Isaiah 49:24
Shall the prey be taken from the mighty, or the lawful captive delivered?
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(24) Shall the prey be taken . . .?—The question is asked by Zion in her little faith. The next phrase, “lawful captive,” literally “captive of righteousness,” may mean, (1) as in the Authorised version a captive whom the conqueror had a right to take, or (2) one who was righteous and yet had been given into captivity. Neither meaning is quite satisfactory. A conjectural emendation gives the captives of the terrible one, which fits in with the parallelism of the next verse.

Isaiah 49:24-26. Shall the prey be taken from the mighty — Here an objection is started against the forementioned promises, probably, 1st, Against the promise of the release of the Jews from their captivity in Babylon, suggesting that it was a thing not to be expected: for, Isaiah 49:24, they were a prey in the hands of the mighty, of such as were then the greatest potentates of the earth; and, therefore, it was not likely they should be rescued by force; yet that was not all, they were lawful captives. By the law of God, having offended, they were justly delivered into captivity. And by the law of nations, being taken in war, they were justly detained in captivity till they should be ransomed or exchanged. So here was a double, or rather, treble impediment to their deliverance; the great power of the enemy, which kept them in bondage, and the justice of God, and the usage of nations, which pleaded against them. And yet their deliverance, however improbable, was effected by the mercy and power of God. But this passage, as appears from the context, has a further reference: it respects the deliverance of God’s church and people from their spiritual as well as temporal enemies. “God had promised very great and excellent things to his church; but to a person seriously considering the state thereof, and comparing it with the power of his enemies, and particularly its chief enemy, Satan, who held the nations in the darkness of ignorance and superstition, a doubt would naturally arise, whether it could possibly be that this prey, so long possessed by Satan, could be rescued from him, so that he might be driven from his strong fort, and the rulers of the world, held in subjection by him, might be delivered from their servitude. Isaiah resolves this doubt of the church, and teaches that it should certainly come to pass that Satan, this mighty one, should be driven from his fort, his captives delivered, (Isaiah 49:25,) and the adversaries of the church perish by their mutual slaughter of each other.” Thus Vitringa, who observes that Isaiah 49:26, I will feed them that oppress thee with their own flesh, &c., is to be “understood metaphorically, and refers to the intestine wars, by which princes and people, armed to their mutual destruction, plunge their destroying swords in each other’s bowels, and, as it were, feed upon each other’s flesh and blood.” See Isaiah 9:20; Zechariah 11:9; Revelation 16:6. They shall be drunken with their own blood as with new wine — I will make thine enemies destroy one another, and that greedily, and with delight. This prophecy was remarkably fulfilled in the time of the Roman emperor, Dioclesian, to which it is thought by some particularly to refer. 49:24-26 We were lawful captives to the justice of God, yet delivered by a price of unspeakable value. Here is an express promise: Even the prey of the terrible shall be delivered. We may here view Satan deprived of his prey, bound and cast into the pit; and all the powers that have combined to enslave, persecute, or corrupt the church, are destroyed; that all the earth may know that our Saviour and Redeemer is Jehovah, the mighty One of Jacob. And every effort we make to rescue our fellow-sinners from the bondage of Satan, is, in some degree, helping forward that great change.Shall the prey be taken from the mighty? - This seems to be the language of Zion. It is not exactly the language of incredulity; it is the language of amazement and wonder. God had made great promises. He had promised a restoration of the captive Jews to their own land, and of their complete deliverance from the power of the Chaldeans. He had still further promised that the blessings of the true religion should be extended to the Gentiles, and that kings and queens should come and show the profoundest adoration for God and for his cause. With amazement and wonder at the greatness of these promises, with a full view of the difficulties to be surmounted, Zion asks here how it can be accomplished. It would involve the work of taking the prey from a mighty conqueror, and delivering the captive from the hand of the strong and the terrible - a work which had not been usually done.

Or the lawful captive delivered? - Margin, 'The captivity of the just.' Lowth reads this, 'Shall the prey seized by the terrible be rescued?' So Noyes. Lowth says of the present Hebrew text, that the reading is a 'palpable mistake;' and that instead of צדיק tsadiyq ("the just"), the meaning should be עריץ ‛ârı̂yts ("the terrible"). Jerome so read it, and renders it, A robusto - 'The prey taken by the strong.' So the Syriac reads it. The Septuagint renders it, 'If anyone is taken captive unjustly (ἀδίκως adikōs), shall he be saved?' But there is no authority from the manuscripts for changing the present reading of the Hebrew text; and it is not necessary. The word 'just,' here may either refer to the fact that the just were taken captive, and to the difficulty of rescuing them; or perhaps, as Rosenmuller suggests, it may be taken in the sense of severe, or rigid, standing opposed to benignity or mercy, and thus may be synonymous with severity and harshness; and the meaning may be that it was difficult to rescue a captive from the hands of those who had no clemency or benignity, such as was Babylon. Grotius understands it of those who were taken captive in a just war, or by the rights of war. But the connection rather demands that we should interpret it of those who were made captive by those who were indisposed to clemency, and who were severe and rigid in their treatment of their prisoners. The idea is, that it was difficult or almost impossible to rescue captives from such hands, and that therefore it was a matter of wonder and amazement that that could be accomplished which God here promises.

24. the prey—Israel, long a prey to mighty Gentile nations, whose oppression of her shall reach its highest point under Antichrist (Da 11:36, 37, 41, 45).

lawful captive—the Jews justly consigned for their sins (Isa 50:1) as captives to the foe. Secondarily, Satan and Death are "the mighty" conquerors of man, upon whom his sin give them their "lawful" claim. Christ answers that claim for the sinners, and so the captive is set free (Job 19:25; 14:14; Mt 12:29; Ho 6:2, where Isa 49:4 shows the primary reference is to Israel's restoration, to which the resurrection corresponds; Isa 26:19; Eph 4:8; Heb 2:14, 15). Others not so well translate, "the captives taken from among the just Israelites."

Shall the prey be taken from the mighty? here he starteth an objection against the forementioned promises: How can God’s church be delivered, when she is become a prey to, and is in the hands of, her most potent enemies?

Or the lawful captive delivered? he who was taken captive in a just war, as God’s people might in some sort be said to be, because God himself had delivered them into their enemy’s hands, and that justly for their sins. So here is a double impediment to their deliverance out of their corporal and spiritual bondage; the great power of the enemy which kept them in bondage, and the justice of God, which pleads against them and against their deliverance. Shall the prey be taken from the mighty,.... This is an objection to the accomplishment of what is predicted and promised above, taken from the power of the enemy, and his right to detain the people; and are either the words of the nations among whom the Jews were, according to Kimchi, boasting of, and presuming upon, and opposing to what is said, both their might and right, to keep the people in their own hands, bidding as it were defiance to any to attempt to take them from them; or the words of the prophet, in the name of the people, as Aben Ezra, objecting to their deliverance, doubting the effecting of it, or admiring at it: it may be applied to the taking of the Lord's people out of the hands of Satan, who may be said to be "mighty" or "strong", as he appears to be from his nature, a spirit; from his names, the strong man armed, a roaring lion, the great red dragon, leviathan, the piercing serpent, &c.; and from his power and dominion over the evil angels, and over men, both their bodies and souls; and to whom the Lord's own people are a "prey", while they are in a state of nature, as all mankind, and every unconverted man, be; a difficult thing it is to take any out of his hands, and a wonder of grace it is when it is done:

or the lawful captive delivered? justly and lawfully taken captive in war, as the Jews were by the Babylonians: or, "the captivity of the righteous be delivered" (t); that is, either the righteous who were taken captives; or those that took them, who were so in their opinion, at least with respect to the taking of them, doing, as they judged, what was lawful and just. The people of God are in their state of nature led by Satan at his will, and are lawful captives in the judgment of him, and his principalities; and are in reality taken in war by him, and not only led captive by him at his will, but with their own will, and are justly given up unto him. Perhaps all this may be better referred to the people of God being a prey to the Romish antichrist, and detained as a lawful captive by him, and to the difficult and wonderful deliverance of them from him in the latter day; see Revelation 13:4. The Targum interprets this and the following verse of the captives of Esau and Ishmael, by whom seem to be meant the Pope and Turk.

(t) "et an captivitas justi evadet", Montanus; "vel liberabitur", Munster; "captiva turba justi", Vitringa. And by the righteous Gussetius (Ebr. Comment. p. 709.) understands God the Father, who is righteous as a judge, exercising vindictive justice; and from him another person delivers us, namely, God the Son, the Messiah. A sense truly evangelical.

Shall the prey be {d} taken from the mighty, or the lawful captive delivered?

(d) He makes this as an objection as though the Chaldeans were strong, and had them in just possession.

24. from the mighty] from a hero. the lawful captive] lit. the captivity (= captives) of a righteous one. This is the only sense that the phrase will properly bear; all the attempts to construe it otherwise are futile. Many authorities, however, adopt the reading of the Pesh. and Vulg. (עריץ instead of צדיק, as Isaiah 49:25), and render: “captives of a terrible one.” (1) The verse has generally been considered to be a new utterance of despair on the part of the Israelites, “Can the tyrant be made to disgorge his prey?” (Cheyne),—to which Isaiah 49:25 gives an affirmative answer. On this view (which is certainly the one that first suggests itself) the substitution of ‘ârîc̣ (terrible) for çaddîq (righteous) seems imperative, since the latter expression could not possibly be applied to the Chaldæans. To suppose that by the “hero” and the “righteous one” Cyrus is meant is at variance with the whole tenor of the prophecy (Isaiah 41:25, Isaiah 44:28, Isaiah 45:1 ff.). (2) Dillmann on the other hand holds that the reference in Isaiah 49:24 is to Jehovah, who Himself asks if any power can deprive Him of His lawful captives, the Israelites. The answer to be supplied is, “No”; and this is confirmed by Isaiah 49:25 : “For even the captives of a (human) hero may be delivered, yet will I (the Almighty) contend with” &c. This is not altogether natural; the antithesis of the divine hero in Isaiah 49:24 and a human hero in Isaiah 49:25 being indicated by nothing in the words. (3) A simpler view is that question and answer are related as in Isaiah 49:14; the question stating a supposition in the highest degree improbable (though still conceivable), and the answer conceding the possibility in order the more strongly to assert that the idea cannot be entertained with regard to Jehovah. The sense might be paraphrased as follows: “Can the captives of a mighty man be rescued from his grasp? Yes, the captives of the mighty may be delivered, but I will (victoriously) maintain thy cause against thy enemies” &c. (so, apparently, Duhm). In this case also it is better to read ‘ârîç, which may be used in a neutral sense as in Jeremiah 20:11 (of Jehovah). The image of Israel as the prey of Jehovah has a certain resemblance to that of the lion and his prey in ch. Isaiah 31:4.

24–26. The emancipation of Israel is here regarded as having to be effected by force, and Jehovah pledges His omnipotence to the task. The bright picture of Isaiah 49:22 does not touch the gravest difficulty of the situation, the formidable power and settled hostility of Babylon.Verse 24. - Shall the prey be taken, etc.? The incredulous among the exiles thought it well-nigh impossible that Babylon should be forced to disgorge her prey - the captives whose labours were so valuable to her. Babylon was mighty. By the laws of war she had a rightful claim to her captives. How was she to be induced or compelled to give them up? It is this fact of a renewed glorification which presents itself afresh to the prophet's mind. "Thy children make haste, thy destroyers and masters draw out from thee. Lift up thine eyes round about, and see: all these assemble themselves together, and come to thee. As truly as I live, saith Jehovah, thou wilt put them all on like jewellery, and gird them round thee like a bride." The pointing adopted by the lxx, Targ., Jer. and Saad., is בּניך. The antithesis favours this reading; but בּניך suits Isaiah 49:18, Isaiah 49:19 better; and the thought that Zion's children come and restore her fallen walls, follows of itself from the very antithesis: her children come; and those who destroyed their maternal home, and made it a desolate ruin, have to depart from both city and land. Zion is to lift up her eyes, that have been cast down till now, yea, to lift them up round about; for on all sides those whom she thought she had lost are coming in dense crowds לך (cf., לא equals לו with אליו, Isaiah 49:5), to her, i.e., henceforth to belong to her again. Jehovah pledges His life (chai 'ănı̄, ζῶν ἐγώ, Ewald, 329, a) that a time of glory is coming for Zion and her children. כּי in the affirmative sense, springing out of the confirmative after an affirming oath, equivalent to אם־לא elsewhere (e.g., Isaiah 5:9). The population which Zion recovers once more, will be to her like the ornaments which a woman puts on, like the ornamental girdle (Isaiah 3:20) which a bride fastens round her wedding dress.
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