Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall rule in judgment.
Verses 1-8. - A PROPHECY OF MESSIAH'S KINGDOM. It is generally allowed that this prophecy is Messianic; but some critics insist that it is not so "in a narrow sense." They regard Isaiah as expecting Messiah's kingdom to follow immediately on the discomfiture of Sennacherib, and as looking to Hezekiah to inaugurate it. According to this view, Hezekiah, renovated in character, was to be the Messiah, and might have been so had he been "equal to the demands providentially made upon him." But he was not; and the task of establishing the kingdom fell to "another," at a later date. It is simpler to regard the prophet as looking for a greater than Hezekiah (comp. Isaiah 7:14; Isaiah 9:6), but ignorant how soon, or how late, his coming would be. Verse 1. - A king... princes. Delitzsch and Mr. Cheyne translate, "the king... the princes;" but the Hebrew gives no article. The announcement is vague, and corresponds to those of other prophets, as of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 23:5), "Behold, the days come that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a king shall reign and prosper;" and of Zechariah (Zechariah 9:9), "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion... behold, thy King cometh unto thee." The "princes" of the text are the minor authorities whom the king would set over his kingdom - i.e., the apostles and their successors. In righteousness... in judgment. Messiah's rule will be a rule of strict justice and right, offering the strongest contrast to that under which the Jews have been living since the time of Jehoshaphat (see Isaiah 1:15-23; Isaiah 3:1-12, etc.).
And a man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.
Verse 2. - A man shall be as an hiding-place from the wind, etc. Modern critics mostly render, "each man" - i.e. the king, and each of his princes. But it is, to say the least, allowable - with Vitringa and Kay - to regard the word as referring to the king only (comp. Zechariah 6:12, where ish, a man, is used in the same vague way of One who is clearly the Messiah). There was never but one man who could be to other men all that is predicated in this verse of the "man" mentioned (comp. Isaiah 25:4, where nearly the same epithets are predicated of God). A covert; i.e. a protection against Divine wrath. Such is Messiah in his mediatorial character. Rivers of water; i.e. refreshing and invigorating (comp. Isaiah 55:1; John 4:14; John 7:37). The shadow of a great rook. At once refreshing and protecting (see Isaiah 25:4).
And the eyes of them that see shall not be dim, and the ears of them that hear shall hearken.
Verse 3. - The eyes of them that see shall not be dim. In Messiah's kingdom there shall be no judicial blindness, such as that threatened in Isaiah 6:9, 10, and described in Isaiah 29:10, 11; but men shall see the truth clearly (comp. Isaiah 29:18; Isaiah 35:5; Matthew 13:16, etc.). The ears.., shall hearken; i.e. "shall both hear and understated" (compare "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear").
The heart also of the rash shall understand knowledge, and the tongue of the stammerers shall be ready to speak plainly.
Verse 4. - The heart also of the rash; i.e. of those who were rash and hasty, who would not give themselves time to understand the warnings addressed to them, or to think of the real character of their actions. These shall, in Messiah's kingdom, "have the gift of discernment to perceive things in their true nature" (Delitzsch). The tongue of the stammerers. The tongue of those who hitherto have spoken hesitatingly and inconsistently on moral and religions subjects shall be ready - i.e., prompt and eager - to speak upon them with clearness and elegance. The grace given to the uneducated fishermen of Galilee enabled them to preach and teach gospel truth, not only with clearness, but with refinement.
The vile person shall be no more called liberal, nor the churl said to be bountiful.
Verse 5. - The vile person shall be no more called liberal; rather, the foolish person - as nabal is commonly translated (Deuteronomy 32:6; 2 Samuel 3:33; 2 Samuel 13:13; Psalm 14:1; Psalm 39:8; Psalm 74:22, etc.) - such a man as the "Nabal" of 1 Samuel 25. Men are apt to confound moral distinctions, and to call the "fools" who waste their substance in feasting and revelry "generous" or "liberal," and the niggards (churls) who hoard their riches "warm men," "wealthy men," "men well to do in the world" (see Isaiah 5:20; and comp. Arist.,' Eth. Nic.,' 2:8, § 3; Thucyd., 3:82). This perversion of truth shall not obtain in Messiah's kingdom. Bountiful; rather, wealthy (comp. Job 34:19, where the same word is translated "rich").
For the vile person will speak villany, and his heart will work iniquity, to practise hypocrisy, and to utter error against the LORD, to make empty the soul of the hungry, and he will cause the drink of the thirsty to fail.
Verse 6. - For the vile person will speak villany, etc.; rather, for the fool speaketh folly, and his heart doeth wickedness, practising profanity and uttering error against Jehocab, making empty the soul of the hungry - yea, the drink of the thirsty will he cause to fail. The prophet seems to have the portrait of Nabal in his mind, and to take him as the type of a class.
The instruments also of the churl are evil: he deviseth wicked devices to destroy the poor with lying words, even when the needy speaketh right.
Verse 7. - The instruments. Mr. Cheyne translates, "the machinations," which gives a better sense; but the rendering is scarcely borne out by any parallel use of the term c'li in Scripture or elsewhere. C'li properly means "vessels," "weapons," "implements." He deviseth wicked devices; rather, he deviseth plots. The word "he" is emphatic. Unlike the fool, who passively does evil through thoughtlessness, the niggard actively devises crafty plans against his fellow-men. He seeks to cheat the poor out of their rights by false witness (comp. Isaiah 1:17, 23; Isaiah 3:14, 15; Isaiah 5:28, etc.), Even when the needy speaketh right; i.e. "has right on his side." The translation in the text is to be preferred to that in the margin.
But the liberal deviseth liberal things; and by liberal things shall he stand.
Verse 8. - By liberal things shall he stand; or, to liberal things. The Hebrew will bear either sense. SECTION IX. FURTHER DENUNCIATIONS OF ISRAEL, JOINED WITH PROMISES (Isaiah 32:9-20).
Rise up, ye women that are at ease; hear my voice, ye careless daughters; give ear unto my speech.
Verses 9-12. - A REBUKE OF THE WOMEN. It might seem at first sight as if we had here a detached utterance of the prophet, accidentally conjoined with the preceding passage (vers. 1-8). But vers. 15-18 furnish a link of connection between the two portions of the chapter, and make it probable that they were delivered at the same time. Mr. Cheyne supposes that the indifference of a knot of women, gathered at some little distance from the men to whom Isaiah had addressed vers. 1-8, provoked the prophet suddenly to turn to them, and speak to them in terms of warning. Verse 9. - Rise up. The "careless daughters" are sitting, or reclining upon couches, at their ease. The prophet bids them stand up, to hear a message from God (comp. Judges 3:10). Ye women that are at ease; i.e. "that are self-satisfied and self-complacent." The word employed has almost always a bad sense (see 2 Kings 19:28; Job 12:5; Psalm 123:4; Amos 6:1; Zechariah 1:15). Hear my voice. This clause should be attached to the first half of the verse. The order of the words in the original is, "Ye women that are at ease, rise up and hear my words; ye careless daughters, hearken unto my speech."
Many days and years shall ye be troubled, ye careless women: for the vintage shall fail, the gathering shall not come.
Verse 10. - Many days and years shall ye be troubled; rather, in a year and days; i.e. "in less than two years." The object of the prophet is not to fix the duration of the trouble, but to mark the time of its commencement (comp. Isaiah 29:1). Shall ye be troubled; rather, shall ye tremble, or shudder (so Deuteronomy 2:25; Psalm 77:18; Psalm 99:1; Isaiah 5:25; Isaiah 64:2; Jeremiah 33:9, etc.). Ye careless women; rather, ye confident ones. The word is different from that employed in vers. 9 and 11. The vintage shall fail; literally, has failed - "the perfect of prophetic certitude" (Cheyne). Some critics understand a literal failure, or destruction, of the vintage through the invasion of the Assyrians. Others suggest a refer-once to Isaiah 5:4-7. The vineyard of the Lord (Judah) has utterly failed to bring forth grapes - there is no ingathering - therefore destruction shall fall upon it.
Tremble, ye women that are at ease; be troubled, ye careless ones: strip you, and make you bare, and gird sackcloth upon your loins.
Verse 11. - Tremble... be troubled. The repetition of this verse is, as usual, emphatic. Its object is to impress those whom the prophet is addressing with the certainty of the coming judgment. Strip you, and make you bare; i.e. "bare your breasts," in preparation for the beating which is to follow (see the comment on the next verse).
They shall lament for the teats, for the pleasant fields, for the fruitful vine.
Verse 12. - They shall lament for the teats, etc.; rather, they shall beat upon the breasts for the pleasant fields, etc. (so the LXX., the Vulgate, Jarchi, Gesenius, Ewald, Maurer, Knobel, Delitzsch, and Mr. Cheyne). Dr. Kay prefers the rendering of the Authorized Version, understanding by "the teats" such "dry breasts" as Hosea speaks of (Hosea 9:14). But nothing has been said in this place of any such affliction. For the pleasant fields, etc.; i.e. for their loss (see ver. 10).
Upon the land of my people shall come up thorns and briers; yea, upon all the houses of joy in the joyous city:
Verses 13-20. - A FURTHER MINGLING OF THREATS WITH COMFORTING PROMISES. The women require, like the men, to be both warned and comforted, wherefore the prophet addresses to them, as to the men in Isaiah 30. and 31, an intermixture of threatening (vers. 13, 14) with promise (vers. 15-20). Verse 13. - Upon the land of my people shall come up thorns and briars. This was the punishment with which the unfruitful vineyard was threatened in Isaiah 5:6. It may be understood either literally or of the wickedness that would abound when the time of judgment came. Yea, upon all the houses of joy (comp. Isaiah 5:9). If Sennacherib carried off, as he declares (G. Smith, 'Epenym Canon,' p. 134), more than two hundred thousand captives from Judaea, he must have left many houses without inhabitants. The solitude begun by him was completed by the Babylonians. The joyous city (see Isaiah 22:2). The word used has generally the sense of unholy mirth (comp. Isaiah 23:7; Isaiah 24:8; Zephaniah 2:15; Zephaniah 3:11).
Because the palaces shall be forsaken; the multitude of the city shall be left; the forts and towers shall be for dens for ever, a joy of wild asses, a pasture of flocks;
Verse 14. - The palaces shall be forsaken; literally, the palace; but the word is used in a generic sense. The prophet sees in vision Jerusalem deserted by her inhabitants, the grand houses of the rich empty, the strongholds haunted by wild beasts, and the slopes of the hills fed on by sheep, and even occasionally visited by the timid and solitude-loving wild ass. The description suits well the time of the Babylonian captivity, but not any earlier period. Probably it was not revealed to the prophet how soon the condition would be reached. The multitude of the city shall be left. The real meaning is, as Bishop Lowth expresses it, "The populous city shall be left desolate." But the whole passage is. as Delitzsch observes, "grammatically strange, the language becoming more complicated, disjointed, and difficult, the greater the wrath and indignation of the poet." The forts and towers; rather, hill and tower, with (perhaps) a special reference to the part of Jerusalem called Ophel (2 Chronicles 27:3; Nehemiah 3:26, etc.), the long projecting spur from the eastern hill, which points a little west of south, and separates the Kedron valley from the Tyropoeon. Shall be for dens; literally, for caves; but dens for wild beasts seem to be meant (comp. Isaiah 13:21; Isaiah 34:14; Jeremiah 50:39). For ever. This expression must not be pressed. Hyperbole is a recognized feature of poetry written under strong excitement. A joy of wild asses. The wild ass is not now found nearer Palestine than Mesopotamia, or perhaps Northern Syria. It is exceedingly shy, and never approaches the habitations of men.
Until the spirit be poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness be a fruitful field, and the fruitful field be counted for a forest.
Verse 15. - Until. The expression "until" modifies the previous "forever," showing that the desolation was not always to continue. The Spirit be poured upon us from on high. An effluence from the Holy Spirit of God on individuals of eminence, prophets, kings, artificers, to fit them for their tasks, is recognized in many of the earlier books of Scripture, and especially in the Davidical psalms. But a general effluence of the Spirit of holiness on a nation, to produce a change of heart, seems to be first announced by Isaiah. The nearly contemporary prophecy of Joel (Joel 2:28, 29) is, perhaps, as wide in its scope, but limited to the prophetic gift, which is not necessarily conjoined with spiritual-minded-ness or holiness of life. Isaiah, the "evangelical prophet," first teaches that the conversion of a nation is God's work, effected by the Holy Spirit, and effectual to the entire change of the heart of a people. And the wilderness be a fruitful field; i.e. "the community long cursed with barrenness of good works" (ver. 10) "becomes once more fruitful of them." And the fruitful field be counted for a forest. An order of climax seems to be here intended. The midbar, the bare pasturage-ground, becomes a Carmel, i.e. carefully cultivated; the Carmel becomes like Lebanon, a rich and luxurious forest. There is no close parallel between this verse and ver. 17 of Isaiah 29. The prophet is not tied down by his previous metaphors.
Then judgment shall dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness remain in the fruitful field.
Verse 16. - Then judgment shall dwell in the wilderness. In all parts of the kingdom of Christ, the lowest as well as the highest, "judgment" and "righteousness" shall prevail (comp. ver. 1).
And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever.
Verse 17. - The work of righteousness shall be peace. Peace - a true peace, not a false one (Jeremiah 6:14) - shall be the result of the reign of righteousness. War, quarrels, enmity, hostile feelings, are all of them the fruit of unrighteousness. In the kingdom of the Messiah, just so far forth as it is thoroughly established, "the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace" (James 3:18). The effect of righteousness; literally, the service of righteousness, which perhaps means here "the wages of righteousness." Quietness and assurance; or, quietness and confidence (comp. Isaiah 30:15). The final happiness of the blessed in Christ's kingdom is always spoken of as a state of "rest and quietness" (see Psalm 95:11; Job 3:17; Jeremiah 6:16; Matthew 11:28; Hebrews 4:9-11, etc.). The "confidence" felt would be an assured confidence, not a rash and foolish one, like that of the women of vers. 10, 11.
And my people shall dwell in a peaceable habitation, and in sure dwellings, and in quiet resting places;
When it shall hail, coming down on the forest; and the city shall be low in a low place.
Verse 19. - When it shall hail, coming down on the forest; rather, but it shall hail in the coming down (i.e. the destruction) of the forest. "The forest" has commonly been regarded as Assyria, on the strength of Isaiah 10:18, 19, 33, 34. Mr. Cheyne, however, suggests Judah, or the high and haughty ones of Judah, whose destruction was a necessary preliminary to the establishment of Christ's kingdom. May not God's enemies generally be meant? The city. Nineveh (Lowth, Gesenius, Rosenmüller); Jerusalem (Delitzsch, Knobel, Cheyne, Kay); "the city in which the hostility of the world to Jehovah will, in the latter days, be centralized" (Drechsler, Nagel) - the "world-power," in fact. The last view seems to give the best sense.
Blessed are ye that sow beside all waters, that send forth thither the feet of the ox and the ass.
Verse 20. - Blessed are ye that sow beside all waters. The idyllic picture, begun in ver. 15, terminates here. The people of the kingdom have a well-watered land (Isaiah 30:25), where they live peacefully, sowing their seed beside the water-courses, and having abundant pasture for their peaceful beasts - the ox and the ass (comp. Isaiah 30:24). A spiritual meaning doubtless underlies the literal sense.