Open as PDF
The destruction of Babylon is denounced by a beautiful selection of circumstances, in which her prosperous is contrasted with her adverse condition. She is represented as a tender and delicate female reduced to the work and abject condition of a slave, and bereaved of every consolation, Isaiah 47:1-4. And that on account of her cruelty, particularly to God‘s people, her pride, voluptuousness, sorceries, and incantations, Isaiah 47:5-11. The folly of these last practices elegantly exposed by the prophet, Isaiah 47:12-15. It is worthy of observation that almost all the imagery of this chapter is applied in the book of the Revelation, (in nearly the same words), to the antitype of the illustrious capital of the Chaldean empire, viz., Babylon the Great.
Come down, and set in the dust “Descend, and sit on the dust” - See note on Isaiah 3:26, and on Isaiah 52:2 (note).
Take the millstones, and grind meal “Take the mill, and grind corn” - It was the work of slaves to grind the corn. They used hand-mills: water-mills were not invented till a little before the time of Augustus, (see the Greek epigram of Antipater, which seems to celebrate it as a new invention, Anthol. Cephalae, 653); wind-mills, not until long after. It was not only the work of slaves, but the hardest work; and often inflicted upon them as a severe punishment: -
Molendum in pistrino; vapulandum; habendae compedes.
Terent. Phorm. 2:1. 19.
Hominem pistrino dignum.
Id. Heaut. 3:2. 19.
To grind in the mill, to be scourged, to be put in the stocks, were punishments for slaves. Hence a delinquent was said to be a man worthy of the mill. The tread-mill, now in use in England, is a revival of this ancient usage. But in the east grinding was the work of the female slaves. See Exodus 11:5; Exodus 12:29, (in the version of the Septuagint;) Matthew 24:41; Homer, Odyss. 20:105-108. And it is the same to this day. “Women alone are employed to grind their corn;” Shaw‘s Algiers and Tunis, p. 287. “They are the female slaves, that are generally employed in the east at those hand-mills for grinding corn; it is extremely laborious, and esteemed the lowest employment in the house;” Sir J. Chardin, Harmer‘s Observ. i., p. 153. The words denote that state of captivity to which the Babylonians should be reduced.
Make bare the leg, uncover the thigh - This is repeatedly seen in Bengal, where there are few bridges, and both sexes, having neither shoes nor stockings, truss up their loose garments, and walk across, where the waters are not deep. In the deeper water they are obliged to truss very high, to which there seems a reference in the third verse: Thy nakedness shall be uncovered.
I will not meet thee as a man “Neither will I suffer man to intercede with me” - The verb should be pointed, or written, אפגיע (aphgia), in Hiphil.
Our Redeemer “Our Avenger” - Here a chorus breaks in upon the midst of the subject, with a change of construction, as well as sentiment, from the longer to the shorter kind of verse, for one distich only; after which the former subject and style are resumed. See note on Isaiah 45:16 (note).
I was wroth with my people - God, in the course of his providence, makes use of great conquerors and tyrants as his instruments to execute his judgments in the earth; he employs one wicked nation to scourge another. The inflicter of the punishment may perhaps be as culpable as the sufferer; and may add to his guilt by indulging his cruelty in executing God‘s justice. When he has fulfilled the work to which the Divine vengeance has ordained him, he will become himself the object of it; see Isaiah 10:5-12. God charges the Babylonians, though employed by himself to chastise his people, with cruelty in regard to them. They exceeded the bounds of justice and humanity in oppressing and destroying them; and though they were really executing the righteous decree of God, yet, as far as it regarded themselves, they were only indulging their own ambition and violence. The Prophet Zechariah sets this matter in the same light: “I was but a little angry and they helped forward the affliction;” Isaiah 1:15. - L.
So that thou didst not “Because thou didst not” - For עד (ad), read על (al); so two MSS., and one edition. And for, אחריתה (acharithah), “the latter end of it, “read אחריתך (acharithecha), “thy latter end;” so thirteen MSS., and two editions, and the Vulgate. Both the sixth and seventh verses are wanting in one of my oldest MSS.
These two things shall come to thee in a moment - That is, suddenly. Belshazzar was slain; thus the city became metaphorically a widow, the husband - the governor of it, being slain. In the time in which the king was slain, the Medes and Persians took the city, and slew many of its inhabitants, see Daniel 5:30, Daniel 5:31. When Darius took the city, he is said to have crucified three thousand of its principal inhabitants.
In their perfection “On a sudden” - Instead of בתמם (bethummam), “in their perfection,” as our translation renders it, the Septuagint and Syriac read, in the copies from which they translated, פתאם (pithom), suddenly; parallel to רגע (rega), in a moment, in the preceding alternate member of the sentence. The concurrent testimony of the Septuagint and Syriac, favored by the context, may be safely opposed to the authority of the present text.
For the multitude “Notwithstanding the multitude” - ברב (berob). For this sense of the particle ב (beth), see Numbers 14:11.
Thou shalt not know from whence it riseth “Thou shalt not know how to deprecate” - שחרה (shachrah); so the Chaldee renders it, which is approved by Jarchi on the place; and Michaelis Epim. in Praelect. xix.; see Psalm 78:34.
Videtur in fine hujus commatis deese verbum, ut hoc membrum prioribus respondeat. “A word appears to be wanting at the end of this clause to connect it properly with the two preceding.” - Secker.
In order to set in a proper light this judicious remark, it is necessary to give the reader an exact verbal translation of the whole verse: -
“And evil shall come upon thee, thou shalt not know how to deprecate it;
And mischief shall fall upon thee, thou shalt not be able to expiate it;
And destruction shall come suddenly upon thee, thou shalt not know” -
What? how to escape, to avoid it, to be delivered from it? perhaps צאת ממנה (tseth mimmennah), “they could not go out from it, “ Jeremiah 11:11. I am persuaded that a phrase is here lost out of the text. But as the ancient versions retain no traces of it, and a wide field lies open to uncertain conjecture, I have not attempted to fill up the chasm, but have in the translation, as others have done before me, palliated and disguised the defect, which I cannot with any assurance pretend to supply. - L.
From these things “What are the events” - For מאשר (measher), read מה אשר (mah asher), so the Septuagint, “what is to happen to thee.”
To his quarter “To his own business” - לעברו (leebro). Expositors give no very good account of this word in this place. In a MS. it was at first לעבדו (leabdo), to his servant or work, which is probably the true reading. The sense however is pretty much the same with the common interpretation: “Every one shall turn aside to his own business; none shall deliver thee.”