(1) Woe unto them that decree unrighteous decrees . . .—The division of the chapters is again misleading. Isaiah 10:1-4 continue the discourse of Isaiah 9, and end with the final knell, “For all this . . .” With Isaiah 10:5 a new section begins, and is carried on to Isaiah 12:6, which deals, for the first time in the collection of Isaiah’s writings, exclusively with Assyria, and is followed in its turn by utterances that deal with Babylon and other nations. The formula with which the section opens reminds us of that of Isaiah 5:8; Isaiah 5:11; Isaiah 5:18; Isaiah 5:22, and suggests the thought that the prophet is speaking not only or chiefly of the northern kingdom, as in Isaiah 9:21, but of Israel as including Judah. The evils the prophet denounces are, it will be noted, identical with those in Isaiah 1:23; Isaiah 5:23. For the second clause of the verse, read, “and the scribes who register oppression.” All the formalities of justice were observed punctiliously. The decision of the unjust judge was duly given and recorded, but the outcome of it all was that the poor, the widow, and the fatherless got no redress. The words for “prey” and “rob” are those used in the mysterious name of Isaiah 8:1. They occur again in Isaiah 10:6. It would seem as if the prophet sought in this way to impress the thought of the great law of divine retribution. Men were reaping as they had sown.
To take the spoil.—The series of words, though general in meaning, contains probably a special reference to the recent destruction of Samaria, walls pulled down, houses and palaces turned into heaps of rubbish, the soldiers trampling on flower and fruit gardens, this was what the Assyrian army left behind it. Judah had probably suffered in the same way in the hands of Sargon.
Is not Hamath as Arpad?—(1) Hamath on the Orontes, the capital of an Aramæan kingdom, was prominent in the history of the East. Under its kings Toi and Joram it paid tribute to David (2 Samuel 8:9-10). It fell under the power of Jeroboam II. of Israel (2 Kings 14:25). In conjunction with Damascus it revolted against Shalmaneser IV., and was subdued by him (Lenormant’s Manual, 1 p. 380). Its king was first among the tributary princes under Tiglath-pileser II. after having joined with Pekah and Rezin in their revolt (ibid. 1 p. 389). Lastly, to come to the date of the present prophecy, it again revolted, in conjunction, as before, with Damascus and Samaria, and was again subdued by Sargon (ibid. 1 p. 393). (2) Of the early history of Arpad we know less, but it appears as having sustained a three years’ siege from the forces of Tiglath-pileser II. It joined Hamath in its revolt against Sargon, and was again, as this verse implies, subdued by him. It is always united in the Old Testament with Hamath (Isaiah 36:19; Isaiah 37:13). Under the name of Erfad it is still traceable about nine miles from Aleppo (Lenormant, 1 pp. 389, 393).
Is not Samaria as Damascus?—These cities, which under Rezin and Remaliah had, as we have seen (Isaiah 7) revolted against Tiglath-pileser, and the latter of which had sought to strengthen itself by an alliance with the Egyptian king So, or Sabaco (2 Kings 17:4), of the Ethiopian dynasty, against Shalmaneser IV., close for the present the list of Sargon’s conquests.
I have removed the bounds of the people.—The practice has, of course, more or less characterised the conquerors of all ages in their attempts to merge independent nationalities into one great empire; but it was pursued more systematically by Assyria than by most others. To be “a remover of boundaries and landmarks “was the title in which an Assyrian king most exulted. (Comp. inscription of Rimmon-nirari, in Smith’s Assyrian Discoveries, pp. 243, 244. Records of the Past, xi. 3).
I have put down the inhabitants like a valiant man.—Better, I have put down those that sat firmly. The Hebrew word for “valiant man” means primarily a “bull,” and then figuratively, as in Isa xxxiv, 7; Psalm 22:12, a “mighty one.” The fact that the bull appears so frequently in Assyrian monuments as a symbol of sovereignty, mates it probable that the word is used in that symbolic sense here. In Psalm 78:25, the “mighty ones” to whom it is applied are those of the host of heaven, the angels of God.
There was none that . . . peeped—i.e., chirped. See Note on Isaiah 8:19. Not a fledgling was left in the nests which the royal fowler had despoiled.
As if the rod should shake itself against them that lift it up.—Better, As if the rod should shake them. The plural is used either as generalising the comparison, or more probably as suggesting the thought that Elohim (God) is the true wielder of the rod. (Comp. Isaiah 10:5.)
As if the staff should lift up itself, as if it were no wood.—The multiplied italics show that the translators found the clause difficult. Better and more simply, As if the staff should lift that which is not wood, i.e., the living arm that holds it. Was it for the king of Assyria to assume that he could alter and determine the purposes of Jehovah? Did the man wield the rod, or the rod the man?
As when a standardbearer fainteth.—The Authorised version represents the extremity of misery and exhaustion. The “standard-bearer” was chosen for his heroic strength and stature. When he “fainted” and gave way, what hope was there that others would survive? A more correct rendering, however, gives As a sick man pineth away.
Shall no more again stay upon him that smote them.—The smiter is the king of Assyria, whose protection Ahaz and his counsellors had courted instead of trusting in the Holy One of Israel. Their experience of the failure of that false policy should lead them to see that faith in God was, after all, the truest wisdom.
The consumption decreed shall overflow with righteousness.—Literally, a finished (or final) work, decisive, overflowing with righteousness. A like phrase meets us again in Isaiah 28:22; Daniel 9:27. The “finished work” is that of God’s judgment, and it “overflows with righteousness” at once punitive and corrective.
As his rod was upon the sea.—The italics spoil the sense. Better, His rod upon the sea . . . He shall lift it up after the manner of Egypt. The ambiguous formula which had been taken as primarily of evil boding in Isaiah 10:24, is repeated as an augury of good. There was another rod prominent in that Egyptian history besides that of the oppressor, and that rod had been wielded by the deliverer.