James Frederick McCurdy.

History, prophecy and the monuments (Volume 2) online

. (page 29 of 39)
Online LibraryJames Frederick McCurdyHistory, prophecy and the monuments (Volume 2) → online text (page 29 of 39)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


had done. He would still by force and c,unning remove
the bounds of the nations, dethrone their princes, despoil
them of their treasures, and seize and deport their families,
taking up one by one from his home with as much ease
and as little resistance as one puts his hand into a nest
and takes out the eggs or the hushed, unsheltered nest-
lings from whom the frightened mother bird has flown.
Further still : when the Assyrian robs and spoils tlie
fields and homesteads of Judah, the prophet as a states-
man and patriot declares that the fate of his countrymen
is a well-deserved punishment. The paradox — an object
lesson and typical example for the ages — onl}- Isaiah and
such as he can solve. He puts into the crucible his devo-
tion to his country, along with his loyalty to Jehovah and
to his righteousness, and it comes forth as gold. It is
divine justice that, for gracious ends, is meting out this
punishment by the hand of the Assyrian oppressor. And
so the truer patriotism is justified.



314 ISAIAH X Book VIII

§ 724. But the solution is incomplete till judgment is
given upon the Assyrian despot. There is a meaning
infinitely profound and far-reaching in this drastic disci-
pline of Jehovah's people. One of its lessons for the time,
and for all time, is that it is Jehovah himself who directs
the stroke, and that, too, by the hand of his people's most
hurtful foe. But this shows only one side of the swiftly
unrolling scroll of Providence. The ministry of destruc-
tion, even of wholesome chastening, cannot be perpetual.
The vengeful destroyer himself will come to an end when
his work is done — the work to which, all unconsciously,
he was set by Jehovah himself. How singular again was
Isaiah in his judgment of Assyria ! The vicegerent of
Asshur was now at the summit of his power. All Pales-
tine was within his grasp. Jerusalem seemed about to
fall before his triumphantly advancing troops, whose march
from station to station could almost be followed from the
heights of the hapless city (vs. 28 ff.). Egypt alone among
the western lands was unsubdued. But its time also was
obviously near at hand, as indeed it did yield to Assyria
under Sinacherib's son.

§ 725. And yet the Prophet calmly pronounces As-
sja-ia's doom. While a "remnant" of Israel (vs. 20 £f.
xxxvii. 4) was to be saved in perpetuity, the boastful,
remorseless, resistless Assyrian power was to come to an
utter end by Jehovah's own hand, as soon as it had sub-
served his purpose (v. 12). The boastings of the Great
King were as vain and impotent as though an axe or a saw
(cf . vs. 33 f .) should claim to be self-moved and disown the
driving and guiding hand of the workman ; or as if the
staff or the rod (cf. v. 24) should arrogate to itself not
only the force of the stroke, but power over the striker
(v. 15), though all the while Assyria is the rod and the
staff of Jehovah (v. 5). "Isaiah's genius now supplies
him with a splendid figure with which to depict the col-
lapse of the Assyrian enterprise. The serried battalions of
Assyria appear to his imagination as the trees of some huge



Ch. VI, § 726 ISAIAH X 315

forest, irresistible in their strength and countless in their
number, but the light of Israel kindles majestically into a
flame, and at the end of a single day a child may count
them " (vs. 17-19).^ And so prophetic insight discerns the
essential weakness, and the elements of decay and retribu-
tion, in the only enduring empire yet known to men. And
prophetic foresight outruns a century's further march of
conquest, and countless processions of captives and host-
ages, who should come to kiss the feet of mightier monarchs
than Sinacherib. " Jehovah of hosts shall stir up against
him a scourge, as in the slaughter of Midian at the rock of
Oreb " (v. 26). The view of the advancing Assyrian hosts,
and the echo of the heartrending cries of the fugitives
from the evacuated villages (vs. 28 ff.), only serve to make
stronger the God-given assurance. The warriors of Asshur
were as the trees of the forest and their leaders as the
cedars of Lebanon ; but, " behold, the Lord Jehovah of
hosts lops off the boughs with a terrific crash, and the
tall of stature are hewn down ; the lofty ones shall be
brought low, and he shall cut down with iron the thickets
of the forest, and by the majestic One Lebanon shall fall "
(vs. 33 f. ; cf. 15). It is evident that the Prophet was
accustomed to walk with Jehovah on rare and command-
ing heights of observation and prevision.

§ 726. A picture of the future, still more profound and
far-reaching, follows the promise of Israel's deliverance
and the forecast of Assyria's final doom. After all, Isaiah's
main business was that of a teacher and preacher of right-
eousness. To him the revival of Israel and the ruin of
Assyria were no mere indication of Jehovah's superiority
in strength and wisdom (cf. x. 13) to the gods of the na-
tions. They were the tokens and conditions of a moral tri-
umph, of the reinstatement of the moral order of Jehovah's
world, a vindication of Jehovah's rightful title to suprem-
acy among the peoples of the earth. Thirt}' years before,
when the end of the Syro-Ephraimitish war was foreseen

1 Driver, Isaiah, his Life and Times (London, Nisbet & Co.), p. 71.



316 ISAIAH XI BooKVin

to be the complete overthrow of the combination against
Judah (§ 326), the Prophet was filled with grief at the
thought of the desolation as well as the faithlessness of
the Northern Kingdom (cf. § 329) ; but his soul revived at
the prospect of a peaceful restoration and joyous reunion
of the true Israel (ix. 1-5). Then he uttered the great
prophecy as to the birth and royal nature of the expected
Immanuel (ix. 6 f.), who should be equal to the duties of
the ideal government of the nation, and whose name was
to be "the wonderful Counsellor, the perpetual Father,^
the god-like Hero, the Prince of peace." So now in the
throes of a sterner conflict, whose issue he sees just as
clearly, the prophet descries beyond the horizon of common
sight a similar scene of peace and gladness (xi. 1-10).
Again, as before (cf. ix. 7) the pillars of the regenerated
kingdom shall be justice and righteousness. From the
stem of David's royal house, though hewn so near to the
earth, an offshot will arise to fulfil the real destiny and to
attain to the ideal glories of that ancient and immortal
line. His attributes, as here set forth, are an expansion of
the manifold characterization of the earlier prophecy. The
wonderful Counsellor,^ the god-like Hero, and the perpet-
ual Protector are successively portrayed (vs. 2-5 ; § 603).
§ 727. Then in contrast with the turmoil of the na-
tions in arms (ch. xvii. 12 f.) and the heavy tread of the
marching warriors (ch. ix. 5) and the angry murmur of
the Assyrian host, like the growling of the couching lion,
or the moaning of the sea (ch. v. 29 f.), comes the reign of
the Prince of peace, throned in Mount Zion. Under his
benign and boundless sway the higher and lower creation
cease their immemorial strife, and in innocent mutual con-

1 That is (cf. § 431) a never-failing Protector, not " a father of booty,"
as the phrase is sometimes rendered, with disregard alike of the context
as a whole and of the parallelism.

2 That so large a role is here ascribed to the " counsellor" is to be ex-
plained by the consideration that the highest function of the ideal king
was to give " counsel" (cf. 1 K. iii. 28), as indeed is implied in the very
name for "king" (§ 36),



Ch. VI, § 728 ISAIAH XI, XII, XXXIII 317

fidence unite in a universal and unbroken truce of God
(xi. 6-9). The secret spell that binds and unities all peo- ?C
pies is the recognition of Jehovah (v. 9). To the crowned
son of Jesse, in his glorious resting-place, the reconciled
nations shall come flocking (v. 10 ; cf. ii. 1 £f.)- ^^^^ ^^'^^
and chief of all shall return the banished sons of an undi-
vided Israel. Ephraim and Judah, no longer estranged,
shall unite to defend their own and Jehovah's land. The
remotest regions shall restore the exiles, who shall speed
over the well-cleared highways that lead to the home-land
(v. 11-16). Then follows the hymn of grateful praise
that shall be sung by the happy pilgrims (ch. xii.).

§ 728. The long agony will now soon be over, and Jeru-
salem be saved. Isaiah, the serenity of whose soul seems
incapable of disturbance, who never misses the safe and
sure cross-way between the practical and the contempla-
tive life, all whose previous discourses reveal absolute
self-control even amid the most appalling dangers, and
perfect mental balance even in the furthest flight of his
imagination, at last shows signs of intense excitement, if
not of ecstasy. His last discourse (ch. xxxiii.), conceived
and uttered as the Assyrian troops were about to raise the
siege of Jerusalem, or perhaps when the news was brought
of the disaster at Pelusium (§ 704 ff.), while entirely
characteristic of Isaiah in its matter, is surprisingly un-
like his other compositions in expression.^ Instead of the
accustomed smooth and flowing periods, we have here ab-
rupt transitions and in general an exclamatory manner,
almost, and in some passages quite, of the lyrical style.

1 Hence it has been supposed by a number of recent critics that this
chapter was written after the Exile. The surest test of its authorship is
tlie fundamental reference to the moral and social struggle characteristic
of this whole period of prophecy from Amos to Micah. See especially vs.
14 ff. Cheyne in his Introduction (1895, p. 171) says that the religious
ideas belong to the church of the Second Temple. The decision depends
largely on one's general critical standpoint. In its style, however, it does
not resemble Isaiah's spontaneous utterances. In the case of a writer of
Isaiah's endowments style is not a sure criterion of authorship.



318 ISAIAH XXXIII Book VIII

It is, however, of highly artistic structure. It consists of
two equal portions of twelve verses each, and each of
these again equally subdivided. This prophetic poem
opens with a forecast ^ of the deserved ruin of the aggres-
sive and treacherous Assyrian, who should be paid in kind
when his hour is come (v. 1). A fervent prayer for Jeho-
vah's generous intervention (v. 2) is at once followed by
a picture of the tumultuous dispersion and spoliation of
the nations serving under Asshur, brought about in an-
swer to the prayer, and of the enduring moral and spiritual
regeneration which Jerusalem shall experience (vs. 3-6).
Next comes a reminiscence of the people's disappointment
and grief at the rejection of the embassy (sent after the
first demand for surrender, § 703), and of the desolation
of the devastated land (vs. 7-9). Again comes the antith-
esis : Jehovah arises ; the plans of the oppressor are made
null and void ; their own passionate outbreathings of cruel
hate become a fire to consume them (vs. 9-12).

§ 729. The second half of the prophecy (vs. 13-24)
forms of itself a triumphal ode of almost unequalled
beauty ^ and of imaginative splendour and sustained eleva-
tion of thought and feeling unsurpassed in Hebrew litera-
ture. The scorners of Jehovah and of his teaching in Jeru-
salem (§ 643) are appalled and dismayed at this exhibition
of his might. Now comes the time of proof ; for the judg-
ment is at hand. The trial is by fire, the testing of God
(xxix. 6; xxx. 27, 30; § 718) : "who of us can abide the
consuming fire? who of us can abide the perj)etual burn-
ings?" (vs. 13 f.). The answer is the vindication of the
whole prophetic teaching (cf. Ps. xv. ; xxiv. 3 f . ; § 607 ff.).
" He that walketh in righteousness and speaketh in up-
rightness, he that rejecteth the gain of extortion, who
snatcheth away his hand from grasping a bribe, who stop-
peth his ears from hearing of bloodshed, who shutteth his

1 Most signally verified in the wrathful uprising of the nations for the
destruction of Nineveh in 608 b.c.

2 Cf. W. R. Smith, Prophets, p. 354.



Cn. VI, § 730 ISAIAH XXXIII 319

eyes from looking upon evil ; he shall dwell among the
heights, his stronghold shall be rock-built defences ; his
bread is given him, his water is assured" (vs. 15, 16).
The king (Hezekiah) is soon to be arrayed in splendid
robes of royalty, instead of the garments of his humiliation
(cf. xxxvii. 1). The view of the far-stretching recovered
land of Judah is now unhampered by any besieging army
(v. 17). The terror of the siege will now be matter for
grateful recollection: "Where is he that counted out,
where is he that weighed (the money paid to Sinacherib) ?
where is he that numbered the towns (in reconnoitring)?"
No more shall the foreign speech of the fierce Assyrian grate
harshly upon the ears of the terror-stricken citizens (vs. 18 f.).
§ 730. Most cheering of all, the home of the Temple
and the centre of Jehovah's worship remains unharmed and
shall abide secure. The tent (§ 465) shall not be struck,
nor the people deported like so many of their brothers
(§ 686) outside of Jerusalem (v. 20). "For the name^ of
Jehovah the majestic (cf. x. 34 ; xxx. 27 f .) is to us in the
place of broad rivers and canals, although no galley with
oars goes there nor any stately ships pass through " —
Jerusalem cannot rely upon the protecting and wealth-
giving streams which flow by Nineveh and Babylon ; ^ but
Jehovah is a surer protection and a more substantial boast
— " for Jehovah is our judge ; Jehovah is our lawgiver ;
Jehovah is our king: He will save us " (vs. 21 f.). Jerusa-
lem, which was like a ship whose tacklings were loosed,
its mast unshipped, and its sails unspread, suddenly awakes
to triumphant life and energy. Its people seize upon the
spoil of the fleeing Assyrians (cf. v. 4), even the crippled

^ So read, according to the Sept. and Sjt. versions, by a change of
vowels, instead of the word translated "there."

- The streams of Babylonia were always a matter of admiration and
envy to the smaller states of Western Asia, and they play quite a role in
Old Testament literature from the story of Paradise to the songs of the
Exile (Ps. cxxxvii.). As illustrating the thought of the text, compare
the rise of the Euphrates as a symbol of the power of Assyria in Isa. viii.
7 f., where a contrast is also drawn with the puny stream of Jerusalem.



320 PSALMS OF GKATITUDE Book VIII

invalids sharing in the pursuit and the booty (v. 23).
Henceforth there is to be neither famine nor wasting sick-
ness. The " bread of adversity and water of affliction "
(xxx. 20; § 717) shall be doled out no longer. For the guilt
that brought the punishment is forgiven (v. 24; cf. v. 16).
§ 731. A poem wholly lyrical, forming a pendant to
this semi-lyrical prophecy, has been preserved to us among
the Temple hymns. It immortalizes the gratitude and
praise to the Deliverer that were felt and sung by the
faithful "remnant." We can imagine the situation. The
king and the palace officials were now completel}' won
over to the views and polic}^ of Isaiah, and for a time
there was no lack of enthusiasm among the people at
large. In particular the Temple was the scene of a more
spiritual and fervent worship (cf. Isa. i. 11 ff.), so that we
may even imagine the priests to have lost for awhile their
mechanical and servile spirit. Accompanying the devout-
ness of the worshippers, and in accord with the reforming
movement now for a while taken up seriously b}^ king
and court, came the composition and public recitation of
hymns of thanksgiving. The noblest of these (Ps. xlvi.)
was perhaps penned by Isaiah himself in the da3^s of calm
reflectiveness that followed the excitement of the siege
and its vicissitudes. At an}^ rate, it is the sublimated spirit
of his contemporary prophecies, especially ch. xxxiii. The
language of the hymn is universal and self-explaining.^

1 The only allusion not perfectly obvious is that of v. 4 : " There is a
river whose rills make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tents of
the Most High." It is to be explained by Isa. xxxiii. 21 ; cf. viii. 6 f.
Jehovah himself is the protecting stream (cf. § 730). The little brook
that fed the pool of Siloam, is more to Jerusalem than the great complex
of rivers and canals to the cities of Assj'ria and Babylonia. The con-
nection of Ps. xlviii. with the great event is not so obvious. To Ps. Ixxvi.
the Sept. prefixes "against the Assyrian," from the supposed reference of
V. 5 f. to the destruction of the army of Sinacherib. There are also other
coincidences ; cf . v. 3 with xlvi. 9 and the tone and phraseology of the two
Psalms generally. But an Aramaism in v. 6 of the Hebrew text points to a
later composition. Probably Ps. Ixxvi. is an echo of xlvi. and the prophetic
spirit of its time, awakened by the fall of Nineveh ; cf. Nah, iii. 18.



Ch. VI, § 732 WITHDRAWAL OF SINACHERIB 321

§ 732. The catastrophe on the border of Palestine
(§ 704 ff.) was followed hy a hasty march away from the
seaboard, which had almost the aspect of a retreat. It
is not difficult to conceive of the effect produced upon
the superstitious mind of Sinacherib by the sudden and
terrible infliction. Nor is it incredible that he should
have traced the disaster to the intervention of Jehovah,
who to him was the most powerful god of the "West-land.
For a time it had seemed to him, as to his versatile legate
(2 K. xviii. 25), that Jehovah was on the side of the
Assyrians — so complete had been his success in his inva-
sion and devastation of Judali outside of the capital
(§ 686). But well informed as he must have been of the
occult and tremendous power behind the throne in Jeru-
salem, he found something awe-inspiring even in the
resistance of the fore-doomed city. And so when the
stroke fell in the unmistakable guise of a divine visita-
tion (§ 707), it was inevitable that the God of Hezekiah
and Isaiah should be accredited with the dire calamity.
Sinacherib lived twenty years longer (§ 741) ; but it is
doubtful whether an}' Assyrian expedition visited Pales-
tine during the remainder of his reign. Certain it is that
he never again came to the West-land in person, and we
may well believe that henceforward the land was to him a
place of evil omen.^ We must add to this the phenome-
nal fact that Jerusalem, although a city marked out for
destruction (§ 288), was never afterwards besieged by an
Assyrian army (cf. § 801 ff.).

1 The almost incredible effects of sudden surprise upon occupants of a
strange land are doubtless to be traced to some such sentiment of super-
stitious awe. The god of the land (§ 58, 61) was invested with inalienable
power, and an unexpected attack from any of his subjects would thus
easily occasion panic dread. In this way we have to account largely
for the victory of Abraham's band over the Elamites and their allies
(Gen. xiv.), for that of Gideon's troops over the INIidianites (Jud. vii.),
and even for the repulse of the Philistines by Jonathan and his armour-
bearer (1 S. xiv.). A night attack was naturally (cf. § 707) the most
uncanny and deadly.



CHAPTER VII

SINACHERIB AND BABYLONIA

§ 733. Sinacherib's return to the east was probably
accelerated by weighty causes apart from the disaster to
his army and his disappointment at the survival of Jeru-
salem. Babylonia, after all, had a stronger interest for
him than Palestine or Egypt. Besides, he had partly
gained his ends by his memorable western expedition.
His bitterest lasting disappointment was probably the
successful resistance of Tyre (§ 680 ff.). Egypt, too, was
scarcely ready to occupy, and in the meantime, though
the unyielding capital remained unscathed, the country of
Judah itself, the centre of danger, was damaged beyond
speedy recovery, and the subjugation of the allied Philis-
tian cities secured the route to the Isthmus. But in
Babylonia affairs were not going at all to his liking ;
and his fear was that his newly assumed authority there
(§ 673) should slip entirely out of his hands. As long as
Merodach-baladan was alive, he apprehended peril and in-
security for his own dynasty ; but the ambition and enter-
prise which had twice given that adventurer the throne of
Babylon, and prestige and influence as far as the Medi-
terranean (§ 679), could only be quelled by his death or
perpetual exile. The fourth campaign (B.C. 700)^ of the
Assyrian king was, therefore, partly directed against Bit-
Yakin, the ancestral country of the redoubtable Chaldsean
(§ 340). On his way thither he found it expedient to
make an attack on a neighbouring prince, Suzub by name,

1 Taylor Cylinder, III, 42 ff.



Ch. VII, § 734 INVASION OF THE SEA-LAND 323

also a Chaldtean, a confederate of the great pretender, and
a prospective claimant of the throne of Babylon to which,
in fact, he at length attained (§ 739), In true Clialdsean
fashion the obnoxious chieftain betook himself to flight;
"nobody could see a trace of him."

§ 734. Contented with the temporary subjection of the
marshes, which were the nursery ^ and the refuge of the
race which he could defeat but never really conquer,
Sinacherib marched on to Bit-Yakin. What now took
place may best be given in the words of the official Ass3''r-
ian annalist, to whose formal and monotonous narrative
unexpected dignity and pathos are lent by its heroic sub-
ject and his fate : ^ " I took the way to Bit-Yakin. That
Merodach-baladan, whose defeat I had accomplished in the
course of my first expedition, and whose strength I had
shattered, feared the clanging of ray strong weapons and
the mighty shock of my onset ; he brought the gods of
his whole land out of their shrines,^ embarked them in
ships, and, like a bird, fled to the city of Nagitu-in-the
Fens,'^ which is washed by the sea. His brothers, his
kindred, who had withdrawn from the seashore, along
with the rest of his subjects, I brought away from the
land of Bit-Yakin, from out of the swamps and reeds, and
made them my prisoners. His cities I razed and devas-
tated and made like a wilderness." Of the fugitive noth-
ing more is heard. When the Elamitic city of refuge
was attacked by Sinacherib, six years later (§ 737 f.), no

1 Another iustance of a "fen counti-y " breeding an heroic and un-
conquerable people ; cf. Kingsley, Ilereward the Wake, prelude. The
Chaldseans, like the English of the Norman period, were subjected to
endless indignities and ci'uelties by the Assyrian overlords, but like the
English they at length came to their own again in unprecedented greatness.

2 Ibid. Ill, 50-61.

2 I R. -13, 8 f. contains the following important addition : "and gathered
the bones of his ancestors out of their tombs." Evidently preparations
had been made for a wholesale migration (cf. Gen. xlix. 29 ff. ). It is,
therefore, more than probable that the Assyrian account of the capture
of his relatives and friends is greatly exaggerated.

* Cf. Par. 323 f. So called in distinction from another ya(jitu.



324 CHANGES IN BABYLONIA Book VIII

report was made of Assyria's most stubborn foe. Doubt-
less he died as he had lived, surrounded by his ancestral
gods, bequeathing a legacy of perpetual war against his
country's oppressor, perhaps fondly imagining the rise and
triumph of some mighty "goel," but hardly daring to
dream of any such glorious empire as that which should
be erected by Nebuchadrezzar the Chaldsean upon the
ruins of Assyria.

§ 735. The South-Babylonian leaders could thus enjoy
the protection of their ally the king of Elam, and while
exiled in his territory they could further intrigue for the
expulsion of the Assyrians. In Babylon itself Bel-ibni,
the appointee of Sinacherib (§ 673), had proved anything
but a docile administrator of a vassal state. He was now
deposed, and the heir to the throne of Assyria, Asshur-
nadin-sum, installed in his place. The peace of Babylonia
was thus secured for several years, however irksome the
less tolerant regime might be to the ancient priesthood and
cultured aristocracy. The following years, till 696, were
occupied with campaigns in Southern Armenia, and in
Cilicia from the Gulf as far north as the border of Tabal
(Tibarene). According to supplementary reports of Beros-
sus, Sinacherib's progress in Cilicia was interfered with
by an incursion of Greeks, whom he defeated after a severe
struggle. He is also credited with having rebuilt the city
of Tarsus (cf. vol. i, p. 290, note).

§ 736. Meanwhile Elam was being used by Chaldsean
refugees as a base of operations upon Babylonia, now un-
der Assyrian military rule. The favourite plan of action
pursued by these men of the marshes was to swarm over



Online LibraryJames Frederick McCurdyHistory, prophecy and the monuments (Volume 2) → online text (page 29 of 39)