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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible

Isaiah 1

 

 

Introduction

(See also Supplement)

Isaiah 1:1-31. Israel's Sin, Its Sore Punishment, False and True Divine Service.—The chapter is not a unity. The main part of it (Isaiah 1:2-17) represents perhaps two addresses (Isaiah 1:2-9, Isaiah 1:10-17), but they connect well, and probably belong to the same date. The description of Judah's condition suits the invasion of Sennacherib (701 B.C.) better than that of Syria and Ephraim (735-4 B.C.). The state of the people is wretched in the extreme, the land is ravaged, the cities burned, Jerusalem alone uncaptured. This agrees with the events of 701, when Sennacherib took all the fenced cities of Judah save Jerusalem, and shut up Hezekiah in his capital "like a bird in his cage." On the other sections, see below.


Verse 1

Isaiah 1:1. Title by a later editor, originally prefixed to chs. 1-12.


Verses 2-9

Isaiah 1:2-9. Let heaven and earth hear with amazement Yahweh's complaint. He has reared His people with the kindliest care, and they (pathetic emphasis) have repaid Him with unfilial ingratitude. Ox and ass find their way to their owner's house, but Israel displays no such intelligence (Jeremiah 8:7). With fourfold term of reproach the prophet expostulates with them for their mad folly. Do you wish to be smitten still more severely, to go on revolting more and more? The whole body politic is all wounds from head to foot; its wounds have not been pressed to remove the matter, nor bandaged, nor softened and soothed with oil (Luke 10:34). Their country is devastated, their cities burned, so much they have learnt from the refugees; from the walls they can see for themselves the Assyrians encamped on their fields and devouring the produce. Zion alone remains, frail and lonely, and, but for Yahweh's goodness, their fate had resembled that of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Isaiah 1:4. seed: not descendants, but brood (Matthew 3:7). They are themselves the evildoers. Omit last clause with LXX.

Isaiah 1:5. Most render "On what" instead of "Why," i.e. on what part of the body, none being left untouched by the rod. This suits the next verse; but chastisement does not select the untouched spots, or avoid striking what it has struck before.—the whole head: better than mg. Isaiah is thinking of the State not of individuals.—as overthrown by strangers: for this feeble repetition read "as the overthrow of Sodom." Elsewhere "overthrow" always refers to the destruction of the Cities of the Plain (Genesis 19*).

Isaiah 1:8. daughter of Zion: Zion is not the mother, but herself the daughter; cities were often personified as women.—booth: the watchman's slight shelter; the special point of the illustration is Zion's isolation, but her frailty also is suggested.—a besieged city: pointless; perhaps "a watch-tower" on some lonely elevation.


Verses 10-17

Isaiah 1:10-17. This connects admirably with Isaiah 1:9. By a fine transition Isaiah intimates that it is no merit in the rulers which has averted Sodom's fate. Let these lawless and shameless administrators listen to the teaching (mg.) of their outraged God. What end, He asks, do their sacrifices serve? He loathes them, has not demanded them, bids the worshippers trample His courts no more to send up the reek of their oblations, hates their new moons (p. 101) and sacred seasons, and will not listen to their prayers. For on their palms, uplifted in the customary attitude of prayer, beneath the blood of sacrifice, He sees a darker stain, the blood of their fellows. Yet they may cleanse themselves from guilt of the past by amendment for the future, especially by restraint of the oppressor (mg.) and succour of the defenceless. The desperate outlook had probably led to multiplied sacrifices; to those who were thronging the Temple to offer them Isaiah seems to have uttered these scathing words (cf. Amos 5:21-25; Micah 6:6-8; Hosea 6:6; Jeremiah 6:20; Jeremiah 7:21-23). The prophets do not attack sacrifice in itself so much as sacrifice divorced from morality; yet their tone suggests that they attached very little intrinsic value to the sacrificial ritual.

Isaiah 1:10. law: a most unfortunate rendering, as the Pentateuchal Law is not intended, since it demands many sacrifices. Torah means "instruction" (p. 121, Deuteronomy 1:5*, Proverbs 3:1*); here, like "the word of the Lord" it is equivalent to the utterance which follows

Isaiah 1:11. Burnt-offerings (Leviticus 1*) were totally consumed on the altar, the fat of peace offerings (Leviticus 3*) was burnt, the blood of all sacrifices was sacred to God. He rejects it all.

Isaiah 1:12 f. Perhaps we should render: "When ye come to see my face, who hath required this at your hand? No more shall ye trample my courts to bring vain oblations, reek of sacrifice is abomination to me; new moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with, fasting (LXX) and festal assembly." Fasting is, among many peoples, a preliminary to the taking of sacred food.


Verses 18-20

Isaiah 1:18-20. Perhaps an independent oracle, or even two (Isaiah 1:18 and Isaiah 1:19 f.); the date is quite uncertain. According to the usual view Yahweh challenges Israel to a lawsuit, that His righteousness may be vindicated and its guilt clearly seen. But it is not certain that a legal process is implied. Nor is Isaiah 1:18 clear. It may be a gracious invitation (so RV), it may be sarcastic (let them be white as snow!), or an indignant question. The last is grammatically uncertain, but it gives the best sense: If your sins are as scarlet, how should they be reckoned white as snow? if they are red like crimson, how should they be as wool? No distinction is intended between scarlet and crimson.

Isaiah 1:19 f. is a characteristic expression of the earlier view that righteousness and prosperity were inseparably associated.

Isaiah 1:20. devoured with the sword: better, "ye shall eat the sword," an effective contrast to Isaiah 1:19; but Cheyne's emendation, "on husks (harubim) shall ye feed," is tempting. The husks are the carob-pods on which the Prodigal fed the swine (Luke 15:16).


Verses 21-28

Isaiah 1:21-26. A complete poem, of uncertain date, in elegiac rhythm. How has the city once loyal to Yahweh become faithless to her husband! Her silver has become dross, her wine adulterated. Her princes rebel against Yahweh; the thieves bribe them to secure acquittal, but the widow and orphan cannot even get their case before the courts. So Yahweh will take vengeance and purify the city in the furnace of trial, smelting out all the lead alloy (mg.). Then He will restore righteous judges as in David's time, when Jerusalem became an Israelite city, and give her a new name expressive of her true nature.

Isaiah 1:22. mixed: generally supposed to mean "circumcised," i.e. diluted, or flat, if "with water" is omitted. Perhaps we should read "thy wine is a thick juice" (mohal).

Isaiah 1:25. throughly: "as with alkali" (cf. mg.), but read "in the furnace" (bakkur).

Isaiah 1:21 f. An insertion. It is colourless and generalising, and has several points of contact with later writings; it implies the division of the people into sharply distinguished classes. Judgment and righteousness appear to mean Yahweh's acts of deliverance, as in the later sections of the book; Isaiah never seems to use the word "redeem" (see Isaiah 29:22).


Verses 29-31

Isaiah 1:29-31. A fragment on tree-worship, possibly late, but probably Isaiah's. It is an immemorial form of idolatry (p. 100), and persists to the present time. The prophet warns his hearers that they will be disappointed in the divine denizens of terebinths (mg.) and springs in the sacred gardens (cf. Isaiah 65:3, Isaiah 66:17). They will themselves fail like the terebinth, whose divine life fails with the fading leaf in autumn or the spring, no longer bubbling with divine energy, but scorched up by the heat. The parched terebinths and gardens are so inflammable that a spark sets them ablaze. Thus ripe for ruin are the strong; they are like tow, and their own work will be the spark that destroys them.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Isaiah 1:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/isaiah-1.html. 1919.

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