Probably no portion of the Bible has been regarded as so difficult of interpretation, and has given rise to so great a variety of expositions, as the prophecy which is commenced in this chapter, and which is closed in Isaiah 9:7. The importance of the prophecy respecting the Messiah (Isaiah 7:14 ff; Isaiah 8:7; Isaiah 9:1-7), is one reason why interpreters have been so anxious to ascertain the genuine sense; and the difficulties attending the supposition that there is reference to the Messiah, have been among the causes why so much anxiety has been felt to ascertain its true sense.
The prophecy which commences at the beginning of this chapter, is continued to Isaiah 9:7. An this was evidently delivered at the same time, and constitutes a single vision, or oracle. This should have been indicated in the division of the chapters. Great obscurity arises from the arbitrary, and, in many instances, absurd mode of division into chapters which has been adopted in the Bible.
This chapter, for convenience of illustration, may be regarded as divided into four parts:
I. The historical statement with which the whole account is introduced in Isaiah 7:1-2. The principal occurrences referred to in the chapter took place in the time of Ahaz. For an account of his character and reign, see the Introduction, Section 3. He was an idolater and erected the images, and altars, and groves of idolatry everywhere. He sacrificed to Baalim, and burned his children in the valley of Hinnom in honor of Moloch, and ruled Jerusalem everywhere with abominations, 2 Kings 16:2-4; 2 Chronicles 28:1-4. For these abominations, he was delivered into the hand of the king of Syria, and was subjected to calamities from the threatened invasion of the united armies of Syria and Samaria. At this time Rezin was king of Syria, of which Damascus was the capital; and Pekah was king of Israel or Sumaria. These kings, during the concluding part of the reign of Jotham, the predecessor of Ahaz, had formed an alliance and had gone up toward Jerusalem to make war upon it, but had not been able to take it.
The formation of this confederacy in the time of Jotham is distinctly declared in 2 Kings 15:37. To this confederacy Isaiah refers in Isaiah 7:1, where he says that it occurred in the days of Jotham. The statement is made by Isaiah here, doubtless, in order to trace the important matter to which he alludes to its commencement, though what he subsequently says had particular relation to Ahaz. Though the confederacy was formed in the time of Jotham, yet the consequences were of long continuance, and were not terminated until the defeat of Sennacherib in the time of Hezekiah; see Isaiah 37. Isaiah, here, in general, says Isaiah 7:1 that they went up against Jerusalem, and could not take it. He may refer here to an expedition which they made in the time of Jotham, or he may design this as a "general" statement, intricating the result of "all" their efforts, that they could not take Jerusalem. If the latter is the proper interpretation, then the statement in Isaiah 7:1, was made by Isaiah at a subsequent period, and is designed to state "all" that occurred.
It is more natural, however, to suppose that they made an attempt in the time of Jotham to take Jerusalem, but that they were unsuccessful. When Ahaz came to the throne, the alliance was continued, and the effort was renewed to take Jerusalem. Formidable preparations were made for the war, and an invading army came up upon the land. Many of the subjects of Ahaz were taken captive and carried to Damascus. Pekah killed in one day 120,000 people, and took two hundred thousand captives, and carried them toward Samaria. They were released from bondage by the solicitation of Oded, a prophet, who represented to them the impropriety of taking their brethren captive, and they were re-conveyed to Jericho; 2 Chronicles 28:5-15. At about the same time, the Assyrians took Elath, and retained it as a city belonging to them; 2 Kings 16:6. From the report of this strong alliance and from the ravages which were committed by their united forces, Ahaz was alarmed, and trembled for the safety of Jerusalem itself, Isaiah 7:3.
But instead of looking to God for aid, he formed the purpose of securing the alliance of the king of "Assyria," and for this purpose sent messengers to Tigiath-pileser with professions of deep regard, and with the most costly presents which could be procured by exhausting the treasury 2 Kings 16:7-8, to secure his friendship and cooperation. To this the king of Assyria agreed, and entered into the war by making an assault on Damascus; 2 Kings 16:9. It was this alliance, and the confidence which Ahaz had in it, that produced his answer to Isaiah Isa 7:12, and his refusal to ask a sign of the Lord; and it was this alliance which subsequently involved Jerusalem in so much difficulty from the invasion of the Assyrians. The Assyrians, as might have been foreseen, consulted their own advantage, and not the benefit of Ahaz. They meant to avail themselves of the opportunity of subduing, if possible, Judea itself; and, consequently, the land was subsequently invaded by them, and Jerusalem itself put in jeopardy. This consequence was distinctly foretold by Isaiah, Isaiah 7:17-25; Isaiah 8:7-8. Yet before the alliance was secured, Ahaz was in deep consternation and alarm, and it was at this point of time that Isaiah was sent to him, Isaiah 7:2-3.
II. At this time of consternation and alarm, Isaiah was sent to Ahaz to assure him that Jerusalem would be safe, and that there was no real cause of alarm, Isaiah 7:3-9. His main object was to induce the monarch to repose confidence in Yahweh, and to believe that his kingdom, protected by God, could not be overthrown. Isaiah was directed to take with him his son, whose name (Shear-jashub - "the remnant shall return") was itself a sign or pledge that the nation should not be "utterly" destroyed, and that, consequently, it could not become permanently subject to Syria or Sumaria, Isaiah 7:3. He went to meet Ahaz at the upper pool, where, probably, Ahaz had gone, attended by many of the court, to see whether it was practicable to stop the water, so as to prevent an enemy from procuring it; compare 2 Chronicles 32:4. He directed him not to be afraid of the enemies that were coming, for they were like smoking, half-extinguished brands that could do little injury, Isaiah 7:4. He assured him that the purpose of the confederated kings should not be accomplished; that Yahweh had said that their design could not be established; and that the limits of their respective kingdoms should be the same that they were then, and should not be enlarged by the conquest and accession of Jerusalem - for that Damascus should still remain the capital of Syria, and Samaria of Ephraim, and that within sixty-five years the kingdom of Ephraim should be totally destroyed, and of course Jerusalem and Judah could not be permanently added to it. So far from having Jerusalem as a tributary and dependent province, as Renraliah had anticipated, his own kingdom was to be completely and finally destroyed, Isaiah 7:4-9. The desire of all this; as to allay the fears of Ahaz, and to induce him to put confidence in God.
III. A sign is promised - a proof or demonstration of the truth of what the prophet had spoken, Isaiah 7:10-17. To the assurance which Isaiah Isa 7:4-9 had given of the safety of Jerusalem, Ahaz makes no reply. His whole conduct, however, shows that he is wholly unimpressed and unaffected by what he had said, and that he put no confidence in the assuranccs of the prophet. He was not looking to God for aid, but to the king of Assyria; and he, doubtless, felt that if his aid was not obtained, his kingdom would be destroyed. He evidently had no belief in God, and no confidence in the prophet. His mind was in a restless, uneasy condition from the impending danger, and from uncertainty whether the aid of the king of Assyria could be procured. In order to induce him to turn his attention to God, the only Protector, and to calm his fears, Ahaz is commanded to ask of Yahweh any sign or miracle which he might desire, in order to confirm what the prophet had spoken, Isaiah 7:10-11.
This Ahaz refuses, Isaiah 7:12. He does it under the semblance of piety, and an unwillingness to appear to tempt Yahweh. But the "real" cause was, doubtless, that he had no confidence in Yahweh; he had no belief in what he had spoken; and he was secretly depending on the aid of the king of Assyria. His reply was couched in respectful terms, and had the appearance of piety, and was even expressed in language borrowed from the law, Deuteronomy 5:16. Yet important purposes were to be answered, by there being a sign or proof that what the prophet had said should take place. It was important that Ahaz, as the king of Judah, and as the head of the people, should have evidence that what was said was true. It was important that a suitable impression should be made on those who were present, and on the mass of the people, inducing them to put confidence in Yahweh. It was important that they should look to future times; to the certain security of the nation, and to the evidence that the nation "must" be preserved until the great Deliverer should come.
A sign is, therefore, forced upon the attention of Ahaz. The prophet tells him that however reluctant he may be to seek a sign, or however incredulous he might be, yet that Yahweh would give a token, proof, or demonstration, which would be a full confirmation of all that he had said. "That would be done which could be done only by Yahweh, and which could be known only by him;" and "that" would be the demonstration that Jerusalem would be safe from this impending invasion. A virgin should bear a son, and before he should arrive at years of discretion, or be able to discern the difference between good and evil - that is in a short space of time, the land would be forsaken of both its kings, Isaiah 7:14-16. Who this virgin was, and what is the precise meaning of this prediction, has given perhaps, more perplexity to commentators than almost any other portion of the Bible. The "obvious" meaning seems to be this.
Some young female, who was then a virgin, and who was unmarried at the time when the prophet spoke, would conceive, and bear a son. "To" that son a name would be given, or his birth, in the circumstances in which it occurred, would make such a name proper, as would indicate that God was with them, and would be their Protector. Maternal affection would give the child the name Immanuel. The child would be nurtured up in the usual way among the Jews Isaiah 7:15 until he would be able to discern between good and evil - that is, until he should arrive at years of discretion. Between the time which should elapse from the conception of the child, and the time when he should arrive at an age to distinguish good from evil, that is in about three years, the land should be forsaken of the hostile kings, Isaiah 7:16. This seems to be the obvious meaning of this passage; and in this way only could this be a clear and satisfactory evidence to Ahaz of the certainty that the land would be entirely and permanently free from the invasion.
God only could know this; and, therefore, this was a proof of the certainty of what Isaiah had said. But though this is the obvious meaning, and though such an event only could be a sign to Ahaz that the land would be forsaken of both the invading kings, yet there is no reason to doubt that the prophet "so couched" what he said - so expressed this by the direction of the Holy Spirit, as to be applicable also to another much more important event, which was to be "also," and in a much more important sense, a sign of the protection of God - the birth of the Messiah. He, therefore, selected words which, while they were applicable to the event immediately to occur, would also cover much larger ground, and be descriptive of more important events - and events which were "in the same line and direction" with that immediately to come to pass - the certainty of the divine protection, and of ultimate freedom from all danger.
The language, therefore, has, at the commencement of the prophecy, a fullness of meaning which is not entirely met by the immediate event which was to occur, and which can be entirely fulfilled only by the great event which Isaiah ever had in his eye - the birth of the Messiah. The mind of Isaiah would very naturally be carried forward to that future event. In accordance with the laws of what may be called "prophetic suggestion or association," see Introduction, Section 7, iii.((3), and which are constantly exemplified in Isaiah, his mind would fix on better times, and more happy events. He saw the birth of a child in a future age, of which this was but the emblem. That was to be born literally of a virgin. His "appropriate" name, from his nature, and from his being the evidence of the divine favor and presence, would be "Immanuel" - as the appropriate name of this child would be Immanuel, because he would be the pledge of the divine protection and presence. The idea is, that there is a "fulness of meaning" in the words used, which will apply to future events more appropriately than to the one immediately before the writer. That there is rapid transition - a sudden carrying the mind forward to rest on a future more important event, which has been "suggested" by the language used, and which is in the mind of the speaker or writer so much more important than that which was first mentioned, as completely to absorb the attention. The reasons for the view here given are detailed at length in the notes at Isaiah 7:14-16.
IV. The prophet had thus far directed all his efforts to convince Ahaz that from the quarter from which they had apprehended danger, nothing was to be feared. He now, however Isaiah 7:17-25, proceeds to assure them that danger would come from the quarter where they least expected it - from the very quarter where Ahaz was seeking aid and deliverance - the king of Assyria. He assures him that the king of Assyria would take advantage of the alliance, and, under pretence of aiding him, would turn everything to his own account, and would ultimately bring desolation on the land of Judah. The calamities which would follow from this unhappy alliance, the prophet proceeds to state and unfold, and with that concludes the chapter. It is evident from 2 Kings 16:7, that the discourse of Isaiah made no impression on the mind of Ahaz. He sent messengers with valuable presents to Tiglath-pileser, king of Assyria. Tiglath-pileser professedly entered into the views of Ahaz, and promised his aid.
He went up against Damascus and took it 2 Kings 16:9, after Ahaz had suffered a terrible overthrow from the united armies of Rezin and Pekah. The land of Samaria was laid waste by him, and a large part of the inhabitants carried captive to Assyria, 2 Kings 15:29. Thus the prediction of Isaiah, that the land should be forsaken by two kings Isaiah 7:16, was fulfilled. But this deliverance from their invasion was purchased by Ahaz at a vast price. The real purpose of Tiglath-pileser was not to aid Ahaz, but to make him and his kingdom dependent and tributary 2 Chronicles 28:21; and this alliance was the first in the succession of calamities which came upon Judah and Jerusalem, and which ended only under Hezekiah by the entire destruction of the army of Sennacherib; see Isaiah 37. During the remainder of the reign of Ahaz he was tributary to Assyria; and when Hezekia 2 Kings 17:7 endeavored to throw off the yoke of Assyria, the attempt involved him in war; subjected his kingdom to invasion; and was attended with a loss of no small part of the cities and towns of his kingdom; see 2 Kings 18; 19; 20; Isaiah 36; 37; compare the notes at Isaiah 8; Isaiah 10:28-32. Thus the second part of this prophecy was fulfilled. The fuller statement of these important transactions will be found in the notes at the various passages which relate to these events.
And 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 toward Jerusalem to war against it, but could not prevail against it.In the days of Ahaz - Ahaz began to reign about 738 years before Christ. By a comparison of 2 Kings 16:5, ..., with 2 Chronicles 28:5, etc., it will be seen that Judea was twice invaded by Rezin and Pekah in the reign of Ahaz; see the Analysis of the chapter.
That Rezin ... - This confederacy was formed in the time of Jotham; 2 Kings 15:37. But it was not carried into execution during his reign. It is evident from this place, that it was executed in the early part of the reign of Ahaz; probably in the first or second year of his reign.
Syria - - ארם 'ărâm, so called from Aram Genesis 10:22-23, a son of Shem, and who populated its chief provinces. It comprehended the country lying between the Euphrates east, the Mediterranean west, Cilicia north, and Phenicia, Judea, and Arabia south; see the notes at Isaiah 17:1-14. Syria of the two rivers is Mesopotamia. Syria of Damascus, so called because Damascus was its capital, extended eastward along Mount Libanus, but its limits varied according to the power of the princes of Damascus. After the reign of the Seleucidae, Syria came to denote the kingdom or region of which Antioch was the capital. Here it denotes the Syria lying around Damascus, and of which Damascus was the capital. - "Calmet."
King of Israel - Of the ten tribes, called the kingdom of Israel, or Samaria; Note, Isaiah 1:1.
Went up - Jerusalem was situated on hills, and on the highest part of the land. But it is possible that this language is derived from the fact that it was the capital. The language is used even when the region from which the traveler comes does not lie lower than the city. Thus it is not uncommon to speak of "going up" to London, Paris, etc.
Could not prevail - Hebrew, 'Could not fight against it,' that is, with happy result, or with success. He was not able to take it. That the allied kings really besieged Ahaz, is evident from 2 Kings 16:5 : They 'came up to Jerusalem to war, and they besieged Ahaz, but they could not overcome him.' The reason why they could not take Jerusalem was, probably, not only because it was a strong place and well defended, but because there was intelligence that their own dominions were threatened with an invasion by the Assyrians, and they could not protract their siege of Jerusalem long enough to take it.
And it was told the house of David, saying, Syria is confederate with Ephraim. And his heart was moved, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind.And it was told the house of David - That is, the royal family; or the king and princes; the government. Ahaz was the descendant and successor of David.
Syria is confederate with Ephraim - Ephraim was one of the tribes of Israel, and the kingdom of Israel was often called "Ephraim," or the kingdom of Ephraim; in the same way as the tribes of Judah and Benjamin were called the kingdom of Judah. The phrase, 'is confederate with,' is in Hebrew 'resteth on;' see the margin. The meaning is, that Syria was "supported by" Ephraim, or was allied with Ephraim. The kingdom of Israel, or Ephraim, was situated "between" Syria and Jerusalem. Of course, the latter could not be attacked without marching through the former, and without their aid. In this sense it was that Syria, or the Arameans, relied or "rested" on Ephraim. Though Syria was by far the stronger power, yet it was not strong enough to attack Jerusalem had the kingdom of Israel been opposed to it.
And his heart - The heart of the king - of Ahaz.
Was moved as the trees of the wood - This is a very beautiful and striking image. It expresses universal trembling, consternation, and alarm, as the trees are moved "together" when the wind passes violently over them. A similar expression is found in Ovid - in "Canaces," Epist. xi. ver. 76, 77.
Ut quatitur tepido fraxina virga noto
Sic mea vibrari pallentia membra videres.
Then said the LORD unto Isaiah, Go forth now to meet Ahaz, thou, and Shearjashub thy son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller's field;Then said the Lord - In regard to the purposes for which Isaiah was sent to meet Ahaz, and the reason why this place was selected, see the Analysis of the chapter.
Thou and Shear-ashub - The meaning of the name "Shear-jashub" is, 'the remnant shall return.' The names which Isaiah gave to his sons were significant or emblematic of some important events which were to occur to the Jews. They were for "signs" to the people, and had been given in order to keep before the nation the great truth that God was their protector, and that however much they might suffer or be punished, yet the nation would not be totally destroyed until the great Deliverer should come; see the note at Isaiah 7:14, and Isaiah 8:3, note. Why this name was given to this son, or on what occasion, is not certainly known. It is probable, however, that was with reference to the future calamities and captivity of the Jews, denoting that a part of the people would return to the land of their fathers: compare Isaiah 10:21-22. The name was a remembrancer given by him as a prophet, perhaps, some time before this, that the nation was not to be wholly annihilated - a truth which Isaiah everywhere keeps before them in his prophecies; compare the note at Isaiah 6:13. "Why" Shear-jashub accompanied Isaiah now is not recorded. It might be as a pledge to Ahaz of the purpose of the Lord, that the people should not be destroyed. Ahaz may have been apprized of the reason why the name was given, and his presence might serve to mitigate his fears.
At the end of the conduit - A "conduit" is a pipe, or other conductor of water. The water flowed from a fountain, but was conducted to different receptacles for the supply of the city.
Of the upper pool - Or the upper receptacle, or pond. Robinson ("Bib. Researches," i. p. 483) and Pococke ("Descr. of the East," ii. pp. 25, 26) suppose that the upper and lower pools referred to by Isaiah, were on the west side of the city, the ruins of which now remain. The upper pool is now commonly called by the monks "Gihon," and by the natives "Birket el Mamilla." It lies in the basin forming the head of the valley of Hinnom or Gihon, about seven hundred yards west-northwest from the Yafa gate, on the west of Jerusalem. The sides of this pool are built of hewn stones laid in cement, with steps at the corners by which to descend into it. The bottom is level. The dimensions are as follows:
Length (in Eng. Feet) from east to west 316 Breadth at the west end 200 Breadth at the east end 218 Depth at each end 18
There is no water-course, or other visible means, by which water is now brought into this reservoir, but it is probable that it was filled in the rainy seasons by the waters which flowed from the higher ground round about. From this upper pool a part of the water was conveyed into the city to the pool of Hezekiah, lying within the walls, and situated some distance to the northeastward of the Yafa gate. 'Hezekiah stopped the upper watercourse of Gihon, and brought it straight down to the west side of the city of David;' 2 Chronicles 32:30; compare the notes at Isaiah 22:9. This upper pool had a trench or 'conduit,' and a considerable part of the waters were allowed to flow through this to the lower pool. The 'lower pool' is mentioned in the Old Testament only once, and that by Isaiah Isa 22:9, and there without any hint of its locality. There is now a large lower pool on the western side of Jerusalem, which is not improbably the one intended, and which stands in contrast with the one mentioned here. This pool is called by the Arabs "Birket es-Sultan." There is, at present, no other pool in the vicinity of Jerusalem to which the description in Isaiah can be well applied. This reservoir is situated in the valley of Hinnom or Gihon, southward from the Yafa gate. Its northern end is nearly upon a line with the southern wall of the city. The pool was formed by throwing strong walls across the bottom of the valley, between which the earth was wholly removed. A road crosses on the causeway at the southern end. The following are the measurements of this pool:
Length (in Eng. Feet) along the middle 592. Breadth at the north end 245 Breadth at the south end 275 Depth at north end 85 Depth at south end 42
This reservoir was probably filled from the rains, and from the superfluous waters of the upper pool. It is now in ruins. The water from this pool would flow off into the valley of Hinnom, and thence, into the valley of Jehoshaphat or Kedron, or subsequently into the pool of Hezekiah, situated "within" the city; see the notes at Isaiah 22:9, Isaiah 22:11. Why Ahaz was at that place, the prophet does not say. It is possible he was examining it, to see whether the fountain could be stopped up, or the water diverted so that it could not be used by the enemy, and so that they could be prevented from maintaining a protracted siege; compare 2 Chronicles 32:4. It is probable that the king had gone to this place attended by many of his counselors, and as this was the main source of the supply of water to the city, a multitude would be there, and Isaiah could have an opportunity not only to deliver his message to Ahaz and his court, but in the presence of a considerable concourse of people, and might thus inspire confidence among the alarmed and dejected inhabitants of the city.
In the highway of the fuller's field - In the place occupied as a situation on which to spread, or suspend cloth that was bleached, or dyed. This situation would be chosen because much water was needed in bleaching or dyeing cloth. The name 'highway' denotes the public path, or road that led to this field. Probably, on one side of this highway was the aqueduct, and on the other the fuller's field. Of the fuller's field, Eusebius and Jerome merely say that it was shown in their day in the suburbs of the city. - "Onom." art. "Ager Fullonis."
And say unto him, Take heed, and be quiet; fear not, neither be fainthearted for the two tails of these smoking firebrands, for the fierce anger of Rezin with Syria, and of the son of Remaliah.Take heed - Hebrew 'Keep thyself;' that is, from fear.
Neither be fainthearted - Hebrew, 'Let not thy heart be tender;' that is, let it not be easily moved; be strong, fearless.
For the tails ... - There is much beauty and force in this comparison. The "design" of Isaiah is to diminish the fear of Ahaz. Instead, therefore, of calling them "firebrands" - burning and setting on fire everything in their way - he calls them the "tails, that is, the ends," or remains of firebrand - almost consumed themselves, and harmless. And instead of saying that they were "burning and blazing," he says that they were merely "smoking" - the half-burned, decaying remains of what might have been once formidable. The prophet also is just about to announce their approaching destruction by the Assyrians; see Isaiah 7:8. He, therefore, speaks of them as already almost extinguished, and incapable of doing extensive injury.
Son of Remaliah - Pekah, Isaiah 7:1. 'It is by way of contempt that the king of Israel is not called by his own name. The Hebrews and Arabians, when they wish to speak reproachfully of anyone, omit his proper name and call him merely the son of this or that, especially when his father is but little known or respected. So Saul names David, in contempt, the son of Jesse; 1 Samuel 20:27, 1 Samuel 20:31.' - "Hengstenberg."
Because Syria, Ephraim, and the son of Remaliah, have taken evil counsel against thee, saying,
Let us go up against Judah, and vex it, and let us make a breach therein for us, and set a king in the midst of it, even the son of Tabeal:And vex it - Margin, 'Weaken it.' Probably the word means to throw into consternation or fear, by besieging it - "Gesenius."
And let us make a breach therein - Let us break down the walls, etc.
And set a king - Subdue it, and make it tributary to the allied kingdoms of Syria and Ephraim.
The son of Tabeal - Nothing more is known of this person. He might have been some disaffected member of the royal family of David, who had sought the aid of Rezin and Pekah, and who would be allied to them, or tributary to them. It is possible that he had already a party in Jerusalem in his favor; compare Isaiah 8:12. Probably, the two kings wished to cut off such portions of the territory of Judah as should be convenient to them, and to set a king over the remainder, who should be under their control; or to divide the whole between themselves, by setting up a king who would be tributary to both.
Thus saith the Lord GOD, It shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass.
For the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin; and within threescore and five years shall Ephraim be broken, that it be not a people.For the head of Syria - The "capital." The "head" is often used in this sense.
Is Damascus - For an account of this city, see the notes at Isaiah 17:1; compare the notes at Acts 9:2. The sense of this passage is, 'Do not be alarmed as if Rezin was about to enlarge his kingdom, by taking Judea and making Jerusalem his capital. The revolution which these kings contemplate cannot be accomplished. The kingdoms of Syria and Israel shall not be enlarged by the conquest of Judah. The center of their power shall remain where it is now, and their dominion shall not be extended by conquest. The capital of Syria is, and shall continue to be, Damascus. The king of Syria shall be confined within his present limits, and Jerusalem, therefore, shall be safe.'
The head of Damascus - The "ruler, or king" of Damascus is Rezin.
And within threescore and five years - There has been some inquiry why "Ephraim" is mentioned here, as the prophet in the former part of the verse was speaking of "Syria." But it should be remembered that he was speaking of Syria and Ephraim as "confederate." It was natural, therefore, to intimate, in close connection, that no fear was to be apprehended from either of them. There has been much difficulty experienced in establishing the fact of the exact fulfillment of this, and in fixing the precise event to which it refers. One catastrophe happened to the kingdom of Ephraim or Israel within one or two years of this time, when Tiglath-pileser, king of Assyria, invaded the land and carried no small part of the people to Assyria; 2 Kings 15:29. Another occurred in the next reign, the reign of Hoshea, king of Israel, when Shalmaneser king of Assyria took Samaria, and carried Israel away captive into Assyria; 2 Kings 17:1-6.
This occurred in the twelfth year of Ahaz. But that the Israelites remained in Samaria, and kept up the forms of a civil community, and were not finally carried away until the time of Esarhaddon, is evident; compare 2 Chronicles 34:6-7, 2 Chronicles 34:33; 2 Chronicles 35:18; 2 Kings 23:19-20. Manasseh, king of Judah, was taken captive by the king of Assyria's captains 2 Chronicles 33:2 in the twenty-second year of his reign; that is, sixty-five years from the second year of Ahaz, when this prophecy is supposed to have been delivered. And it is also supposed that at this time Esarhaddon took away the remains of the people in Samaria, and put an end to the kingdom, and put in their place the people who are mentioned in Ezra 4:3. "Dr. Jubb, as quoted by Lowth." The entire extinction of the people of Israel and the kingdom did not take place until Esarhaddon put new colonists from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim in the cities of Samaria, instead of the children of Israel; 2 Kings 17:24; compare Ezra 4:2, Ezra 4:10.
Long before this, indeed, the power of the kingdom had been on the wane; a large portion of the people had been removed 2 Kings 17:5-6, 2 Kings 17:18; but its entire extinction was not accomplished, and the kingdom utterly destroyed, until this was done. Until this occurred, the land might be still regarded as in the possession somewhat of its former people, and all hopes of their rising again to the dignity of a kingdom was not extinguished. But when foreigners were introduced, and took possession of the land; when all the social organization of the ancient people was dissolved; then it might be said that 'Ephraim was forever broken,' and that it was demonstrated that it 'should be no more a people.' Its inhabitants were transferred to a distant land, no longer to be organized into a unique community, but to mingle with other people, and finally all traces of their origin as Jews were to be lost. This event, of placing the foreigners in the cities of Samaria, occurred just sixty-five years after it had been predicted by Isaiah. - "Dr. Usher."
It may be asked here, how the statement of what was to occur at so remote a period as sixty-five years could be any consolation to Ahaz, or any security that the designs of the kings of Syria and Samaria should "then" fail of being accomplished? To this we may reply:
(1) It was the assurance that Jerusalem could not be finally and permanently reduced to submission before these dreaded enemies. "Their" power was to cease, and of course Jerusalem had nothing "ultimately and finally" to dread.
(2) The design was to inspire confidence in Yahweh, and to lead Ahaz to look directly to him. If these formidable powers could not ultimately prevail, and if there was a certain prediction that they should be destroyed, then it was possible for God, if Ahaz would look to him, now to interpose, and save the city. To inspire that confidence in Yahweh was the leading purpose of Isaiah.
(3) This prediction is in accordance with many which occur in Isaiah, that all the enemies of the people of God would be ultimately defeated, and that God, as the head of the theocracy, would defend and deliver his people; see the notes at Isaiah 34. A kingdom that was so soon to be destroyed as Ephraim was, could not be an object of great dread and alarm. Rosenmuller conjectures, that Isaiah refers to some unrecorded prophecy made before his time, that in sixty-five years Israel would be destroyed; and that he refers here to that prophecy to encourage the heart of Ahaz, and to remind him that a kingdom could not be very formidable that was so soon to come to an end. At all events, there is no contradiction between the prophecy and the fulfillment, for within the time mentioned here, Ephraim ceased to be a kingdom. The ancient Jewish writers, with one consent, say, that Isaiah referred here to the prophecy of Amos, who prophesied in the days of Uzziah, and whose predictions relate mainly to the kingdom of Israel. But as Amos, does not specify any particular time when the kingdom should be destroyed, it is apparent that Isaiah here could not have referred to any recorded prophecy of his.
Be broken - Its power shall be destroyed; the kingdom, as a kingdom, shall come to an end.
And 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.And the head of Ephraim - The capital city of Ephraim, or of Israel.
Is Samaria - This was long the capital of the kingdom of Israel. For a description of this city, see the notes at Isaiah 28:1. The meaning of the prophet is, that Samaria should continue to be the head of Ephraim; that is, Jerusalem should not be made its capital.
If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established - There is considerable variety in the interpretation of these words, though the general sense is evident. The Chaldee renders them, 'If ye will not believe the words of the prophet, ye shall not remain.' It is probable that Ahaz, who was greatly alarmed, and who trembled at the formidable power of Syria and Israel united, received the annunciation of the prophet with much distrust. He was anxious about the means of defense, but did not trust in the promise of God by the prophet. Isaiah, therefore, assures him, that if he did not believe him; if he did not put confidence in God, and his promises, he should not be protected from Syria and Ephraim. They would come and destroy his kingdom. 'You have no occasion,' is the language of the prophet, 'to fear. God has resolved to protect you, and no portion of your land shall be taken by your enemies. Nevertheless, in order that you may obtain deliverance, you must believe his promise, and put your confidence in him, and not in the aid of the Assyrians. If you do this, your mind shall be calm, peaceful, and happy. But if you do "not" do this; if you rely on the aid of Assyria, you shall be troubled, alarmed, unsuccessful, and bring ruin upon yourself and nation.' This, therefore, is an exhortation to confide solely in the promises of God, and is one of the instances constantly occurring in the Old Testament and the New, showing, that by faith or confidence in God only, can the mind he preserved calm when in the midst of dangers.
Moreover the LORD spake again unto Ahaz, saying,
Ask thee a sign of the LORD thy God; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above.Ask thee - Ask for "thyself;" ask a sign that shall be convincing to "thyself," since thou dost not fully credit the words of the prophet. It is evident that the words of the prophet had made no impression on the mind of Ahaz. God, therefore, proposes to him to ask any "proof or demonstration" which he might select; anything that would be an indication of divine power that should put what the prophet had said beyond doubt. Had Ahaz put confidence in God, he would have believed what the prophet said without miraculous proof. But he had no such confidence. 'The prophet, therefore, proposes that he should ask any miraculous demonstration that what he said would come to pass. This proposition was made, probably, not so much from respect to Ahaz as to leave him without excuse, and in order that "the people" might have the assurance that the city and kingdom were safe.
A sign - A demonstration that shall confirm the promise now made, and that shall be an evidence that Jerusalem shall be safe. The word used here, and translated "sign" - 'owt - אות 'ôth - means "a flag," or "a standard," Numbers 2:2; "a memorial or pledge" of a covenant, Genesis 17:11; any "pledge, token, or proof" of a divine mission, Judges 6:17; or a miracle performed in attestation of a divine promise or message. This is its sense here. That which Isaiah had spoken seemed highly improbable to Ahaz, and he asked him to seek a proof of it, if he doubted, by any prodigy or miracle. It was customary for miracles or prodigies to be exhibited on similar occasions; see Isaiah 38:7, where the shadow on the dial of this same Ahaz was carried backward ten degrees, in proof of what the prophet Isaiah had spoken; compare 1 Samuel 2:27-34; 1 Kings 13:1-3; Exodus 3:12; Judges 6:36-40. That the word here refers to some event which could be brought about only by divine power, is evident from the whole connection. No mere natural occurrence could have satisfied Ahaz, or convey to the people a demonstration of the truth of what the prophet was saying. And if the prophet had been unable or unwilling to give a miraculous sign, where is the fitness of the answer of Ahaz? How could he be regarded as in any way tempting God by asking it, unless it was something which God only could do? And how could the prophet bring the charge Isaiah 7:13, that he had not merely offended men, but God also? It is clear, therefore, that Isaiah was conscious that he was invested by God with the power of working a miracle, and that he proposed to perform any miracle which Ahaz should suggest that would serve to remove his doubts, and lead him to put confidence in God.
Ask it either in the depth ... - He gave him his choice of a miracle - any sign or wonder in heaven, or on earth - above or below; a miracle in the sky, or from beneath the earth. Many of the versions understand the expression 'the depth,' as referring to "the grave," or to the region of departed souls - "hades." So the Vulgate, Aquila, Symmachus. The Chaldee reads it, 'Seek that there may be a miracle to thee upon the earth, or a sign in the heavens.' The literal meaning of the Hebrew is, 'make low, ask for;' that is, ask for a sign below; obtain, by asking for thyself; a miracle that shall take place below. It may refer to the earth, or to the region under the earth, since it stands in contrast with that which is above. If it refers to the region under the earth, it means that Isaiah would raise the dead to life if Ahaz desired it; if to the earth, that any wonder or miracle that should take place in the elements - as a tempest, or earthquake - should be performed.
The height above - The heaven, or the sky. So the Pharisees desired to see a sign from heaven, Matthew 16:1.
But Ahaz said, I will not ask, neither will I tempt the LORD.I will not ask - In this case Ahaz assumed the appearance of piety, or respect for the command of God. In Deuteronomy 6:16, it is written, 'Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God;' and Ahaz perhaps had this command in his eye. It was a professed reverence for God. But the true reason why he did not seek this sign was, that he had already entered into a negotiation with the king of Assyria to come and defend him; and that he was even stripping the temple of God of its silver and gold, to secure this assistance; 2 Kings 16:7-8. When people are depending on their own devices and resources, they are unwilling to seek aid from God; and it is not uncommon if they excuse their want of trust in him by some appearance of respect for religion.
Tempt - Try, or do a thing that shall provoke his displeasure, or seek his interposition in a case where he has not promised it. To tempt God is the same as to put him to the proof; to see whether he is able to perform what he proposed. It is evident, however, that here there would have been no "temptation" of God, since a sign had been offered him by the prophet in the name of God. 'The answer of Ahaz can be regarded either as one of bitter scorn, as if he had said, "I will not put thy God to the proof, in which he will be found lacking. I will not embarrass thee by taking thee at thy word;" or as the language of a hypocrite who assumes the mask of reverence for God and his command.' - "Hengstenberg." Chrysostom and Calvin regard the latter as the correct interpretation. If it be asked here "why" Ahaz did not put Isaiah to the test, and "secure," if possible, the divine confirmation to the assurance that Jerusalem would be safe, the following may be regarded as the probable reasons:
(1) He was secretly relying on the aid of Assyria. He believed that he could fortify the city, and distress the enemy by turning away the supply of water, so that they could not carry on a siege, and that all the further aid which he needed could be derived from the Assyrians.
(2) If the miracle had been "really performed," it would have been a proof that Yahweh was the true God a proof which Ahaz had no desire of witnessing. He was a gross idolater; and he was not anxious to witness a demonstration which would have convinced him of the folly and sin of his own course of life.
(3) If the miracle could not be performed, as Ahaz seems to have supposed would be the case, then it would have done much to unsettle the confidence of the people, and to have produced agitation and alarm. It is probable that a considerable portion of the people were worshippers of Yahweh, and were looking to him for aid. The pious, and the great mass of those who conformed to the religion of their fathers, would have been totally disheartened; and this was a result which Ahaz had no desire to produce.
(4) Michaelis has suggested another reason, drawn from the character of idolatry. According to the prevailing notions at that period, every nation had its own gods. Those of one people were more, and those of another less powerful; see Isaiah 10:10-11; Isaiah 36:18-20; Isaiah 37:10-13. If a miracle had been performed, Ahaz might have believed that it was performed by the god of the country, who might have had the disposition, but not the power, to defend him. It would have been to the mind of the idolater no proof that the god of Syria or Samaria was not more powerful, and might not have easily overcome him. Ahaz seems to have regarded Yahweh as such a God - as one of the numerous gods which were to be worshipped, and perhaps as not the most powerful of the tutelary divinities of the nations. This was certainly the view of the surrounding idolaters Isaiah 10:10-11; Isaiah 36:18-20; and it is highly probable that this view prevailed among the idolatrous Israelites.
And he said, Hear ye now, O house of David; Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also?O house of David - Isaiah 7:2. By this is to be understood not only the king himself, but the princes and rulers. Perhaps in addressing him thus, there was implied no small irony and reproach. David confided in God. But "Ahaz," his descendant, feared to "tempt" God! As if God could not aid him! Worthy descendant he of the pious and devoted David!
Is it a small thing - You are not satisfied with wearying people, but you would also fatigue and wear out the patience of God.
Weary - Exhaust their patience; oppose them; prevent their sayings and messages; try their spirits, etc.
Men - prophets; the men who are sent to instruct, and admonish.
Will ye weary my God also? - Will you refuse to keep his commands; try his patience; and exhaust his long-suffering? compare Isaiah 1:14. The sense of this passage seems to be this: When Ahaz refused to believe the bare prediction of the prophet, his transgression was the more excusable. He had wearied and provoked him, but Isaiah had as yet given to Ahaz no direct demonstration that he was from God; no outward proof of his divine mission; and the offence of Ahaz might be regarded as in a sense committed against man. It was true, also, that Ahaz had, by his unbelief and idolatry, greatly tried the feelings of the pious, and wearied those who were endeavoring to promote true religion. But now the case was changed. God had offered a sign, and it had been publicly rejected. It was a direct insult to God; and an offence that demanded reproof. Accordingly, the manner of Isaiah is at once changed. Soft, and gentle, and mild before, he now became bold, open, vehement. The honor of God was concerned; a direct affront had been offered to him by the sovereign of the people of God; and it was proper for the prophet to show that "that" was an offence which affected the Divine Majesty, and demanded the severest reproof.
Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.Therefore - Since you will not "ask" a pledge that the land shall be safe, Yahweh will furnish one unasked. A sign or proof is desirable in the case, and Yahweh will not withhold it because a proud and contemptuous monarch refuses to seek it. Perhaps there is no prophecy in the Old Testament on which more has been written, and which has produced more perplexity among commentators than this. And after all, it still remains, in many respects, very obscure. Its general original meaning is not difficult. It is, that in a short time - within the time when a young woman, then a virgin, should conceive and bring forth a child, and that child should grow old enough to distinguish between good and evils - the calamity which Ahaz feared would be entirely removed. The confederacy would be broken up, and the land forsaken by both those kings. The conception and birth of a child - which could be known only by him who knows "all" future events - would be the evidence of such a result. His appropriate "name" would be such as would be a "sign," or an indication that God was the protector of the nation, or was still with them. In the examination of this difficult prophecy, my first object will be to give an explanation of the meaning of the "words and phrases" as they occur in the passage, and then to show, as far as I may be able, what was the design of the passage.
The Lord himself - Hebrew, 'Adonai;' see this word explained in the the note at Isaiah 1:24. He will do it without being asked to do it; he will do it though it is rejected and despised; he will do it because it is important for the welfare of the nation, and for the confirmation of his religion, to furnish a demonstration to the people that he is the only true God. It is clearly implied here, that the sign should be such as Yahweh alone could give. It would be such as would be a demonstration that he presided over the interests of the people. If this refers to the birth of a child, then it means that this was an event which could be known only to God, and which could be accomplished only by his agency. If it refers to the miraculous conception and birth of the Messiah, then it means that that was an event which none but God could accomplish. The true meaning I shall endeavor to state in the notes, at the close of Isaiah 7:16.
Shall give you - Primarily to the house of David; the king and royal family of Judah. It was especially designed to assure the government that the kingdom would be safe. Doubtless, however, the word 'you' is designed to include the nation, or the people of the kingdom of Judah. It would be so public a sign, and so clear a demonstration, as to convince them that their city and land must be ultimately safe.
A sign - A pledge; a token; an evidence of the fulfillment of what is predicted. The word does not, of necessity, denote a miracle, though it is often so applied; see the notes at Isaiah 7:11. Here it means a proof, a demonstration, a certain indication that what he had said should be fulfilled. As that was to be such a demonstration as to show that he was "able" to deliver the land, the word "here" denotes that which was miraculous, or which could be effected "only" by Yahweh.
Behold - הנה hinnêh. This interjection is a very common one in the Old Testament. It is used to arrest attention; to indicate the importance of what was about to be said. It serves to designate persons and things; places and actions. It is used in lively descriptions, and animated discourse; when anything unusual was said, or occurred; or any thing which especially demanded attention; Genesis 12:19; Genesis 16:16; Genesis 18:9; Genesis 1:29; Genesis 40:9; Psalm 134:1. It means here, that an event was to occur which demanded the attention of the unbelieving monarch, and the regard of the people - an event which would be a full demonstration of what the prophet had said, that God would protect and save the nation.
A virgin - This word properly means a girl, maiden, virgin, a young woman who is unmarried, and who is of marriageable age. The word עלמה ‛almâh, is derived from the verb עלם ‛âlam, "to conceal, to hide, to cover." The word עלם ‛elem, from the same verb, is applied to a "young man," in 1 Samuel 17:56; 1 Samuel 20:22. The word here translated a virgin, is applied to Rebekah Genesis 24:43, and to Miriam, the sister of Moses, Exodus 2:8. It occurs in only seven places in the Old Testament. Besides those already mentioned, it is found in Psalm 68:25; Sol 1:3; Sol 6:8; and Proverbs 30:19. In all these places, except, perhaps, in Proverbs, it is used in its obvious natural sense, to denote a young, unmarried female. In the Syriac, the word alĕm, means to grow up, juvenis factus est; juvenescere fecited. Hence, the derivatives are applied to youth; to young men; to young women - to those who "are growing up," and becoming youths.
The etymology of the word requires us to suppose that it means one who is growing up to a marriageable state, or to the age of puberty. The word maiden, or virgin, expresses the correct idea. Hengstenberg contends, that it means one "in the unmarried state;" Gesenius, that it means simply the being of marriageable age, the age of puberty. The Hebrews usually employed the word בתולה bethûlâh, to denote a pure virgin (a word which the Syriac translation uses here); but the word here evidently denotes one who was "then" unmarried; and though its primary idea is that of one who is growing up, or in a marriageable state, yet the whole connection requires us to understand it of one who was "not then married," and who was, therefore, regarded and designated as a virgin. The Vulgate renders it 'virgo.' The Septuagint, ἡ παρθένος hē parthenos, "a virgin" - a word which they use as a translation of the Hebrew בתולה bethûlâh in Exodus 22:16-17; Leviticus 21:3, Leviticus 21:14; Deuteronomy 22:19, Deuteronomy 22:23, Deuteronomy 22:28; Deuteronomy 32:25; Judges 19:24; Judges 21:12; and in thirty-three other places (see Trommius' Concordance); of נערה na‛ărâh, a girl, in Genesis 24:14, Genesis 24:16, Genesis 24:55; Genesis 34:3 (twice); 1 Kings 1:2; and of עלמה ‛almâh, only in Genesis 24:43; and in Isaiah 7:14.
The word, in the view of the Septuagint translators, therefore conveyed the proper idea of a virgin. The Chaldee uses substantially the same word as the Hebrew. The idea of a "virgin" is, therefore, the most obvious and natural idea in the use of this word. It does not, however, imply that the person spoken of should be a virgin "when the child" should be born; or that she should ever after be a virgin. It means simply that one who was "then" a virgin, but who was of marriageable age, should conceive, and bear a son. Whether she was "to be" a virgin "at the time" when the child was born, or was to remain such afterward, are inquiries which cannot be determined by a philological examination of the word. It is evident also, that the word is not opposed to "either" of these ideas. "Why" the name which is thus given to an unmarried woman was derived from the verb to "hide, to conceal," is not agreed among lexicographers. The more probable opinion is, that it was because to the time of marriage, the daughter was supposed to be hidden or concealed in the family of the parents; she was kept shut up, as it were, in the paternal dwelling. This idea is given by Jerome, who says, 'the name is given to a virgin because she is said to be hidden or secret; because she does not expose herself to the gaze of men, but is kept with great care under the custody of parents.' The sum of the inquiry here, into the meaning of the word translated "virgin," is, that it does not differ from that word as used by us. The expression means no more than that one who was then a virgin should have a son, and that this should be a sign to Ahaz.
And shall call his name - It was usual for "mothers" to give names to their children; Genesis 4:1; Genesis 19:37; Genesis 29:32; Genesis 30:18. There is, therefore, no reason to suppose, as many of the older interpreters did, that the fact that it is said the mother should give the name, was a proof that the child should have no human father. Such arguments are unworthy of notice; and only show to what means people have resorted in defending the doctrines, and in interpreting the pages of the Bible. The phrase, 'she will name,' is, moreover, the same as 'they shall name,' or he shall be named. 'We are not, then, to suppose that the child should actually receive the name Immanuel as a proper name, since, according to the usage of the prophet, and especially of Isaiah, that is often ascribed to a person or thing as a name which belongs to him in an eminent degree as an attribute; see Isaiah 9:5; Isaiah 61:6; Isaiah 62:4.' - "Hengstenberg." The idea is, that that would be a name that might be "appropriately" given to the child. Another name was also given to this child, expressing substantially the same thing, with a circumstantial difference; see the note at Isaiah 8:3.
Immanuel - Hebrew 'God with us' - עמנואל ‛immânû'êl - from אל 'ĕl, "God," and עמנוּ ‛ı̂mmânû, "with us." The name is designed to denote that God would be with the nation as its protector, and the birth of this child would be a sign or pledge of it. The mere circumstance that this name is given, however, does not imply anything in regard to the nature or rank of the child, for nothing was more common among the Jews than to incorporate the name, or a part of the name, of the Deity with the names which they gave to their children. Thus, "Isaiah" denotes the salvation of Yahweh; "Jeremiah," the exaltation or grandeur of Yahweh, each compounded of two words, in which the name Yahweh constitutes a part. Thus, also in "Elijah," the two names of God are combined, and it means literally, "God the Yahweh." Thus, also "Eliab," God my faather; "Eliada," knowledge of God; "Eliakim," the resurrection of God; "Elihu," he is my God; "Elisha," salvation of God. In none of these instances is the fact, that the name of God is incorporated with the proper name of the individual, any argument in respect to his rank or character.
It is true, that Matthew Mat 1:23 uses this name as properly expressing the rank of the Messiah; but all that can be demonstrated from the use of the name by Matthew is, that it properly designated the nature and rank of the Lord Jesus. It was a pledge, then, that God was with his people, and the name designated by the prophet had a complete fulfillment in its use as applied to the Messiah. Whether the Messiah be regarded as himself a pledge and demonstration of the presence and protection of God, or whether the name be regarded as descriptive of his nature and dignity, yet there was an "appropriateness" in applying it to him. It was fully expressive of the event of the incarnation. Jerome supposes that the name, Immanuel, denotes nothing more than divine aid and protection. Others have supposed, however, that the name must denote the assumption of our nature by God in the person of the Messiah, that is, that God became man. So Theodoret, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Lactantius, Chrysostom. Calvin, Rosenmuller, and others. The true interpretation is, that no argument to prove that can be derived from the use of the name; but when the fact of the incarnation has been demonstrated from other sources, the "name is appropriately expressive of that event." So it seems to be used by Matthew.
It may be quite true, that no argument can be founded on the bare name, Immanuel; yet that name, "in its connection here," may certainly be regarded as a designed prediction of the incarnation of Christ. Such a design our author allows in the prophecy generally. 'The prophet,' says he, 'designedly made use of language which would be appropriate to a future and most glorious event.' Why, then, does he speak of the most pregnant word in the prophecy as if Matthew had accidentally stumbled on it, and, finding it would appropriately express the nature of Christ, accomodated it for that purpose? Having originally rejected the Messianic reference, and been convinced only by a more careful examination of the passage, that he was in error, something of his old view seems still to cling to this otherwise admirable exposition. 'The name Immanuel,' says Professor Alexander, 'although it might be used to signify God's providential presence merely Psalm 46:8, 12; Psalm 89:25; Joshua 1:5; Jeremiah 1:8; Isaiah 43:2, has a latitude and pregnancy of meaning which can scarcely be fortuitous; and which, combined with all the rest, makes the conclusion almost unavoidable, that it was here intended to express a personal, as well as a providential presence ... When we read in the Gospel of Matthew, that Jesus Christ was actually born of a virgin, and that all the circumstances of his birth came to pass that this very prophecy might be fulfilled, it has less the appearance of an unexpected application, than of a conclusion rendered necessary by a series of antecedent facts and reasonings, the last link in a long chain of intimations more or less explicit (referring to such prophecies as Genesis 3:15; Micah 5:2).
The same considerations seem to show that the prophecy is not merely accommodated, which is, moreover, clear fram the emphatic form of the citation τοῦτο ὅλον γέγονεν ἵνα πληρωθῇ touto holon gegonen hina plēroothē, making it impossible to prove the existence of any quotation in the proper sense, if this be not one.' But, indeed, the author himself admits all this, though his language is less decided and consistent than could be wished on so important a subject.
Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good.Butter and honey - The word rendered "butter" (חמאה chem'âh), denotes not butter, but thick and curdled milk. This was the common mode of using milk as an article of food in the East, and is still. In no passage in the Old Testament does butter seem to be meant by the word. Jarchi says, that this circumstance denotes a state of plenty, meaning that the land should yield its usual increase notwithstanding the threatened invasion. Eustatius on this place says, that it denotes delicate food. The more probable interpretation is, that it was the usual food of children, and that it means that the child should be nourished in the customary manner. That this was the common nourishment of children, is abundantly proved by Bochart; "Hieroz." P. i. lib. xi. ch. li. p. 630. Barnabas, in his epistle says, 'The infant is first nourished with honey, and then with milk.' This was done usually by the prescription of physicians.
Paulus says, 'It is fit that the first food given to a child be honey, and then milk.' So Aetius, 'Give to a child, as its first food, honey;' see "Bochart." Some have, indeed, supposed that this refers to the fact that the Messiah should be "man" as well as God, and that his eating honey and butter was expressive of the fact that he had a "human nature!" But against this mode of interpretation, it is hoped, it is scarcely needful now to protest. It is suited to bring the Bible into contempt, and the whole science of exegesis into scorn. The Bible is a book of sense, and it should be interpreted on principles that commend themselves to the sober judgment of mankind. The word rendered "honey" - דבשׁ debash - is the same word - "dibs" - which is now used by the Arabs to denote the syrup or jelly which is made by boiling down wine. This is about the consistence of molasses, and is used as an article of food. Whether it was so employed in the time of Isaiah, cannot now be determined, but the word here may be used to denote honey; compare the note at Isaiah 7:22.
That he may know - As this translation now stands, it is unintelligible. It would "seem" from this, that his eating butter and honey would "contribute" to his knowing good and evil. But this cannot be the meaning. It evidently denotes 'until he shall know,' or, 'at his knowing;' Nord. "Heb. Gram.," Section 1026. 3. He shall be no urished in the usual way, "until" he shall arrive at such a period of life as to know good from evil. The Septuagint renders it, Πρινη γνῶναι αὐτὸν Prinē gnōnai auton - 'before he knows.' The Chaldee, 'Until he shall know.'
To refuse the evil ... - Ignorance of good and evil denotes infancy. Thus, in Nineveh, it is said there were 'more than sixscore thousand perons that cannot discern between their right hand and left hand;' commonly supposed to denote infants; Jonah 4:11; compare Deuteronomy 1:39. The meaning is, that he should be nourished in the usual mode in infancy, and before he should be able to discern right from wrong, the land should be forsaken of its kings. At what particular period of life this occurs, it may not be easy to determine. A capability to determine, in some degree, between good and evil, or between right and wrong, is usually manifest when the child is two or three years of age. It is evinced when there is a capability of understanding "law," and feeling that it is wrong to disobey it. This is certainly shown at a very early period of life; and it is not improper, therefore, to suppose that here a time was designated which was not more than two or three years.
For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings.The land that thou abhorrest - The land concerning which thou art so much "alarmed or distressed;" that is, the united land of Syria and Ephraim. It is mentioned here as 'the land,' or as one land, because they were united then in a firm alliance, so as to constitute, in fact, or for the purposes of invasion and conquest, one people or nation. The phrase, 'which thou abhorrest,' means properly, which thou loathest, the primary idea of the word - קוץ qûts - being to feel a nausea, or to vomit. It then means to fear, or to feel alarm; and this, probably, is the meaning here. Abaz, however, evidently looked upon the nations of Syria and Samaria with disgust, as well as with alarm. This is the construction which is given of this passage by the Vulgate, Calvin, Grotius, Junins, Gataker, and Piscator, as well as by our common version. Another construction, however, has been given of the passage by Vitringa, JohnD. Michaelis, Lowth, Gesenius, Rosenmuller, Hengstenberg, and Hendewerk. According to this, the meaning is not that the "land" should be the object of abhorrence, but that the kings themselves were the objects of dislike or dread; and not merely that the two kings should be removed, but that the land itself was threatened with desolation. This construction is free from the objections of an exegetical kind to which the other is open, and agrees better with the idiom of the Hebrew. According to this, the correct translation would be:
For before the child shall learn to refuse the
Evil and to choose the good,
Desolate shall be the land, before whose two
Kings thou art in terror.'
Of both her kings - Ahaz took the silver and gold that was found in the temple, and sent it as a present to the king of Assyria. Induced by this, the king of Assyria marched against Damascus and killed Rezin, 2 Kings 16:9. This occurred but a short time after the threatened invasion of the land by Rezin and Remaliah, in the "third" year of the reign of Ahaz, and, consequently, about one year after this prophecy was delivered. Pekah, the son of Remaliah, was slain by Hoshea, the son of Elah, who conspired against him, killed him, and reigned in his stead. This occurred in the fourth year of the reign of Ahaz, for Pekah reigned twenty years. Ahaz began to reign in the seventeenth year of the reign of Pekah, and as Pekah was slain after he had reigned twenty years, it follows that he was slain in the fourth year of the reign of Ahaz - perhaps not more than two yearn after this prophecy was delivered; see 2 Kings 15:27, 2 Kings 15:30; 2 Kings 16:1. We have thus arrived at a knowledge of the time intended by Isaiah in Isaiah 7:16. The whole space of time was not, probably, more than two years.
Opinions on the Intrepretation of Isaiah 7:14-16
A great variety of opinions have been entertained by interpreters in regard to this passage Isaiah 7:14-16. It may be useful, therefore, to state briefly what those opinions have been, and then what seems to be the true meaning.
(i) The first opinion is that which supposes that by the 'virgin' the wife of Ahaz is referred to, and that by the child which should be born, the prophet refers to Hezekiah. This is the opinion of the modern Jewish commentators generally. This interpretation prevailed among the Jews in the time of Justin. But this was easily shown by Jerome to be false. Ahaz reigned in Jerusalem but sixteen years 2 Kings 17:2, and Hezekiah was twenty-five years old when he began to reign 2 Kings 18:2, and of course was not less than nine years old when this prophecy was delivered. Kimchi and Abarbanel then resorted to the supposition that Ahaz had a second wife, and that this refers to a child that was to be born of her. This supposition cannot be proved to be false, though it is evidently a mere supposition. It has been adopted by the Jews, because they were pressed by the passage by the early Christians, as constituting an argument for the divinity of Christ. The ancient Jews, it is believed, referred it mainly to the Messiah.
(ii) Others have supposed, that the prophet designated some virgin who was then present when the king and Isaiah held their conference, and that the meaning is, 'as surely as this virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, so surely shall the land be forsaken of its kings.' Thus Isenbiehl, Bauer, Cube, and Steudel held, as quoted by Hengstenberg, "Christol." i. p. 341.
(iii) Others suppose that the 'virgin' was not an actual, but only an ideal virgin. Thus Michaelis expresses it: 'By the time when one who is yet a virgin can bring forth (that is, in nine months), all will be happily changed, and the present impending danger so completely passed away, that if you were yourself to name the child, you would call him Immanuel.' Thus Eichhorn, Paulus, Hensler, and Ammon understand it; see "Hengstenberg."
(iv) Others suppose that the 'virgin' was the prophet's wife. Thus Aben Ezra, Jarchi, Faber, and Gesenius. Against this supposition there is only one objection which has been urged that is of real force, and that is, that the prophet already had a son, and of course his wife could not be spoken of as a virgin. But this objection is entirely removed by the supposition, which is by no means improbable, that the former wife of the prophet was dead, and that he was about to be united in marriage to another who was a virgin.
In regard to the prophecy itself, there have been three opinions:
(i) That it refers "exclusively" to some event in the time of the prophet; to the birth of a child then, either of the wife of Ahaz, or of the prophet, or of some other unmarried female. This would, of course, exclude all reference to the Messiah. This was formerly my opinion; and this opinion I expressed and endeavored to maintain, in the first composition of these notes. But a more careful examination of the passage has convinced me of its error, and satisfied me that the passage has reference to the Messtah. The reasons for this opinion I shall soon state.
(ii) The second opinion is, that it has "exclusive and immediate" reference to the Messiah; that it does not refer at all to any event which was "then" to occur, and that to Ahaz the future birth of a Messiah from a virgin, was to be regarded as a pledge of the divine protection, and an assurance of the safety of Jerusalem. Some of the objections to this view I shall soon state.
(iii) The third opinion, therefore, is that which "blends" these two, and which regards the prophet as speaking of the birth of a child which would soon take place of someone who was then a virgin - an event which could be known only to God, and which would, therefore, constitute a sign, or demonstration to Ahaz of the truth of what Isaiah said; but that the prophet intentionally so used language which would "also" mark a more important event, and direct the minds of the king and people onward to the future birth of one who should more fully answer to all that is here said of the child that would be born, and to whom the name Immanuel would be more appropriately given. This, I shall endeavor to show, must be the correct interpretation. In exhibiting the reasons for this opinion, we may, first, state the evidence that the prediction refers to some child that would be born "soon" as a pledge that the land would be forsaken of its kings; and secondly, the evidence that it refers also to the Messiah in a higher and fuller sense.
I. Evidence That the Prophecy Refers to Some Event Which Was Soon to Occur - To the Birth of a Child of Some One Who Was Then a Virgin, or Unmarried
(i) It is the "obvious" interpretation. It is that which would strike the great mass of people accustomed to interpret language on the principles of common sense. If the passage stood by itself; if the seventh and eighth chapters were "all" that we had; if there were no allusion to the passage in the New Testament; and if we were to sit down and merely look at the circumstances, and contemplate the narrative, the unhesitating opinion of the great mass of people would be, that it "must" have such a reference. This is a good rule of interpretation. That which strikes the mass of people; which appears to people of sound sense as the meaning of a passage on a simple perusal of it, is likely to be the true meaning of a writing.
(ii) Such an interpretation is demanded by the circumstances of the case. The immediate point of the inquiry was not about the "ultimate and final" safety of the kingdom - which would be demonstrated indeed by the announcement that the Messiah would appear - but it was about a present matter; about impending danger. An alliance was formed between Syria and Samaria. An invasion was threatened. The march of the allied armies had commenced. Jerusalem was in consternation, and Ahaz had gone forth to see if there were any means of defense. In this state of alarm, and at this juncture, Isaiah went to assure him that there was no cause for fear. It was not to assure him that the nation should be ultimately and finally safe - which might be proved by the fact that the Messiah would come, and that, therefore, God would preserve the nation; but the pledge was, that he had no reason to fear "this" invasion, and that within a short space of time the land would 'be forsaken of both its kings.' How could the fact that the Messiah would come more than seven hundred years afterward, prove this? Might not Jerusalem be taken and subdued, as it was afterward by the Chaldeans, and yet it be true that the Messiah would come, and that God would manifest himself as the protector of his people? Though, therefore, the assurance that the Messiah would come would be a general proof and pledge that the nation would be preserved and ultimately safe, yet it would not be a pledge of the "specific and immediate" thing which occupied the attention of the prophet, and of Ahaz. It would not, therefore, be a 'sign' such as the prophet offered to give, or a proof of the fulfillment of the specific prediction under consideration. This argument I regard as unanswerable. It is so obvious, and so strong, that all the attempts to answer it, by those who suppose there was an immediate and exclusive reference to the Messiah, have been entire failures.
(iii) It is a circumstance of some importance that Isaiah regarded himself and his children as 'signs' to the people of his time; see Isaiah 8:18. In accordance with this view, it seems he had named one child Shear-Jashub, Isaiah 7:3; and in accordance with the same view, he afterward named another Maher-shalal-hash-baz - both of which names are significant. This would seem to imply that he meant here to refer to a similar fact, and to the birth of a son that should be a sign also to the people of his time.
(iv) An unanswerable reason for thinking that it refers to some event which was soon to occur, and to the birth of a child "before" the land should be forsaken of the two kings, is the record contained in Isaiah 8:1-4. That record is evidently connected with this account, and is intended to be a public assurance of the fulfillment of what is here predicted respecting the deliverance of the land from the threatened invasion. In that passage, the prophet is directed to take a great roll Isaiah 7:1, and make a record concerning the son that was to be born; he calls public witnesses, people of character and well-known reputation, in attestation of the transaction Isaiah 7:2; he approaches the prophetess Isaiah 7:3; and it is expressly declared Isaiah 7:4 that before the child should have 'knowledge to say, My father, and my mother,' that is, be able to discern between good and evil Isaiah 7:16, 'the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria' should be 'taken away before the king of Assyria.' This is so evidently a completion of the prophecy in Isaiah 7. and a solemn fulfilling of it in a manner that should be satisfactory to Ahaz and the people, that it is impossible, it seems to me, to regard it any otherwise than as a real transaction. Hengstenberg, and those who suppose the prophecy to refer "immediately and exclusively" to the Messiah, are obliged to maintain that that was a 'symbolical transaction' - an opinion which might, with the same propriety, be held of any historical statement in the Bible; since there is nowhere to be found a more simple and unvarnished account of mere matter of historical fact than that. The statement, therefore, in Isaiah 8, is conclusive demonstration, I think, that there was a reference in Isaiah 7:14-16, to a child of the prophet that would be soon born, and that would be a "pledge" of the divine protection, and a "proof or sign" to Ahaz that his land would be safe.
It is no objection to this that Isaiah then had a son Isaiah 7:3, and that, therefore, the mother of that son could not be a virgin. There is no improbability in the supposition that the mother of that son was deceased, and that Isaiah was about again to be married. Such an event is not so uncommon as to make it a matter of ridicule (see Hengstenberg, p. 342); or to render the supposition wholly incredible.
Nor is it any objection that another name was given to the child that was born to Isaiah; Isaiah 8:1, Isaiah 8:3. Nothing was more common than to give two names to children. It might have been true that the name usually given to him was Maher-shalal-hash-baz; and still true that the circumstances of his birth were such an evidence of the divine protection, and such an emblem of the divine guardianship, as to make proper the name Immanuel; see the note at Isaiah 7:14. It may be observed, also, that on the supposition of the strict and exclusive Messianic interpretation, the same objection might be made, and the same difficulty would lie. It was no more true of Jesus of Nazareth than of the child of Isaiah, that he was commonly called Immanuel. He had another name also, and was called by that other name. Indeed, there is not the slightest evidence that the Lord Jesus was "ever" designated by the name Immanuel as a proper name. All that the passage means is, that such should be the circumstances of the birth of the child as to render the name Immanuel proper; not that it would be applied to him in fact as the usual appellation.
Nor is it any objection to this view, that the mind of the prophet is evidently directed onward "to" the Messiah; and that the prophecy terminates Isaiah 8:8; Isaiah 9:1-7 with a reference to him. That this is so, I admit; but nothing is more common in Isaiah than for him to commence a prophecy with reference to some remarkable deliverance which was soon to occur, and to terminate it by a statement of events connected with a higher deliverance under the Messiah. By the laws of "prophetic suggestion," the mind of the prophet seized upon resemblances and analogies; was carried on to future times, which were suggested by something that he was saying or contemplating as about to occur, until the mind was absorbed, and the primary object forgotten in the contemplation of the more remote and glorious event; see the Introduction to Isaiah, Section 7. III.((3.)
II. Evidence That the Prophecy Refers to the Messiah
(i) The passage in Matthew 1:22-23, is an evidence that "he" regarded this as having a reference to the Messiah, and that it had a complete fulfillment in him. This quotation of it also shows that that was the common interpretation of the passage in his time, or he would not thus have introduced it. It cannot be "proved," indeed, that Matthew means to affirm that this was the primary and original meaning of the prophecy, or that the prophet had a direct and exclusive reference to the Messiah; but it proves that in his apprehension the words had a "fulness" of meaning, and an adaptedness to the actual circumstances of the birth of the Messiah, which would accurately and appropriately express that event; see the notes at the passage in Matthew. The prophecy was not completely "fulfilled, filled up, fully and adequately met," until applied to the Messiah. That event was so remarkable; the birth of Jesus was so strictly of a virgin, and his nature so exalted, that it might be said to be a "complete and entire" fulfillment of it. The language of Isaiah, indeed, was applicable to the event referred to immediately in the time of Ahaz, and expressed that with clearness; but it more appropriately and fully expressed the event referred to by Matthew, and thus shows that the prophet designedly made use of language which would be appropriate to a future and most glorious event.
(ii) An argument of no slight importance on this subject may be drawn from the fact, that this has been the common interpretation in the Christian church. I know that this argument is not conclusive; nor should it be pressed beyond its due and proper weight. It is of force only because the united and almost uniform impression of mankind, for many generations, in regard to the meaning of a written document, is not to be rejected without great and unanswerable arguments. I know that erroneous interpretations of many passages have prevailed in the church; and that the interpretation of many passages of Scripture which have prevailed from age to age, have been such as have been adapted to bring the whole subject of scriptural exegesis into contempt. But we should be slow to reject that which has had in its favor the suffrages of the unlearned, as well as the learned, in the interpretation of the Bible. The interpretation which refers this passage to the Messiah has been the prevailing one in all ages. It was followed by all the fathers and other Christian expositors until the middle of the eighteenth century ("Hengstenberg"); and is the prevailing interpretation at the present time. Among those who have defended it, it is sufficient to mention the names of Lowth, Koppe, Rosenmuller, and Hengstenberg, in addition to those names which are found in the well-known English commentaries. It has been opposed by the modern Jews, and by German neologists; but has "not" been regarded as false by the great mass of pious and humble Christians. The argument here is simply that which would be applied in the interpretation of a passage in Homer or Virgil; that where the great mass of readers of all classes have concurred in any interpretation, there is "presumptive evidence" that it is correct - evidence, it is true, which may be set aside by argument, but which is to be admitted to be of some account in making up the mind as to the meaning of the passage in question.
(iii) The reference to the Messiah in the prophecy accords with the "general strain and manner" of Isaiah. It is in accordance with his custom, at the mention of some occurrence or deliverance which is soon to take place, to suffer the mind to fix ultimately on the more remote event of the "same general character," or lying, so to speak, "in the same range of vision" and of thought; see the Introduction, Section 7. It is also the custom of Isaiah to hold up to prominent view the idea that the nation would not be ultimately destroyed until the great Deliverer should come; that it was safe amidst all revolutions; that vitality would remain like that of a tree in the depth of winter, when all the leaves are stripped off Isaiah 6:13; and that all their enemies would be destroyed, and the true people of God be ultimately secure and safe under their great Deliverer; see the notes at Isaiah 34; Isaiah 35:1-10.
It is true, that this argument will not be "very" striking except to one who has attentively studied this prophecy; but it is believed, that no one can profoundly and carefully examine the manner of Isaiah, without being struck with it as a very important feature of his mode of communicating truth. In accordance with this, the prophecy before us means, that the nation was safe from this invasion. Ahaz feared the extinction of his kingdom, and the "permanent" annexation of Jerusalem to Syria and Samaria. Isaiah told him that that could not occur; and proffered a demonstration, that in "a very few years" the land would be forsaken of both its kings. "On another ground also it could not be." The people of God were safe. His kingdom could not be permanently destroyed. It must continue until the Messiah should come, and the eye of the prophet, in accordance with his usual custom, glanced to that future event, and he became "totally" absorbed in its contemplation, and the prophecy is finished Isaiah 9:1-7 by a description of the characteristics of the light that he saw in future times rising in dark Galilee Isaiah 9:1-2, and of the child that should be born of a virgin then.
In accordance with the same view, we may remark, as Lowth has done, that to a people accustomed to look for a great Deliverer; that had fixed their hopes on one who was to sit on the throne of David, the "language" which Isaiah used here would naturally suggest the idea of a Messiah. It was so animated, so ill adapted to describe his own son, and so suited to convey the idea of a most remarkable and unusual occurrence, that it could scarcely have been otherwise than that they should have thought of the Messiah. This is true in a special manner of the language in Isaiah 9:1-7.
(iv) An argument for the Messianic interpretation may be derived from the public expectation which was excited by some such prophecy as this. There is a striking similarity between it and one which is uttered by Micah, who was contemporary with Isaiah. Which was penned "first" it would not be easy to show; but they have internal evidence that they both had their origin in an expectation that the Messiah would be born of a virgin; compare the note at Isaiah 2:2. In Micah 5:2-3, the following prediction occurs: 'But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler over Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from the days of eternity. Therefore, will he give them up, until the time when she which travaileth hath brought forth.' That this passage refers to the birth of the Messiah, is demonstrable from Matthew 2:6.
Nothing can be clearer than that this is a prediction respecting the place of his birth. The Sanhedrim, when questioned by Herod respecting the place of his birth, answered without the slightest hesitation, and referred to this place in Micah for proof. The expression, 'she which travaileth,' or, 'she that bears shall bear' - ילדה יולדה yôlēdâh yālâdâh, "she bearing shall bear" - refers evidently to some prediction of such a birth; and the word 'she that bears' (יולדה yôlēdâh) seems to have been used somewhat in the sense of a proper name, to designate one who was well known, and of whom there had been a definite prediction. Rosenmuller remarks, 'She is not indeed expressly called a virgin, but that she is so is self-evident, since she shall bear the hero of divine origin (from everlasting), and consequently not begotten by a mortal. The predictions throw light on each other; Micah discloses the divine origin of the person predicted, Isaiah the wonderful manner of his birth.' - "Ros.," as quoted by Hengstenberg. In his first edition, Rosenmuller remarks on Micah 5:2 : 'The phrase, "she who shall bear shall bear," denotes the "virgin" from whom, in a miraculous manner, the people of that time hoped that the Messiah would be born.' If Micah refers to a well-known existing prophecy, it must evidently be this in Isaiah, since no other similar prophecy occurs in the Old Testament; and if he wrote subsequently to Isaiah, the prediction in Micah must be regarded as a proof that this was the prevailing interpretation of his time.
That this was the prevailing interpretation of those times, is confirmed by the traces of the belief which are to be found extensively in ancient nations, that some remarkable person would appear, who should be born in this manner. The idea of a Deliverer, to be born of a "virgin," is one that somehow had obtained an extensive prevalence in Oriental nations, and traces of it may be found almost everywhere among them. In the Hindoo Mythology it is said, respecting "Budhu," that be was born of "Maya," a goddess of the imagination - a virgin. Among the Chinese, there is an image of a beautiful woman with a child in her arms, which child, they say, was born of a virgin. The passsge in Virgil is well known:
Jam redit et Virgo, redeunt Saturnia regna:
Jam nova progenies coelo demittitur alto.
Tu modo mascenti puero, quo ferrea primum
Desinet, ac toto surget gens aurea mundo.
Casta fare Lucina: tuus jam regnat Apollo.
Eclog. iv. 4ff.
Comes the last age, by Cumae's maid foretold;
Afresh the mighty line of years unrolled.
The Virgin now, now Saturn's sway returns;
Now the blest globe a heaven-sprung child adorns,
Whose genial power shall whelm earth's iron race,
And plant once more the golden in its place. -
Thou chaste Lucina, but that child sustain,
And lo! disclosed thine own Apollo's reign.
This passage, though applied by Virgil to a different subject, has been usually regarded as having been suggested by that in Isaiah. The coincidence of thought is remarkable on any supposition; and there is no improbability in the supposition that the expectation of a great Deliverer to be born of a virgin had prevailed extensively, and that Virgil made it up in this beautiful manner and applied it to a prince in his own time. On the prevalent expectation of such a Deliverer, see the note at Matthew 2:2.
(v) But the great and the unanswerable argument for the Messianic interpretation is derived from the conclusion of the prophecy in Isaiah 8:8, and especially in Isaiah 9:1-7. The prophecy in Isaiah 9:1-7 is evidently connected with this; and yet "cannot" be applied to a son of Isaiah, or to any other child that should be then born. If there is any passage in the Old Testament that "must" be applied to the Messiah, that is one; see the notes on the passage. And if so, it proves, that though the prophet at first had his eye on an event which was soon to occur, and which would be to Ahaz full demonstration that the land would be safe from the impending invasion, yet that he employed language which would describe also a future glorious event, and which would be a fuller demonstration that God would protect the people. He became fully absorbed in that event, and his language at last referred to that alone. The child then about to be born would, in most of the circumstances of his birth, be an apt emblem of him who should be born in future times, since both would be a demonstration of the divine power and protection. To both, the name Immanuel, though not the common name by which either would be designated, might be appropriately given. Both would be born of a virgin - the former, of one who was then a virgin, and the birth of whose child could be known only to God - the latter, of one who should be appropriately called "the" virgin, and who should remain so at the time of his birth. This seems to me to be the meaning of this difficult prophecy. The considerations in favor of referring it to the birth of a child in the time of Isaiah, and which should be a pledge to him of the safety of his kingdom "then," seem to me to be unanswerable. And the considerations in favor of an ultimate reference to the Messiah - a reference which becomes in the issue total and absorbing - are equally unanswerable; and if so, then the twofold reference is clear.
The LORD shall 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.The Lord shall bring ... - The prophet having assured Ahaz that his kingdom should be free from the invasion that then threatened it, proceeds, however, to state to him that it would be endangered from another source.
Thy father's house - The royal family - the princes and nobles.
Days that have not come - Times of calamity that have not been equalled.
From the day that Ephraim departed from Judah - From the time of the separation of the ten tribes from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin.
Even the king of Assyria - This was done in the following manner. Though the siege which Rezin and Pekah had undertaken was not at this time successful, yet they returned the year after with stronger forces, and with counsels better concerted, and again besieged the city. This was in consequence of the continued and increasing wickedness of Ahaz; 2 Chronicles 28:1-5. In this expedition, a great multitude were taken captives, and carried to Damascus; 2 Chronicles 28:5. Pekah at this time also killed 120,000 of the Jews in one day 2 Chronicles 28:6; and Zichri, a valiant man of Ephraim, killed Maaseiah the son of Ahaz. At this time, also, Pekah took no less than 200,000 of the kingdom of Judah, proposing to take them to Samaria, but was prevented by the influence of the prophet Oded; 2 Chronicles 28:8-15. In this calamity, Ahaz stripped the temple of its treasures and ornaments, and sent them to Tiglath-pileser, king of Assyria, to induce him to come and defend him from the united arms of Syria and Ephraim. The consequence was, as might have been foreseen, that the king of Assyria took occasion, from this, to bring increasing calamities upon the kingdom of Ahaz. He first, indeed, killed Rezin, and took Damascus; 2 Kings 16:7.
Having subdued the kingdoms of Damascus and Ephraim, Tiglath-pileser became a more formidable enemy to Ahaz than both of them. His object was not to aid Ahaz, but to distress him 2 Chronicles 28:20; and his coming professedly and at the request of Ahaz, to his help, was a more formidable calamity than the threatened invasion of both Rezin and Pekah. God has power to punish a wicked nation in his own way. When they seek human aid, he can make this a scourge. He has kings and nations under his control; and though a wicked prince may seek earthly alliance, yet it is easy for God to allow such allies to indulge their ambition and love of rapine, and make them the very instruments of punishing the nation which they were called to defend. It should be observed that this phrase, 'even the king of Assyria,' is by many critics thought to be spurious, or a marginal reading, or gloss, that has by some means crept into the text. The ground of this opinion is, that it does not harmonize entirely with the following verse, where "Egypt" is mentioned as well as Assyria, and that it does not agree with the poetical form of the passage.
And it shall come to pass in that day, that the LORD shall 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.In that day the Lord shall hiss - see the note at Isaiah 5:26.
For the fly - That is, for the army, or the multitude of people. The comparison of a numerous army with "flies" is not uncommon; see Homer's "Iliad," B. ii. 469, etc.
- Thick as insects play,
The wandering nation of a summer's day.
That, drawn by milky streams at evening hours
In gathered swarms surround the rural bowers;
From pail to pail with busy murmur run
The gilded legions, glittering in the sun.
The comparison is drawn probably from the "number," but also is intended to indicate the troublesome character, of the invaders. Perhaps, also, there is an allusion here to the well-known fact that one of the ten plagues of Egypt was caused by numerous swarms of flies; Exodus 8:21-24. An army would be brought up from that country as numerous, as troublesome, and as destructive as was that swarm of flies. The following description, by Bruce, of a species of flies in Abyssinia and the adjacent regions, will give an idea of the character of this calamity, and the force of the language used here:
'This insect is called Zimb; it has not been described by any naturalist. It is, in size, very little larger than a bee, of a thicker proportion, and has wings, which are broader than those of a bee, placed separate, like those of a fly: they are of pure gauze, without color or spot upon them; the head is large, the upper jaw or lip is sharp, and has at the end of it a strong pointed hair, of about a quarter of an inch long; the lower jaw has two of these pointed hairs; and this pencil of hairs, when joined together, makes a resistance to the finger, nearly equal to that of a strong hog's bristle; its legs are serrated in the inside, and the whole covered with brown hair or down. As soon as this plague appears, and their buzzing is heard, all the cattle forsake their food, and run wildly about the plain, until they die, worn out with fatigue, fright, and hunger. No remedy remains, but to leave the black earth, and hasten down to the sands of Atbara; and there they remain, while the rains last, this cruel enemy never daring to pursue them further.
Though his size be immense, as is his strength, and his body covered with a thick skin, defended with strong hair, yet even the camel is not capable to sustain the violent punctures the fly makes with his pointed proboscis. He must lose no time in removing to the sands of Atbara, for when once attacked by this fly, his body, head, and legs, break out into large bosses, which swell, break, and putrefy, to the certain destruction of the creature. Even the elephant and rhinoceros, who, by reason of their enormous bulk, and the vast quantity of food and water they daily need, cannot shift to desert and dry places as the season may require, are obliged to roll themselves in mud and mire, which, when dry, coats them over like armor, and enables them to stand their ground against this winged assassin; yet I have found some of these tubercles upon almost every elephant and rhinoceros that I have seen, and attribute them to this cause.
All the inhabitants of the seacoast of Melinda, down to Cape Gardefan, to Saba, and the south coast of the Red Sea, are obliged to put themselves in motion, and remove to the next sand, in the beginning of the rainy season, to prevent all their stock of cattle from being destroyed. This is not a partial emigration; the inhabitants of all the countries, from the mountains of Abyssinia northward, to the confluence of the Nile, and Astaboras, are once a year obliged to change their abode, and seek protection in the sand of Beja; nor is there any alternative, or means of avoiding this, though a hostile band were in their way, capable of spoiling them or half their substance. This fly has no sting, though he seemed to me to be rather of the bee kind; but his motion is more rapid and sudden than that of the bee, and resembles that of the gad-fly in England. There is something particular in the sound or buzzing of this insect; it is a jarring noise together with a humming, which induces me to believe it proceeds, at least in part, from a vibration made with the three hairs at his snout.'
The uttermost part of the rivers of Egypt - The remotest part of the land - that is, from the whole country. Egypt was watered by a single river; the Nile. But this river emptied into the Mediterranean by several mouths; and from this river also were cut numerous canals to water the land. These are intended by the "rivers" of Egypt; see the notes at Isaiah 19:6-7. Those canals would be stagnant for no small part of the year; and around them would be produced, as is usual near stagnant waters, great quantities of flies. This prophecy was fulfilled by the invasion of the land in subsequent times by the Egyptians; 2 Kings 23:33-34; 2 Chronicles 35:20, 2 Chronicles 35:24; 2 Chronicles 36:1-2.
And for the bee - That is, for the "army." An army is compared to "bees" on account of their number; perhaps also on account of the pungency and severity of the sting. The comparison is common; see Deuteronomy 1:44; Deuteronomy 7:20; Psalm 118:12. The Chaldee has rendered this verse, 'The Lord shall call to a people girded with the armies of the brave, who are numerous as flies, and shall bring them from the ends of the land of Egypt; and strong armies, strong as bees, and shall bring them from the land of Assyria.' No prophecy was ever more completely fulfilled than this by the successive invasions of Pharaoh-Necho, Esarhaddon and Nebuchadnezzar; see Isaiah 36; 37; 2 Chronicles 36:7-21.
And they shall come, and shall rest all of them in the desolate valleys, and in the holes of the rocks, and upon all thorns, and upon all bushes.And they shall come - The idea in this verse is, that they would spread over the land, and lay it waste. The poetic image of flies and bees is kept up; meaning, that the armies would be so numerous as to occupy and infest all the land.
And shall rest - As bees do. Thus the "locusts" are said to have "rested" in all the land of Egypt; Exodus 10:14.
In the desolate valleys - The word translated "valleys" usually means "a valley with a brook," or a brook itself. The Chaldee translates it, 'In the streets of cities.' But the idea is derived from the habits of flies and bees. The meaning is, that they should fill all the land, as innumerable swarms of flies and bees - would settle down everywhere, and would infest or consume everything. Bees, probably, chose situations near to running streams. Virgil, in his directions about selecting a place for an apiary, gives the following among others:
At liquidi fontes, et stagna virentia musco
Adsint, et tennis fugiens per gramina rivus.
Georg. iv. 18, 19.
But there let pools invite with moss arrayed,
Clear fount and rill that purls along the glade.
In the holes of the rocks - Probably the same image is referred to here. It is well known that in Judea, as well as elsewhere, bees were accustomed to live in the holes or caverns of the rocks. They were very numerous; and the figure here is, that the Assyrians would be numerous as the swarms of bees were in that land, even in the high and inaccessible rocks; compare Isaiah 2:19-21.
Upon all thorns - The image here is kept up of flies and bees resting on everything. "Thorns" here refer to those trees and shrubs that were of little value; but even on these they would rest.
All bushes - Hebrew 'All trees that are commendable, or that are to be praised;' see the margin. The word denotes those shrubs and trees that were objects of "praise;" that is, that were cultivated with great attention and care, in opposition to "thorns" that grew wild, and without cultivation, and that were of little value. The meaning of the passage is, that the land would be invaded in every part, and that everything, valuable or not, would be laid waste.
In the same day shall the Lord shave with a rasor that is hired, namely, by them beyond the river, by the king of Assyria, the head, and the hair of the feet: and it shall also consume the beard.In the same day ... - The idea in this verse is the same as in the preceding, though presented in a different form. The meaning is, that "God" would bring upon them this punishment, but that he would make use of the Assyrian as an "instrument" by which to do it.
With a razor - Using them as an instrument. God here claims the power of directing them, and regards them as employed by him; see Isaiah 10:5-7.
That is hired - This is an allusion to the custom of hiring soldiers, or employing mercenary armies. Thus Great Britain employed mercenary troops, or hired of the Germans bodies of Hessians to carry on the war in America. The meaning here is, that God would employ the Assyrians as his instruments, to effect his purposes, as though they were hired and paid by the plunder and spoil of the nation.
By them beyond the river - The river Euphrates. The Euphrates is usually meant in the Scriptures where 'the river' is mentioned without specifying the name; Psalm 72:8; Psalm 80:2. This was the river which Abraham had passed; and this, perhaps, was, for a long time, the eastern boundary of their geographical knowledge; see the note at Isaiah 11:15.
The head - The hair of the head.
The hair of the feet - Or the other parts of the body; of the lower parts of the body.
Shall consume the beard - Shall cut off the beard. This was esteemed particularly disgraceful among the Jews. It is, at this day, among all Eastern nations. The beard is regarded as a distinguished ornament; among the Mahometans, it is sworn by, and no higher insult can be offered than to treat the beard with indignity; compare the note at Isaiah 50:6. The meaning is here, that God would employ the Assyrian as his instrument to lay waste the land.
And it shall come to pass in that day, that a man shall nourish a young cow, and two sheep;In that day - In the time specified in the previous verses - in the judgments that should be brought upon the land by the Egyptians and Assyrians.
A man shall nourish - Hebrew 'Make to live:' that is, he shall own, or feed.
A young cow - The Hebrew denotes a heifer that gives milk. The state which is denoted by this is that of great poverty. Instead of being engaged in agriculture, of possessing great resources in that time, a man should depend, for the subsistence of himself and his family, on what a single cow and two sheep would yield. Probably this is intended also as a description of the general state of the nation, that it would be reduced to great poverty.
And two sheep - Two here seems to be used to denote a very small number. A man, that is, the generality of people, would be so reduced as to be able to purchase and keep no more.
And it shall come to pass, for the abundance of milk that they shall give he shall eat butter: for butter and honey shall every one eat that is left in the land.For the abundance of milk ... - On account, or by means of the great quantity of milk. This image also denotes that the land should be desolate, and abandoned by its inhabitants. Such a range would the cow and sheep have in the lands lying waste and uncultivated, that they would yield abundance of milk.
For butter and honey - This shall be the condition of all who are left in the land. Agriculture shall be abandoned, The land shall be desolate. The few remaining inhabitants shall be dependent on what a very few cows and sheep shah produce, and on the subsistence which may be derived from honey obtained from the rocks where bees would lodge. Perhaps, also, the swarms of bees would be increased, by the fact that the land would be forsaken, and that it would produce abundance of wild flowers for their subsistence. The general idea is plain, that the land would be desolate. Butter and honey, that is, butter mingled with honey, is a common article of food in the East; see the note at Isaiah 7:15. D'Arvieux being in the camp of an Arab prince who lived in much splendor, and who treated him with great regard, was entertained, he tells us, the first morning of his being there, with little loaves, honey, new-churned butter, and cream more delicate than any he ever saw, together with coffee. - "Voy. dans la Pal.," p. 24. And in another place, he assures us that one of the principal things with which the Arabs regale themselves at breakfast is cream, or new butter mingled with honey. - p. 197. The statement of the prophet here, that the poor of the land should eat butter and honey, is not inconsistent with this account of D'Arvieux, that it is regarded as an article of food with which even princes treat their guests, for the idea of the prophet is, that when the land should be desolate and comparatively uninhabited, the natural luxuriant growth of the soil would produce an abundance to furnish milk, and that honey would abound where the bees would be allowed to multiply, almost without limit; see Harmer's Obs., vol. ii. p. 55. Ed. Lond. 1808.
And it shall come to pass in that day, that every place shall be, where there were a thousand vines at a thousand silverlings, it shall even be for briers and thorns.The remainder of this chapter is a description of great desolation produced by the invasion of the Assyrians. "Where there were a thousand vines." Where there was a valuable vineyard. In every place, that is, that was well cultivated and valuable.
At a thousand silverlings - The word rendered 'silvertings' here - כסף keseph - denotes, properly, silver, of any amount. But it is also used to denote the silver coin which was in use among the Jews, the shekel. Perhaps this was the only silver coin which, in early times, they possessed, and hence, the word shekel is omitted, and so many pieces of silver are mentioned. Thus, in Genesis 20:16, Abimelech says, that he had given Abraham, a thousand of silver' - that is, a thousand shekels. The shekel was worth about two shillings of our money. It is probable that a vineyard would be valued, in proportion to the number of vines that could be raised on the smallest space; and the meaning is here, that the land that was most fertile, and that produced the most, would be desolate, and would produce only briers and thorns. The land in Judea admits of a high state of cultivation, and requires it, in order to make it productive. When neglected, it becomes as remarkably sterile. At present, it generally bears the marks of great barrenness and sterility. It is under the oppression of Turkish power and exactions; and the consequence is, that, to a traveler, it has the appearance of great barrenness. But, in the high state to which the Jews brought it, it was eminently fertile, and is capable still of becoming so, if it should be placed under a government that would encourage agriculture and bestow freedom. This is the account which all travelers give of it now.
With arrows and with bows shall men come thither; because all the land shall become briers and thorns.With arrows and with bows ... - This is a continuation of the description of its desolation. So entirely would it be abandoned, so utterly desolate would it be, that it would become a vast hunting-ground. It would be covered with shrubs and trees that would afford a convenient covert for wild beasts; and would yield to its few inhabitants a subsistence, not by cultivation, but by the bow and the arrow. There can scarcely be a more striking description of utter desolation. But, perhaps, the long captivity of seventy years in Babylon literally fulfilled it. Judea was a land that, at all times, was subject to depredations from wild beasts. On the banks of the Jordan - in the marshes, and amid the reeds that sprung up in the lower bank or border of the river - the lion found a home, and the tiger a resting place; compare Jeremiah 49:19. When the land was for a little time vacated and forsaken, it would be, therefore, soon filled with wild beasts; and during the desolations of the seventy years' captivity, there can be no doubt that this was literally fulfilled.
And on all hills that shall be digged with the mattock, there shall not come thither the fear of briers and thorns: but it shall be for the sending forth of oxen, and for the treading of lesser cattle.And on all hills ... - All the fertile places in the mountains that used to be cultivated with the spade. Vineyards were often planted on the sides of hills; and those places were among the most productive and fertile in the land; see Isaiah 5:1.
The mattock - The spade; the garden hoe; or the weeding-hook. An instrument chiefly used, probably, in vineyards.
There shall not come thither - There shall not be.
The fear of briers and thorns - This does not make sense; or if it does, it is not a sense consistent with the connection. The idea of the whole passage is, that the land, even the most fertile parts of it, should be given up to briers and thorns; that is, to desolation. The Hebrew here, is ambiguous. It may mean, 'thou shalt not come there, for fear of the briers and thorns.' That is, the place that was formerly so fertile, that was cultivated with the spade, shall now be so completely covered with thorns, and shall furnish so convenient a resting place for wild beasts and reptiles, as to deter a man from going there. The Septuagint, and the Syriac, however, understand it differently - as denoting that those places should be still cultivated. But this is evidently a departure from the sense of the connection. Lowth understands it in the past tense; 'where the fear of briers and thorns never came.' The general idea of the passage is plain, that those places, once so highly cultivated, would now be desolate.
Shall be for the sending forth ... - Shall be wild, uncultivated, and desolate - vast commons on which oxen and sheep shall feed at large. "Lesser cattle." Hebrew 'Sheep, or the flock.' Sheep were accustomed to range in deserts and uncultivated places, and to obtain there, under the guidance of the shepherd, their subsistence. The description, therefore, in these verses, is one of extensive and wide desolation; and one that was accomplished in the calamities that came upon the land in the invasions by the Egyptians and Assyrians.