The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
Verse 1. - TITLE OF THE CHAPTER. It is generally allowed that the heading belongs, not to this chapter only, but to a section of the work, beginning here and ending at the close, either of Isaiah 4. or of Isaiah 5. It is probable that the section was originally published separately.
And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD'S house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.
Verses 2-4. - PROPHECY OF THE LAST DAYS. The resemblance of this prophecy to Micah 4:1-3 is so close as to necessitate the conclusion either that one of the two prophets copied from the other, or that both copied from an earlier document. The latter view, which is that taken by Rosenmüller, Maurer, De Wette, Meier, and Mr. Cheyne, seems preferable. Verse 2. - In the last days; literally, in the sequel of the days; but generally used of a remote future (Genesis 49:1; Numbers 24:14; Deuteronomy 4:30, etc.). The mountain of the Lord's house; i.e. the Church, the true Zion, which is to be the antitype of the existing Zion, and is therefore given its material attributes. Spiritually, it would be a "mountain," as "a city set on a hill," which "could not be hid" (Matthew 5:14); and again, as occupying a position from which it would command the whole earth. In the top of the mountains; rather, at the head of the mountains; i.e. with pre-eminence over them. The metaphor is drawn from the common physical fact of a high mountain range culminating in a single supreme eminence. So Mount Hermon towers above the rest of the Antilibanus, Demavend over Elburz, Rowandiz over Zagros. The "mountains" above which the true Zion shall tower are the kingdoms, or perhaps the religions, of the earth. All nations; literally, all the nations; i.e. "all the nations of the earth" (comp. Psalm 72:11). Shall flow; or, stream. A constant accession of converts from all quarters is intended. These are represented as continually streaming upward into the holy mountain of God's house.
And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
Verse 3. - Many people; rather, many peoples. Shall go; or, set forth. The prophet means to represent the nations as encouraging one another on the way. There is no jealousy among them, for the "mountain" can hold them all. He will teach us. The nations feel their ignorance of God, and their need of "teaching." God alone can teach them concerning himself (Romans 11:33, 34; 1 Corinthians 2:10, 11); and "he will teach" them, either directly, as the Incarnate Son, or indirectly through those whom he has appointed to be "teachers" (1 Corinthians 12:28). Of his ways; i.e. "some of his ways," not "all of them;" for at present "we know in part" only (1 Corinthians 13:9), and the greater portion of his ways are "past finding out" (Romans 11:33). The "ways" here spoken of are, no doubt, rules for the conduct of life, which are practically inexhaustible. God, however, will teach every man, who honestly seeks to learn, enough to enable him to "walk in his paths." Out of Zion shall go forth the Law; rather, instruction, or teaching. The word (torah) is without the article. The instruction intended is that of the Church of God.
And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
Verse 4. - He shall judge among the nations. This is clearly not yet fulfilled. How God shall ultimately "judge among the nations," or rather "between nation and nation," is a mystery which only the future can reveal. It has been supposed that "by his providential retributions he will decide those international questions out of which war ordinarily springs" (Kay). But it would seem to be at least as likely that he will bring the nations to such a pitch of wisdom and moderation, that they will voluntarily discard war, and agree to decide any disputes that arise by means of arbiters. The arbiter would then, like other judges, represent God, and "by him decree justice" (Proverbs 8:15). Shall rebuke. Rosenmüller translates, "Arbiter pacts sit;" Cheyne, "shall arbitrate." Here again, as in ver. 3, "people" should be "peoples." They shall beat, etc. On a sudden call to war, nations "beat their ploughshares into swords, and their pruning-hooks into spears" (Joel 3:10). They will do the reverse "in the latter days," when God shall have "made wars to cease" (Psalm 46:9) and "speak peace unto the nations" (Zechariah 9:10).
O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the LORD.
Verses 5-11. - THE CONTRAST OF THE PRESENT WITH THE FUTURE. Having shown to Israel the vision of a far-distant future, when holiness and peace would reign upon the earth, and "the mountain of the Lord's house" would draw all men into it, the prophet returns to things as they are - first exhorting Israel to "walk in the light of Jehovah' (ver. 5), and then showing how far they have withdrawn from the light;
(1) by magical practices (ver. 6);
(2) by commercial greed (vers. 6, 7);
(3) by ostentation and luxury (ver. 7);
(4) by idolatry (ver. 8).
Such being the case, punishment must come - mean and great must be equally brought low (ver. 9) - the people must fly to their cave-fastnesses (ver. 10), and hide themselves; they must be humiliated to the uttermost (ver. 11). Verse 5. - O house of Jacob. "House of Jacob" is the common expression in Isaiah, instead of "house of Israel" (see Isaiah 8:17; Isaiah 10:20; Isaiah 14:1; Isaiah 29:22; Isaiah 46:3; Isaiah 48:1; Isaiah 58:1). It has no particular force, merely signifying "Israelites." Come ye, and let us walk. The same words as those of the "nations" in ver. 3, "Come ye, and let us go up." As the nations will invite each other "in the last days," so the prophet now invites his countrymen to walk with God.
Therefore thou hast forsaken thy people the house of Jacob, because they be replenished from the east, and are soothsayers like the Philistines, and they please themselves in the children of strangers.
Verse 6. - Therefore; rather, for. The prophet, in calling upon Israel to "walk in the light of the Lord," implies that they are not so walking. He then proceeds to give the reasons of this. They are not, "for God has forsaken them, or, cast them off." The first reason is because they be replenished from the east (Revised Version, "they be filled with customs from the east); i.e. they have adopted a number of Syrian, Assyrian, and Ammonite superstitions; e.g. high places, images, and "groves," the burning of their children in honor of Moloch, the use of divination and enchantment, etc. (2 Kings 15:4; 2 Kings 16:3, 4; 2 Kings 17:10-12, 16, 17, etc.). Most of these practices reached the Israelites from Syria, though many had their origin either in Assyria or Babylonia. Soothsayers, like the Philistines. The "diviners" of the Philistines are mentioned in 1 Samuel 6:2. By the word here employed, it would seem that they foretold the future from observations on the clouds and the general appearance of the sky. During the reign of Uzziah, the Israelites had been brought into closer contact with the Philistines than usual, through his conquest of several of their cities (2 Chronicles 26:6). They please themselves in the children of strangers; literally, strike hands with the children of strangers (comp. Job 27:23). This is thought to refer to striking hands upon a bargain (Cheyne), and to be an allusion to the commercial activity of the reigns of Uzziah and Jotham (2 Kings 14:22; 2 Kings 16:6). But perhaps it does not mean more than familiarity.
Their land also is full of silver and gold, neither is there any end of their treasures; their land is also full of horses, neither is there any end of their chariots:
Verse 7. - Full of silver and gold. The results of the commercial activity - not evil things in themselves, but probably acquired by sharp dealing, and leading to undue softness and luxury. The Law had given a warning against "greatly multiplying silver and gold" (Deuteronomy 17:17). For the fact of the vast abundance of the precious metals in Judaea at this time, see 2 Kings 14:16; 2 Kings 20:13; 2 Chronicles 32:27; and compare Sennacherib's inscription on the Taylor Cylinder ('Ancient Monarchies,' vol. it. p. 163, 2nd edit.). Full of horses... chariots (comp. Micah 5:10). There is no reason to believe that the Jews or Israelites ever possessed (unless it were under Solomon) any considerable cavalry or chariot force. But from the time of David horses and chariots were imported for convenience and for show by the kings, the princes, and the nobles (see 2 Samuel 15:1; 1 Kings 4:26; 1 Kings 10:28, 29; 1 Kings 22:31; Ecclesiastes 10:7). Like the silver and the gold, they were signs of luxury and ostentation.
Their land also is full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made:
Verse 8. - Full of idols. The historians declare that both Uzziah and Jotham maintained the worship of Jehovah and disallowed idolatry (2 Kings 15:3, 34; 2 Chronicles 26:4; 2 Chronicles 27:2), so that we must regard the idol-worship of the time as an irregular and private practice. (It is, perhaps, alluded to in 2 Chronicles 27:2; and the fact of its prevalence is stated in Amos 2:1; Micah 5:13.) Perhaps Bishop Lowth is right in regarding it as mainly a continuation of the old private teraphim worship ('Notes,' p. 25).
And the mean man boweth down, and the great man humbleth himself: therefore forgive them not.
Verse 9. - And the mean man boweth down, etc. So Ewald and Kay; but most other commentators render, "Therefore shall the mean man be bowed down, and the great man brought low, and thou shalt not [or, 'canst not'] forgive them" (Rosenmüller, Lowth, Gcsenius, Knobel, Cheyne). The transition from narrative to threatening comes best at the beginning of the verse.
Enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty.
Verse 10. - Enter into the rock. The limestone rocks of Palestine are full of extensive caverns, to which the Israelites often betook themselves in times of danger (see Judges 6:2; 1 Samuel 13:6; 1 Samuel 22:1, etc.). The prophet exhorts them to flee thither now, but without stating what exactly is the peril (comp. vers. 19, 21). Hide thee in the dust. Not "the dust of humiliation" (Kay), but "the dust of the earth" (Genesis 2:7), put here for the earth itself, as in ver. 19. For fear of the Lord; rather, from before the terror of Jehovah. Some awful manifestation of Jehovah's power is intended, its nature being still kept back and shrouded in darkness.
The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day.
Verse 11. - The effect of the judgment which, in ver. 9, was said to be the humiliation of high and low alike, is here declared with special reference to the high-minded and proud, whom it will humble more than others. The Lord alone shall be exalted; like a lofty and strong tower (comp. Isaiah 12:4; Isaiah 33:5).
For the day of the LORD of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low:
Verses 12-22. - THE DESCRIPTION OF THE DAY OF THE LORD. The prophet, now, having announced that God is about to visit his people in anger (vers. 10, 11), proceeds to describe in highly rhetorical language the visitation itself,
(1) as to its object, which is to bring down all that exalts itself against God (ver. 12);
(2) as to its scope - it is to be upon trees, mountains, hills, towers, walls, ships, pleasant pictures, idols (vers. 13-18);
(3) as to its practical effect, which will be to alarm and terrify, to make men fly and hide themselves, and to produce contempt of the idols in which they have so long trusted (vers. 19-21). Verse 12. - For the day of the Lord of hosts shall be upon every one; rather, For the Lord of hosts shall have a day upon everything. The passage is exegetical of "that day" in the preceding verse. A "day" - or time - is certainly coming which shall be emphatically "the Lord's" - a day on which he will descend to judgment. Proud... lofty... lifted up (comp. ver. 11). "The ideas of eminence, pride, and opposition to God melt into each other in the Old Testament" (Cheyne). And he shall be brought low; rather, that it may be brought low (so Gesenius and Cheyne).
And upon all the cedars of Lebanon, that are high and lifted up, and upon all the oaks of Bashan,
Verse 13. - Upon all the cedars of Lebanon. It is usual to take this metaphorically; and no doubt men are often compared to trees in Scripture (Psalm 1:3; Jeremiah 17:8; Job 8:16, 17), and "cedars of Lebanon" especially are symbols of the great and proud ones (Ezekiel 31:3). But it has been well observed that either all the details of the description in the text must be taken literally, or all of them metaphorically, and that the mention of such objects as "ships of Tarshish" and "pleasant pictures" pleads strongly for a literal interpretation. The day of the Lord was upon the cedars when Sennacherib "with chariots upon chariots came up to the height of the mountains, to the sides of Lebanon, and cut down the tall cedars thereof, and the choice fir trees thereof" (Isaiah 37:24); and similar devastation accompanied, it is probable, the other invasions of the Assyrians (see 'Ancient Monarchies,' vol. 1. pp. 474, 475). Upon all the oaks of Bashan. The "oaks of Bashan" are celebrated also by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 27:6) and by Zechariah (Zechariah 11:2). It is quite likely that the Assyrians cut timber in Bashan, as they did in Lebanon and Amanus.
And upon all the high mountains, and upon all the hills that are lifted up,
Verse 14. - Mountains... hills. It is Sennacherib's boast that he "came up to the height of the mountains" (Isaiah 37:24).
And upon every high tower, and upon every fenced wall,
Verse 15. - Upon every high tower. Uzziah and. Jotham had, both of them, paid much attention to fortifications, and had especially "built towers," both at Jerusalem and in other parts of Judaea (2 Chronicles 26:9, 10; 2 Chronicles 27:4). Isaiah means to pour contempt on these indications of "trust in an arm of flesh," and to say that they will be of no avail when the time of calamity arrives. Every fenced wall. "On the wall of Ophel" Jotham had "built much" (2 Chronicles 27:3). Hosea (Hosea 8:14) and Micah (Micah 4:11) also notice the trust of Judah in her fortresses, and threaten their destruction.
And upon all the ships of Tarshish, and upon all pleasant pictures.
Verse 16. - All the ships of Tarshish. "Ships of Tarshish" meant originally "ships built to sail to Tarshish;" but was used by the later writers for ships of a certain class or size (1 Kings 22:48; Psalm 48:7; Ezekiel 27:25). Tarshish was Tartessus, in Spain, and voyages thither were regarded as long and dangerous (Herod., 1:163). Consequently, the ships which were built for the Tartessian trade were of unusual size and strength. Uzziah had "built [i.e. rebuilt] Elath," in the eastern arm of the Red Sea, early in his reign (2 Kings 14:22), and no doubt maintained a fleet there, as Jehoshaphat had done (1 Kings 22:48). Elath remained in the possession of the Jews till the reign of Ahaz, when it was taken by Rezin, and restored to Edom (see 'Speaker's Commentary' on 2 Kings 16:6). Upon all pleasant pictures; Revised Version, all pleasant imagery. The exact word here translated "pictures" does not occur elsewhere in the Old Testament; but a cognate word is not uncommon. From the passages in which this cognate word occurs (especially Leviticus 26:1; Numbers 33:52; Proverbs 25:11; Ezekiel 8:12), it is concluded that works of art, of some sort or other, are intended. More than this can scarcely be determined. Dr. Kay thinks the term to include "sculptures and fresco-paintings." Mr. Cheyne translates "all delightful works of imagery." The sentiment is that the judgment of God will fall on the most valued contents of palaces and grand houses, no less than upon the forests and the mountains, the fortified places, and the national navy. All wilt be involved in one sweeping destruction.
And the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low: and the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day.
Verse 17. - The loftiness of man. This verse interrupts the sequence of the thoughts somewhat awkwardly. It is a sort of refrain (see ver. 11; and for the use of refrains in Hebrew poetry, see Exodus 15:1, 21; Psalm evil. 8, 15, 21, 31), and perhaps comes in for rhythmical reasons, to the detriment of the sense.
And the idols he shall utterly abolish.
Verse 18. - And the idols he shall utterly abolish; rather, and the idols shall utterly pass away. While the visitation shall fall only partially on the other objects precious to Israel - the cedars, the oaks, the terraced mountains and hills, the strongholds, the ships, and the works of art - the idols shall be wholly swept away by it. It is impossible to say what visitation exactly was in the prophet's mind; but if we may suppose that the Babylonian captivity came within the range of the prophetic vision, we must pronounce the prediction to have received a very remarkable fulfillment in this matter, since that calamity did put an entire end to the idolatry of the nation.
And they shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.
Verse 19. - They shall go into the holes of the rooks, etc. (see ver. 10, which is an exhortation to do what this verse declares will be done). On the abundant caves of Palestine, see note on the former passage. To shake terribly the earth; literally, to affright the earth. It is not said in what way he will affright it. The cognate Arabic verb has the meaning "to shake;" but it is not clear that the Hebrew one has ever this sense.
In that day a man shall cast his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which they made each one for himself to worship, to the moles and to the bats;
Verse 20. - In that day a man shall cast, etc, When the idols disappoint their worship-pets, and prove to be unable to save them, they are treated with scorn and ignominy. The African beats his fetish on such occasions. The Israelites would fling theirs to the moles and the bats. Idols of silver... idols of gold (comp. Exodus 20:23; Psalm 115:4: 135:15; Isaiah 30:22; Isaiah 31:7; Hosea 8:4; Hosea 13:2). A passage of Habakkuk (Habakkuk 2:19) shows that sometimes the main bulk of the idol was of stone, which was overlaid with a coating of one or other of the two precious metals; but it would seem that ordinarily the entire image was either of gold or silver (comp. Exodus 32:4, 24; 1 Kings 12:28). No doubt it was thought that the god worshipped through the image was more honored, and therefore better pleased, by the more costly material. Which they made each one for himself; rather, which they (i.e. the manufacturers) have made for him. Idol-making was a trade, as we see by the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 19:24-27). To the moles; literally, to the dig-holes. The metaphor must not be pressed. They would throw the idols into holes and corners, pits and caverns, where moles and bats might be expected to be the only visitants. Some idea of the blindness implied in any regard for idols may have prompted the imagery.
To go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.
Verse 21. - To go into; or, as they go into; i.e. "as they make their escape, they shall fling the idols away." The clefts of the rocks (comp. Exodus 33:22, the only other passage of Scripture where the word occurs). The tops of the ragged rocks; rather, the rents, or crevices. The idea of hiding themselves from the awful majesty of God is kept up throughout (cf. vers. 10 and 19; and see also Luke 23:30).
Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of?
Verse 22. - Cease ye from man. This verse is regarded by many as a late marginal note, which has accidentally crept into the text (Diestel, Studer, Cheyne). It is omitted in the Septuagint, and interrupts the sequence of Isaiah 3. on Isaiah 2. somewhat awkwardly. If retained, it must be regarded as an appeal to Israel on the part of the prophet to give up their trust in man, whence had flowed all their other errors. Whose breath is in his nostrils; i.e. "whose life is a mere breath; who, if he ceases to breathe, ceases to live." For wherein is he to be accounted of? or, for of what account is he? Surely, of no account at all.