(1) For the Lord will have mercy on Jacob . . .—The words imply a prevision of the return of the Israelites from exile, and therefore of the exile itself. The downfall of Babylon was certain, because without it the mercy of the Lord to Israel could not be manifested. The whole section is an anticipation of the great argument of Isaiah 40-66, and the question of its authorship stands or falls on the same grounds.
The strangers shall be joined with them . . .—The thought is one specially characteristic of the later prophecies of Isaiah (Isaiah 44:5; Isaiah 55:5; Isaiah 56:3-6), but is prominent in the earlier also (Isaiah 2:2). In later Hebrew the same words came to be applied to the proselytes who are conspicuous in the apostolic age (Acts 2:10; Acts 6:5), and in them, as before in the adhesion and support of the Persian kings and satraps, and as afterwards in the admission of the Gentiles into the kingdom of the Christ, we may trace successive fulfilments of the prophet’s words.
How hath the oppressor ceased.—If we take “the golden city” of the English version as the correct rendering, it finds a parallel in the epithet of “gold abounding” applied to Babylon by Æschylus (Pers. 53). The word so translated is, however, not found elsewhere, and the general consensus of recent critics, following in the wake of the Targum and the LXX., is in favour of the rendering, the task-master, or the place of torture. The Vulgate, how has the tribute ceased, expresses substantially the same thought. The marginal reading, exactress of gold, seems like an attempt to combine two different etymologies.
A continual stroke.—Literally, a stroke without ceasing.
Is persecuted, and none hindereth.—Better, completing the parallelism, with a trampling that is not stayed.
No feller is come up against us—The literal and figurative senses melt into each other, the former perhaps being the more prominent. It was the boast of Assurbanipal and other Assyrian kings that wherever they conquered they cut down forests and left the land bare. (Comp. Isaiah 37:24 : Records of the Past, i. 86.) As the fir tree, the cedar, and the oak were the natural symbols of kingly rule (Jeremiah 22:7; Ezekiel 17:3; Ezekiel 31:3), this devastation represented the triumph of the Chaldæan king over other princes. On his downfall, the trees on the mountain, the kings and chieftains in their palaces, would alike rejoice.
“The abode of darkness and famine.
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Night is not seen—in darkness they dwell.
Ghosts, like birds, flutter their wings there.
On the door and gate-posts the dust lies undisturbed.
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To be the ruler of a palace shall be thy rank;
A throne of state shall be thy seat.”
The noise of thy viols.—Perhaps harps, or cymbals, representing one of the prominent features of Babylonian culture (Daniel 3:5). The singers see, as it were, all this kingly state mouldering in the grave, maggots and worms (the two words are different in the Hebrew) taking the place of the costly shawls and carpets on which the great king had been wont to rest.
I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation . . .—The words have often been interpreted of Jerusalem or the Temple, as the “mountain of assembly” (as the tabernacle was “the tent of the congregation,” or “of meeting”), and “the sides (better, recesses) of the north” have been connected, like the same phrase in Psalm 48:2, with the portion of the Temple which the king of Babylon is supposed to threaten. Most modern scholars are, however, agreed that this interpretation is untenable. What is brought before us is the heaven, the “mountain of assembly,” where the great gods in whom the king of Babylon believed sat in council. So Assyrian hymns speak of “the feasts of the silver mountains, the heavenly courts” (as the Greeks spoke of Olympus), where the gods dwell eternally (Records of the Past, iii. 133). And this ideal mountain was for them, like the Meru of Indian legend, in the farthest north. So in the legendary geography of Greece, the Hyperborei, or “people beyond the north wind,” were a holy and blessed race, the chosen servants of Apollo (Herod., ii. 32-36). In Ezekiel 28:14 the prophet recognises an ideal “mountain of God” of like nature, and the vision of the future glory of a transfigured Zion, in chap 2:1-3, implies, as we have seen, an idea of the same kind. Possibly the same thought appears in Ezekiel’s vision, “out of the north” (Isaiah 1:4).
As the raiment of those that are slain . . .—The image reminds us of the “garments rolled in blood “of Isaiah 9:5, gathered after the battle, and “cast forth” to be burnt. In such raiment, not in stately robes nor kingly grave-clothes, would the great ruler be found. To lie thus unburied, “a prey to dogs and vultures” (Homer, Iliad, i. 4), was, as with the Homeric heroes, the shame of all shames.
That go down to the stones of the pit.—By some critics these words are joined with the following verse: Those that go down . . . with them thou shalt not be joined in burial, i.e., shalt have no proper sepulchre. As the passage stands, “the stones of the pit” represent the burial-place into which the carcases of the slain were indiscriminately thrown.
The seed of evildoers shall never be renowned.—Literally, shall not be named for ever. Here we have a parallel in the sentence on Coniah (Jeremiah 22:30). In the inscription of Eshmunazzar, king of Sidon (quoted by Cheyne), we have both elements of the imprecation: “Let him (the man who violates the sacredness of the king’s tomb) not have a couch with the shade, and let him not be buried in the grave, and let him not have son or seed in his stead.” In the inscriptions of Tiglath-pileser (Records of the Past, v. 26) and Merôdach-baladan III. (ib., ix. 36) we find like curses. Historically, as the Behistun inscription shows, the dynasty of Nabopolassar disappeared from history. and Darius boasts of having subdued an impostor, a second Nebuchadnezzar, who claimed to represent it (Records of the Past, i. 114).
Nor fill the face of the world with cities.—The words describe the boast of the great monarchs, who, like Nimrod, built cities to perpetuate their fame. (Comp. Genesis 10:10-12; Daniel 4:30.) The Babylonian and Assyrian kings record their destructive and constructive work with equal exultation (Records of the Past, v., pp. 80, 119, 123). Various readings have been suggested, giving ruined heaps, or terrible ones, or enemies, or conflicts; but there seems no need for any change.
Pools of water.—These were the natural result of the breaking up of the canals, sluices, reservoirs, which had kept the overflow of the Euphrates within bounds (Diod. Sic., ii. 7).
I will sweep it with the besom of destruction . . .—The phrase has its parallel in the “sieve of vanity,” in Isaiah 30:28. (Comp. Isaiah 34:11) The force of the image must not be lost sight of Babylon is to be swept away as men sweep away some foul rubbish from their house. The world is cleaner for its destruction. The solemn doom closes the “burden” of Babylon.
Because the rod of him that smote thee is broken.—The “rod,” as in Isaiah 10:24, is the power of Tiglath-pileser. The Philistines were exulting in his death, or in that of Ahaz as his ally, as though their peril was past. They are told that their exultation was premature.
Out of the serpent’s root.—The three forms of serpent life (we need not be careful about their identification from the zoologist’s point of view) may represent the three Assyrian kings named above, from whose invasions the Philistines were to suffer. Each form was more terrible than the preceding. The fiery flying serpent (Isaiah 30:6; Numbers 21:6), which represented Sennacherib, was the most formidable of the three. So in Isaiah 27:1, the “piercing serpent,” the “crooked serpent,” and the “dragon” are symbols of the Assyrian power. Some critics, however, led chiefly by the first words of the next verse, find in the three serpents—(1) Ahaz, (2) Hezekiah, (3) the ideal king of Isaiah 11:1-9.
From the north.—Here of the Assyrian invaders, as in Jeremiah 1:14; Jeremiah 10:22; Jeremiah 46:20 of the Chaldean. The “smoke” may be either that of the cities which the Assyrians burnt, or, more probably, the torch-signals, or beacons, which they used in their night marches or encampments (Jeremiah 6:1; Jeremiah 1:2). (See Note on Isaiah 4:5.)
None shall be alone in his appointed times.—Better, there is no straggler at the appointed places: i.e., all the troops shall meet at the rendezvous which was indicated by the column of fiery smoke as a signal.
That the Lord hath founded Zion.—This is the answer to all such inquiries. Zion stands firm and safe in the protection of Jehovah. The “poor” (obviously those of Isaiah 14:30) shall trust (better, shall find refuge) in it. (Comp. Isaiah 28:16.) They need no foreign alliances, no arm of flesh.