Isaiah 34 COMMENTARY (Ellicott)

Isaiah 34
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Come near, ye nations, to hear; and hearken, ye people: let the earth hear, and all that is therein; the world, and all things that come forth of it.

(1) Come near, ye nations, to hear . . .—The two chapters that follow have a distinct character of their own. They form, as it were, the closing epilogue of the first great collection of Isaiah’s prophecies, the historical section that follows (Isaiah 36-39) serving as a link between them and the great second volume, which comes as an independent whole. Here, accordingly, we have to deal with what belongs to a transition period, probably the closing years of the reign of Hezekiah The Egyptian alliance and the attack of Sennacherib are now in the back-ground, and the prophet’s vision takes a wider range. In the destruction of the Assyrian army he sees the pledge and earnest of the fate of all who fight against God, and as a representative instance of such enemies, fixes upon Edom, then, as ever, foremost among the enemies of Judah. They had invaded that kingdom in the days of Ahaz (2 Chronicles 28:17). The inscriptions of Sennacherib (Lenormant, Anc. Hist., i. 399) show that they submitted to him. They probably played a part in his invasion of Judah, in his attack on Jerusalem, analogous to that which drew down the bitter curse of the Babylonian exiles (Psalm 137:7). The chapters are further noticeable as having served as a model both to Zephaniah throughout his prophecy, and to Jeremiah 25, Jeremiah 46:3-12, Jeremiah 50, 51, parallelisms with which will meet us as we go on.

The prophecy opens, as was natural, with a wider appeal. The lesson which Isaiah has to teach is one for all time and for all nations: “They that take the sword shall perish by the sword.” There rises before his eyes once more the vision of a day of great slaughter, such as the world had never known before, the putrid carcasses of the slain covering the earth, as they had covered Tophet, the Valley of Hinnom, after the pestilence had done its work on Sennacherib’s army. (Comp. as an instance of like hyperbole, the vision of the destruction of Gog and Magog, in Ezekiel 39:11-16.)

For the indignation of the LORD is upon all nations, and his fury upon all their armies: he hath utterly destroyed them, he hath delivered them to the slaughter.
Their slain also shall be cast out, and their stink shall come up out of their carcases, and the mountains shall be melted with their blood.
And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig tree.
(4) And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved . . .—No prophetic picture of a “day of the Lord” was complete without this symbolism (see Isaiah 13:10-11), probably written about this period. Like the psalmist (Psalm 102:26), Isaiah contrasts the transitoriness of sun, moon, and stars, with the eternity of Jehovah. The Greek poets sing that the “life of the generations of men is as the life of the leaves of the trees” (Homer, Il. vi. 146). To Isaiah’s sublime thoughts there came the vision of a time when even the host of heaven would fall as “a leaf from the vine, and as a fig from the fig-tree.”

For my sword shall be bathed in heaven: behold, it shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse, to judgment.
(5) My sword shall be bathed in heaven . . .—Literally, hath drunk to the full. The words find an echo in Deuteronomy 32:41-42, and Jeremiah 46:10. There, however, the sword is soaked, or made drunk with blood. Here it is “bathed in heaven,” and this seems to require a different meaning. We read in Greek poets, of the “dippings” by which steel was tempered. May not the “bathing” of Isaiah have a like significance?

It shall come down upon Idumea . . .—Better, for Edom, . . . here and in the next verse. No reason can be assigned for this exceptional introduction of the Greek form.

The sword of the LORD is filled with blood, it is made fat with fatness, and with the blood of lambs and goats, with the fat of the kidneys of rams: for the LORD hath a sacrifice in Bozrah, and a great slaughter in the land of Idumea.
(6) The Lord hath a sacrifice in Bozrah . . .—Two cities of this name appear in history; one in the Haurân, more or less conspicuous in ecclesiastical history, and the other, of which Isaiah now speaks, in Edom. It was a strongly fortified city, and is named again and again. (Comp. Isaiah 63:1; Amos 1:12; Jeremiah 49:13; Jeremiah 49:22.) The image both of the sword and the sacrifice appears in Jeremiah 46:10.

And the unicorns shall come down with them, and the bullocks with the bulls; and their land shall be soaked with blood, and their dust made fat with fatness.
(7) And the unicorns shall come down with them . . .—Better, the aurochs, or wild bulls . . . The Hebrew, rem, which meets us in Deuteronomy 33:17; Psalm 22:21, has been identified with the buffalo, the antelope (Antilope leucoryx), and by Mr. Houghton, a naturalist as well as a scholar, on the strength of Assyrian inscriptions, pointing to the land of the Khatti (Hittites) and the foot of the Lebanon as its habitat, and of bas-reliefs representing it, with the Bos primigenius of zoologists (Bible Educator, ii. 24-29). Here, the fierce wild beasts stand for the chiefs of the Edomites. (Comp. Psalm 22:12; Psalm 22:21.) The verb, “shall come down,” as in Jeremiah 48:15; Jeremiah 50:27; Jeremiah 51:40, implies going down to the shambles, or slaughtering house.

For it is the day of the LORD'S vengeance, and the year of recompences for the controversy of Zion.
(8) The year of recompences for the controversy of Zion . . .—The long-delayed day of retribution should come at last. This would be the outcome from the hand of Jehovah for the persistent hostility of the Edomites to the city which He had chosen.

And the streams thereof shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone, and the land thereof shall become burning pitch.
(9, 10) The streams thereof shall be turned into pitch . . .—The imagery of the punishment which is to fall on Edom is suggested partly by the scenery of the Dead Sea, partly by the volcanic character of Edom itself, with its extinct craters and streams of lava. (Comp. Jeremiah 49:18.) The prophet sees the destruction, as continuing not merely in its results, but in its process, the smoke of the burning craters rising up perpetually, and making the land uninhabitable.

It shall not be quenched night nor day; the smoke thereof shall go up for ever: from generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it for ever and ever.
But the cormorant and the bittern shall possess it; the owl also and the raven shall dwell in it: and he shall stretch out upon it the line of confusion, and the stones of emptiness.
(11) But the cormorant and the bittern shall possess it . . .—The picture of a wild, desolate region, haunted by birds and beasts that shun the abode of men, is a favourite one with Isaiah (comp. Isaiah 13:20-22; Isaiah 14:23), and is reproduced by Zephaniah (Zephaniah 2:14). Naturalists agree in translating, The pelicans and hedgehogs; the owl, and the raven.

The line of confusion, and the stones of emptiness . . .—The “line” and the “stones” are those of the builder’s plumb-line, used, as in 2 Kings 21:13; Amos 7:7-9; Lamentations 2:8, for the work, not of building up, but for the destroying as with a scientific completeness. “Confusion” and “emptiness,” are the tohu v’bohu, “without form and void” of the primeval chaos (Genesis 1:1).

They shall call the nobles thereof to the kingdom, but none shall be there, and all her princes shall be nothing.
(12) They shall call the nobles thereof . . .—The monarchy of Edom seems to have been elective, its rulers being known, not as kings, but by the title which the English version renders by “dukes” (Genesis 36:15-43). It will be noticed that no chief in the list of dukes is the son of his predecessor. Isaiah fore tells as part of the utter collapse of Edom that there shall be neither electors nor any to elect.

And thorns shall come up in her palaces, nettles and brambles in the fortresses thereof: and it shall be an habitation of dragons, and a court for owls.
(13) An habitation of dragons, and a court for owls . . .—The wild creatures named are identified, as elsewhere, with jackals” (“wild dogs,” Delitzsch) and “ostriches.”

The wild beasts of the desert shall also meet with the wild beasts of the island, and the satyr shall cry to his fellow; the screech owl also shall rest there, and find for herself a place of rest.
(14) The wild beasts of the desert . . .—Better, wild cats or hyenas shall meet wolves. The nouns that follow belong, apparently, to the region of mythical zoology. The English “satyr” expresses fairly enough the idea of a “demon-brute” haunting the waste places of the palaces of Edom, while the “screech-owl” is the Lilith, the she-vampire, who appears in the legends of the Talmud as having been Adam’s first wife, who left him and was turned into a demon. With the later Jews, Lilith, as sucking the blood of children, was the bugbear of the nursery. Night-vampire would, perhaps, be the best rendering.

There shall the great owl make her nest, and lay, and hatch, and gather under her shadow: there shall the vultures also be gathered, every one with her mate.
(15) The great owl . . .—Better, the arrow snake.

Seek ye out of the book of the LORD, and read: no one of these shall fail, none shall want her mate: for my mouth it hath commanded, and his spirit it hath gathered them.
(16) Seek ye out of the book of the Lord . . .—The phrase is an exceptional one. Isaiah applies that title either to this particular section, or to the volume of his collected writings. When the time of the fulfilment comes, men are invited to compare what they shall then find with the picture which Isaiah had drawn. Keith and others have brought together from the descriptions of modern travellers, illustrations of the condition of Edom as it is well summed up by Delitzsch in loc. “It swarms with snakes, and the desolate heights and barren table-lands are only inherited by wild crows and eagles; and great flocks of birds.” It has to be remembered, however, that the decay was very gradual. The ruins of Petra and other Idumæan cities are of Roman origin, and indicate a period of culture and prosperity stretching far into the history of the Empire.

His spirit.—In the sense of the creative Breath of the Almighty working in Nature (Psalm 104:30).

And he hath cast the lot for them, and his hand hath divided it unto them by line: they shall possess it for ever, from generation to generation shall they dwell therein.
(17) He hath cast the lot for them . . .—i.e., hath allotted, or assigned it as by a formal deed of transfer, to the savage beasts who are to be its future possessors. The thought is the same as that of Acts 17:26. God is represented as the Supreme Ruler assigning to each nation its place in the world’s history, its seasons of prosperity and judgment.

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