(1) The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw.—On the relation of this chapter to Isaiah 1, see Introduction. The moral and social state described in it points to an earlier date than the reformation of Hezekiah. The sins of the people are more flagrant; but there is not as yet with them the added guilt of a formal and ceremonial worship. The character of the king in Isaiah 3:12 corresponds with that of Ahaz. The influence of the Philistines, traceable in Isaiah 2:6, is probably connected with their invasion of Judah in that reign (2 Chronicles 28:18). The mention of “ships of Tarshish” in Isaiah 2:16 points to a time when the commerce of the Red Sea (1 Kings 9:26; 1 Kings 22:48) was still in the hands of Judah, and prior, therefore, to the capture of Elath by Rezin, king of Syria (2 Kings 16:6). We are able, therefore, with hardly the shadow of uncertainty, to fix the date of the whole section as belonging to the early years of the reign of Ahaz, with, perhaps, a backward glance at evils which belonged also to the reigns of Uzziah and Jotham. The title of the superscription unites in an exceptional form the two ideas of the prophet and of the seer. What follows is “the word” of Isaiah, but it is a word that he has seen.
For “in the last days” read latter or after days; the idea of the Hebrew words, as in Genesis 49:1; Numbers 24:14, being that of remoteness rather than finality. For the most part (Deuteronomy 4:30; Deuteronomy 31:29) they point to the distant future of the true King, to the time of the Messiah.
The mountain of the Lord’s house.—The prophet’s vision of the far-off days sees, as it were, a transfigured and glorified Jerusalem. Zion, with the Temple, was to be no longer surrounded by hills as high as, or higher than, itself (Psalm 125:2), scorned by other mountains (Psalm 68:16-17); but was to be to Israel as a Sinai or a Lebanon, as a Mount Meru, or an Olympus, “an exceeding high mountain” (Ezekiel 40:2), whose physical elevation should answer to its spiritual. (Comp. Zechariah 14:10.) So in that vision of the future, the waters of Shiloah, that went softly, were to become a broad and rushing river (Isaiah 33:21; Ezekiel 47:3-12). So, when men had been taught by experience that this ideal was to be realised in no Jerusalem or earth, the seer of Patmos saw a yet more transcendent vision of the glories of the heavenly Jerusalem (Revelation 21:10 to Revelation 22:5), and yet even these were but types and figures of divine and ineffable realities.
All nations shall flow unto it.—Better, all the nations—i.e., the heathen as distinct from Israel. The prophet sees and welcomes the approach of pilgrims from all regions of the earth to the new sanctuary. Thus early in his work was Isaiah (half unconsciously as to the manner in which his vision was to be realised) the prophet of a universal religion, of which the truths of Judaism were the centre, and of a catholic Church. In the admission of proselytes, commemorated in Psalms 87 (probably written about this time), we may see what may either have suggested the prophecy, or have seemed as the first-fruits of its fulfilment.
Shall go forth the law . . .—In the preaching of the Christ, in the mission of the Twelve, in the whole history of the Apostolic Church, we have, to say the least, an adequate fulfilment of the promise. The language of St. Paul, however, suggests that there may be in the future a yet more glorious mission, of which Jerusalem shall once more be the centre (Romans 11:12-15).
And they shall beat their swords into plowshares.—The words invert the picture of an earlier prophet, who spoke of a time of war (Joel 3:10). Isaiah must have known that prediction, and yet he proclaims (following Hosea 2:18) that peace, not war, is the ideal goal towards which the order of the Divine government is tending. (Comp. Zechariah 9:10; Luke 2:14.)
Because they be replenished from the east.—The disasters of the time are viewed as chastisements for sin, and the sin consisted in casting off their national allegiance to Jehovah. The “east,” from which they were replenished, with which they filled their thoughts and life, was Syria and Mesopotamia, to whose influence they had yielded, and whose cultus Ahaz had adopted (2 Kings 16:10-12).
And are soothsayers like the Philistines.—Literally, cloud-diviners. The word points to the claim of being “storm-raisers,” which has been in all ages one of the boasts of sorcerers. The conquests of Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:6) had brought Judah into contact with the Philistines, and the oracles at Ekron and elsewhere (2 Kings 1:2) attracted the people of Judah. There was, as it were, a mania for divination, and the “diviners” of Philistia (1 Samuel 6:2) found imitators among the people of Jehovah.
They please themselves in the children of strangers.—Literally, they strike hands with, as meaning, (1) they enter into contracts with, or (2) they make common cause with. The commerce of the people with foreign nations, which had expanded under Uzziah (2 Kings 14:22), was, from the prophet’s point of view, the cause of much evil. It was probably conducted, as at an earlier date, chiefly by Phoenician sailors and merchants (1 Kings 9:27), and thus opened the way to their impurity of worship and of life (Jonah 1:5). The sense of being a peculiar and separate people wore away. The pictures of the “strange woman” and the foreign money-lender of Proverbs 5:3; Proverbs 6:1, present two aspects of this evil.
Their land is also full of . . . chariots.—Here also the reign of Uzziah was like that of Solomon (1 Kings 10:26-28). Chariots were used probably both for state pageants (Song of Solomon 1:9; Song of Solomon 3:9-10) and as part of the matériel of war (2 Chronicles 1:14; 2 Chronicles 9:25). Isaiah here also agrees with Micah (Micah 1:13) in looking on this as “the beginning of sin” (see Deuteronomy 17:16; 1 Samuel 8:11). For him, as for Zechariah (Zechariah 9:9), the true King was to come, not with chariots and horses, but riding, as the judges of Israel had ridden (Judges 5:10; Judges 10:4; Judges 12:14), on “a colt, the foal of an ass.”
Therefore forgive them not.—As a prayer the words find a parallel in Psalm 69:27; Psalm 109:14, but the rendering adopted by Cheyne and others, And thou canst not forgive them, is perhaps preferable. The sin is treated as “a sin unto death,” for which it is vain to pray (Isaiah 22:14).
The Lord alone shall be exalted . . .—The verb, as in Psalm 46:7; Psalm 46:11 (see margin and text of Authorised Version), implies the image of a rock-citadel, towering in its strength, and offering the one safe asylum in a time of danger. (Comp. also Psalm 61:2.)
Upon every one that is proud and lofty . . .—The emphatic iteration of “lifted up” is noticeable as indicating that the prophet sees in that self-assertion the root-evil of his time, that which was most destructive of the fear of the Lord, and most surely brought down judgment on the offender. So the devout historian of Greece reads the teaching of the history which he tells. He saw the loftiest trees most exposed to the lightning-flash, the loftiest monarch most liable to the working of the Divine Nemesis (Herod., vii. 10).
Upon all pleasant pictures.—Literally, upon all imagery of delight (Comp. Leviticus 26:1; Numbers 33:52.) The combination of the phrase with “the ships of Tarshish” suggests the inference that it includes the works of art which were brought by them from East and West. For these, it would seem, there was a mania among the higher classes in Jerusalem, like that which in later times has fastened upon china, or pictures, or carvings in ivory. So the ships of Solomon brought gold and silver, and “ivory and apes and peacocks” (1 Kings 10:22). The “ivory beds” of Amos 6:4, the “gold rings set with the beryl,” the “ivory overlaid with sapphires,” the “pillars of marble set upon sockets of fine gold” of Song of Solomon 5:14-15, the precious things in the treasury of Hezekiah (Isaiah 39:2), may be taken as examples of this form of luxury. The æstheticism of the Roman Empire, of the Renaissance of the fifteenth century, of the age of Louis XIV., of our own time and country, presents obvious parallels.
When he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.—The Hebrew verb and noun have the emphasis of a paronomasia which cannot be reproduced in English, but of which the Latin “ut terreat terram” gives some idea.
Which they made each one for himself.—Better, which they (the carvers of the idol) made for him (the worshipper).