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Introduction to the Book of the Prophet Isaiah
On the term prophet, and on the nature and several kinds of prophecy, I have already discoursed in different parts of this work. See the notes on Genesis 15:1 (note); Genesis 20:7 (note), and the preface to the four Gospels, and Acts of the Apostles. A few things only require to be recapitulated. נבא (naba) signifies not only to foretell future events, but also to pray and supplicate; and נביא (nabi), the prophet, was by office not only a declarer of events still future, but the general preacher of the day; and as he frequently foresaw the approach of disastrous times, such was the wickedness of the people, he employed his time in counseling sinners to turn from the error of their ways, and in making strong prayer and supplication to God to avert the threatened judgments: for such predictions, however apparently positive in their terms, were generally conditional; strange as this may appear to some who, through their general ignorance of every thing but the peculiarities of their own creed, suppose that every occurrence is impelled by an irresistible necessity.
To his own conduct, in reference to such matters, God has been pleased to give us a key (see Jeremiah 18.) which opens all difficulties, and furnishes us with a general comment on his own providence. God is absolute master of his own ways; and as he has made man a free agent, whatever concerns him in reference to futurity, on which God is pleased to express his mind in the way of prophecy, there is a condition generally implied or expressed. As this is but seldom attended to by partial interpreters, who wish by their doctrine of fatalism to bind even God himself, many contradictory sentiments are put in the mouths of his prophets.
In ancient times those who were afterwards called Prophets were termed Seers; 1 Samuel 9:9. הראה (haroeh), the seeing person; he who perceives mentally what the design of God is. Sometimes called also חזה (chozeh), the man who has visions, or supernatural revelations; 1 Kings 22:17; 2 Kings 17:13. Both these terms are translated seer in our common Version. They were sometimes called men of God, and messengers or angels of God. In their case it was ever understood that all God‘s prophets had an extraordinary commission and had their message given them by immediate inspiration.
In this the heathen copied after the people of God. They also had their prophets and seers; and hence their augurs and auguries, their haruspices, and priestesses, and their oracles; all pretending to be divinely inspired, and to declare nothing but the truth; for what was truth and fact among the former, was affected and pretended among the latter.
Many prophets and seers are mentioned in the sacred writings; but, fragments and insulated prophecies excepted, we have the works of only Sixteen; four of whom are termed the former or larger prophets, and twelve, the latter or minor prophets. They have these epithets, not from priority of time, or from minor importance, but merely from the places they occupy in the present arrangement of the books in the Bible, and from the relative size of their productions.
The Jews reckon forty-eight prophets, and seven prophetesses; and Epiphanius, in a fragment preserved by Cotelerius, reckons not fewer than seventy-three prophets, and ten prophetesses; but in both collections there are many which have no Scriptural pretensions to such a distinguished rank.
The succession of prophets in the Jewish Church is well worthy of note, because it not only manifests the merciful regards of God towards that people, but also the uninterrupted succession of the prophetic influence, at least from Moses to Malachi, if not before; for this gift was not withheld under the patriarchal dispensation; indeed we might boldly ask any man to show when the time was in which God left himself without a witness of this kind.
To show this succession, I shall endeavor to give the different prophets in order of time.
1.The first man, Adam, has an undoubted right to stand at the head of the prophets, as he does at the head of the human race. His declaration concerning marriage, “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife,” is so truly prophetic, that no doubt can be formed on the subject. There was then nothing in nature or experience to justify such an assertion; and he could have it only by Divine inspiration. The millions of instances which have since occurred, and the numerous laws which have been founded on this principle among all the nations of the earth, show with what precision the declaration was conceived, and with what truth it was published to the world. Add to this, his correct knowledge of the nature of the different animals, so that he could impose on them names expressive of their respective natures or propensities; which proves that he must have acted under a Divine inspiration; for known only to God are all his works from the beginning.
2.Enoch, the seventh from Adam, is expressly called a prophet; and St. Jude, Judges 1:14, Judges 1:15, has preserved a fragment of one of his prophecies, relative to the corruption of the ante-diluvian world, and the approaching judgments of God.
3.Noah was a prophet and preacher of righteousness, and predicted the general deluge, and the time of respite which God in his mercy had granted to the offenders of that age.
4.Abraham is expressly called a prophet also, Genesis 20:7; and it appears from Psalm 105:15, that he partook of the Divine anointing.
5.Isaac, Genesis 27:27, predicted the future greatness of his son Jacob, and of the race that was to spring from him.
6.Jacob was so especially favored with the prophetic gift, that he distinctly foretold what should happen to each of his sons. See Genesis 49.
7.Joseph was favored with several prophetic visions, and had the gift of interpreting dreams which portended future occurrences; (see Genesis 27, 40, 41.); and foretold the redemption of the Israelites from Egypt; Genesis 50:25. Thus far the prophetic influence extended through the patriarchal dispensation for about two thousand three hundred and seventy years from the creation.
With the Jewish dispensation the prophetic gift revived; and,
8.Moses became one of the most eminent prophets that had ever appeared. He not only enjoyed the continual prophetic afflatus, but had such visions of and intercourse with God as no other person either before or since was favored with; and by which he was highly qualified to perform the arduous work which God had given him to do, and to frame that Code of Laws which had no equal before the promulgation of the Gospel. See Deuteronomy 24:10. He predicted expressly the coming of the Messiah. See Deuteronomy 18:18.
9.Aaron, the brother of Moses, his prime minister and God‘s high priest, was also a partaker of his Divine influence, and declared the will of God to Pharaoh and the Israelites, not merely from information received from Moses, but also by immediate communication from God. See Exodus 4:15.
10.Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, is expressly called a prophetess, Exodus 15:20; Numbers 12:2.
11.Joshua, who succeeded Moses, was a partaker of the same grace. He was appointed by Moses under the especial direction of God; Numbers 27:18-23; Deuteronomy 34:9; and has always been reckoned among the Jews as one of the prophets. See Sirach 46:1-6. Though I cannot place them in the same rank, yet it is necessary to state that, by the Jews, several of the judges are classed among the prophets; such as Othniel, Ehud, Samson, and Barak.
12.Deborah, the coadjutor of Barak, is called a prophetess, Judges 4:4. During her time, and down to the days of Eli the high priest, prophecy had been very scarce, there having been very few on whom the Spirit of the Lord had rested; for “the word of the Lord was scarce in those days, and there was no open vision;” 1 Samuel 3:1.
13.Hannah, the wife of Elkanah, is supposed to have partaken of the spirit of prophecy; and to have foretold, at least indirectly, the advent of the Messiah, and the glory that should be revealed under the Gospel. See her Song, 1 Samuel 2:1-10. And what renders this more likely is, that it is on the model, and with many of the expressions, of this song, that the blessed Virgin composed her Magnificat, Luke 1:46-55.
14.Samuel, her son, was one of the most eminent of the Jewish prophets, and was the last, and indeed the greatest, of the judges of Israel. In his time the prophetic influence seems to have rested upon many; so that we find even whole schools or colleges of prophets which were under his direction. See 1 Samuel 10:5, 1 Samuel 10:10; 1 Samuel 19:20, and elsewhere.
15.David united in himself the character of prophet and king, in the most eminent manner; and from his reign down to the captivity the succession was not only not interrupted, but these extraordinary messengers of God became very numerous.
16.Gad flourished under his reign, and was emphatically called David‘s Seer, 2 Samuel 24:11; 1 Chronicles 21:9, 1 Chronicles 21:19, 1 Chronicles 21:20; and it appears that he had written a Book of Prophecies, which is now lost, 1 Chronicles 29:29.
17.Nathan lived also under the same reign, 2 Samuel 7:2; and, in conjunction with Gad, composed a book of the acts of David, 1 Chronicles 29:29.
18.To Solomon also, son of David, the prophetic gift has been attributed. This might be implied in the extraordinary wisdom with which God had endowed him, 1 Kings 3:5-9; 2 Chronicles 1:7; 2 Chronicles 7:12; and in his writings several prophetic declarations may be found, even independently of the supposed reference to Christ and his Church in the Song of Solomon.
19.Iddo is termed a Seer, 2 Chronicles 12:15; 2 Chronicles 13:22; and was one of Solomon‘s biographers.
20.Shemaiah lived under Rehoboam; he is called a man of God, and to him the word of prophecy came relative to Judah and Benjamin, 1 Kings 12:22-24. Some think this was the same person who was sent to Jeroboam relative to his idolatry; see 1 Kings 13:1, etc.
21.Ahijah, the Shilonite, prophesied to Jeroboam, 1 Kings 11:29-39.
22.Hanani the Seer prophesied under Azariah and Asa, 2 Chronicles 16:7.
23.Jehu, son of Hanani, prophesied under Jehoshaphat, 1 Kings 16:1, 1 Kings 16:7; 2 Chronicles 16:7; 2 Chronicles 19:2; and 2 Chronicles 20:34.
24.Azariah, the son of Oded, prophesied under Asa, 2 Chronicles 15:1.
25.Elijah prophesied under the reign of Ahab and Jezebel.
26.Elisha succeeded Elijah under the same reigns. And these eminent men had many disciples on whom the spirit of prophecy rested. They, and their masters, Elijah and Elisha, prophesied in the kingdoms both of Israel and Judah. Their histories make a prominent part of the first and second Books of Kings; and are well known.
27.Micaiah, the son of Imlah, prophesied under the same reign, 1 Kings 21:9.
28.Hosea prophesied under Jeroboam the second, king of Israel, and under the reign of Uzziah, king of Judah.
29.Isaiah was contemporary with Hosea, but probably began to prophesy a little later than he did.
30.Amos prophesied about the same time.
31.Jonah, son of Amittai, is supposed to have been contemporary with the above.
32.Eliezer, the son of Dodavah, prophesied against Jehoshaphat and Ahaziah, 2 Chronicles 20:37.
33.Jahaziel, son of Zechariah, prophesied against Judah and Israel under the same reign, 2 Chronicles 20:14.
34.Micah prophesied against Samaria and Jerusalem, in the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah.
35.Oded, father of Azariah, prophesied against Asa, 2 Chronicles 15:8.
36.Nahum prophesied under Hezekiah.
37.Joel, under Josiah.
38.Jeremiah, about the same time.
39.Zephaniah, under the same reign. See their prophecies.
40.Huldah, the prophetess, was contemporary with the above.
41.Igdaliah, called a man of God, and probably a prophet, was contemporary with Jeremiah, Jeremiah 35:4.
42.Habakkuk lived about the end of the reign of Josiah, or the beginning of that of Jehoiakim.
43.Ezekiel lived under the captivity; and prophesied in Mesopotamia, about the time that Jeremiah prophesied in Jerusalem.
44.Obadiah lived in Judea, after the capture of Jerusalem and before the desolation of Idumea by Nebuchadnezzar.
45.Daniel prophesied in Babylon during the captivity.
46.Haggai prophesied during and after the captivity.
47.Urijah, the son of Shemaiah, prophesied under Jehoiakim. See Jeremiah 26:20, Jeremiah 26:21.
48.Zechariah, son of Barachiah, flourished in the second year of Darius, after the captivity.
49.Malachi lived under Nehemiah, and some time after Haggai and Zechariah.
Here is a succession of divinely inspired men, by whom God at sundry times and in divers manners spake unto the fathers, from the beginning of the world down to the restoration from the Babylonish captivity, a period of three thousand six hundred years. From the time of Malachi, who was the last of the prophets, till the advent of Christ, a period of nearly four hundred years elapsed without vision or prophecy: but during the whole of that interval the Jews had the law and the prophetical writings, to which, till the time of Christ, there was no necessity to add any thing; for God had with the writings of the last mentioned prophet completed the canon of the Old Testament, nothing being further necessary, till he should, in the fullness of time, superadd the Gospel; and this having taken place, vision and prophecy are now for ever sealed up, and the temple of God is established among all genuine believers in Christ Jesus.
It is not easy to ascertain the order in which the sixteen prophets, whose writings are preserved, have succeeded to each other. There are chronological notes prefixed to several of their prophecies, which assist to settle generally the times of the whole. Several were contemporary, as the reader has already seen in the preceding list. The major and minor prophets may be thus arranged: -
1.Jonah, under the reign of Jeroboam the second.
2.Hosea, under Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, etc.
3.Joel, contemporary with Hosea.
4.Amos, under Uzziah and Jeroboam the second.
5.Isaiah, under Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah.
6.Micah, contemporary with Isaiah.
7.Nahum, under the reign of Hezekiah.
8.Habakkuk, under the reign of Manasseh or Josiah.
9.Zephaniah, under Josiah.
10.Jeremiah, from Josiah to Zedekiah.
11.Daniel, under the captivity, after Zedekiah.
12.Ezekiel, at the same time.
13.Obadiah, during the captivity.
14.Haggai began to prophecy in the second year of Darius.
15.Zechariah, about the same time. See Zechariah 1:1; Zechariah 7:1.
16.Malachi, under Nehemiah. The last of all the prophets.
The works of these prophets constitute the principal and most important part of what is called The Bible or Old Testament.
On the style of the prophets much has been said by several learned men; particularly Calmet, Lowth, Bishop Newton, Vitringa, Michaelis, and Houbigant. Their chief observations, and especially those most within the reach of the common people, have been selected and abridged with great care and industry by the Revelation Dr. John Smith, of Cambleton, in his little Tract entitled “A Summary View and Explanation of the Writings of the Prophets,” to which it forms preliminary observations, drawn up at the desire of the Scottish Society for propagating Christian Knowledge, in a small 8vo. 1804. From this work I thankfully borrow what concerns the present subject; taking occasion at the same time to recommend the whole to all Christian ministers, to private persons, and to all families who wish to read the prophets to their edification.
“The writings of the prophets, the most sublime and beautiful in the world, lose much of that usefulness and effect which they are so well calculated to produce on the souls of men, from their not being more generally understood. Many prophecies are somewhat dark, till events explain them. They are, besides, delivered in such lofty and figurative terms, and with such frequent allusions to the customs and manners of times and places the most remote, that ordinary readers cannot, without some help, be supposed capable of understanding them. It must therefore be of use to make the language of prophecy as intelligible as may be, by explaining those images and figures of speech in which it most frequently abounds; and this may be done generally, even when the prophecies themselves are obscure.
“Some prophecies seem as if it were not intended that they should be clearly understood before they are fulfilled. As they relate to different periods, they may have been intended for exciting the attention of mankind from time to time both to providence and to Scripture and to furnish every age with new evidence of Divine revelation; by which means they serve the same purpose to the last ages of the world that miracles did to the first. Whereas, if they had been in every respect clear and obvious from the beginning, this wise purpose had been in a great measure defeated. Curiosity, industry, and attention would at once be at an end, or, by being too easily gratified, would be little exercised.
“Besides, a great degree of obscurity is necessary to some prophecies before they can be fulfilled; and if not fulfilled, the consequence would not be so beneficial to mankind. Thus many of the ancient prophecies concerning the destruction of Jerusalem had a manifest relation to the remoter destruction by the Romans, as well as to the nearer one by the Chaldeans. Had the Jews perceived this, which was not indeed clear enough till the event explained it, they would probably have wished to have remained for ever in their captivity at Babylon, rather than expose themselves or their offspring a second time to a destruction so dreadful as that which they had already experienced.
“With respect to our times, by far the greatest number of prophecies relate to events which are now past; and therefore a sufficient acquaintance with history, and with the language and style of prophecy, is all that is requisite to understand them. Some prophecies, however, relate to events still future; and these too may be understood in general although some particular circumstances connected with them may remain obscure till they are fulfilled. If prophecies were not capable of being understood in general, we should not find the seers so often blamed in this respect for their ignorance and want of discernment. That they did actually understand many of them when they chose to search the Scriptures we know. Daniel understood, from the prophecies of Jeremiah, the time at which the captivity in Babylon was to be at an end; and the scribes knew from Micah, and told Herod, where the Messiah was to be born. A very little attention might have enabled them in the same manner to understand others, as they probably did; such as the seventy weeks of Daniel; the destruction of the Babylonian empire, and of the other three that were to succeed; and also of the ruin of the people and places around them, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, Sidon, Philistia, Egypt, and Idumea. Perhaps, indeed, a few enigmatical circumstances might have been annexed, which could not be understood till they were accomplished; but the general tenor of the prophecies they could be at no loss to understand. With regard to prophecies still future, we are in a similar situation. It is understood in general, that the Jews will be gathered from their dispersions, restored to their own land, and converted to Christianity; that the fullness of the Gentiles will likewise come in; that Antichrist, Gog and Magog, and all the enemies of the Church will be destroyed; after which the Gospel will remarkably flourish, and be more than ever glorified. But several circumstances connected with those general events must probably remain in the dark till their accomplishment shall clearly explain them.
“But this degree of obscurity which sometimes attends prophecy does not always proceed from the circumstances or subject; it frequently proceeds from the highly poetical and figurative style, in which prophecy is for the most part conveyed, and of which it will be proper to give some account. To speak of all the rhetorical figures with which the prophets adorn their style would lead us into a field too wide, and would be more the province of the rhetorician than of the commentator. It will be sufficient for our purpose at present to attend to the most common of them, consisting of allegory, parable, and metaphor, and then to consider the sources from which the prophets most frequently borrow their images in those figures, and the sense which they wish to convey by them.
“By allegory, the first of the figures mentioned, is meant that mode of speech in which the writer or speaker means to convey a different idea from what the words in their obvious and primary signification bear. Thus, ‹Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns,‘ (Jeremiah 4:3), is to be understood, not of tillage, but of repentance. And these words, ‹Thy rowers have brought thee into great waters, the east wind hath broken thee in the midst of the seas,‘ Ezekiel 27:26, allude not to the fate of a ship, but of a city.
“To this figure the parable, in which the prophets frequently speak, is nearly allied. It consists in the application of some feigned narrative to some real truth, which might have been less striking or more disagreeable if expressed in plain terms. Such is the following one of Isaiah, Isaiah 5:1, Isaiah 5:2: ‹My well-beloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill. And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a wine-press therein; and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes.‘ The seventh verse tells us that this vineyard was the house of Israel, which had so ill requited the favor which God had shown it. On this subject see the dissertation at the end of the notes on Matthew 13 (note).
“There is, besides, another kind of allegory not uncommon with the prophets, called mystical allegory or double prophecy. Thus it is said of Eliakim, Isaiah 22:22: ‹And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; and he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.‘ In the first and obvious sense, the words relate to Eliakim; but in the secondary or mystical sense, to the Messiah. Instances of the same kind are frequent in those prophecies that relate to David, Zerubbabel, Cyrus, and other types of Christ. In the first sense the words relate to the type; in the second, to the antitype. The use of this allegory, however, is not so frequent as that of the former. It is generally confined to things most nearly connected with the Jewish religion; with Israel, Sion, Jerusalem, and its kings and rulers; or such as were most opposite to these, Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, Idumea, and the like. In the former kind of allegory the primitive meaning is dropped, and the figurative only is retained; in this, both the one and the other are preserved, and this is what constitutes the difference.
“But of all the figures used by the prophets the most frequent is the metaphor, by which words are transferred from their primitive and plain to a secondary meaning. This figure, common in all poetry and in all languages, is of indispensable necessity in Scripture, which, having occasion to speak of Divine and spiritual matters, could do it only by terms borrowed from sensible and material objects. Hence it is that the sentiments, actions, and corporeal parts, not only of man, but also of inferior creatures, are ascribed to God himself; it being otherwise impossible for us to form any conceptions of his pure essence and incommunicable attributes. But though the prophets, partly from necessity and partly from choice, are thus profuse in the use of metaphors, they do not appear, like other writers, to have the liberty of using them as fancy directed. The same set of images, however diversified in the manner of applying them, is always used, both in allegory and metaphor, to denote the same subjects, to which they are in a manner appropriated. This peculiar characteristic of the Hebrew poetry might perhaps be owing to some rules taught in the prophetic schools, which did not allow the same latitude in this respect as other poetry. Whatever it may be owing to, the uniform manner in which the prophets apply these images tends greatly to illustrate the prophetic style; and therefore it will be proper now to consider the sources from which those images are most frequently derived, and the subjects and ideas which they severally denote. These sources may be classed under four heads; natural, artificial, religious, and historical.
“I.The first and most copious, as well as the most pleasing source of images in the prophetic writings, as in all other poetry, is nature; and the principal images drawn from nature, together with their application, are the following: -
“The sun, moon, and stars, the highest objects in the natural world, figuratively represent kings, queens, and princes or rulers; the highest in the world politic. ‹The moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed;‘ Isaiah 24:23. ‹I will cover the heavens, and make the stars thereof dark: I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give her light;‘ Ezekiel 32:7.
“Light and darkness are used figuratively for joy and sorrow, prosperity and adversity. ‹We wait for light, but behold obscurity; for brightness, but we walk in darkness;‘ Isaiah 59:9. An uncommon degree of light denotes an uncommon degree of joy and prosperity, and vice versa. ‹The light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold;‘ Isaiah 30:26. The same metaphors are likewise used to denote knowledge and ignorance. ‹If they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them;‘ Isaiah 8:20. ‹The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light;‘ Isaiah 9:2.
“Dew, moderate rains, gentle streams, and running waters denote the blessings of the Gospel. ‹Thy dew is as the dew of herbs;‘ Isaiah 26:19. ‹He shall come unto us as the rain;‘ Hosea 6:3. ‹I will water it every moment;‘ Isaiah 27:3. ‹I will pour water on him that is thirsty;‘ Isaiah 44:3.
“Immoderate rains on the other hand, hail, floods, deep waters, torrents, and inundations, denote judgments and destruction. ‹I will rain upon him an overflowing rain, and great hailstones,‘ Ezekiel 38:22. ‹Waters rise up out of the north, and shall overflow the land,‘ Jeremiah 47:2.
“Fire also, and the east wind, parching and hurtful, frequently denote the same. ‹They shall cast thy choice cedars into the fire,‘ Jeremiah 22:7. ‹He stayeth his rough wind in the day of the east wind,‘ Isaiah 27:8.
“Wind in general is often taken in the same sense. ‹The wind shall eat up all thy pastures,‘ Jeremiah 22:22. Sometimes it is put for any thing empty or fallacious, as well as hurtful. ‹The prophets shall become wind,‘ Jeremiah 5:13. ‹They have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind,‘ Hosea 8:7.
“Lebanon and Carmel; the one remarkable for its height and stately cedars, was the image of majesty, strength, or anything very great or noble. ‹He shall cut down the thickets of the forest with iron, and Lebanon shall fall by a mighty one,‘ Isaiah 10:34. ‹The Assyrian was a cedar in Lebanon,‘ Ezekiel 31:3. The other mountain (Carmel) being fruitful, and abounding in vines and olives, denoted beauty and fertility. ‹The glory of Lebanon shall be given it, the excellency of Carmel,‘ Isaiah 35:2. The vine alone is a frequent image of the Jewish Church. ‹I had planted thee a noble vine,‘ Jeremiah 2:21.
“Rams and bullocks of Bashan, lions, eagles, sea-monsters, or any animals of prey, are figures frequently used for cruel and oppressive tyrants and conquerors. ‹Hear this word ye kine of Bashan, which oppress the poor,‘ Amos 4:1. ‹The lion is come up from his thicket,‘ Jeremiah 4:7. ‹A great eagle came unto Lebanon, and took the highest branch of the cedar,‘ Ezekiel 17:3. ‹Thou art as a whale in the seas,‘ Ezekiel 32:2. ‹The unicorns shall come down, and their land shall be soaked with blood,‘ Isaiah 34:7.
“II.The ordinary occupations and customs of life, with the few arts practiced at the time, were another source from which the prophets derived many of their figures, particularly,
“From husbandry in all its parts, and from its implements. ‹Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy: break up your fallow ground,‘ Hosea 10:12. ‹Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe,‘ Joel 3:13. ‹I am pressed under you, as a wain under a load of sheaves,‘ Amos 2:13. Threshing was performed in various ways, (mentioned Isaiah 28:24, etc.), which furnish a variety of images denoting punishment. ‹Arise and thresh, O daughter of Zion; for I will make thine horn iron, and thy hoofs brass,‘ etc., Micah 4:13. The operation was performed on rising grounds, where the chaff was driven away by the wind, while the grain remained; a fit emblem of the fate of the wicked, and of the salvation of the just. ‹Behold, I will make thee a new threshing-instrument having teeth; thou shalt thresh the mountains, and beat them small, and thou shalt make the hills as chaff. Thou shalt fan them, and the wind shall carry them away, and the whirlwind shall scatter them,‘ Isaiah 41:15, Isaiah 41:16.
“The vintage and winepress also furnish many images, obvious enough in their application. ‹The press is full, the fats overflow, for their wickedness is great,‘ Joel 3:13. ‹I have trod the winepress alone. I will tread down the people in mine anger,‘ Isaiah 63:3, etc. As the vintage was gathered with shouting and rejoicing, the ceasing of the vintage-shouting is frequently one of the figures that denote misery and desolation. ‹None shall tread with shouting; their shouting shall be no shouting,‘ Jeremiah 48:33.
“From the occupation of tending cattle we have many images. ‹Wo unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture,‘ Jeremiah 23:1. The people are the flock; teachers and rulers the pastors. ‹Israel is a scattered sheep, the lions have driven him away.‘ ‹As a shepherd taketh out of the mouth of the lion two legs, or a piece of an ear,‘ etc., Amos 3:12. Some of the images derived from husbandry, tending cattle, etc., may perhaps appear mean to us; though not to the Jews, whose manner of life was simple and plain, and whose greatest men (such as Moses, David, Gideon, etc.) were often husbandmen and shepherds. Accordingly, the Messiah himself is frequently described under the character of a shepherd.
[See Fleury‘s Manners of the Israelites].
“It was customary in deep mournings to shave the head and beard, to retire to the housetops, which in those countries were flat, and furnished with little chambers adapted to the purposes of devotion or of sequestered grief; also to sing dirges at funerals, and to accompany them with a mournful sort of music; and from these and the like circumstances images are frequently borrowed by the prophets to denote the greatest danger, and the deepest distress. ‹Mine heart shall sound for Moab like pipes.‘ ‹Every head shall be bald, and every beard clipt - there shall be lamentation on all the house - tops of Moab,‘ Jeremiah 48:36-38; Isaiah 15:2, Isaiah 15:3.
“The mode of burying in the Jewish sepulchers, or ‹sides of the pit,‘ and their Hades, or state of the dead, supplied many images of the same kind. See observations on Isaiah 14 (note), and Ezekiel 26:20 (note).
“According to the barbarous custom of those times, conquerors drove their captives before them almost naked, and exposed to the intolerable heat of the sun, and the inclemencies of the weather. They afterwards employed them frequently in grinding at the handmill, (watermills not being then invented); hence nakedness, and grinding at the mill, and sitting on the ground (the posture in which they wrought) express captivity. ‹Descend and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon; take the millstones - thy nakedness shall be uncovered,‘ Isaiah 47:1-3.
“The marriage relation supplied metaphors to express the relation or covenant between God and his people. On the other hand adultery, infidelity to the marriage bed, etc., denoted any breach of covenant with God, particularly the love and worship of idols. ‹Turn, O backsliding children, saith the Lord, for I am married unto you,‘ Jeremiah 3:14. ‹There were two women, the daughters of one mother, and they committed whoredoms - with their idols have they committed adultery,‘ etc., Ezekiel 23:2-37.
“The debility and stupefaction caused by intoxicating liquors suggested very apt images to express the terrible effects of the Divine judgments on those who are the unhappy objects of them. ‹Thou shalt be filled with drunkenness, with the cup of thy sister Samaria,‘ Ezekiel 23:33.
“From the method of refining metals in the furnace images are often borrowed to denote the judgments inflicted by God on his people, with a view to cleanse them from their sins, as metal from its dross. ‹Israel is dross in the midst of the furnace,‘ Ezekiel 22:18. ‹He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver,‘ Malachi 3:3.
“Among the other few arts from which the Hebrew poets derive some of their images, are those of the fuller and potter, Malachi 3:2, etc.; Jeremiah 18:1, etc.; of which the application is obvious. No less so is that of images derived from fishing, fowling, and the implements belonging to them; the hook, net, pit, snare, etc., which generally denote captivity or destruction. ‹I will send for many fishers, and they shall fish them; and for many hunters, and they shall hunt them; for their iniquity is not hid from mine eyes,‘ Jeremiah 16:16, Jeremiah 16:17. ‹I will put hooks to thy jaws,‘ Ezekiel 29:4. ‹Fear, and the pit, and the snare, are upon thee, O inhabitant of the earth,‘ Isaiah 24:17.
“A few images are derived from building, as when the Messiah is denoted by a foundation and corner-stone, Isaiah 28:16. The next verse describes the rectitude of judgment by metaphors borrowed from the line and plummet; and by building with precious stones is denoted a very high degree of prosperity, whether applied to church or state, Isaiah 54:11, Isaiah 54:12.
“III.Religion, and things connected with it, furnished many images to the sacred poets.
“From the temple and its pompous service, from the tabernacle, shechinah, mercy-seat, etc., are derived a variety of images, chiefly serving to denote the glory of the Christian Church, the excellency of its worship, God‘s favor towards it, and his constant presence with it; the prophets speaking to the Jews in terms accommodated to their own ideas. ‹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 covering,‘ Isaiah 4:5. ‹Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean,‘ Ezekiel 36:25. “The ceremonial law, and especially its distinctions between things clean and unclean, furnished a number of images, all obvious in their application. ‹Wash ye, make you clean, put away the evil of your doings,‘ Isaiah 1:16. ‹Their way was before me as the uncleanness of a removed woman,‘ Ezekiel 36:17.
“The killing of sacrifices and feasting upon them, serve as metaphors for slaughter. ‹The Lord hath a sacrifice in Bozrah,‘ Isaiah 34:6; Ezekiel 39:17.
“The pontifical robes, which were very splendid, suggested several images expressive of the glory of both the Jewish and Christian Church. ‹I clothed thee with broidered work,‘ etc., Ezekiel 16:10. ‹He clothed me with the garments of salvation,‘ Isaiah 61:10. The prophets wore a rough upper garment; false prophets wore the like, in imitation of true ones; and to this there are frequent allusions. ‹Neither shall they wear a rough garment to deceive,‘ Zechariah 13:4.
“From the pots, and other vessels and utensils of the temple, are likewise borrowed a few metaphors obvious enough without explanation: ‹Every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holiness,‘ Zechariah 14:21.
“The prophets have likewise many images that allude to the idolatrous rites of the neighboring nations, to their groves and high places, Isaiah 27:9, and to the worship paid to their idols, Baal, Molech, Chemosh, Gad, Meni, Ashtaroth, Tammuz, etc., Ezekiel 8:10-14.
“IV.Many of the metaphors and images used by the prophets are likewise borrowed from history, especially sacred.
“From the fall of angels: ‹How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning;‘ Isaiah 14:12. ‹Thou art the anointed cherub, - thou wast upon the holy mountain of God;‘ Ezekiel 28:14. And from the fall of man: ‹Thou hast been in Eden, the garden of God;‘ Ezekiel 28:13.
“From chaos: ‹I beheld the earth, and, lo! it was without form, and void; and the heavens, and they had no light;‘ Jeremiah 4:23. ‹He shall stretch over it the line of devastation, and the plummet of emptiness;‘ Isaiah 34:11.
“From the deluge: ‹The windows from on high are open, and the foundations of the earth do shake;‘ Isaiah 24:18.
“From the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah: ‹And the streams thereof shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone, and the land thereof shall become burning pitch;‘ Isaiah 34:9. Also from the destruction of the Hivites and Amorites, etc., Isaiah 17:9.
“The exodus and deliverance from Egypt, is frequently used to shadow forth other great deliverances: ‹Thus saith the Lord, who maketh a way in the sea, and a path in the mighty waters,‘ etc.; Isaiah 11:15, Isaiah 11:16; Isaiah 43:16-19; Isaiah 51:9, Isaiah 51:10, etc.
“From the descent on Sinai: ‹Behold, the Lord cometh forth out of his place, and will come down and tread on the high places of the earth; and the mountains shall be molten under him;‘ Micah 1:3, Micah 1:4.
“From the resurrection, the end of the world, and the last judgment, are derived many images, of which the application is natural and obvious: ‹Thy dead men shall live, with my dead body shall they arise, - awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust,‘ etc.; Isaiah 26:19. ‹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 a leaf falleth from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig-tree;‘ Isaiah 34:4.
“The foregoing account of the images which most frequently occur in the writings of the prophets may be of considerable use in studying their style; but as a thorough knowledge of this must be allowed to be of the highest importance, a few general remarks are farther added, although some part of them may appear to be superseded by what has been already observed.
1.Although the prophets use words so frequently in a figurative or metaphorical meaning; yet we ought not, without necessity, to depart from the primitive and original sense of language; and such a necessity there is, when the plain and original sense is less proper, less suitable to the subject and context, or contrary to other scriptures.
2.By images borrowed from the world natural the prophets frequently understand something analogous in the world politic. Thus, the sun, moon, stars, and heavenly bodies denote kings, queens, rulers, and persons in great power; their increase of splendor denotes increase of prosperity; their darkening, setting, or falling denotes a reverse of fortune, or the entire ceasing of that power or kingdom to which they refer. Great earthquakes, and the shaking of heaven and earth, denote the commotion and overthrow of kingdoms; and the beginning or end of the world, their rise or ruin.
3.The cedars of Lebanon, oaks of Bashan, fir-trees, and other stately trees of the forest, denote kings, princes, potentates, and persons of the highest rank; briers and thorns, the common people, or those of the meanest order.
4.High mountains and lofty hills, in like manner, denote kingdoms, republics, states, and cities; towers and fortresses signify defenders and protectors; ships of Tarshish, merchants or commercial people; and the daughter of any capital or mother city, the lesser cities or suburbs around it. Cities never conquered are farther styled virgins.
5.The prophets likewise describe kings and kingdoms by their ensigns; as Cyrus and the Romans by an eagle, the king of Macedon by a goat, and the king of Persia by a ram; these being the figures on their respective standards, or in the ornaments of their architecture.
6.The prophets in like manner borrow some of their images from ancient hieroglyphics, which they take in their usual acceptation: thus, a star was the emblem of a god or hero; a horn, the emblem of great power or strength; and a rod, the emblem of royalty; and they signify the same in the prophets.
7.The same prophecies have frequently a double meaning; and refer to different events, the one near, the other remote; the one temporal, the other spiritual, or perhaps eternal. The prophets having thus several events in their eye, their expressions may be partly applicable to one, and partly to another; and it is not always easy to mark the transitions. Thus, the prophecies relating to the first and second restoration of the Jews, and first and second coming of our Lord, are often interwoven together; like our Savior‘s own prediction (Matthew 24.) concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world. What has not been fulfilled in the first, we must apply to the second; and what has been already fulfilled may often be considered as typical of what still remains to be accomplished.
8.Almost all the prophecies of the Old Testament, whatever view they may have to nearer events, are ultimately to be referred to the New, where only we are to look for their full completion. Thus Babylon, under the Old Testament, was a type of mystical Babylon under the New; and the king of Syria, (Antiochus Epiphanes), a type of Antichrist; the temporal enemies of the Jews, types and figures of the spiritual enemies of Christians. We must not, however, expect to find always a mystical meaning in prophecy; and when the near and most obvious meaning is plain, and gives a good sense, we need not depart from it, nor be over-curious to look beyond it.
9.In prophecies, as in parables, we are chiefly to consider the scope and design, without attempting too minute an explication of all the poetical images and figures which the sacred writers use to adorn their style.
10.Prophecies of a general nature are applicable by accommodation to individuals; most of the things that are spoken of the Church in general being no less applicable to its individual members.
11.Prophecies of a particular nature, on the other hand, admit, and often require, to be extended. Thus, Edom, Moab, or any of the enemies of God‘s people, is often put for the whole; what is said of one being generally applicable to the rest.
12.In like manner, what is said to or of any of God‘s people, on any particular occasion, is of general application and use; all that stand in the same relation to God having an interest in the same promises.
13.A cup of intoxicating liquor is frequently used to denote the indignation of God; and the effects of such a cup, the effects of his displeasure.
14.As the covenant of God with his people is represented under the figure of marriage; so their breach of that covenant, especially their idolatry, is represented by whoredom, adultery, and infidelity to the marriage bed; on which the prophets sometimes enlarge, to excite detestation of the crime. The epithet strange does likewise, almost always, relate to something connected with idolatry.
15.Persons or nations are frequently said in Scripture to be related to those whom they resemble in their life and conduct. In the same manner, men are denoted by animals whose qualities they resemble. A definite number, such as three, four, seven, ten, etc., is sometimes used by the prophets for an indefinite, and commonly denotes a great many.
16.In the reckoning of time, a day is used by the prophets to denote a year; and things still future, to denote their certainty, are spoken of as already past.
17.When the prophets speak of the last or latter days, they always mean the days of the Messiah, or the time of the Gospel dispensation. That day means often the same, and always some period at a distance.
18.When places are mentioned as lying north, south, east, or west, it is generally to be understood of their situation with respect to Judea or Jerusalem, when the context does not plainly restrict the scene to some other place.
19.By the earth, or the word so translated, the prophets frequently mean the land of Judea; and sometimes, says Sir Isaac Newton, the great continent of all Asia and Africa, to which they had access by land. By the isles of the sea, on the other hand, they understood the places to which they sailed, particularly all Europe, and probably the islands and seacoasts of the Mediterranean.
20.The greatest part of the prophetic writings was first composed in verse, and still retains, notwithstanding all the disadvantages of a literal prose translation, much of the air and cast of the original, particularly in the division of the lines, and in that peculiarity of Hebrew poetry by which the sense of one line or couplet so frequently corresponds with that of the other. Thus: -
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
My soul shall be joyful in my God;
For he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation,
He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness
As a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments,
And as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.
“Attention to this peculiarity in sacred poetry will frequently lead to the meaning of many passages in the poetical parts of Scripture, in which it perpetually occurs, as the one line of a couplet, or member of a sentence, is generally a commentary on the other. Thus: -
The Lord hath a sacrifice in Bozrah,
And a great slaughter in the land of Idumea.
“Here the metaphor in the first line is expressed in plain terms in the next: the sacrifice in Bozrah means the great slaughter in Idumea, of which Bozrah was the capital. “It must be observed that the parallelism is frequently more extended. Thus: -
For I will pour out waters on the thirsty,
And flowing streams upon the dry ground;
I will pour out my Spirit on thy seed,
And my blessing on thine offspring.
“Here the two last lines explain the metaphor in the two preceding.”
As the gift of prophecy was the greatest which God gave to men upon earth, so the prophet, as being the immediate instrument of revealing the will of God to the people, was the greatest, the most important, the most august, venerable, and useful person in the land of Israel. Ipsi eis exeant, says St. Augustine, philosophi ipsi sapientes, ipsi theologi, ipsi prophetae, ipsi doctores probitatis ac pietatis; “They were to the people the philosophers, the wise men, the divines, the prophets, and the teachers of truth and godliness.” By their intercourse with God, they were his mediators with the people; and their persons, as well as their office, were considered as peculiarly sacred. They did not mix with the people, and only appeared in public when they came to announce the will of God. They were also a kind of typical persons - whatever occurred to them was instructive, so that they were for signs, metaphors, and portents.
Most of the ancient prophets were extraordinary messengers. They were not bred up to the prophetic function; as the office was immediately from God, as well as the message they were to deliver to the people, so they had no previous education, in reference to such an office, for no man knew whom the God of Israel might please to call to announce his righteousness to the people. Several of them were taken out of the walks of common life. Jonah appears to have been a private person at Gath-heper, in Galilee, before God called him to prophesy against Nineveh. Elisha was a ploughman at Abel-meholah (1 Kings 19:16) when called to the prophetic function. Zechariah appears to have been a husbandman, and a keeper of cattle, Zechariah 13:5. Amos was a herdsman of Tekoa, and a gatherer of sycamore fruit; (Amos 1:1; Amos 7:14, Amos 7:15); and no doubt several others of the ancient prophets had an equally mean origin; but the office and the calling dignified the man. We know that our blessed Lord called not his disciples from the higher walks or offices of life; but out of fishermen, tax-gatherers, and tent-makers, he formed evangelists and apostles.
The prophets appear to have gone in mean clothing; either sack-cloth, hair-cloth, or coats of skin appear to have been their ordinary clothing. They spoke against the pride and vain-glory of man; and their very garb and manner gave additional weight to the solemn words they delivered. They lived in a retired manner; and, when not sent on special errands, they employed their vacant time in the instruction of youth; as this is probably what we are to understand by the schools of the prophets, such as those over which Elijah, Elisha, and Samuel presided; though no doubt there were some of their disciples that were made partakers of the prophetic gift.
The prophets do not appear to have been called to a life of celibacy. Isaiah was a married man, Isaiah 8:3; and so was Hosea, Isaiah 1:2; unless we are to understand the latter case enigmatically. And that the sons of the prophets had wives, we learn from 2 Kings 4:1, etc.; and from this, as well as from the case of the apostles, we learn that the matrimonial state was never considered, either by Moses or the prophets, Christ or his apostles, as disqualifying men from officiating in the most holy offices; as we find Moses, Aaron, Isaiah, Zechariah, and Peter, all married men, and yet the most eminent of their order.
Of Isaiah, the writer of this book, very little is known. He is supposed to have been of the tribe of Judah, and of the royal family of David. Himself says that he was son of Amoz; and others tell us that this Amoz was the son of Joash, and brother of Amaziah, king of Judah. “Of his family and tribe we know nothing,” says R. D. Kimchi, “only our rabbins, of blessed memory, have received the tradition that Amoz and Amaziah were brothers;” and it is on this ground that he has been called the royal prophet. It has been also said that Isaiah gave his daughter in marriage to Manasseh, son of Hezekiah, king of Judah; and that himself was put to death by Manasseh, being sawn asunder with a wooden saw. But all these traditions stand on very slender authority, and are worthy of very little regard. Several commentators have thought that his prophecies afford presumptive evidence of his high descent and elegant education:
1.Because his style is more correct and majestic than any of the other prophets.
2.That his frequent use of images taken from royalty is a proof that this state was familiar to him, being much at court, as he must have been, had he been the brother of the king.
These things are spoken by many with much confidence; for my own part, I had rather look to his inspiration for the correctness of his language and the dignity of his sentiments, than to those very inferior helps. On the other hypothesis nothing is left to the Divine Spirit, except the mere matter of his prophecies. Suppositions of this kind are not creditable to Divine revelation.
Isaiah appears to have had two sons, who were typical in their names; one, Shear-jashub, “a remnant shall return,” Isaiah 7:3; and the other Maher-shalal-hash-baz, “haste to the spoil; quick to the prey;” Isaiah 8:3; and it is remarkable, that his wife is called a prophetess. Other matters relative to his character will appear in the notes on his prophecies.
In the notes on this book I have consulted throughout the commentary of Rabbi David Kimchi, and have made much use of Bishop Lowth, as the reader will perceive. His various readings I have re-collated with Dr. Kennicott, and B. De Rossi; in consequence of which I have been enabled in many cases to add double weight to the authorities by which the learned bishop was supported in the readings which he has either mentioned, or received into the text. Bishop Lowth could avail himself only of the collections of Dr. Kennicott - the sheets of Isaiah in the doctor‘s edition of the Hebrew Bible, as they passed through the press, were sent by him to the Bishop; but the Collections of De Rossi, more numerous and more accurate than those of Dr. Kennicott, were not published till six years after the doctor had published his Bible, and about one year before this most learned and pious prelate went to his reward. I have also consulted some excellent Hebrew MSS. in my own library from six to eight hundred years old, which have afforded me additional help in estimating the worth and importance of the various readings in the above Collections of Kenicott and De Rossi, as far as they are employed in the illustration of this prophet. From the ancient English MS. Version of this prophet I have extracted several curious translations of select parts, which I have no doubt will meet with every reader‘s approbation. Though I have followed Bishop Lowth chiefly, yet I have consulted the best commentators within my reach, in order to remove doubts and clear up difficult passages, but have studied to be as brief as possible, that the sacred text might not be encumbered either with the multitude or length of the notes, nor the reader‘s time occupied with any thing not essentially necessary; besides, I wish to bring my work to as speedy a close as possible.
This book, according to Vitringa, is twofold in its matter: 1. Prophetical; 2. Historical.
1.The prophetical is divided into five parts:
Part 1: From Isaiah 1: to Isaiah 13: is directed to the Jews and Ephraimites, and contains five prophetic discourses.
Part 2: From Isaiah 13: to Isaiah 24: declares the