Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. Isaiah 26:20 to Isaiah 27:13. The Conclusion of the Prophecy
Isaiah 26:20 resumes the connexion of the prophetic discourse, interrupted since Isaiah 25:8; and this continues to the end, broken only by the lyrical passage, Isaiah 27:2-6. The contents, however, are of a somewhat mixed character, and the divisions are clearly marked.
(1) vv. Isaiah 26:20-21.—A call to the people of God to hide themselves till the indignation be overpast.
(2) v. Isaiah 27:1.—Announcement of judgment on the great World-powers.
(3) Isaiah 27:2-6.—A song of Jehovah concerning His vineyard.
(4) Isaiah 27:7-11.—The moderation displayed in Jehovah’s chastisement of Israel, and the lesson to be learned from it.
(5) Isaiah 27:12-13.—A prophecy of the restoration of the dispersed of Israel.
Concluding Note on Ch. 24–27
The above exposition has left some general questions in suspense; and for the most part they are such as cannot be adequately discussed in this commentary. There are two, however, on which a few additional observations are necessary, viz., (1) the unity and (2) the date, of the prophecy.
(1) The question of unity, as raised by the recent criticisms of Duhm and Cheyne, relates principally to the lyrical passages already marked off in the notes (Isaiah 25:1-5; Isaiah 25:9-12, Isaiah 26:1-19, Isaiah 27:2-6), although it is acknowledged that the section Isaiah 27:7-11 presents difficulties almost as great. As has been hinted above, the commonly accepted view has been that the lyrics represent flights of the author’s imagination, depicting the feelings of the redeemed community after the great judgment is past. The chief considerations urged against this view are as follows. (a) If we read consecutively 24, Isaiah 25:6-8, Isaiah 26:20 to Isaiah 27:1; Isaiah 27:7-13, we have a series of conceptions which readily fit into a consistent picture of the future, and (at least up to Isaiah 27:1) a very natural sequence of thought. (b) the songs are distinguished from the main prophecy in poetic structure and rhythm, as well as in the point of view they represent. (c) They do not occur at places where their insertion would be natural if due to the literary plan of the composition, while one of them (Isaiah 25:1-5) appears to interrupt a close connexion of thought. (d) The most important of all (Isaiah 26:1-19) is written in a vein of mingled exultation and despondency inappropriate to the supposed situation. Although the reader is naturally averse to entertaining the idea of interpolation if it can possibly be avoided, it can hardly be denied that these arguments have a considerable cumulative force. (b) counts for little or nothing by itself, while the others may involve merely subjective differences of critical judgment. The crucial case is probably (d), where the ‘ideal standpoint’ theory could only be maintained by assuming that the writer’s imagination lacks the strength of wing needful to bear him triumphantly away from the discouraging outlook of his actual present. It must be pointed out, however, that the demarcation of the lyrics given in the notes is adopted from Duhm and Cheyne, and to discuss the question of unity on this basis necessarily does some injustice to the views of other critics, who might prefer a different division.
(2) The question of the date of the prophecy is of course influenced by the view held as to its unity, although to a less extent than might be imagined, since both the critics named agree in regarding the whole series of compositions as belonging to the literature of a single general period. Duhm assigns them to the reign of John Hyrcanus, and finds allusions to the Parthian campaign of Antiochus Sidetes (b.c. 129) and the destruction of Samaria (c. 107). But there is really nothing to warrant these precise determinations, and the theory is negatived by well-established conclusions as to the close of the O.T. Canon. Cheyne’s view is free from this objection and is in itself very attractive. The historical background of the prophecy is found in the events which preceded the dissolution of the Persian Empire (say 350–330). The gloomy survey of ch. 24 is explained by the “desolating and protracted wars” of the period, in which the Jews are known to have suffered severely and during which Jerusalem was not improbably laid waste by Persian armies. The premature songs of triumph referred to in ch. Isaiah 24:16 are supposed to have been called forth by rumours of the expedition of Alexander the Great, whilst the interspersed lyrical passages celebrate the Jewish deliverance achieved by the Macedonian victories. Perhaps the least convincing part of the hypothesis is the identification of the conquered city of Isaiah 25:2, Isaiah 26:5, with Tyre or Gaza, destroyed by Alexander; but in spite of that Cheyne’s view is probably the one which best harmonises the varied indications of the prophecy (see his Introduction, pp. 155 ff., and the refs. there).
Of rival theories there is perhaps but one that deserves careful examination, that, viz., which seeks the occasion of the prophecy in the age immediately succeeding the Exile, particularly the Babylonian troubles under Darius Hystaspis. There is, indeed, a surprising number of coincidences between the phenomena of this prophecy and the circumstances of that time or the contemporary literature. The expectation of a great overturning of existing political conditions occurs in the writings of Haggai (Isaiah 2:6-7; Isaiah 2:21-22) and Zechariah (Isaiah 1:11 ff.); the idea of a world-judgment in Isaiah 13:6 ff.; the universalism of Isaiah 25:6-8 finds nowhere a more sympathetic response than in Isaiah 40-55; and even the ‘songs of the righteous’ (Isaiah 24:16) have a certain resemblance to Isaiah 45:10. The allusion to recent idolatry in Isaiah 27:9 is amply accounted for; and the “city” (although too much has been made of this point) of Isaiah 24:10 ff., Isaiah 27:10 f., Isaiah 25:2, Isaiah 26:5 might be Babylon, the “world-city,” now humbled and soon to be utterly destroyed.
The ultimate decision probably turns on certain general features of the prophecy, which are thought to point to a very late age. These are (a) its apocalyptic colouring and imagery (see, however, the caveat on p. 179 above), (b) the advanced form in which it presents the doctrines of immortality (Isaiah 25:8) and the resurrection (Isaiah 26:19); and (possibly) (c) the belief in tutelary genii of the nations. With regard to these phenomena many will agree with Cheyne that they “become the more intelligible the later we place this composition in the Persian period.”
In that day the LORD with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.1. The judgment on the ungodly powers of this world, is represented symbolically as the destruction of three living monsters by the sword of Jehovah. It is disputed whether the reference is to the world-power in general, or to a single Empire, or to three separate Empires. Assuming that they are distinct the “Dragon that is in the sea” is almost certainly an emblem of Egypt (ch. Isaiah 51:9; Ezekiel 29:3; Ezekiel 32:2; Psalm 74:13). To the reference of the other two we have no key. It is of the essence of apocalyptic symbolism to be obscure; and it will always be possible, at any date, to find representatives, more or less suitable, of the three creatures. If the prophet wrote during or soon after the Exile they might denote Assyria and Babylonia; if at a later period, perhaps Babylonia and Persia, or even Persia and Greece.
For the sword of Jehovah cf. ch. Isaiah 34:5-6, Isaiah 66:16; Deuteronomy 32:41 f.; Ezekiel 21:4-5; Ezekiel 21:9 ff., &c. For sore render hard.
leviathan] The word apparently means “twisted,” and is originally an epithet for the serpent. Although applied (probably) in Job 41 to the crocodile, it is no doubt mythological in its origin, denoting (like our “dragon”) a fabulous monster figuring largely in popular legends. It is so used in Job 3:8 and perhaps Psalm 104:26; as a political symbol in Psalm 74:14 and here.
the piercing serpent] the fugitive serpent. The phrase occurs in Job 26:13, where we have the wide-spread myth of the dragon that devours the sun (in eclipses, &c.). See Dr Davidson’s Job, p. 20. How this astronomical dragon came to be specially connected with any political power we cannot tell; but we find an analogous case in the word Rahab as a symbol for Egypt (see on ch. Isaiah 30:7).
even leviathan that crooked serpent] Render: and Leviathan the tortuous serpent.
the dragon that is in the sea] The sea means here the Nile, as often: see on Isaiah 19:5.
In that day sing ye unto her, A vineyard of red wine.2. The verse probably runs thus: In that day—“Pleasant vineyard! Sing ye of it.” The introductory formula (cf. ch. Isaiah 25:9, Isaiah 26:1) is here curtailed to the bare note of time, “In that day”; the song itself begins with the words “Pleasant vineyard.” This is preferable to making the last expression a part of the introduction. The construction of the A.V. is opposed to the order of words in the original.
A vineyard of red wine] The reading here (kerem ḥemer) is that of the majority of MSS. But a few MSS. (and indeed the common printed editions), as well as the LXX. and Targ., have kerem ḥemed (“pleasant vineyard”), and this as yielding the best sense is generally adopted by commentators. For the phrase see Amos 5:11.
2–6. The song of the vineyard,—the counterpart of ch. Isaiah 5:1 ff. This peculiar and perplexing passage has little relation to the context. It seems to fall into two stanzas; the first (Isaiah 27:2-4 a) expresses Jehovah’s satisfaction in his vineyard (the Theocratic nation), the second (Isaiah 27:4 b–5, which however is obscure) states what He would do if it should again be injured by wicked men. Isaiah 27:6 forms an appendix.
I the LORD do keep it; I will water it every moment: lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day.3. do keep it] Better: am its keeper. For I will water … I will keep, substitute I water … I keep.
Fury is not in me: who would set the briers and thorns against me in battle? I would go through them, I would burn them together.4. Fury is not in me] Or, wrath have I none. These words naturally go with the first stanza, expressing, as they seem to do, Jehovah’s contentment with the condition of His vineyard.
who would set … battle] The phrase “Who will give?” is the well known Hebrew equivalent of the Latin utinam, “Would that!” Hence the R.V.: O that the briers and thorns were against me in battle!
briers and thorns] (ch. Isaiah 5:6) must here mean heathen intruders. The next clause reads as in R.V.: I would march upon them. Cf. 2 Samuel 23:6 f.
Or let him take hold of my strength, that he may make peace with me; and he shall make peace with me.5. Or let him take hold, &c.] Else must he take hold of my strength: lit. “my stronghold” or asylum: cf. 1 Kings 1:50; 1 Kings 2:28. The figure is relinquished; the idea expressed being that unconditional surrender to Jehovah on the part of the ungodly is the only alternative to his annihilation.
The two last clauses let him make peace … differ only in the order of words, and should be translated alike (see R.V.).
He shall cause them that come of Jacob to take root: Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit.6. The verse is attached to the song, but forms no integral part of it. It reads as in R.V.: In days to come shall Jacob take root, &c. By a unique ellipsis the word “days” is omitted in the original; hence the mistaken rendering of A.V., “them that come.”
and fill the face of the world with fruit] For a contrast see ch. Isaiah 14:21. The fruitfulness anticipated belongs to the sphere of temporal prosperity,—teeming population, &c.
Hath he smitten him, as he smote those that smote him? or is he slain according to the slaughter of them that are slain by him?7. For the thought cf. Jeremiah 10:24-25. The interrogations imply, of course, a negative answer; Jehovah has not smitten Israel as He has those that smote it. In the second question the reading of LXX. and Peshito is to be preferred on account of the parallelism: hath he been slain according to the slaughter of those that slew him (Israel).
7–11. A summons to national repentance and reformation. Has Israel suffered the extremity of Divine punishment as its oppressors have done (7)? There is a ground of hope in the moderation displayed by Jehovah in His chastisement of Israel; the prospect of ultimate reconciliation is held out; and this hope will be realised when all the monuments of idolatry are erased from the land (9). At present the city lies desolate, a witness to the sinful blindness of the people and the estrangement of its Creator (10, 11). The section is full of difficulties. The words of Isaiah 27:8 stand in no obvious relation to the context, and are probably to be regarded (with Duhm) as a marginal gloss to Isaiah 27:10. The connexion between Isaiah 27:9 and Isaiah 27:10 is also somewhat obscure.
In measure, when it shooteth forth, thou wilt debate with it: he stayeth his rough wind in the day of the east wind.8. A very difficult verse. The first word in the Hebr. is supposed to be a contracted reduplication of ṣěâh (the third part of an ephah); hence “by seah and seah” = “in exact measure,” “dealing out punishment in carefully adjusted quantities” (Cheyne and Kay). But this cannot be right. A better, though still precarious, sense is reached by the help of a word (sa’sa’a) which the Arabs use in driving animals. The first half of the verse would thus read: By driving her forth, by sending her away, thou contendest with her (i.e. Israel). The allusion is to the Exile, and perhaps the figure may be that of a divorced wife. The last clause reads: he hath removed (her) with his rough blast in a day of east wind (nearly as R.V.).
By this therefore shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged; and this is all the fruit to take away his sin; when he maketh all the stones of the altar as chalkstones that are beaten in sunder, the groves and images shall not stand up.9. The condition of restoration and forgiveness. Therefore points back to the idea of Isaiah 27:7—the moderation of Israel’s punishment,—while By this, i.e. (“on this condition”) points forward to the end of the verse, the removal of idolatrous emblems.
be purged] be expiated (R.V. marg.).
and this is all … sin] Better: and this is the whole fruit of the taking away of his sin. “Fruit” seems here to mean contemplated or expected issue,—“the aim.”
when he maketh all the stones of the altar] Rather, that he should make all altar-stones, &c.
the groves and images, &c.] or, the Asherim and sun-pillars (see on Isaiah 17:8) shall not remain standing.
Yet the defenced city shall be desolate, and the habitation forsaken, and left like a wilderness: there shall the calf feed, and there shall he lie down, and consume the branches thereof.10. Yet the defenced city …] Render with R.V.: For the defenced city is solitary, an habitation deserted (lit. “expelled”) and forsaken, &c. The verbs throughout are in the present tense.
10, 11. A picture of the desolation of Jerusalem, and the explanation of it. The commoner view is that the same hostile city as in Isaiah 25:2, Isaiah 26:5 is referred to, but the latter part of Isaiah 27:11 must refer to Israel. A partial parallel is found in ch. Isaiah 42:19 ff.
When the boughs thereof are withered, they shall be broken off: the women come, and set them on fire: for it is a people of no understanding: therefore he that made them will not have mercy on them, and he that formed them will shew them no favour.11. women come, and set them on fire] i.e. come thither to gather fuel.
a people of no understanding] (lit. “not a people of discernment”) because it does not perceive that deliverance is delayed solely by its continued impenitence (ch. Isaiah 44:18).
And it shall come to pass in that day, that the LORD shall beat off from the channel of the river unto the stream of Egypt, and ye shall be gathered one by one, O ye children of Israel.12. the Lord shall beat off … Egypt] Rather: Jehovah shall thresh out from the corn-ears of the River (the Euphrates) unto (those of) the brook of Egypt, i.e. all that grows between those limits. The term “beat out” is applied both to the beating of olives from the tree (Deuteronomy 24:20) and to the beating out of grain with a staff—a more careful process than the ordinary methods (Isaiah 28:27; Jdg 6:11). The latter analogy gives the best sense here. The “brook of Egypt” is the Wadi el Arish, the south-western frontier of Palestine, this and the Euphrates being the extreme boundaries of the ideal territory of Israel (Genesis 15:18, &c.). The meaning is that within this territory Jehovah will carefully separate the corn from the chaff and straw,—the true Israelites from heathens and apostates, Isaiah 27:13 then describes, under another figure, the ingathering of those who were exiled beyond these limits.
12, 13. The return from Exile,—a prophecy of the same character as ch. Isaiah 11:11-16.
And it shall come to pass in that day, that the great trumpet shall be blown, and they shall come which were ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt, and shall worship the LORD in the holy mount at Jerusalem.13. the (a) great trumpet] Cf. ch. Isaiah 18:3; Zechariah 9:14; Matthew 24:31; 1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16.
they … which were ready to perish] the lost ones.
outcasts] Cf. ch. Isaiah 11:12.