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far east. This report (of. Isa. xxxvii. 7), combined with
the decimation of his army by the plague, led him to march
by the speediest route along the coast and back to Nineveh.
Thus not only Egypt, but Jerusalem was rescued.^

§ 710. The campaign of Sinacherib in Palestine,
fraught as it was with the most fateful issues for the king-
dom and people of Jehovah, evoked in its various stages
the prophetic voices in extraordinary profusion. The
crowning proclamation of deliverance in the supreme mo-
ment of danger and dread (§ 702, 704) marked the climax
of Isaiah's career. It vindicated, in a manner unexampled
in all Israelitish history, the Prophet's twofold claim and
function, to be the accredited commissioner of Jehovah
and the true guide and guardian of his people. This
utterance, so confident and at the same time so specific
and unambiguous in disposing of the most urgent practical
issues that had ever emerged in the history of Judah,
needs no comment to show its applicability to the condi-
tions of the time. But there are a considerable number
of other prophecies, which aim to use the circumstances of
this season of trial as occasions "for teaching, for con-
vincing, for direction, for training in righteousness " (2
Tim. iii. 16). Their connection with the era of Assyrian
invasion, though easily pointed out, is not always specifi-
cally indicated.

§ 711. The prophetic event that came last under our
review was the symbolical act with its commentary recorded
in Isa. XX. (§ 658 f.). Between the end of the three years,
during which the humiliation of Egypt was enacted before
the men of Jerusalem for a warning against the cherished
alliance (v. 3 f.), and the time of the next extant prophecy,
there occurred the accession of Sinacherib, followed by
the agitation among the Western peoples which precipi-
tated upon them the descent of the Assyrian army. During
the time of negotiation and growing disaffection (§ 652 ff.),

1 See Note 14 in Appendix.


Isaiah uttered a striking series of prophecies, of which we
have a carefully edited summar}^ in ch. xxix.-xxxii. A
leading note of this group is the certain calamitous result
of leaning- upon Egypt. In so far the utterances in ques-
tion are the natural sequel and development of the line of
address pursued in ch. xviii.-xx. But here these results
are clearly foreseen ; and while shown to be the inevitable
consequences of a false and foolish policy, they are traced
plainly and faithfully to their ultimate roots in the sins of
the people. The two middle chapters of the group (xxx.,
xxxi.) are characterized by plainness of speech and specific
allusions to definite events. The first of the series and the
last (xxix., xxxii.) abound in mystical lore, and in allu-
sions, more or less thinly veiled, both to the impending dis-
tress and the future deliverance.

§ 712. In ch. xxix., Jerusalem, symbolized by the pet
name " Ariel " or " God's Lion," is warned that after a
calendar year (marked by the regular " feasts ") had gone
round, it would be encompassed by a besieging army
drawn from many nations. It should be brought near to
utter extinction, so near that its once vigorous and flourish-
ing life is compared to that of a jibbering ghost (xxix. 1— 1).
And yet the multitude of the foes that hunger and thirst
to possess Jerusalem should be baffled. They are to be
rudely awakened out of their dreams of conquest and
spoliation, while already gloating over their expected prey ;
and are to vanish from about her as a vision of the night.
For Jehovah will come "with thunder and with earth-
quake, and mighty noise, with whirlwind and tempest,
and the flame of devouring fire," so that like fine dust
and chaff they shall be swept away utterly, and in a
moment (xxix. 5-8).

§ 713. But the prophet feels that this revelation is
unintelligible to his hearers. Even the spiritual guides
of the people are blind to his teaching, and stumble about
helplessly, with a worse than physical intoxication (cf.
xxviii. 7). All true disclosures of Jehovah's will are to


them as a sealed book (cf. Rev. v. 2), which even the
educated cannot read, much less the uninitiated multitude
(xxix. 9-12). The explanation is that their habit of mere
ceremonial and lip worship has estrayed their "heart" or
spiritual faculty from God, and led them to substitute
empty traditional formularies for the spontaneous worship
of the soul (xxix. 13). For this reason not onl}^ was the
" vision " stuange, but the " work " of Jehovah, or the fur-
ther manifestation of his will in their own history, must
continue to be "wonderful" or inexplicable to them (xxix.
14). The infatuated leaders of the people have a work
and plan of their own. Ignoring the divinely authenti-
cated counsel, they -develop for themselves a characteristic
policy. And as it runs counter to the will of Jehovah,
they feel it necessary to work in the dark, and to conceal
their plans from the prophet under the vain persuasion
that they thus escape the scrutiny of God himself. They
thereby reveal an unheard-of degree of audacity as well as
of stupid perversity (xxix. 15-16).

§ 714. But such insensate dulness and blindness shall
not continue to prevail. At least the poor and humble,
misguided and defrauded as they have been, shall be disen-
chanted and inwardly illumined. Deaf ears shall be un-
stopped to hear and blind eyes opened to see the word of
Jehovah's messenger recorded for their enlightenment.
Thus a spiritual transformation shall take place which
shall transmute the uncultivated Lebanon of their minds
and hearts into a fruitful field of knowledge and joy. On
the other hand what now seems a fruitful field shall be
turned into a forest. It shall be at the expense of the
oppressors without and the mockers within the community,
of the pettifogging word-twister, and the crafty corrupter
and perverter of judgment, all of whom shall vanish and
be no more (xxix. 17-21). He who redeemed Abraham
shall not leave Israel to shame and humiliation. His work
of regeneration, manifested among the chosen sons of God,
shall win over his people to worship and reverential awe.


Thus shall misguided souls rightly discern the truth ; and
querulous doubters shall meekly accept instruction (xxix.

§ 715. The second of this group of discourses indicates
plainly the practical ground of complaint against the
opponents of Isaiah — the policy of the Egyptian party
which was leading the people of Judah to "shame and
confusion and sudden destruction." The " woe " that
was denounced in cli. xxix. 15 against those who con-
cealed their workings from Jeliovah and his prophet, is
here invoked (ch. xxx. 1) against Jehovah's " unruly
children." The ground of the infliction is that they had
adopted an active policy, and woven a web of inter-
national complications, without seeking counsel and in-
spiration from him. They were cementing an alliance
with Egypt, and in order to secure its ratification were
sending ambassadors of princely rank to the capitals of
petty kingdoms in the Delta. These, then, should reap
no profit from their mission, but only shame and reproach.
Nay further : in their insane desire to secure the favour of
the empire of the Nile, they send presents of their richest
treasures upon heavily laden beasts of burden, through re-
gions infested by ravenous beasts and deadly serpents, on to
the Ethiopian capital (§ 347). Even this laborious self-
abasement should be without result. " For," the Prophet
says, "Egypt's help is vanity and emptiness, therefore I
have called her ' Rahab the Do-nothing'" (xxx. 1-7).^

§ 716. The Prophet is bidden to post up this senten-
tious word-picture in a conspicuous place for the benefit
of contemporaries, and to record it in his roll as a testi-
mony for future ages. For the infatuation of Judah with
the idea of Egyptian protection is inveterate. And the
repugnance of the rebellious, deceitful people of Jehovah
to hear anything but agreeable and congenial oracles from
Him, or even to tolerate his moral government is incorrigi-
ble (xxx. 8-11). But their despite of his word, and their

1 See Note 15 in Appeiulix.


trust in crookedness and perverseness, give them only a
fancied security ; their iniquity of itself has made a flaw
ill tlieir defences, which shall soon end in a complete and
sudden collapse, and a deadly breach for the entrance of
their enemies. Their destruction then will be like that
of a potter's vessel when no fragment is found large
enough to carry a live coal or hold a sup of water (xxx.
12-14). God had given them often enough the saving
counsel; " through returning and resting ye shall get de-
liverance ; in quiescence and trust shall be your strength,"
but the}" did not care to listen. They said, "No; we will
fly on horses and ride on swift steeds." But their only
chance to show their swiftness will be to flee before
swifter pursuers, a handful of whom will put a thousand
to rout. In the country thus shorn of its people, what
was once a tree of the forest surrounded by countless
companions, shall become a beacon pole alone upon the
hills, a warning instead of a defence (xxx. 15-17).

§ 717. These threatenings are, however, in large part
conditional, depending on the attitude of the people
Mdien the work of destruction has begun. Therefore,
Jehovah will wait before striking the final blow, listen-
ing for the cry of his rebellious but penitent children.
Just because he is " a God who sets things right," ^ those
who wait for him receive a blessing that comes through
his grace and mercy, and to those who dwell in Zion, his
chosen abode, is promised an end of sorrow and weeping
(xxx. 18, 19). But such a deliverance is not to be vouch-
safed as a capricious or arbitrary boon. The " bread of
adversity and water of affliction " (cf. the sarcasm of the
Rabshakeh, xxxvi. 12) are to have their divinely ap-
pointed uses. Ministers of Jehovah, long neglected and
mute, are to be welcomed to the seat of public instruc-
tion, and be looked up to as the true guides of the nation.
The people shall there be directed infallibly as to the
straight, sure path of national honour and duty. Another

1 See note to § 457.

Ch.VI, §718 ISAIAH XXX 307

sure consequence will be that the false worship of Jeho-
vah will be wholly forsworn, and the richly gilded and
silvered images be flung away with loathing and con-
tempt (xxx. 20-22). This religious transformation shall
have its accompaniment and counterpart in the prosperity
of the country, whose languishing industries, especially
agriculture and its prerequisite irrigation, shall flourish
again after the repulse of the Assyrian invaders and the
tumbling down of the discredited bulwarks of national
defence. And then when Jehovah has bound up his
people's wounds, and healed the contusions and bruises
of the state (cf. i. 5), the now regenerated land shall be
so full of hope and gladness that its condition, as com-
jDared with the present gloom, shall be as the brightness
of the sun to that of the moon, or like the splendour of
the sun raised to a sevenfold brilliancy (xxx. 23-26).

§ 718. This vision of a glory for Zion truly Messianic
does not, however, dazzle the eyes of the Prophet, but
rather reveals to him more clearly the doom that must first
be fulfilled by the foes of Israel. The catastrophe is
brought on by the appearing of the self-revealing God ("the
name of Jehovah"), accompanied b}^ those sympathetic
commotions in the material world which the Hebrew seers
and poets habitually represent as part of the pomp and
terror of the vengeful Deity intervening on behalf of his
chosen (cf. Ps. xviii. ; li. ; Mic. i. ; Hab. iii., etc.). In the
fire and smoke which are the outbreathings of his wa-ath, he
sweeps along like an overwhelming torrent, that makes the
victims surge to and fro till they perish from exhaustion.
At the same time they lose their way in the confusion, like
wild beasts that are forced out of their accustomed haunts
(cf. xxxvii. 29; Ezek. xix. 4) by the hunter's bridle (xxx.
27, 28). At this there is the sound of rejoicing among the
redeemed of Jehovah, as free and gladsome as that which
is heard in the nightly celebration of some great festival, or
as the music of the pipe, to whose strains pilgrims wend
their way to greet the Rock of Israel in Zion (xxx. 29).


111 awful contrast to this joyful interlude is heard the
ausfust voice of Jehovah in the thunder, and the stroke of
his arm in the lightning.^ The strife and rush and tumult
of the contending elements : the darting flame, the riven
storm-cloud, the pouring rain, and the driving hail, enhance
the terrors and grandeur of the sublime theophany. As
peal follows peal and stroke follows stroke, lighting upon
the devoted Assyrian, the sound of the timbrel and the lute
is heard in the camp of Israel in chorus with the surging
din of Jehovah's battle (xxx. 30-32). Again the image of
destruction is changed. But the horror is only the more
intensified, because the figure is one more hideously famil-
iar to the hearers. Instead of celestial flame and smoke it
is the lurid fires and stifling vapours of Tophet that are pre-
sented as the agent of the Assyrian's doom. It is no longer
a battle, but an immolation. The pile made high and broad
has long been prepared for a worthy victim. It is the Great
King himself that is to be offered. And it is the wrath of
Jehovah, like a stream of brimstone, that kindles the pyre
(xxx. 33).

§ 719. Again the Prophet turns in indignation against
the obnoxious party in the state. With lack of faith and
lack of insight at once, they persist in going down to Egypt
for help and staying themselves upon horses and chariots
because these are many and strong. This policy of theirs
is self-destructive, notably because the Egyptians were
unreliable allies, but especially because, at the best, they
could render only material defence. Along with those
who have vainly sought their help they shall stumble and
fall, and that by the outstretched arm of " the Holy One of
Israel," whom they have ignored and defied (xxxi. 1-3).
In .contrast to such defenders the figure of Jehovah of hosts
towers larger and more portentous than ever in the pro-
phetic vision as the true protector of his city and his people.
In an image such as Homer had already employed,^ and
which the Old Testament prophets delight to use, the

1 Cf. Shelley's " Cloud." ^ njad xii. 299 ff. ; xviii. 161 f.

Cii. VI, § 720 ISAIAH XXXI, XXXII 309

champion of Jerusalem is represented as a lion guarding
his prey from a band of baffled shepherds, whose only
weapon is their incessant and impotent shouting.^ And,
more expressive still. He appears as an eagle flitting to and
fro over the threatened nest, darting down upon and beat-
ing off all intruders and assailants. Thus shall Jehovah
take his stand upon the heights of Zion to do battle for his
own (xxxi. 4 f.). With another sudden but very natural
turn of thought, Israel is adjured to give its allegiance
once more to its own faithful aiid devoted protector. With
swiftest glance the prophet's eye runs along the eventful
days, till it pauses in view of two much-desired consum-
mations. On the one hand the false gods of Israel are
cast down as a manifest delusion and snare ; on the other,
the Assyrian is overthrown by the sword, not of man, but
of God (xxxi. 6-9).

§ 720. Still farther sweeps on the prevision and brighter
grows the ever-receding horizon. Jehovah will at length
rule through a king whose watchwords shall be "righteous-
ness and justice " (xxxii. 1). The Holy City was not to
be saved from imminent destruction that it should become
again as of yore the victim and haunt of those judicial
and governmental evils that were the most noxious ele-
ments of its social and domestic life (§ 593 ff., 603 f.).
Freedom from merely material destruction was neither the
aspiration of the Prophet nor the purpose of Jehovah. If
this were all that Isaiah strove and prayed for, his protest
against the league with Egypt would lose half its mean-
ing ; for its motive was to disclaim the idea of a deliver-
ance to be wrought by the policy of those whose character

1 The "prey " of the lion is only mentioned here as something which
he sets himself to guard and protect against all comers. There is here no
indication that Jehovah makes a prey of tliose whom he thus defends, as
though the people of Jerusalem were first to be luinished by his judgments
before being shielded by his care. Much less are we "to be reminded
how grim and cruel He must sometimes appear even in His saving provi-
dences" (G. A. Smith, Isaiah I. 243). Such a mixing of figures implies
very unprophetic and unpoetic subtlety.


and actions were bringing Jehovah's religion into contempt
and neglect. No ; it was a reformed religious service, and
a regenerated society, that he hoped to see emerge from
the impending fiery trial. A true " man," whose mission
it was both to protect and to comfort, would shield the
harassed and weary from the storms of oppression and
the burning heat of adversity (xxxii. 2). The dispensers
of justice, once blinded through prejudice or passion (cf.
xi. 2 f . ; xxix. 10), should then discern clearly and decide
impartially for the right, with neither blundering precipi-
tation nor halting uncertainty (xxxii. 3 f.). Men would
appear as they really were to the newly awakened moral
sense of the community. The hollow-hearted- reprobate
and the crafty rogue should no more practise their knavery
and charlatanism with impunity. Their pernicious charac-
ter should stand unmasked, and their impositions upon the
needy and defenceless should cease, just as the noble-
hearted friend of the people would be honoured and con-
tinue his beneficent work with the backing of public
opinion (xxxii. 5-8).

§ 721. Again the dark and disheartening present thrusts
itself upon the Prophet's view. If there was one thing
more hopeless than another in the condition of the society
of the capital, it was the self-indulgence and luxuriousness
of its women of fashion (§ 271, 596). The thought, or
perhaps the sight, of them stirs him up to bitter upbraiding
and a definite announcement of the coming judgment.
Remembering that their means for self-indulgence were
drawn from the ill-requited toil of the suffering poor, his
disgust at their heartless indifference rises to uncontrolla-
ble indignation. The careless, irresponsible gayety of idle,
frivolous, pampered women is one of the most exasperat-
ing and discouraging symptoms of any civilized society;
and to a reformer of the insight and moral earnestness of
Isaiah, such a spectacle at such a time was more than
could be calmly endured. And now the seer, as once
before when moved to prophecy by the thought of the

Ch. VI, § 722 ISAIAH XXXII 311

extravagance of the ladies of Jerusalem (iii. 16 ff.), speaks
out what he has seen with the inward sight. What fate
so fitting for that whole class of votaries of pleasure and
despisers of Jehovah and his poor ones, as the drying up
of the source of supply, the desolation of that very soil
which had yielded its choicest fruits for their selfish enjoy-
ment? A sudden plunge is to be made from giddy revelry
to sore privation. " For a year and more," ^ the people of
the land have to subsist as best they can without a harvest
or vintage. The fields and the crops standing and garnered
are to be ravaged, and in the capital itself, destitute and
terror-stricken, the din and bustle of stirring life will be
hushed. Thorns and briers will grow up everywhere, and
flocks will be pastured beside the watch-towers and the
Temple hill (xxxii. 9-1-1). The punishment, to be sure,
is not to preclude the ultimate regeneration. The renew-
ing spirit of Jehovah will again clothe the land with verd-
ure and the promise of harvest, and quietness and security
against every foe will follow the enthronement of right-
eousness and justice (xxxii. 15-18). Only the judgment
must first come ; and liappy are those who in faith and
confidence abide the visitation and are permitted to enter
into the work of cultivating the renovated well-watered
land and to enjo}^ its productiveness (xxxii. 19 f.).

§ 722. Such reflections and forecasts of the great
Prophet, in view of the expected Assyrian invasion, were
uttered after the understanding between Hezekiah and
Merodach-baladan (§ 679 ; cf. § 637) and the negotiations
between the court party in Jerusalem and Egypt (§ 678,
697) and the Judaite intervention iii Ekron (§ 692) had

1 Literally: "days beyond a year." This phrase is not tobe explained by
xxix. 1, since the terms are not at all analogous. We have to compare with
xxxvii. 30, where it is said that the ploughing and seeding would, on account
of the devastation by the Assyrians, be suspended not only during the cur-
rent, but also during the coming year, when all that would spring up would
be the product of chance droppings from the preceding harvest. In the third
year agricultural operations would be fully resumed. That is to say, the
fallow time would be a part of two years or " days beyond a year."


given his country a leading place in the revolt of the West-
land, and made it plain that Judah and Jerusalem would
have to bear the brunt of the invader's assaults. These
utterances bring us near the close of 702 B.C. Ch. xxii.,
whose contents are of more historical than of " prophet-
ical " significance, has been already fully considered
(§ 697 f.). According to it the Assyrian troops are
now encamped before the city (701 B.C.). The Egyptian
policy and party in Jerusalem receive their death-blow in
this surprising but characteristic outburst. With it, how-
ever, we do not come to the end of the Prophet's discourses.
It stands in point of time between two others, which illus-
trate most completely both the versatile and soaring genius
of Isaiah and the order and process of Providence and
Revelation. I refer to ch. x. 5-xii. 6, and to ch. xxxiii. To
the former of these deliverances allusion has already been
made. That the situation here presented corresponds
rather to the invasion of Sinacherib than to the hurried
march of Sargon has been already shown (§ 633, 687) ;
and its internal character fully bears out the same conclu-
sion. For example, the Prophet puts a boastful harangue
into the mouth of the invading king as he approaches
Jerusalem (x. 8 ff.), and it differs only slightly from
the language actually used by the Rabshakeh when sum-
moning the city to surrender (1 K. xviii. 33 ff.). Such
terms were not suitable to any Assyrian aggressor in
Judah before the time of Sinacherib. Observe also that
" Jerusalem " is the objective point of attack (v. 10 f.),
which was out of the question for any expedition of

§ 723. In this magnificent discourse Isaiah gives the
key to the interpretation of Oriental history. To him
there are two princij^al nationalities immediately involved.
In each of them the supreme Ruler of nations has a special
concern. One of them is the great Assyrian power. It is
now supreme in the civilized world. Its supremacy has
been gained by force skilfully organized and steadilj^ ex-

Cii. VI, § 723 ISAIAH X 313

ertecl as never before in the world's historj^, just as its
haughty ruler proudly asserts (vs. 7, 13). The smaller
kingdoms east and west go down before it singly or allied
with or without resistance (vs. 8 f., 13 f.). The other
natioaiality is Israel, or rather the surviving fragments of
what once was Israel. Crippled by disunion and misgov-
ernment, it is now smaller and feebler than in the daj^s of
former Assyrian conquerors, and is surely becoming the
prey of the great subverter of the nations (vs. 10 f.). Upon
Israel Assyria is permitted to work its will almost to com-
plete destruction (v. 6). With dramatic vividness the
Great King sets forth the might and policy of his empire.
And it would seem as if his boasts were justified. For
who had been able to stay the force of his onset? and what
god could deliver Jerusalem out of his hand? (v. 11).
From the common-sense point of view he Avas right. And
Isaiah, who was no mere common-sense observer, neverthe-
less acknowledges that of his own deeds he had spoken
truth (cf. xxxvii. 18). Moreover, he would go on as he

Online LibraryJames Frederick McCurdyHistory, prophecy and the monuments (Volume 2) → online text (page 28 of 39)