corner graphic

Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Isaiah 7

 

 

Verse 1

PART 2.

Afflictions from Assyrian oppressions are assuaged by consolations from Immanuel, chapters 7-12.

THE DIVINE SIGN.

Apart from historical circumstances, the following prophecies cannot be understood.

1. And it came to pass — Isaiah’s recorded prophecies under the reigns of Uzziah and Jotham have closed, and those under Ahaz here begin. Jotham and his father were good kings, and their reigns were the most prosperous in the annals of Judah. One element of idolatry, however, was not discouraged — the high places were not destroyed. (See note on Isaiah 2:6; and for a full discussion on “High Places,” see Smith’s Dict. of the Bible.) This, of course, emboldened the people in some practices hostile to the religion of Jehovah, and the long term of national prosperity led to indulgence among the younger generation in many fascinating forms of idolatry. In consequence, Judah showed to the searching thought of the envious rulers of adjacent kingdoms such signs of national degeneracy and weakness as encouraged them to form schemes of aggression. But they delayed their assault till Jotham’s death and the accession of his son — B.C. 742 — when the first great attack was made, and the army of Ahaz was destroyed, and two hundred thousand captives, (see 2 Chronicles 28:5-15,) which, at the instance of a prophet at Samaria, Oded by name, were returned to Judah. It seems to be at a point of time between this great first success of the enemy and his final retreat that the narrative here begins, and the word “and” in the text connects the two events.

In the days of Ahaz — The true age of Ahaz when he began to reign was probably twenty-five; (see Septuagint at 2 Chronicles 28:1;) otherwise he became the father of Hezekiah at ten years of age. Ahaz seems to have been trained (probably through maternal influence and direction) in an atmosphere of idolatry. He erected statues of Baal, and joined in the rites of Moloch, 2 Chronicles 28:1-5. His kingdom began early to suffer retribution. Patriotism wanes when God is dishonoured. So at this time. In the course of his reign trouble arose all around the horizon. Ammonites broke from their vassalage. Edomites, becoming free, assaulted the southern, and Philistines the western, borders. This state of things came from complications in the last of Jotham’s reign. Egypt, in the southwest, and Assyria, in the northeast, were the great powers that alternately kept the intervening small kingdoms in a state of semi-subjection. They used these lesser kingdoms at convenience in their hostile operations on each other. At this time Assyria seems to be in the ascendant. Damascus chafes at being tributary to Assyria, and Rezin, her king, readily consents to confederate with Pekah, the usurper, king over Israel, (2 Kings 15:25,) who wants to humble the hitherto prosperous Judah. Egypt favours any confederation that will protect her frontier against her formidable rival, Assyria.

This appears to be the situation in the last of Jotham’s reign. The history in 2 Kings 15:37 to 2 Kings 16:9, is fragmentary, but it hints, and the Assyrian inscriptions confirm, that the leaguers Pekah and Rezin made an unsuccessful raid against Judah under Jotham, who unfortunately died while yet in his vigour, and left the wicked and weak Ahaz an easier prey to their designs. A second inroad was made on Judah with the results above mentioned, namely, an immense slaughter of troops and a great capture of women and children from among the villages. But Jerusalem was yet too well fortified to be taken. And this explains the last words of this verse, could not prevail against it. The geographical positions are thus: Syria, of which Damascus is the capital and Rezin the king, is northeast, and between Israel and Assyria; and Ephraim, or Israel, is north of Judah, and between that kingdom and that of Syria.


Verse 2

2. Told the house of David — This signal phrase refers not to the court of Ahaz, but to the blood royal, the lineage; as in modern phrase, “the house of Bourbon,” “the house of Brunswick.” So always, as 1 Kings 12:19 : “Israel rebelled against the house of David unto this day;” as also 1 Kings 12:16 and 1 Kings 12:26, same chapter. And in Nathan’s memorable message to David, (2 Samuel 7,) the king was told that as he had purposed to build Jehovah a “house,” so Jehovah would build him “a house,” that is, a royal lineage. “Thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee.” 2 Samuel 7:16. And David replies, (2 Samuel 7:18; 2 Samuel 7:25-25, and 2 Samuel 7:29,) “Bless the house of thy servant that it may continue before thee for ever.” And so Luke 1:27 : “To a virgin… of the house of David.” Illustrious was the pedigree of that house, as given by Luke, beginning with Adam and the fall, and reaching to the Messiah. And never yet, in Ahaz’s time, had the line of David on the throne been broken. The royal line in the northern kingdom had been changed by a succession of usurpers, of whom this Pekah was then the last one. Doubtless the royal family of David realized their high descent, and were most deeply alarmed at the thought that its sacred continuity should be broken, and a usurper, the son of Tabeal, should break the promised line.

His heart — David’s “heart,” ideally identified with David’s “house;” and so his people, no other than David’s.


Verse 3

3. Shear-jashub was to go with Isaiah because his name, signifying “a remnant shall return,” like an inscription, was a memento of final salvation for Judah, and it was a message of encouragement for Ahaz that the prophet would bring.

Conduit of the upper pool — “The upper pool” was a water reservoir for city use; and the “conduit” was the pipe or aqueduct by which the water was conveyed to the western side of the city.

See notes on 1 Kings 1:33, and 2 Kings 18:17. (See opposite map.)

Highway of the fuller’s field — The “field” where, contiguous to the needed water, dyers spread and bleached their cloths, and the “highway” leading to it from the city.


Verse 4

4. Fear not — Words calculated to soothe the perturbation of David’s house and heart. Had there been faith there would also have been firmness. And the prophet’s cheer for him was confirmed by a lofty contempt for the two invaders. They are but two firebrands already burnt out even to their tails; and they are no longer blazing or burning, but only smoking, almost to extinction. Their day is about closed.

Son of Remaliah — Says Hengstenberg: “The Hebrews and Arabians, when they wish to speak reproachfully of any one, omit his proper name, and call him merely son of this or that, especially when his father is but little known or respected. So Saul names David, in contempt, son of Jesse. 1 Samuel 20:27; 1 Samuel 20:31.” In this case the phrase was a reminder that Pekah was a usurper.


Verse 6

6. Make a breach — In the wall, by which the city of Jerusalem could be taken.

Son of Tabeal — An individual otherwise unknown. Probably a foreign pretender, whom these invaders meant to enthrone, so as to overthrow “the house of David.”


Verse 8-9

8, 9. In these verses there is at first sight a degree of complexity which has induced some able commentators to propose amendments of the text. But a closer investigation reveals the real parallelisms. In each verse there is an antecedent statement and a result, and the two statements correspond, and the two results correspond. In Isaiah 7:8 the statement is, that the ally of Israel — Ephraim — is nothing more than Syria, with its capital, Damascus, culminating like a pyramid in king Rezin; and the result is that Israel — Ephraim — in spite of the alliance, shall be broken up within sixty-five years. That is, the Assyrian kingdom does not amount to much, is a temporary combination, soon to vanish. In Isaiah 7:9 the statement is that Ephraim, Samaria, and Pekah taper up into a similar and even smaller pyramid; but yet it is only by faith in Jehovah that the third pyramid, Judah, Jerusalem, and Ahaz, can maintain position.


Verse 10

10. Moreover… again — In addition to these encouragements is offered a sign to confirm them. The very offer of a “sign,” and especially of a “sign” at Ahaz’s choice, however extraordinary, implies his want of faith in the assurances.

The Lord — That is, Jehovah God; for wherever the word LORD in capitals appears in the Old Testament, the Hebrew is generally Jehovah. And Jehovah was the proper name of the God of Judah, as Moloch was the proper name of the god of Ammon, perhaps, also, of Phoenicia or Tyre. The pagans believed in the reality of national gods, of different degrees of power, holding the most powerful nations to be made so by their gods being most powerful. The cause of Ahaz’s undervaluing Isaiah’s encouragements was, his being on this point a pagan. He had already “sacrificed unto the gods of Damascus, which smote him: and he said, Because the gods of the kings of Syria help them, therefore will I sacrifice to them, that they may help me.” 2 Chronicles 28:23. But at this present moment he has his mind’s eye upon still mightier deities, even the gods of ASSYRIA. So that the issue now is between Jehovah and Assyria. Isaiah and orthodox Israel held that Jehovah was indeed their own national God; but that he was also God of the earth, sole and supreme, all other gods being fictions, and their images and idols but fancy furniture, worthy to be burnt.

Spake — Through the mouth of Isaiah.


Verse 11

11. Ask — The extraordinary option here offered to Ahaz indicates the nature of his scepticism. Any thing within the proper limits of a “sign” he may demand. And here a “sign” is nothing less than a miracle; an immediate supernatural performance, showing that divine power sustained the predictions uttered, and would sustain a firm faith in Jehovah against the most powerful nations.

Depth… height — In the sky above or on the earth, or even under the earth below. It is evidently a visible and immediate phenomenon that is offered.


Verse 12

12. Neither will I tempt the Lord — Jehovah. A master-stroke of dissimulation. Ahaz makes skilful use of his Hebrew education by quoting a text in Deuteronomy 6:16. He does this perhaps as a parry against Isaiah, perhaps to suit the orthodox part of his audience. To tempt Jehovah is to put him to the test to see if he has power. And here Ahaz assumes to be more pious than Jehovah himself, who offered the test.


Verse 13

13. O house of David — Wearied, truly, with Ahaz’s contemptuous trifling, the prophet turns from him personally, as if too far gone for further hope or notice, and addresses himself to the “house of David.” See note on Isaiah 7:2. The sign now to be given is not to be given to Ahaz individually, nor to him at all, except as he is part of the “house of David,” the royal stock extending to the Messiah, the Messianic kindred. And inferentially it is given for the consolation of all the faithful in Judah.

Weary men — Poor mortals like Isaiah and his adherents.

My God also — In Isaiah 7:11 the prophet had explicitly, to Ahaz, styled Jehovah “thy God,” as a reminder of his allegiance to him; he now, as it were, retracts, and styles him exclusively “my God.”


Verse 14

14. The Lord himself — Ahaz has refused to choose, and Jehovah will now present a “sign” of his own choosing. It will not be for Ahaz alone, but for the “house of David” and all believers in Judah. It will not be present and visible to the bodily eye, but will be vividly present to the eye of faith. It is the permanent “sign” of all past prophecy, type, and sacrifice furnished to God’s Israel — the MESSIAH. And the permanent consolation of that “sign” is, that the “house of David” is indestructible until that “sign” is verified. And so Simeon styles the Messiah, “A sign which shall be spoken against.” Luke 1:34. To those who ask how the future Messiah could be a present sign of the failure of the invaders of Judah we answer, such a sign was offered to Ahaz and refused. This does not claim to be such a sign; but it presents the standing sign of Messianic salvation to the “house of David,” brought out with a most resplendent clearness for the consolation of the faithful, and on it is based a prediction of the speedy overthrow of the enemy, the fulfilment of which will soon be another confirmation of a future Messianic salvation. Of that Messiah we have now these four predicates: that he is virgin-born, that he is incarnate, that his being born is now visionally present, and that his present advent is envisioned to form a measure and token of immediate salvation from these enemies of the theocracy.

[Our interpretation of this prophecy in Matthew 1:23 (where see notes) was written near two decades ago, and remains essentially unchanged. Rejecting all different or secondary applications we affirm it as designating the Messiah alone.

Behold — Contemplate this sign with the eye of faith.

A virgin — Here comes the first misfortune, the substitution by our translators of “a” for THE. The “virgin!” What THE “virgin?” The virgin well known and notable to the “house of David” as predicted in the Edenic promise (Genesis 3:5) to the woman that “her seed,” and not the man’s, should bruise the serpent’s head; “her seed” solely, because clearly his father is to be divine. And secondly, Isaiah’s contemporary prophet, Micah, says of Bethlehem:” Out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting; therefore will he give them up, until the time that she which travaileth hath bought forth.” Micah 5:2-3. This bearer brings forth a divine offspring, and consequently not begotten by man, but the son of the virgin mother. And so a virgin birth is supposed wherever a divine paternity is supposed, as in Psalms 2:7; Isaiah 9:6. The Hebrew word for “virgin,” here, is not indeed the specific word for a virgin in that language. The word signifies a girl of marriageable age, but unmarried. It sustains about the same relation as our word maiden does to “virgin.” But that a chaste and unmarried maiden is meant is plain from the fact that it is of this maiden that the conceiving and bringing forth are predicated. The prophet need not emphasize the virginity of the maiden mother of a divine Son. It is not a married woman once a maiden, but the unmarried maiden, that conceives. To have predicated the conceiving of a maiden, and yet omit the fact that she would be married before conceiving, would convey an offensive implication. The fact that the Septuagint translators rendered the word η παρθενος, the virgin, indicates that they knew that while the Hebrew word was not precisely “virgin,” yet what the prophet meant was “virgin,” and clearly evinces that what virgin was meant was matter of public notoriety.

Shall conceive, and bear — Here is the second misfortune, that the present is rendered in the future, the real rendering being, a virgin conceives and bears a son. And that the prophet consciously meant a present tense is clear from the fact that the next verb is truly future: shall call. The virgin now bears, afterward she will call his name. That is, the conceiving and bearing are ideally present; so present that the child’s birth and growth are easy measure of fulfilling of passing events. So the similar prophecy, in chap. Isaiah 9:6, may be brought into parallel:

The virgin conceives and bears a SON — And shall call his name IMMANUEL.

Unto us a Child is born, unto us a SON is given… shall be called…The mighty GOD.

Here are presented in both passages the virgin maternity, the present being born, the incarnate offspring.

Shall call his name Immanuel God with us. That this expresses a true incarnation is evident from the virgin birth. For reciprocally as the birth of a divine Son implies, as above shown, a virgin mother, so a virgin mother implies and is, for the very purpose of an incarnation — a God-man. To those who accept Matthew as a conclusive interpreter, this meaning is of course decided. Those who think that Matthew simply reads into the words a desired meaning, may be reminded that the parallel passage (Isaiah 9:6) styles him “the mighty God.” The two passages read together are an unanswerable proof of a described incarnation. It confirms all this reasoning that, in Isaiah 8:8, Judah is called, “Thy land, O Immanuel,” as if he were even now its divine proprietor, by whom it is prevented from being completely deluged by its foes.


Verse 15

15. Butter and honey shall he eat — The “butter” of the Old Testament was simply curdled milk. As Palestine was an easy region for cattle breeding, and wild bees were abundant and productive, so it was called “a land flowing with milk and honey.” These were the most easily procured foods for the common people, and the usual food for children. Hence it is but the ordinary children’s diet that is here specified for the child. Were it not that the amiable commentator, Albert Barnes, is so unwontedly severe upon the interpretation, we should not hesitate to say that the true meaning is, that the divine child would, though the divine Incarnate, eat the ordinary human food; so the resurrect Jesus ate before his disciples of their food to identify himself. How knew Isaiah’s contemporaries that the born Immanuel would eat, not of celestial food, but the plain diet of other children? And it is interesting to be told by Luke that “he increased in wisdom” just like any other child. Luke 2:52.

That he may know — This word “that,” in the sense of in order that, greatly distresses some commentators. What, did he eat butter and honey in order to know, etc.? And so they substitute until for “that.” Now, we take it that the plain meaning is, that he ate the ordinary child’s food in order that he might as a muscle grows on food; and even the Incarnate submitted to the process.


Verse 16

16. Before the child — The Incarnate ideally present. In briefer time than his growth requires.

Land that thou abhorrest — The combined territory of both Israel and Syria. Both are spoken of as one “land” because they were one against Judah.

Both her kings — Rezin, king of Syria, was slain by the king of Assyria about one year after the date of this prophecy. Pekah, king of Israel, was slain by Hoshea, who usurped the kingdom perhaps two years after this utterance. The immediate fulfilment of these predictions was cheering voucher for the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prediction of the future Incarnate. In the thou of this verse, Isaiah has already slightly recommenced address to Ahaz on this message of mercy; he will now pour forth upon a message of woe — woe to come from the very power on which he was relying, the king of Assyria.


Verse 17

17. The Lord shall bring upon thee — That is, upon the population of Judah.

And upon thy father’s house — The royal family.

Days… not come — Afflictions, the like of which have never yet come.

From the day… Ephraim — Since the ten tribes of Israel, under Jeroboam, revolted. See 1 Kings 12:16. After Tiglath-pileser, the king of Assyria — probably within two years from the time his aid was sought by Ahaz — had overthrown Rezin and Pekah in their second attempt upon Judah and Jerusalem, he turned to subdue some small kingdoms in the north, but came again to harass Egypt on the south, and made Judah subject to a worse vassalage than before, causing the whole country to become the battle-field of Assyria and Egypt. For some time agriculture was ruined. A pasturage of shrubs, thorns, and briers covered nearly the whole territory of Judah. Then, as against Assyria, Judah, in process of time, seeks relief from Egypt, which in turn also becomes a fatal ally. During many years afterward deterioration went on, until all things became true which Isaiah had predicted. Finally, Israel first, then Judah, was desolated of people, nationality, and government altogether. The Assyrian annals give us two kings by the name of Tiglath-pileser. The one mentioned in transactions here was the second. He invaded Israel twice; the second invasion is the one here given. See Rawlinson’s Herodotus, vol. i, p. 377.


Verse 18

18. It is not necessary to suppose that the piece of prophecy commencing here was delivered at the same time with the preceding, but it is on the same subject and in a similar strain. It is the more complete unfolding of the previously predicted calamities. That is, herein is explained what is said in Isaiah 7:15. God himself is represented as entering into the action.

In that day — In the days just threatened.

Shall hiss Isaiah 5:26. The word signifies a kind of whistling. For (or to) the fly — See note on Isaiah 5:26.

Uttermost part of the rivers — The Nile branches and canals in the Delta. Pharaoh Necho, king of Egypt, it is supposed, mustered armies, mentioned here tropically by flies. The fly is an abundant nuisance in Egypt. Any traveller in Egypt, at this time, even in the winter season, may observe the fly carrying the ophthalmic virus from the eyes of one to another, among the children especially of the fellahs; and scarcely half the population are unaffected by the ophthalmic scourge.

The bee… of Assyria — The bee, because of its number in Assyria, or because of the keenness of its sting, is here taken as the symbol of the Assyrian armies. The scope of time covered by the fulfilment of Isaiah 7:18 is from Isaiah’s day to the end of Israel and Judah as nations: and the armies were headed by Pharaoh Necho of Egypt, and by Shalmanezer, Esarhaddon, and Nebuchadnezzar of Assyria and Babylon.


Verse 19

19. They shall come — The armies “shall come.”

And shall rest all of them — They will settle down like bees in one part and like flies in another, in precipitous valleys, clefts of rocks, and in all thorn-hedges and pastures. A frightful figure of the different invasions of the armies of the two great countries, Assyria and Egypt. The great highway of these invaders of each other lay on the plain between the Mediterranean sea and the eastern foothills; but all the hill region also is here represented as covered, first by one army then by the other, but chiefly by the Assyrian and finally by the Babylonian armies.


Verse 20

20. Razor — The Assyrians are intended; the hired “razor” of Ahaz. Not so much the products of Palestine are said to be touched, for there locusts would be apt to be the figure employed. The “razor” cuts down princes, and clips the beard, or exacts a heavy, disgraceful tribute.

Beyond the river — The Euphrates. More is said in Scripture of indignities from those “beyond the river” than from those along the Nile. Orientals feel disgraced to the last degree when the beard is touched, pulled, or cut.


Verse 21-22

21, 22. From such spoliations, as well as removals of the population, agriculture ceases, and the land goes to rough pasturage. When cultivation in that land is neglected, the tendency is to briers and thorns and thistles. Tristram (Nat. Hist. Bible, p. 423) says, “The combined heat and dryness of the climate seem to develop a tendency to form thorns even in groups where we should least expect them.”

Shall nourish a young cow and two sheep — The idea is, amid great straits from invaders, a man shall do well if he shall be able to save alive this amount of stock. So the word “nourish” indicates that pasturage is abundant, and this shall secure milk, curds, etc., enough. One may preserve himself well if he may but save his stock. If these are taken from him, his peril is certain, because of the fewness of the people, and the neglect of tillage of the soil.


Verse 23

23. Where there were, etc. — Where there were abundant and flourishing vineyards, and one vineyard had a thousand vines, worth each a silverling, or silver shekel, (about fifty-five or sixty cents.) Vineyards were estimated by the number of the vines and the quality of wine they produced. All these vineyards shall be overrun with briers, etc. — a wild waste for the fierce animals. And because of this fact hunters shall flock here with their weapons; or, perhaps the better meaning is, that men — the few men that are left — cannot go out into the fields in safety without their bows and arrows. Isaiah 7:25 adds the hilltops, hitherto fully cultivated with the hoe, (inaccessible to the plough,) as also to be neglected and going to briers and thorns in the coming time of depopulation, and only cattle shall venture upon them in search of pasturage; and lesser cattle, that is, sheep and goats, shall join them.

The threat to Ahaz is ideally fulfilled. The desolation, when it comes, shall be wrought in a short time; in just as short a time as the striking down of Rezin and Pekah is to be done — a time measured by the morally unconscious years of the typical child-life in Isaiah 7:15-16; a picture, too, in anticipation of the poverty-struck condition as to means of subsistence, in that coming awful final time of Jewish nationality, A.D. 70.

 


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Isaiah 7:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/isaiah-7.html. 1874-1909.

Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology