Isaiah 34 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

Isaiah 34
Pulpit Commentary
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.
Verse 1. - Ye people; rather, ye peoples. The address is couched in the widest possible terms, so as to include the whole of humankind. The earth... and all that is therein; literally, the earth, and the fullness thereof. The inhabitants are no doubt intended.
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.
Verse 2. - For the indignation of the Lord is upon, etc.; rather, for the Lord hath indignation against all the nations, and wrath against all their host. He hath utterly destroyed; rather, he hath devoted, or put under ban.
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.
Verse 3. - Cast out; i.e. refused burial - thrown to the dogs and vultures (comp. Jeremiah 22:19; Jeremiah 36:30). Such treatment of the dead was regarded as a shame and a disgrace. It was on some occasions an intentional insult (Jeremiah 22:19); but here the idea is rather that it would be impossible to bury the slain on account of their number. In ancient times corpses often lay unburied on battle-fields (Herod., 3:12). The mountains shall be molted with their blood. When the feelings of the prophet are excited, he shrinks from no hyperbole. Here he represents the blood of God's enemies as shed in such torrents that mountains are melted by it.
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.
Verse 4. - All the host of heaven shall be dissolved. A dissolution of the material frame of the heavens, in which the moon and stars are regarded as set, seems to be intended (comp. Matthew 24:29; 2 Peter 3:10). The slaughter of God's enemies is here connected with the cud of the world, as in the Book of Revelation (Revelation 19:11-21). The heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll; literally, as a book. Ancient books were written on long strips of paper or parchment, which, when unrolled, extended to many yards in length, but which might be rolled together "by means of one or two smooth round sticks into a very small compass." Such a rolling together of the widely extended heavens is here intended, not a shriveling by means of heat (comp. Revelation 6:14). All their host shall fall (comp. Matthew 24:29, "The stars shall fall from heaven").
For my sword shall be bathed in heaven: behold, it shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse, to judgment.
Verse 5. - My sword shall be bathed in heaven; rather, has been bathed, or has been made drunken (ἐνεθύσθη, LXX.) in heaven. Some suppose a reference to the old" war in heaven," when the sword of Divine justice was drawn against the devil and his angels. Others regard the sword now to be used against the Idumeans as first, in heaven, "made drunken" with the Divine anger. It shall come down upon Idumea (comp. Isaiah 63:1-6). The Edomites first showed themselves enemies of Israel when they refused to allow the Israelites, under Moses, "a passage through their border" (Numbers 20:14-21). David subdued them (2 Samuel 9:14); but they revolted from Jehoram (2 Chronicles 21:8-10), and were thenceforward among the most bitter adversaries of the southern kingdom. They "smote Judah" in the reign of Ahaz (2 Chronicles 28:17), and were always ready to "shed the blood of the children of Israel by the force of the sword in the time of their calamity" (Ezekiel 35:5). Amos speaks of them very much in the same tone as Isaiah (Amos 1:11, 12). They ultimately "filled up the measure of their iniquities" by open rejoicing when Jerusalem was destroyed, and the people led away captive by Nebuchadnezzar (Psalm 137:7; Obadiah 1:10-14; Lamentations 4:21, 22; Ezekiel 35:10-13). In the present passage we must regard the Edomites as representative of the enemies of God's people generally (see the introductory paragraph). The people of my curse; i.e. "the people on whom I have laid a curse" - the Edomites. Esau was to "serve" Jacob (Genesis 25:23; Genesis 27:40), Edom to be "a possession" for Judah (Numbers 24:18). God had said of Edom, probably before Isaiah uttered the present prophecy, "For three transgressions of Edom, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof... but I will send a fire upon Teman, which shall devour the palaces of Bozrah" (Amos 1:11, 12). Thus Edom was under a curse.
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.
Verse 6. - The sword of the Lord is filled; or, glutted (Lowth). The tense is "the perfect of prophetic certainty." It is made fat with fatness. "Fed, as it were, on the fat of sacrifices" (see Leviticus 3:3, 4, 9, 10, 15; Leviticus 7:3, etc.). Lambs... goats... rams. The lesser cattle represent the lower classes of those about to be slain, while the "unicorns" and "bullocks" of ver. 7 represent the upper classes - the great men and leaders. The Lord hath a sacrifice in Bozrah. This Bozrah, one of the principal cities of Idumaea, is to be distinguished from "Bozrah of Moab," which was known to the Romans as "Bostra." It lay in the hilly country to the south-cast of the Dead Sea, about thirty-five miles north of Petra, and was one of the earliest settlements of the descendants of Esau, being mentioned as a well-known place in Genesis 34:33). The threats here uttered against it are repeated by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 49:13), who says that "Bozrah shall become a desolation, a reproach, a waste, and a curse; all the cities thereof [i.e. the dependent cities] shall be perpetual wastes." Bozrah is probably identified with the modern El-Busaireh, a village of about fifty houses, occupying a site in the position above indicated, amid ruins which seem to be those of a considerable city (Burckhardt, 'Syria,' p. 407; Robinson, 'Researches in Palestine,' vol. 2. pp. 570, 571).
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.
Verse 7. - The unicorns; Bishop Lowth renders ream by "wild goats;" Mr. Cheyne by "buffaloes." Probably the wild ox, a native of the trans-Jordanic region, is intended (see Mr. Houghton's paper on the animals of the Assyrian bas-reliefs, in the 'Transactions of the Society of Bibl. Archaeology,' vol. 5. p. 336). Shall come down; rather, shall go down; i.e. shall fall and perish (comp. Jeremiah 50:27).
For it is the day of the LORD'S vengeance, and the year of recompences for the controversy of Zion.
Verse 8. - The day of the Lord's vengeance (comp. Isaiah 61:2 and Isaiah 63:4). In all three places the "day" of God's vengeance is contrasted with the "year" of his recompense, to show how infinite is his mercy, how short-lived, comparatively speaking, his auger. Mr. Cheyne well compares the concluding clauses of the second commandment, where "retribution is declared to descend to the third and fourth generation, but mercy to the thousandth." Recompenses for the controversy of Zion; rather, for the vindication of Zion; i.e. for the maintenance of her right in the quarrel between her and her enemies.
And the streams thereof shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone, and the land thereof shall become burning pitch.
Verse 9. - And the streams thereof; i.e. "the streams of the land of Edom." Though Edom has no perennial rivers, it has numerous torrent-courses to carry off the winter rains (see 2 Kings 3:20-22). These should run with pitch, instead of water. The general idea is that Edom should be visited with a destruction like that of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:24; comp. Jeremiah 49:18). But the prophet scarcely intends his words to be taken literally; he is making Edom a type or representation of God's enemies, and the gist of his teaching is that a dreadful vengeance, an utter destruction, will come upon all who set themselves up against the Most High. In the next verse he declares that the vengeance will be eternal (comp. Isaiah 66:24).
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.
Verse 10. - None shall pass through it forever and ever. There was a literal fulfillment of the prophecies against Edom to a considerable extent. Malachi, writing three hundred years after Isaiah, says that the "mountains and the heritage of Esau were laid waste for the dragons of the wilderness" (Malachi 1:3); and he makes the Edomites themselves exclaim, "We are impoverished, but we will return and build the desolate places" (Malachi 1:4). A certain amount of recovery must have followed; and in the Maccabee period Edom appears once more as an adversary of Israel, and an adversary of some importance (1 Macc. 5:3, 65). Gradually, however, she had to yield to the superior power of Judaea, and was even ruled by viceroys, whom the Maccabee princes nominated. One of these, Antipater, was the father of Herod the Great. From his time Idumea languished until, in the seventh century after Christ, it was overrun and conquered by the Mohammedan Arabs, who completed its ruin. It is now, and has been for above a thousand years, one of the most desolate tracts upon the earth's surface.
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.
Verse 11. - The cormorant and the bittern shall possess it. Compare the prophecy against Babylon in Isaiah 14:23. The Hebrew word translated "cormorant," is now generally regarded as designating the "pelican," while the one rendered "bittern" is thought by some to mean "hedgehog" or "porcupine." Animals that delight in solitude are certainly meant, but the particular species is, more or less, matter of conjecture. He shall stretch out upon it; rather, and one shall stretch out upon it. The verb is used impersonally. The line of confusion, and the stones of emptiness; rather, the line of desolation, and the plummet of emptiness (comp. 2 Kings 21:13; Lamentations 2:8; Amos 7:7, 8). The destruction of cities was effected by rule and measure, probably because different portions of the task were assigned to different sets of laborers, and, if the work was to be completely done, it required to be done systematically. Here, the measuring-tape and the plumb-line are to be these of tohu and vohu, or of the eternal chaos out of which God, by his word, produced order (Genesis 1:2).
They shall call the nobles thereof to the kingdom, but none shall be there, and all her princes shall be nothing.
Verse 12. - They shall call the nobles, etc.; rather, as for her nobles, there shall be none there for them to call to the kingdom. The nobles are termed horim, probably because the right of succession to the kingdom was vested in the descendants of the Horites, from whom the Edomites took their territory (Genesis 36:20, 29, 30). These having died out, there would be no one to appoint as king.
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.
Verse 13. - Thorns shall come up in her palaces. The "palaces" of Bozrah are mentioned also by Amos (Amos 1:12), and are threatened with destruction by fire. Amid their ruins should grow up thorns and briars. It shall be an habitation of dragons; or, of jackals (see the comment on Isaiah 13:22). Owls; literally, daughters of screaming - a description better suited to the owl than to the ostrich, which some regard as the bird meant.
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.
Verse 14. - Wild beasts of the desert... wild beasts of the island. In the original, tsiyim and 'iyim - "wailers" and "howlers" - probably jackals and wolves, or wolves and hyenas." The satyr (see the comment on Isaiah 13:21). The screech owl The word here used, lilith, occurs only in this place. It may be doubted whether any bird, or other animal, is meant. Lilit was the name of a female demon, or wicked fairy, in whom the Assyrians believed - a being thought to vex and persecute her victims in their sleep. The word is probably a derivative from leilah, night, and designates" the spirit of the night" - a mischievous being, who took advantage of the darkness to play fantastic tricks. A Jewish legend made Lilith the first wife of Adam, and said that, having pronounced the Divine Name as a charm, she was changed into a devil. It was her special delight to murder young children (Buxtorf, 'Lex. Rabbin.,' ad roe.). The prophets, when they employ poetic imagery, are not tied down to fact, but are free to use the beliefs of their contemporaries in order to heighten the force of their descriptions.
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.
Verse 15. - The great owl; rather, the arrow-snake (Serpens jaculus). Gather under her shadow; i.e. "gather her young ones under her." There shall the vultures also be gathered; rather, there verily shall the vultures assemble.
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.
Verse 16. - Seek ye out of the book of the Lord. By "the book of the Lord" some understand a collected volume of Moses and the prophets, psalmists, etc., previous to Isaiah's time, which they suppose to have existed in his day. But there is no evidence of any such collection. It is better to understand the expression of Isaiah's own prophecies, or of such a collection of them as he had made previously to the composition of the present chapter. Nothing contained in the entire book should, he says, fail of its accomplishment. Even the minutiae of the present chapter should, each and all, have their fulfillment, though not, perhaps, in every case a literal one. My mouth... his Spirit. The "mouth" of the prophet and the "Spirit" of God, which dictates to him what he is to write, are in accord; and the Spirit will bring to pass what the mouth inspired by him has "commanded."
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.
Verse 17. - He hath cast the lot for them. God, who allots to all the nations of the earth their several countries, has now allotted Idumea to the unclean beasts and birds and reptiles which have been mentioned; henceforth it is formally assigned to them as their habitation. It is throughout to be understood that Idumea stands for the world power, which resists God and will be finally abased and put to shame.

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