Isaiah 4 COMMENTARY (Ellicott)

Isaiah 4
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
And in that day seven women shall take hold of one man, saying, We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel: only let us be called by thy name, to take away our reproach.

(1) And in that day seven women . . .—The chapter division wrongly separates this verse from the foregoing. It comes as the climax of the chastisement of the daughters of Zion, as the companion picture to Isaiah 3:6. As men sought eagerly, yet in vain, a protector, so women should seek for a husband. Those who had been wooed and courted, and had been proudly fastidious, should supplicate in eager rivalry (the seven women to one man implies a land depopulated by war, and so making polygamy natural) for the protection of marriage, and that not on the usual conditions of having food and clothing found for them (Exodus 21:10), but as working for their own livelihood.

To take away our reproach.—Better, as an imperative, take thou away. The reproach is that of being childless. From the Jewish standpoint that was not only the great sorrow, but the great shame, of womanhood, implying, as men thought, a sin of which it was the chastisement (Genesis 30:23; 1 Samuel 1:6; Luke 1:25).

In that day shall the branch of the LORD be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the earth shall be excellent and comely for them that are escaped of Israel.
(2) In that day . . .—The dark picture of punishment is relieved by a vision of Messianic glory, like that of Isaiah 2:1-4. The “day” is, as in Isaiah 3:18, the time of Jehovah’s judgments.

The branch of the Lord . . .—The thought of the “branch,” though not the Hebrew word, is the same as in Isaiah 11:1. The word itself is found in the Messianic prophecies of Jeremiah 23:5-6; Jeremiah 33:15; Zechariah 3:8; Zechariah 6:12. The two latter probably inherited both the thought and the word from this passage. Here, then, if we thus interpret the words, we have the first distinct prophecy in Isaiah of a personal Messiah. He is the “Branch of Jehovah,” raised up by Him, accepted by Him. And the appearance of that Branch has as its accompaniment (the poetic parallelism here being that at once of a resemblance and of contrast) the restoration of outward fertility. That thought Isaiah had inherited from Psalm 72:16; Hosea 2:21-22; Joel 3:18; Amos 9:13. He transmitted it to Ezekiel 34:27; Zechariah 9:16-17. The interpretation which takes “the branch [or growth] of the Lord” in its lower sense, as used collectively for “vegetation,” and, therefore, parallel and all but synonymous with the “fruits of the earth,” seems to miss the true meaning. Rabbinic exegesis may be of little weight, but the acceptance of the term as Messianic by Jeremiah and Zechariah is surely conclusive. It will be noted that the prophecy of the Branch (tsemach) here comes after a picture of desolation, just as that of the Branch (netzer) does in Isaiah 11:1. The thought seems applied by our Lord to Himself in John 12:24.

For them that are escaped of Israel.—These are, of course, identical with the “remnant” of Isaiah 1:9; Isaiah 6:13, to whom the prophet had been taught to look as to the trusted depositaries of the nation’s future.

And it shall come to pass, that he that is left in Zion, and he that remaineth in Jerusalem, shall be called holy, even every one that is written among the living in Jerusalem:
(3) He that is left in Zion . . .—The prophet turns from the Jerusalem that then was, with the hypocrisies and crimes of the men and the harlot fashions of its women, to the vision of a new Jerusalem, which shall realise the ideal of Psalms 15, 24. There every one should be called “holy” (comp. 1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1), and the name should be no unreal mockery (Isaiah 32:5), but should express the self-consecration and purity of its inhabitants.

Every one that is written among the living.—Literally, for life. The idea is that of “the book” or “register” of life in which are written the names of those who are worthy of living in the heavenly city. It meets us as early as Exodus 32:32, and appears in Psalm 56:8; Psalm 69:28; Ezekiel 13:9.; Malachi 3:16; Daniel 12:1; Acts xiii 48; Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:5; Revelation 13:8; Revelation 21:27. An examination of the passages, especially the first, will show that while it involves the idea of an election, it excludes that of an irreversible predestination, and that the election has to be “made sure” by a life in harmony with it. (2 Peter 1:10.)

When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning.
(4) When the Lord shall have washed away the filth . . .—This serves as the connecting link with Isaiah 3:16-24. The prophet has not forgotten the daughters of Zion. Jehovah will wash away, as with the baptism of repentance, the “filth,” the moral uncleanness, that lay beneath their outward show of beauty. The “blood of Jerusalem,” in the next verse, has a wide range of meaning, from the “murders” of Isaiah 1:15; Isaiah 1:21, to the Moloch sacrifices in which the women had borne a conspicuous part (Psalm 106:38; Isaiah 57:5; Ezekiel 22:2-3).

By the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning.—The word for “spirit” is better taken in its more literal meaning, as breath or blast, as in Isaiah 30:27-28; Isaiah 40:7. The words indicate that the prophet saw in the “blood” of which he speaks a greater enormity than that of the daughters of Zion. The one might be washed away. The other needed, as it were, the “fiery baptism” of the wrath of Jehovah. (Comp. Isaiah 30:27; Matthew 3:11.) The Authorised Version “burning” represents the root-meaning of the word, but it is elsewhere (Isaiah 6:13; Deuteronomy 13:5; Deuteronomy 17:7) used for “destruction” generally.

And the LORD will create upon every dwelling place of mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night: for upon all the glory shall be a defence.
(5) And the Lord will create . . .—The verb “create” has all the solemn force with which we find it in Genesis 1:1. It is one of Isaiah’s favourite words. The word for “dwelling-place” is almost invariably used for the tabernacle or temple, and would seem to have that meaning here. This determines the character of the “assemblies.” They are not the meetings of the people for counsel or debate, as in a Greek ecclesia, but their “gatherings,” their “solemn assemblies,” in the courts of the temple. The thoughts of the prophet travel back to the history of the Exodus, when the presence of Jehovah was manifested as a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21; Numbers 9:15; Numbers 10:34; Numbers 14:14). In that Presence there would be safety and peace. The image is a favourite one with Isaiah, possibly as connected with the vision of Isaiah 6:4, for God’s protection of His people.

Upon all the glory shall be a defence.—The phrase is almost startlingly abrupt. The thought seems to be that over the “glory” of the new Jerusalem, as just described, there shall be stretched the overarching canopy of the Divine Love. The word for “defence” occurs in this sense in Psalm 19:5, Joel 2:16, and is still used by Jews of the “canopy” held over bride and bridegroom at a wedding. The “baldacchino” over the altar of an Italian church probably represents the image that was present to Isaiah’s mind.

And there shall be a tabernacle for a shadow in the daytime from the heat, and for a place of refuge, and for a covert from storm and from rain.
(6) And there shall be a tabernacle.—Perhaps It shall be . . . The thought is that of Psalm 27:5; Psalm 31:20. In the manifested glory of Jehovah men would find, as the traveller finds in his tent, a protection against all forms of danger, against the scorching heat of noon, and against the pelting storm.

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