Isaiah 9
Pulpit Commentary
Nevertheless the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at the first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, and afterward did more grievously afflict her by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the nations.
Verses 1-7 - THE TROUBLES OF ISRAEL SHALL END THROUGH THE BIRTH OF A MARVELOUS CHILD. The section of the prophecy commencing with Isaiah 7:1 terminates in this glorious burst of glad and gracious promise. The gist of the whole section is: "Israel shall not suffer from Pekah and Rezin; her oppressors shall be Assyria and Egypt, more especially the former; Assyria shall overwhelm her, crush her, lay her low; she shall remain awhile in gloom and darkness; but at length the darkness shall be dispelled; a 'great light' shall shine forth, first in the north, then over all the land; 'the rod of the oppressor' shall be broken; a Child shall be born, who shall bear marvelous names, and shall rule over the full kingdom of David in justice and righteousness forever." God has spoken, and God will perform this. Verse 1. - Nevertheless the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when, etc. Our translators have misconceived the construction, and consequently missed the sense. The first two clauses, which they run together, are entirely separate and distinct. Translate, Nevertheless there shall be no (more) darkness to her who was in affliction. As at the former time he brought contempt upon the land of Zebulon, etc. Contempt was brought on the more northern part of the Holy Land, first when it was overrun and ravaged by the Syrians (1 Kings 15:20) under Ben-hadad, and more recently when it bore the brunt of the Assyrian attack (2 Kings 15:29) under Tiglath-Pileser. At the first... and afterward; rather, at the former time... in the latter time. The contrast is between two periods of Israel's history, the existing period and the Messianic. And afterward did more grievously afflict her. This is altogether wrong. Translate, So in the latter time he hath brought honor on the way of the sea. The perfect is a "prophetic perfect," and the reference is to the honor that would be done to the northern districts, "the land of Zebulon and the land of Naphtali," by the Messiah dwelling there (comp. Matthew 4:14-16). The way of the sea; i.e. the district about the sea of Tiberias, called "the sea of Kinnereth" (equivalent to "Gennesareth") in Numbers 34:11, and "the sea of Galilee" in John 6:1. Beyond Jordan; i.e. the tract east of the sea and of the upper Jordan, where the five thousand were fed, and where our Lord was transfigured. Galilee of the nations. The name "Galilee" seems to have been given to the outlying circuit, or zone, on the north, which was debatable ground between the Israelites and their neighbors (see 1 Kings 9:11; Joshua 20:7; Joshua 21:32). The word means "circuit," or "ring." Though claimed as theirs by the Israelites, it was largely peopled by "Gentiles."
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.
Verse 2. - The people that walked in darkness (comp. Isaiah 8:22). All the world was "in darkness" when Christ came; but here the Jews especially seem to be intended. It was truly a dark time with them when Christ came (see Dollinger's 'Judenthum and Heidenthum,' vol. 2. pp. 301-335). Have seen; rather, saw. The "prophetic" preterit is used throughout the whole passage. A great light. "The Light of the world," "the Sun of righteousness," "the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world, "first broke on man in that northern tract" by the way of the sea, "when Jesus came forward to teach and to preach in "Galilee of the Gentiles." For thirty years he had dwelt at Nazareth, in Zebulon. There he had first come forward to teach in a synagogue (Luke 4:16-21); in Galilee he had done his first miracles (John 2:11; John 4:54); at Capernaum. "Upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim," he commenced his preaching of repentance (Matthew 4:13-17). The "light" first streamed forth in this quarter, glorifying the region on which contempt had long been poured.
Thou hast multiplied the nation, and not increased the joy: they joy before thee according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.
Verse 3. - Thou hast multiplied the nation, and not increased the joy. Dr. Kay defends this reading, and supposes a contrast of time between this clause and the next; he renders, "Thou didst multiply the nation" (i.e. in the days of Solomon and again in those of Uzziah) "and not increase the joy; but now," etc. The objection is that the verbs are all in the same tense, the simple preterit, and that there is nothing in the original corresponding to "but now." Almost all other recent commentators accept the solution offered by the Masoretic reading (לו for לא), which makes the passage simple and easy: "Thou hast multiplied the nation; its joy thou hast increased; they joy before thee," etc. (So many Hebrew manuscripts, the Alexandrine Septuagint, the Syriac, Gesenius, Knobel, Cheyne, etc.) According to the joy in harvest. "The joy in harvest" was to the Jews the joy of the Feast of Tabernacles, or in gathering (Exodus 23:16), held when the last fruits were brought in. But the prophet is perhaps taking a wider view, and thinking of the many harvest festivals prevailing throughout Western Asia, all of them originating in gratitude to the Giver of all good, and many of them comprising manifestations of joy more jubilant than those habitual to his sedater countrymen.
For thou hast broken the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, as in the day of Midian.
Verse 4. - Thou hast broken the yoke of his burden, etc. The coming of the Messiah sets the Israelites free, removes the yoke from off their neck, breaks the rod wherewith their shoulders were beaten, delivers them from bondage into the "glorious liberty of the children of God." Not, however, in an earthly sense, since the Messiah's kingdom was not of this world. The "yoke" is that of sin, the "oppressor" is that prince of darkness, who had well-nigh brought all mankind under his dominion when Christ came. His oppressor; literally, his task-master - the same word which is used of the Egyptian taskmasters in Exodus 5:6. As in the day of Midian. The "day of Midian" is probably the time of Israel's deliverance from the Midianite oppression by Gideon (Judges 7:19-25). The special characteristic of the deliverance was, as Dr. Kay well observes, "that it was accomplished without military prowess by a small body of men selected out of Israel, selected expressly in order that Israel might not vaunt itself against the Lord, saying, My own hand hath saved me (Judges 7:2)."
For every battle of the warrior is with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood; but this shall be with burning and fuel of fire.
Verse 5. - For every battle of the warrior is with confused noise; rather, for all the armor of him that armeth noisily (Knobel, Vance Smith); or, perhaps, "every hoof of him that trampeth noisily" (Gesenius, Cheyne). The noun and participle, which are cognate words, occur only in this passage. And garments, etc. Translate, And every garment that is rolled in blood, shall be for burning, even fuel for fire. All military accoutrements shall be committed to the flames, that the reign of peace and justice may commence (comp. Isaiah 2:4; Psalm 46:9).
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
Verse 6. - Unto us a child is born (comp. Isaiah 7:14-16, where the promise of "a child," "a son," is first made - a child who was, like this Child, to be "God with us"). The government shall be upon his shoulder. The word translated "government" (misrah) occurs only here and in ver. 7. It is probably to be connected with sat, "prince," and Israel. Government was regarded as a burden, to be born on the back or shoulders, and was sometimes symbolized by a key laid upon the shoulder (Isaiah 22:22). Vizier means "burdened." The Latin writers often speak of the civil power as borne on the shoulders of magistrates (Cic., 'Orat. pro Flacc,' § 95; Plin., 'Paneg.,' § 10). As God, our Lord governed all things from the beginning; as man, he set up a "kingdom" which he still governs - upon the earth. His name shall be called. It is perhaps not very important whether we view what follows as one name or several. Isaiah does not really mean that the "Child" should bear as a name, or names, any of the expressions, but only that they should be truly applicable to him. Wonderful, Counselor. It has been proposed to unite these two expressions and translate, "Wondrous Counselor" (compare "wonderful in counsel," Isaiah 28:29). But Dr. Kay is probably right in saying that, if this had been the meaning, it would have been expressed differently. Gesenius, Rosenmüller, Delitzsch, and Vance Smith agree with Dr. Kay in taking the words separately. Wonderful. The Messiah would be "wonderful" in his nature as God-Man; in his teaching, which "astonished" those who heard it (Matthew 7:28); in his doings (Isaiah 25:1); in the circumstances of his birth and death; in his resurrection, and in his ascension. "Wonder" would be the first sentiment which his manifestation would provoke, and hence this descriptive epithet is placed first. As the Word, as Wisdom itself, as he who says, "Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom: I am Understanding" (Proverbs 8:14), he is well named "Counselor." None will ever seek his counsel in vain, much less repent of following it. The mighty God; rather, perhaps, Mighty God; but the difference is not great, since El, God, contains within itself the notion of singularity, which is given to ordinary nouns by the article. The term El, God, had been previously applied to the Messiah only in Psalm 45:6. It denotes in Isaiah always (as Mr. Cheyne observes) "divinity in an absolute sense; it is never used hyperbolically or metaphorically." The Everlasting Father; rather, Everlasting or Eternal Father. But here, again, there is a singularity in the idea, which makes the omission of the article unimportant; for how could there be more than one Everlasting Father, one Creator, Preserver, Protector of mankind who was absolutely eternal? If the term "Father," applied to our Lord, grates on our ears, we must remember that the distinction of Persons in the Godhead had not yet been revealed. The Prince of Peace; literally, Prince of Peace. A "Prince of Peace" had been long shadowed forth, as in Melchizedek, "King of Salem," i.e. "of Peace;" and again in Solomon, "the peaceful one;" and Isaiah himself had already prophesied the peacefulness of the Messiah's kingdom (Isaiah 2:4). Compare the song of the angels at our Lord's birth (Luke 2:14). If the peacefulness has not vet very clearly shown itself, the reason would seem to be that our Lord's kingdom has yet to come into the hearts of most men.
Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.
Verse 7. - Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end. The Messiah's kingdom shall ever increase more and more; there shall be no limits to it; ultimately it shall fill the world (comp. Matthew 28:18, 19). The continual spread of Christianity tends to the accomplishment of this prophecy. Upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom. That the Messiah is to sit on the throne of David, suggests, but does not absolutely imply, his Davidic descent. That descent is, however, announced with sufficient clearness in Isaiah 11:1, 10. To order it, and to establish it. A gradual establishment of the kingdom would seem to be implied, such as is taught also in the parables of the mustard seed and the leaven. From henceforth even forever. The kingdom is to be both universal in respect of extent (see the first note on the verse), and in respect of duration eternal. The zeal; or, jealousy. God's jealousy of his own honor, which is bound up with the prosperity and final triumph of his people over all their enemies, will assure the performance of all that is here prophesied.
The Lord sent a word into Jacob, and it hath lighted upon Israel.
Verses 8-21. - THE PROPHET RETURNS TO THREATS AND WARNINGS, ADDRESSED CHIEFLY TO THE KINGDOM OF ISRAEL. The remainder of this chapter, together with the first four verses of the next, seems to have formed originally a distinct and separate prophecy. The passage is a poem in four stanzas, with the same refrain at the end of each: "For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still." A somewhat early date has been assigned to the prophecy, as; for instance, "some period in the reign of Jotham" (Cheyne); but the internal evidence only proves that it was written before the destruction of Samaria by the Assyrians. Verse 8. - Jacob... Israel. These words do not show that the prophecy is directed against the kingdom of Israel only. "Jacob" designates Judah rather than Israel in Isaiah 2:3, 5, 6; and the expression, "both the houses of Israel," in Isaiah 8:14, shows that the term "Israel" embraces both kingdoms. Tim distinctive names by which Isaiah ordinarily designates the northern kingdom are "Ephraim" and "Samaria."
And all the people shall know, even Ephraim and the inhabitant of Samaria, that say in the pride and stoutness of heart,
Verse 9. - Even Ephraim; rather, especially Ephraim. The prophecy is no doubt mainly directed against the northern kingdom. That say in the pride and stoutness of heart; rather, in the pride and stoutness of heart, wherein they say.
The bricks are fallen down, but we will build with hewn stones: the sycomores are cut down, but we will change them into cedars.
Verse 10. - The bricks are fallen down, etc.; i.e. we have suffered a moderate damage, but we will more than make up for it; all our losses we will replace with something better. Bricks were the ordinary material for the poorer class of houses in Palestine; stone was reserved for the dwellings of the rich and great (Amos 5:11). Sycamore wood was the commonest sort of timber, cedar the scarcest and most precious, having to be imported from Phoenicia (1 Kings 5:6; 2 Chronicles 2:3; Ezra 3:7). (On the contrast between cedar and sycamore wood, comp. 2 Chronicles 1:15.) Cut down. The Israelites probably alluded to damage done by Tiglath-Pileser in his first invasion. The Assyrians were in the habit of actually cutting down trees in foreign countries, in order to injure and weaken them; but the present passage is, perhaps, rather intended to be figurative.
Therefore the LORD shall set up the adversaries of Rezin against him, and join his enemies together;
Verse 11. - Therefore the Lord shall set up the adversaries of Rezin against him. "Against him" means "against Ephraim," or the kingdom of Israel. "The adversaries of Rezin" could only be the Assyrians; but these seem precluded by the next verse, which mentions only "Syrians" and Philistines." Hence many critics accept the variant reading of several manuscripts sarey for tsarey - which gives the sense of "the princes of Rezin" (so Lowth, Ewald, Houbigant, Weir, Cheyne).
The Syrians before, and the Philistines behind; and they shall devour Israel with open mouth. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.
Verse 12. - The Syrians before, and the Philistines behind; or, the Syrians from the east, and the Philistines from the west. The Semitic races regarded the world as looking to the rising sun, and used for the east the preposition signifying "in front," for the west that signifying "behind." Syria seems to have been hostile to Samaria until the league was formed between Rezin and Pekah, and may have become hostile again after Pekah's death (2 Chronicles 28:23). We read of a Philistine invasion of Judah in Chronicles (2 Chronicles 28:18), but not of their attacking Israel. Still, it was as easy for them to attack the one as the other. They abutted on the territory of Israel towards the southwest, as Syria did towards the north-east. For all this his anger is not turned away; since Israel continued impenitent. It would have ceased had they repented and turned to God (see ver. 13). His hand is stretched out; not to save, but to smite.
For the people turneth not unto him that smiteth them, neither do they seek the LORD of hosts.
Verse 13. - The people. The people of Israel, as distinct from the people of Judah. The particular judgment announced in vers. 11, 12 is clearly to fall on them. Neither do they seek the Lord of hosts. Israel had set itself to seek after Baal from the time of Ahab (1 Kings 16:31). The reform of Jehu (2 Kings 10:28) had gone but skin-deep. Baal was still "sought to," rather than Jehovah, when the final judgment came (2 Kings 17:16; Hosea 2:13).
Therefore the LORD will cut off from Israel head and tail, branch and rush, in one day.
Verse 14. - Head and tail, branch and rush; i.e. the whole nation, from the highest to the lowest. The "branch" intended is the "palm branch," at once lofty in position and the most glorious form of vegetable life (Psalm 92:12; Song of Solomon 7:7, 8, etc.); the "rush" is the simple "sedge" that grows, not only low on the ground, but in the "mire" (Job 8:11). The same expression occurs again in Isaiah 19:15.
The ancient and honourable, he is the head; and the prophet that teacheth lies, he is the tail.
Verse 15. - Some suppose this verse to be a gloss, or marginal note, which has crept into the text; but it is too pointed and sarcastic for a mere gloss. There is no reason to doubt its being Isaiah's. Having spoken of "the tail," he takes the opportunity of lashing the false prophet, who claimed to be among the "honorable," but was really the lowest of the low, worse than his dupes, the true "tail" (comp. Isaiah 28:7; Isaiah 29:10; Isaiah 30:10).
For the leaders of this people cause them to err; and they that are led of them are destroyed.
Verse 16. - The leaders of this people cause them to err (comp. Isaiah 3:12). Both the peoples were led into idolatry by their rulers, but Israel especially. Jeroboam, the first king, introduced the calf-worship, and his successors from first to last persisted in his sin. Ahab added the still grosset idolatry of Baal. Those who held high position under the kings were equally bad examples to the people (see above, Isaiah 1:2:3). Are destroyed. First, morally corrupted and debased, then physically given over to destruction - slaughtered by Philistines, Syrians, and Assyrians.
Therefore the Lord shall have no joy in their young men, neither shall have mercy on their fatherless and widows: for every one is an hypocrite and an evildoer, and every mouth speaketh folly. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.
Verse 17. - The Lord shall have no joy in their young men. "The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy" (Psalm 147:11). He can have no joy or delight in evil-doers, or idolaters, or in those whose speech is profanity. Neither shall have mercy on their fatherless and widows. The widow and the orphan are objects of God's tenderest love and compassion (Exodus 22:22; Deuteronomy 10:18; Deuteronomy 14:29; Isaiah 1:17, etc.); but when the wickedness of a land provokes him to send any one of his "four sore judgments" upon it, the widow and the fatherless must suffer with the other inhabitants. God pities them, doubtless, but his justice and his righteous anger force him to restrain his pity, and carry out his judgment in spite of it. Every one is an hypocrite; or, corrupt; compare, "They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one" (Psalm 14:3). A certain allowance must be made for the natural hyperbole of strong feeling. Every mouth speaketh folly. The word translated here (and generally) "folly" is rendered "villany" in Isaiah 32:6 and Jeremiah 29:23. Its proper meaning seems to be "lewdness or "profligacy."
For wickedness burneth as the fire: it shall devour the briers and thorns, and shall kindle in the thickets of the forest, and they shall mount up like the lifting up of smoke.
Verse 18. - Wickedness burneth as the fire; i.e. the contagion of wickedness overspreads a whole nation in the same rapid way that fire spreads over a field of stubble or a forest. They shall mount up like the lifting up of smoke; rather, they - i.e., the forest thickets - shall be whirled upward with the uplifting of smoke. The burning thickets shall mount up with the volumes of smoke into the air, and hang there as a murky but lurid pall. The flames of wickedness give no light to a land, but lunge it in heavy, hopeless gloom.
Through the wrath of the LORD of hosts is the land darkened, and the people shall be as the fuel of the fire: no man shall spare his brother.
Verse 19. - Is the land darkened; rather, burst up (συγκέκαυται, LXX.). The root used occurs in Arabic in this sense. It is not used elsewhere in Scripture. The people shall be as the fuel of the fire. Though the general ravage, devastation, and desolation of the laud, with its buildings, its trees, and its other vegetable products, is included in the image of the fire devouring the thorny brakes and tangled thickets of a dense forest, yet the threat is intended still more against the Israelite people, who were the true "fuel of the fire," since the ravage would go on until the land should be depopulated. No man shall spare his brother. We have here a new feature. Not only shall foreign enemies - Syrians and Philistines - dew, up Israel, but the plague of civil war will also be let loose upon them (comp. ver. 21, and see 2 Kings 15:30, where we find that Pekah fell a victim to a conspiracy headed by Hoshea).
And he shall snatch on the right hand, and be hungry; and he shall eat on the left hand, and they shall not be satisfied: they shall eat every man the flesh of his own arm:
Verse 20. - He shall snatch; rather, one shall devour. A man, i.e., shall plunder and ravage in one quarter, and yet not be satisfied; then he shall do the same in another, and still desire more. "Increase of appetite shall grow by what it feeds on." There shall be no sense of satiety anywhere. The flesh of his own arm. In a civil war, or a time of anarchy, each man is always "eating the flesh of his own arm" - i.e. injuring his neighbor, who is his own natural protector and defender.
Manasseh, Ephraim; and Ephraim, Manasseh: and they together shall be against Judah. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.
Verse 21. - Manasseh, Ephraim. These two are mentioned as the two principal tribes of the northern kingdom (comp. 1 Chronicles 9:3; 2 Chronicles 30:1, 10, 18; 2 Chronicles 31:1; 2 Chronicles 34:9). It is not to be supposed that civil discord was confined to them. Probably there was a general disorganization. Still, all the tribes would at any time willingly unite "together against Judah" (see 2 Kings 15:37; 2 Chronicles 28:6-8).

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