that faith is chiefly commended on this ground, that it maintains obedience to him; but when we wish to be too wise, and despise anything that belongs to God, we are undoubtedly abominable before God, whatever excuse we may plead before men. While we believe the word of God, we ought not to despise the aids which he has been pleased to add for the purpose of strengthening our faith.
For instance, the Lord offers to us in the gospel everything necessary for salvation; for when he brings us into a state of fellowship with Christ, the sum of all blessings is truly contained in him. What then is the use of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper? Must they be regarded as superfluous? Not at all; for any one who shall actually, and without flattery, acknowledge his weakness, of which all from the least to the greatest are conscious, will gladly avail himself of those aids for his support. We ought indeed to grieve and lament, that the sacred truth of God needs assistance on account of the defect of our flesh; but since we cannot all at once remove this defect, any one who, according to his capacity shall believe the word, will immediately render full obedience to God. Let us therefore learn to embrace the signs along with the word, since it is not in the power of man to separate them.
When Ahaz refuses the sign offered to him, by doing so he displays both his obstinacy and his ingratitude; for he despises what God had offered for the highest advantage. Hence also it is evident how far we ought to ask signs, namely, when God offers them to us; and therefore he who shall reject them when offered, must also reject the grace of God. In like manner fanatics of the present day disregard Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and consider them to be childish elements. They cannot do this without at the same time rejecting the whole gospel; for we must not separate those things which the Lord has commanded us to join.
But a question may be asked, Is it not sometimes lawful to ask signs from the Lord? For we have an instance of this in Gideon, who wished to have his calling confirmed by some sign. (Judges 6:17.) The Lord granted his prayer, and did not disapprove of such a desire. I answer, though Gideon was not commanded by God to ask a sign, yet he did so, not at his own suggestion, but by an operation of the Holy Spirit. We must not abuse his example, therefore, so that each of us may freely allow himself that liberty; for so great is the forwardness of men that they do not hesitate to ask innumerable signs from God without any proper reason. Such effrontery ought therefore to be restrained, that we may be satisfied with those signs which the Lord offers to us.
Now, there are two kinds of signs; for some are extraordinary, and may be called supernatural; such as that which the Prophet will immediately add, and that which, we shall afterwards see, was offered to Hezekiah. (Isaiah 38:7.) Some are ordinary, and in daily use among believers, such as Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, which contain no miracle, or at least may be perceived by the eye or by some of the senses. What the Lord miraculously performs by his Spirit is unseen, but in those which are extraordinary the miracle itself is seen. Such is also the end and use of all signs; for as Gideon was confirmed by an astonishing miracle, so we are confirmed by Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, though our eyes behold no miracle.
13. And he said, Hear now, O house of David. Under the pretense of honor to exclude the power of God, which would maintain the truth of the promise, was intolerable wickedness; and therefore the Prophet kindles into warmer indignation, and more sharply rebukes wicked hypocrites. Though it would have been honorable to them to be reckoned the descendants of David, provided that they imitated his piety, yet it is rather for the sake of reproach that he calls them the posterity or family of David. It was indeed no small aggravation of the baseness, that the grace of God was rejected by that family from which the salvation of the whole world would proceed. Grievous disgrace must have been brought on them, by naming their ancestry, from which they had so basely and shamefully degenerated.
This order ought to be carefully observed; for we ought not to begin with severe reproof, but with doctrine, that men may be gently drawn by it. When plain and simple doctrine is not sufficient, proofs must be added. But if even this method produce no good effect, it then becomes necessary to employ greater vehemence. Such is the manner in which we hear Isaiah thundering on the present occasion. After having exhibited to the king both doctrine and signs, he now resorts to the last remedy, and sharply and severely reproves an obstinate man; and not him only, but the whole royal family which was guilty of the same kind of impiety.
Is it a small thing for you to weary men? He makes a comparison between God and men; not that it is possible to make an actual separation between God and the prophets and holy teachers of whom he speaks, who are nothing else than God’s instruments, and make common cause with him, when they discharge their duty; for of them the Lord testifies,
He who despiseth you despiseth me.
He who heareth you heareth me. (Luke 10:16.)
The Prophet therefore adapts his discourse to the impiety of Ahaz, and of those who resembled him; for they thought that they had to deal with men. Those very words were undoubtedly spoken in ancient times which we hear at the present day from the mouths of the ungodly: “Are they not men that speak to us?” And thus they endeavor to disparage the doctrine which comes from God. As it was customary at that time for irreligious despisers of doctrine to use the same kind of language, the Prophet, by way of admission, says that those who performed the sacred office of teaching the word were men. “Be it so. You tell me that I am a mortal man. That is the light in which you view the prophets of God. But is it a small thing to weary us, if you do not also weary God? Now, you despise God, by rejecting the sign of his astonishing power which he was willing to give to you. In vain therefore do you boast that you do not despise him, and that you have to do with men, and not with God.” This then is the reason why the Prophet was so greatly enraged. Hence we see more clearly what I mentioned a little before, that the proper season for giving reproofs is, when we have attempted everything that God enjoined, and have neglected no part of our duty. We ought then to break out with greater vehemence, and to expose the ungodliness which lurked under those cloaks of hypocrisy.
My God. He formerly said, Ask a sign for thee from the Lord thy God; for at that time his obstinacy and rebellion had not been manifestly proved. But now he claims it as peculiar to himself; for Ahaz, and those who resembled him, had no right to boast of the name of God. He therefore intimates that God is on his side, and is not on the side of those hypocrites: and in this way he testifies his confidence; for he shows how conscientiously he promised deliverance to the king; as if he had said, that he did not come but when God sent him, and that he said nothing but what he was commanded to say. With the same boldness ought all ministers to be endued, not only so as to profess it, but to have it deeply rooted in their hearts. The false prophets also boast of it loudly, but it is empty and unmeaning talk, or a blind confidence arising from rashness.
14. Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign. Ahaz had already refused the sign which the Lord offered to him, when the Prophet remonstrated against his rebellion and ingratitude; yet the Prophet declares that this will not prevent God from giving the sign which he had promised and appointed for the Jews. But what sign?
Behold, a virgin shall conceive. This passage is obscure; but the blame lies partly on the Jews, who, by much cavilling, have labored, as far as lay in their power, to pervert the true exposition. They are hard pressed by this passage; for it contains an illustrious prediction concerning the Messiah, who is here called Immanuel; and therefore they have labored, by all possible means, to torture the Prophet’s meaning to another sense. Some allege that the person here mentioned is Hezekiah; and others, that it is the son of Isaiah.
Those who apply this passage to Hezekiah are excessively impudent; for he must have been a full-grown man when Jerusalem was besieged. Thus they show that they are grossly ignorant of history. But it is a just reward of their malice, that God hath blinded them in such a manner as to be deprived of all judgment. This happens in the present day to the papists, who often expose themselves to ridicule by their mad eagerness to pervert the Scriptures.
As to those who think that it was Isaiah’s son, it is an utterly frivolous conjecture; for we do not read that a deliverer would be raised up from the seed of Isaiah, who should be called Immanuel; for this title is far too illustrious to admit of being applied to any man.
Others think, or, at least, (being unwilling to contend with the Jews more than was necessary,) admit that the Prophet spoke of some child who was born at that time, by whom, as by an obscure picture, Christ was foreshadowed. But they produce no strong arguments, and do not show who that child was, or bring forward any proofs. Now, it is certain, as we have already said, that this name Immanuel could not be literally applied to a mere man; and, therefore, there can be no doubt that the Prophet referred to Christ.
But all writers, both Greek and Latin, are too much at their ease in handling this passage; for, as if there were no difficulty in it, they merely assert that Christ is here promised from the Virgin Mary. Now, there is no small difficulty in the objection which the Jews bring against us, that Christ is here mentioned without any sufficient reason; for thus they argue, and demand that the scope of the passage be examined: “Jerusalem was besieged. The Prophet was about to give them a sign of deliverance. Why should he promise the Messiah, who was to be born five hundred years afterwards?” By this argument they think that they have gained the victory, because the promise concerning Christ had nothing to do with assuring Ahaz of the deliverance of Jerusalem. And then they boast as if they had gained the day, chiefly because scarcely any one replies to them. That is the reason why I said that commentators have been too much at their ease in this matter; for it is of no small importance to show why the Redeemer is here mentioned.
Now, the matter stands thus. King Ahaz having rejected the sign which God had offered to him, the Prophet reminds him of the foundation of the covenant, which even the ungodly did not venture openly to reject. The Messiah must be born; and this was expected by all, because the salvation of the whole nation depended on it. The Prophet, therefore, after having expressed his indignation against the king, again argues in this manner: “By rejecting the promise, thou wouldest endeavor to overturn the decree of God; but it shall remain inviolable, and thy treachery and ingratitude will not hinder God from being, continually the Deliverer of his people; for he will at length raise up his Messiah.”
To make these things more plain, we must attend to the custom of the Prophets, who, in establishing special promises, lay down this as the foundation, that God will send a Redeemer. On this general foundation God everywhere builds all the special promises which he makes to his people; and certainly every one who expects aid and assistance from him must be convinced of his fatherly love. And how could he be reconciled to us but through Christ, in whom he has freely adopted the elect, and continues to pardon them to the end? Hence comes that saying of Paul, that
all the promises of God in Christ are Yea and Amen.
(2 Corinthians 1:20.)
Whenever, therefore, God assisted his ancient people, he at the same time reconciled them to himself through Christ; and accordingly, whenever famine, pestilence, and war are mentioned, in order to hold out a hope of deliverance, he places the Messiah before their eyes. This being exceedingly clear, the Jews have no right to make a noise, as if the Prophet made an unseasonable transition to a very remote subject. For on what did the deliverance of Jerusalem depend, but on the manifestation of Christ? This was, indeed, the only foundation on which the salvation of the Church always rested.
Most appropriately, therefore, did Isaiah say, “True, thou dost not believe the promises of God, but yet God will fulfill them; for he will at length send his Christ, for whose sake he determines to preserve this city. Though thou art unworthy, yet God will have regard to his own honor.” King Ahaz is therefore deprived of that sign which he formerly rejected, and loses the benefit of which he proved himself to be unworthy; but still God’s inviolable promise is still held out to him. This is plainly enough intimated by the particle לכן, (lachen,) therefore; that is, because thou disdainest that particular sign which God offered to thee, הוא, (hu,) He, that is, God himself, who was so gracious as to offer it freely to thee, he whom thou weariest will not fail to hold out a sign. When I say that the coming of Christ is promised to Ahaz, I do not mean that God includes him among the chosen people, to whom he had appointed his Son to be the Author of salvation; but because the discourse is directed to the whole body of the people.
Will give you a sign. The word לכם, (lachem,) to you, is interpreted by some as meaning to your children; but this is forced. So far as relates to the persons addressed, the Prophet leaves the wicked king and looks to the nation, so far as it had been adopted by God. He will therefore give, not to thee a wicked king, and to those who are like thee, but to you whom he has adopted; for the covenant which he made with Abraham continues to be firm and inviolable. And the Lord always has some remnant to whom the advantage of the covenant belongs; though the rulers and governors of his people may be hypocrites.
Behold, a virgin shall conceive. The word Behold is used emphatically, to denote the greatness of the event; for this is the manner in which the Spirit usually speaks of great and remarkable events, in order to elevate the minds of men. The Prophet, therefore, enjoins his hearers to be attentive, and to consider this extraordinary work of God; as if he had said, “Be not slothful, but consider this singular grace of God, which ought of itself to have drawn your attention, but is concealed from you on account of your stupidity.”
Although the word עלמה, (gnalmah,) a virgin, is derived from עלם, (gnalam,) which signifies to hide, because the shame and modesty of virgins does not allow them to appear in public; yet as the Jews dispute much about that word, and assert that it does not signify virgin, because Solomon used it to denote a young woman who was betrothed, it is unnecessary to contend about the word. Though we should admit what they say, that עלמה (gnalmah) sometimes denotes a young woman, and that the name refers, as they would have it, to the age, (yet it is frequently used in Scripture when the subject relates to a virgin,) the nature of the case sufficiently refutes all their slanders. For what wonderful thing did the Prophet say, if he spoke of a young woman who conceived through intercourse with a man? It would certainly have been absurd to hold out this as a sign or a miracle. Let us suppose that it denotes a young woman who should become pregnant in the ordinary course of nature; 109109 Quae ex coitu viri gravida esset futura. everybody sees that it would have been silly and contemptible for the Prophet, after having said that he was about to speak of something strange and uncommon, to add, A young woman shall conceive. It is, therefore, plain enough that he speaks of a virgin who should conceive, not by the ordinary course of nature, but by the gracious influence of the Holy Spirit. And this is the mystery which Paul extols in lofty terms, that
God was manifested in the flesh. (1 Timothy 3:16.)
And shall call. The Hebrew verb is in the feminine gender, She shall call; for as to those who read it in the masculine gender, I know not on what they found their opinion. The copies which we use certainly do not differ. If you apply it to the mother, it certainly expresses something different from the ordinary custom. We know that to the father is always assigned the right of giving a name to a child; for it is a sign of the power and authority of fathers over children; and the same authority does not belong to women. But here it is conveyed to the mother; and therefore it follows that he is conceived by the mother in such a manner as not to have a father on earth; otherwise the Prophet would pervert the ordinary custom of Scripture, which ascribes this office to men only. Yet it ought to be observed that the name was not given to Christ at the suggestion of his mother, and in such a case it would have had no weight; but the Prophet means that, in publishing the name, the virgin will occupy the place of a herald, because there will be no earthly father to perform that office.
Immanuel. This name was unquestionably bestowed on Christ on account of the actual fact; for the only-begotten Son of God clothed himself with our flesh, and united himself to us by partaking of our nature. He is, therefore, called God with us, or united to us; which cannot apply to a man who is not God. The Jews in their sophistry tell us that this name was given to Hezekiah; because by the hand of Hezekiah God delivered his people; and they add, “He who is the servant of God represents his person.” But neither Moses nor Joshua, who were deliverers of the nation, were so denominated; and therefore this Immanuel is preferred to Moses and Joshua, and all the others; for by this name he excels all that ever were before, and all that shall come after him; and it is a title expressive of some extraordinary excellence and authority which he possesses above others. It is therefore evident that it denotes not only the power of God, such as he usually displays by his servant, but a union of person, by which Christ became God-man. Hence it is also evident that Isaiah here relates no common event, but points out that unparalleled mystery which the Jews labor in vain to conceal.
15. Butter and honey shall he eat. Here the Prophet proves the true human nature of Christ; for it was altogether incredible that he who was God should be born of a virgin. Such a prodigy was revolting to the ordinary judgment of men. To hinder us from thinking that his fancy now presents to us some apparition, he describes the marks of human nature, in order to show, by means of them, that Christ will actually appear in flesh, or in the nature of man; that is, that he will be reared in the same manner that children commonly are. The Jews had a different way of rearing children from what is followed by us; for they used honey, which is not so customary among us; and to this day they still retain the custom of causing a child to taste butter and honey, as soon as it is born, before receiving suck.
That he may know. That is, until he arrive at that age when he can distinguish between good and evil, or, as we commonly say, till the years of discretion; ל (lamed) denotes the term and period up to which he shall be reared after the manner of a child; and this contributes still more to prove the reality of his nature. He therefore means understanding and judgment, such as is obtained when the period of childhood is past. Thus we see how far the Son of God condescended on our account, so that he not only was willing to be fed on our food, but also, for a time, to be deprived of understanding, and to endure all our weaknesses. (Hebrews 2:14.) This relates to his human nature, for it cannot apply to his Divinity. Of this state of ignorance, in which Christ was for a time, Luke testifies when he says,
And he grew in wisdom, and in stature,
and in favor with God and with man. (Luke 2:52.)
If Luke had merely said that Christ grew, he might have been supposed to mean with men; but he expressly adds, with God. Christ must therefore have been, for a time, like little children, so that, so far as relates to his human nature, he was deficient in understanding.
16. Before the child shall know. Many have been led into a mistake by connecting this verse with the preceding one, as if it had been the same child that was mentioned. They suppose that it assigns the reason, and that the particle כי (ki) means for 110110 Bishops Lowth and Stock concur in rendering כי (ki) for, which indeed is its ordinary meaning. FOR before this child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good. — Ed But if we carefully examine the Prophet’s meaning, it will quickly be apparent that he leaves the general doctrine, to which he had made a short digression, and returns to his immediate subject. After having founded the hope of the preservation of the city on the promised Mediator, he now shows in what way it will be preserved.
The child. I interpret this word as referring, not to Christ, but to all children in general. Here I differ from all the commentators; for they think that the demonstrative ה points out a particular child. But I view הנער, (hannagnar,) so that ה is indeed added for the purpose of making it more definite, but is intended to point out the age, and not any particular child; as when we say, The child, 111111 L’enfant. and add the article The 112112 Le. for the purpose of giving greater definiteness. This is very customary in Scripture. If he had pointed out a particular child, he would have added הזה, (hazzeh,) as is frequently done in other passages. It is not probable that this promise of the overturn of the kingdoms of Syria and Samaria, which immediately followed, would be deferred for five hundred years, that is, till the coming of Christ; and, indeed, it would have been altogether absurd. The meaning therefore is, “Before the children, who shall be born hereafter, can distinguish between good and evil, the land which thou hatest shall be forsaken.”
The land. By the land I understand Israel and Syria; for though they were two, yet on account of the league which had been formed between the two kings, they are accounted one. Some understand by it Judea; but that cannot agree on account of the plural noun which follows, her kings. That these things happened as they are written may be easily inferred from the sacred history; for when Ahaz called the Assyrians to aid him, Rezin was slain by them. (2 Kings 16:9.) Not long afterwards, Pekah, king of Israel, died, in the twelfth year of King Ahaz, and was succeeded by Hoshea, the son of Elah. (2 Kings 15:30; 17:1.) Thus, before the children who should afterwards be born were grown up, both countries would be deprived of their kings; for before that time both Rezin and Pekah were removed out of the land of the living. Now the discourse is addressed to Ahaz, and God promises to him, by way of consolation, that he will inflict punishment on the enemies of Ahaz, but for no other purpose than to render him more inexcusable.
Which thou hatest. As to the word hatest, Syria and the land of Israel are said to be hated or abhorred by King Ahaz, because from that quarter he was attacked by invading armies. He therefore promises that those kings will soon perish. Some render מפני, (mippenei,) on account of; 113113 “At whose kings thou dost fret אתה קץ מפני, (attah kaz mippenei,) thou art fretting by reason of. See Exodus 1:12.” — Bishop Stock and I admit that this word is generally used in this sense. But I adopt here a more natural rendering, as if he had said, It shall be forsaken from the face or from the presence of the two kings, and shall be left by them, so that they shall no more be seen. And by these words it is sufficiently evident that this must be understood as referring to both kingdoms.
17. The Lord shall bring upon thee. Here the Prophet, on the other hand, threatens the wicked hypocrite, who pretended that he was unwilling to tempt God, and yet called for those whom the Lord had forbidden him to call to his aid. (Exodus 23:32.) That he might not indulge in undue exultation and insolence on account of the former promise, he likewise threatens his destruction, and declares that what he hopes to be his preservation, that is, the aid of the Assyrians, will be utterly destructive to him. (2 Kings 16:7; 2 Chronicles 28:16.) As if he had said, “Thou promisest everything to thyself from the king of Assyria, and thinkest that he will be faithful to thee, because thou hast entered into a league and covenant with him, which God had forbidden; but thou shalt quickly understand of what advantage it will be to thee to have tempted God. Thou mightest have remained at home and at ease, and mightest have received the assistance of God; but thou choosest rather to call in the Assyrians. Thou shalt find them to be worse than thine own enemies;”
This discourse, therefore, agrees with what goes before; for he presses more closely the treachery and ingratitude of the king, who had rejected both the word of God and the sign, and had rendered himself unworthy of every promise. And as it is customary with hypocrites, when they have escaped from any danger and fear, immediately to return to their natural disposition, he affirms that nothing shall protect the Jews from being likewise involved in just punishments. He expressly declares that the family of David, which might have claimed exemption on the ground of its peculiar privilege, will be exposed to the same kind of calamities; for God regulates his judgments in such a manner, that while he spares his Church and provides for her permanent existence, he does not permit the wicked, who are mingled with the good, to escape unpunished.
From the day that Ephraim departed from Judah. In this manner does Scripture speak when it describes any serious calamity; for the Jews could not have received a severer chastisement than when, by the withdrawing of the ten tribes, (1 Kings 12:16,) not only was the kingdom wretchedly divided, but the body of the nation was rent and torn. The revolt of Ephraim from Judah was, therefore, an indication of the worst kind of calamity; for the resources of the kingdom of Judah being more seriously affected by that division than it could have been by any defeat by a foreign enemy, he says that since that time the Jews had not sustained a greater calamity.
Hence, as I have already said, we see how God, while he punishes hypocrites, at the same time remembers believers, and opens the way for his mercy. We ought to observe this wonderful arrangement, that amidst the most dreadful deaths still the Church remains safe. Who would ever have thought that Jerusalem would be delivered from the vast army of the two kings? Or, that the kingdom of Syria, which was then in a flourishing condition, would quickly be overturned? Or, that Samaria was not far from destruction? And in the mean time, that the Assyrians, on whom the Jews relied, would do them more injury than the Israelites and Syrians had ever done? All these things the Lord did for the sake of preserving his Church, but at the same time in such a manner that he likewise took vengeance on the wickedness of King Ahaz.
18. And it shall be in that day. The Jews thought that the Assyrians were bound by their league with them; but the Prophet ridicules this folly, and declares that they will be ready at God’s bidding to drive them in any direction that he thinks fit. Yet instead of command he employs the metaphor hiss, in allusion to the climate of those kingdoms of which he speaks; for Egypt abounds in flies, because the country is hot and marshy; and when the air is both hot and moist, there must be produced a great abundance of flies. Assyria, on the other hand, abounded in bees; and when he says that he will bring them by a hiss, he alludes to the natural habits of bees and flies, but he means that he will find no difficulty in sending them. As if he had said, “There will be no need of great exertion; for as soon as I shall give the sign, they will instantly run.” In this manner he shows what efficacy belongs to his secret operation or design, that by a hiss he compels the most powerful nations to yield obedience.
19. And they shall come. He follows out the same metaphor; for bees commonly seek nests for themselves in caverns, or valleys and bushes, and such like places; as if he had said that there would not be a corner in which the enemy would not settle down and dwell. It is unnecessary to give ourselves much trouble in explaining why he speaks of bushes and thorns rather than of other things, for the language is figurative. And yet I have no doubt that he intended to state, that whether they hide themselves in caverns, or seek concealment in valleys, there will be no escape; for the enemy will take possession of the whole country.
Hence we again infer what has been formerly observed, that nothing takes place at random or by chance, but that everything is governed by the hand of God. Again, though wicked men may rage and may be hurried forward in blind attack, still God puts a bridle on them that they may promote his glory. Therefore, when we see that wicked men throw everything into disorder, let us not think that God has laid the bridle on their neck, that they may rush forward wherever they please; but let us be fully convinced that their violent attacks are under control. From this we ought to derive wonderful consolation amidst those disturbances in which the Christian world is so deeply involved, and by the violence of which it is so powerfully shaken, that almost everything appears to be in a state of confusion. We should consider that the Lord has a concealed bridle by which he restrains furious beasts, so that they cannot break through wherever the madness of their rage drives them, or go beyond the limits which the Lord prescribes to them.
20. The Lord will shave with a hired razor. He now employs a different metaphor, and compares those enemies by whom the Lord had determined to afflict Judea at the appointed time, to a razor, by which the beard and hair are shaved, and other excrescences of the same kind are removed. ב (beth) is here superfluous, and is only employed in accordance with the Hebrew idiom, to denote an instrument, and, therefore, I have merely rendered it he will shave with a razor. What he means he immediately explains; namely, that the Assyrians will serve for a razor in the hand of God, and that they will come from a distant country.
Who are beyond the river. This means that Euphrates will not hinder them from passing over to execute the commands of God. He likewise adds, that it will not be some portion of that nation rushing forward of its own accord into foreign territories, or wandering without a settled leader; but that the king himself will lead them, so that the nation and the king at the same time will overwhelm Judea, and it will sink under such a burden.
A hired razor. It is not without reason that he says that this razor is hired; for he expresses by it the dreadful nature of the calamity which would be brought upon them by the Assyrians. If a man make use of a hired horse or a hired sword, he will use it the more freely, and will not spare or take care of it as he would do with his own, for men wish to gain advantage from what they have hired to the full value of the hire. Thus the Lord threatens that he will not at all spare the razor, though he should be under the necessity of blunting it, which means, that he will send the Assyrians with mad violence and rage. If the Lord took such dreadful vengeance on the Jews for those reasons which the Prophet formerly enumerated, we ought to fear lest we be punished in the same manner; or rather, we ought to dread the razor with which he has already begun to shave us.
The head and the hair of the feet. By the hair of the feet he means the lower parts; for by the feet is meant all that is below the belly, and it is a figure of speech, by which a part is taken for the whole. 114114 Unde et aquam pedum urinam vocant; et pedes tegere pro alvum exonerare. In short, he means that the whole body, and even the beard, must be shaved. Now, if we set aside the figures, and wish to get at the plain and natural meaning, it is as if he had said, that this shaving will reach from the top of the head down to the feet, and that kings and princes will not be exempted from that calamity, but that they also must feel the edge of the razor
21. And it shall come to pass on that day. In these verses, down to the end of the chapter, the Prophet describes the state of a country torn and wasted; for he intends to present a striking and lively picture of such overwhelming distress that, wherever you turn your eyes, nothing is to be seen but the traces of frightful desolation. Some think that a mitigation of punishment is here promised, but we shall soon see that this does not agree with the context. Though he employs the appellation, a man, without any limitation, yet strictly it is of the richest men that he speaks; for he does not say that every one will have so many; but they who formerly were accustomed to rear a large number of oxen and sheep will be satisfied with having a few. He means, therefore, that all will be reduced to very deep poverty. Some think that the Hebrew word which the Prophet employs, יחיה, (yechaiyeh,) he shall quicken, means “to deliver from death;” but the meaning which I have adopted is more natural and more generally approved.
22. On account of the abundance of milk. Some explain it thus: “there will scarcely be as much obtained from one cow as would be required for the food of a family;” for those who rear cattle do not feed on milk alone, but likewise make cheeses, and have butter to sell. When, therefore, he says, that out of all their abundance nothing more would be produced than what was necessary for the use of the family, in the opinion of those commentators it denotes poverty. Others think that this is a promise of fertility, that however small may be the number of their cows and sheep, still they will have abundant means of support. A third exposition is preferable; for it appears as if the Prophet intended to show that the men will be so few in number that a small quantity of milk will be sufficient for them all; and it is a far heavier affliction that a country should want inhabitants than that it should have a small supply of herds and flocks.
In the preceding verse Isaiah declared, that Judea would be so impoverished, that very few herds and flocks would be left; but now he adds that the men will be still fewer, for a very little milk will be sufficient for the inhabitants of the land. I adopt this exposition the more readily, because here a promise would be inappropriate. The former sense is forced; and he does not speak only of cattle-feeders who had cows, but of all the inhabitants; for he expressly says, Every one that shall be left, and by that expression he again denotes the smallness of their number. His statement, therefore, is intended to show, that the country will be so generally forsaken and so miserably wasted, that no great supply of milk and butter will be needed; for, when the devastation has taken place, there will be few men left.
23. A thousand vines. As to the opinion of those who think that Isaiah here comforts believers, I pass it by without refutation; for it is sufficiently refuted by the context, and the words plainly declare that Isaiah continues to threaten destruction, and to describe the desolation of the land. Others think that the meaning is this, “Where a thousand vines were, which were sold for a thousand pieces of silver, there briers and thorns will be found.” But it is plain that this would be far too low a price, if the statement were applied to the whole country; for who would think of reckoning a shekel to be the price of a vine, which is the most precious of all possessions? It is of the same import with a common expression, “to sell for a trifle,” to give away for a piece of bread; 115115 Bailler pour une piece de pain. when anything is sold at a very low price. Any field, however barren or uncultivated, might be sold at a higher price, if due attention were paid to the cultivation of land, as is usually done where there is a crowded population.
On account of briers and thorns. He assigns a reason for the alteration of the price, which makes it evident that he speaks of desolation. On account of briers and thorns, says he; for there will be none to cultivate the land, which usually happens when a heavy calamity has been sustained. ל, (lamed,) which some render to or for, means, I think, on account of; for, everything having been thrown into confusion by the fury of the invading army, there are no vinedressers or laborers, and the most highly cultivated lands must have been covered over and choked up by briers and thorns. The meaning therefore is, that the inhabitants will be so few, that you will scarcely find and one that would give the smallest coin to buy the most valuable estates.
24. With arrows and bow shall they come thither. The verb יבא, (yabo,) he shall come, is in the singular number; but it ought to be explained by the plural, that the archers will march through Judea. Some think that Isaiah speaks of bows and arrows, because such would be the dread of enemies, that no man unarmed would venture to approach his possessions. But I consider it to be more probable that the Prophet means that, where the richest cultivation formerly existed, opportunity for hunting will be found; for there the wild beasts have their dens. Now, it is a most wretched change, when fields formerly cultivated and fertile are turned into woods and thickets. By bow and arrow here, therefore, I understand hunting, in this sense: “it shall not be approached by husbandmen but by hunters, and they shall not plant or dress vines, but chase wild beasts.” In short, it means nothing else than frightful desolation, which shall change the aspect of the land.
25. And on all the hills that are dug with the hoe. Here the Prophet appears to contradict himself; for, having hitherto spoken of the desolation of the land, he now describes what may be called a new condition, when he says that, where thorns and briers were, there oxen will feed. The consequence has been, that some have applied these words to the consolation of the people. But the intention of the Prophet is totally different; for he means that hills, which were at a great distance from a crowded population, and which could not be approached without much difficulty, will be fit for pasturage, on account of the great number of men who go thither; that is, because men will betake themselves to desert mountains, which formerly were inaccessible, there will be no need to be afraid of briers, 116116 “The shepherds shall be under no apprehension of finding on those hills hedges of briar and thorn, to interrupt the free range of their flock.” — Rosenmuller. for there will be abundance of inhabitants. Now, this is a most wretched state of things, when men cannot escape death but by resorting to thorns and briers; for he means hills formerly desolate and uncultivated, in which men shall seek a residence and abode, because no part of the country will be safe. Thus he describes a distressful and melancholy condition of the whole country, and destruction so awful that the aspect of the country shall be altogether different from what it had formerly been.
When he foretold these things to King Ahaz, there can be no doubt that Ahaz despised them; for that wicked king, relying on his forces and on his league with the Assyrians, settled, as it were, on his lees, as soon as the siege of the city was raised. But Isaiah was bound to persevere in the discharge of his office, in order to show that there was no help but from God, and to inform the wretched hypocrite, that his destruction would come from that quarter from which he expected his preservation.