Syria and Israel threatened. (1-11) The woe of Israel's enemies. (12-14)
Verses 1-11 Sin desolates cities. It is strange that great conquerors should take pride in being enemies to mankind; but it is better that flocks should lie down there, than that they should harbour any in open rebellion against God and holiness. The strong holds of Israel, the kingdom of the ten tribes, will be brought to ruin. Those who are partakers in sin, are justly made partakers in ruin. The people had, by sins, made themselves ripe for ruin; and their glory was as quickly cut down and taken away by the enemy, as the corn is out of the field by the husbandman. Mercy is reserved in the midst of judgment, for a remnant. But very few shall be marked to be saved. Only here and there one was left behind. But they shall be a remnant made holy. The few that are saved were awakened to return to God. They shall acknowledge his hand in all events; they shall give him the glory due to his name. To bring us to this, is the design of his providence, as he is our Maker; and the work of his grace, as he is the Holy One of Israel. They shall look off from their idols, the creatures of their own fancy. We have reason to account those afflictions happy, which part between us and our sins. The God of our salvation is the Rock of our strength; and our forgetfulness and unmindfulness of him are at the bottom of all sin. The pleasant plants, and shoots from a foreign soil, are expressions for strange and idolatrous worship, and the vile practices connected therewith. Diligence would be used to promote the growth of these strange slips, but all in vain. See the evil and danger of sin, and its certain consequences.
Verses 12-14 The rage and force of the Assyrians resembled the mighty waters of the sea; but when the God of Israel should rebuke them, they would flee like chaff, or like a rolling thing, before the whirlwind. In the evening Jerusalem would be in trouble, because of the powerful invader, but before morning his army would be nearly cut off. Happy are those who remember God as their salvation, and rely on his power and grace. The trouble of the believers, and the prosperity of their enemies, will be equally short; while the joy of the former, and the destruction of those that hate and spoil them, shall last for ever.
Isaiah 17:1-11 . PROPHECY CONCERNING DAMASCUS AND ITS ALLY SAMARIA, that is, Syria and Israel, which had leagued together (seventh and eighth chapters).
Already, Tiglath-pileser had carried away the people of Damascus to Kir, in the fourth year of Ahaz ( 2 Kings 16:9 ); but now in Hezekiah's reign a further overthrow is foretold ( Jeremiah 49:23 , Zechariah 9:1 ). Also, Shalmaneser carried away Israel from Samaria to Assyria ( 2 Kings 17:6 , 2 Kings 18:10 2 Kings 18:11 ) in the sixth year of Hezekiah of Judah (the ninth year of Hoshea of Israel). This prophecy was, doubtless, given previously in the first years of Hezekiah when the foreign nations came into nearer collision with Judah, owing to the threatening aspect of Assyria.
1. Damascus--put before Israel (Ephraim, Isaiah 17:3 ), which is chiefly referred to in what follows, because it was the prevailing power in the league; with it Ephraim either stood or fell ( Isaiah 7:1-25 ).
2. cities of Aroer--that is, the cities round Aroer, and under its jurisdiction [GESENIUS]. So "cities with their villages" ( Joshua 15:44 ); "Heshbon and all her cities" ( Joshua 13:17 ). Aroer was near Rabbahammon, at the river of Gad, an arm of the Jabbok ( 2 Samuel 24:5 ), founded by the Gadites ( Numbers 32:34 ).
for flocks--( Isaiah 5:17 ).
3. fortress . . . cease--The strongholds shall be pulled down (Samaria especially: Hosea 10:14 , Micah 1:6 , Habakkuk 1:10 ).
remnant of Syria--all that was left after the overthrow by Tiglath-pileser ( 2 Kings 16:9 ).
as the glory of . . . Israel--They shall meet with the same fate as Israel, their ally.
4. glory of Jacob--the kingdom of Ephraim and all that they rely on ( Hosea 12:2 , Micah 1:5 ).
fatness . . .
5. harvestman, &c.--The inhabitants and wealth of Israel shall be swept away, and but few left behind just as the husbandman gathers the corn and the fruit. and leaves only a few gleaning ears and grapes ( 2 Kings 18:9-11 ).
with his arm--He collects the standing grain with one arm, so that he can cut it with the sickle in the other hand.
Rephaim--a fertile plain at the southwest of Jerusalem toward Beth-lehem and the country of the Philistines ( 2 Samuel 5:18-22 ).
6. in it--that is, in the land of Israel.
two or three . . . in the top--A few poor inhabitants shall be left in Israel, like the two or three olive berries left on the topmost boughs, which it is not worth while taking the trouble to try to reach.
7. look to his Maker--instead of trusting in their fortresses--( Isaiah 17:3 , Micah 7:7 ).
8. groves--A symbolical tree is often found in Assyrian inscriptions, representing the hosts of heaven ("Saba"), answering to Ashteroth or Astarte, the queen of heaven, as Baal or Bel is the king. Hence the expression, "image of the grove," is explained ( 2 Kings 21:7 ).
images--literally, "images to the sun," that is, to Baal, who answers to the sun, as Astarte to the hosts of heaven ( 2 Kings 23:5 , Job 31:26 ).
9. forsaken bough--rather "the leavings of woods," what the axeman leaves when he cuts down the grove (compare Isaiah 17:6 ).
which they left because of--rather, "which (the enemies) shall leave for the children of Israel"; literally, "shall leave (in departing) from before the face of the children of Israel" [MAURER]. But a few cities out of many shall be left to Israel, by the purpose of God, executed by the Assyrian.
10. forgotten . . . God of . . . salvation . . . rock--( Deuteronomy 32:15 Deuteronomy 32:18 ).
plants--rather, "nursery grounds," "pleasure-grounds" [MAURER].
set in--rather, "set them," the pleasure-grounds.
strange slips--cuttings of plants from far, and therefore valuable.
11. In the day . . . thy plant--rather, "In the day of thy planting" [HORSLEY].
shalt . . . make . . . grow--MAURER translates, "Thou didst fence it," namely, the pleasure-ground. The parallel clause, "Make . . . flourish," favors English Version. As soon as thou plantest, it grows.
in the morning--that is, immediately after; so in Psalms 94:14 , the Hebrew, "in the morning," is translated "early."
but . . . shall be a heap--rather, "but (promising as was the prospect) the harvest is gone" [HORSLEY].
in . . . day of grief--rather, "in the day of (expected) possession" [MAURER]. "In the day of inundation" [HORSLEY].
of desperate sorrow--rather, "And the sorrow shall be desperate or irremediable." In English Version "heap" and "sorrow" may be taken together by hendiadys. "The heap of the harvest shall be desperate sorrow" [ROSENMULLER].
Isaiah 17:12-18:7'. SUDDEN DESTRUCTION OF A GREAT ARMY IN JUDEA (namely that of the Assyrian Sennacherib), AND ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE EVENT TO THE ETHIOPIAN AMBASSADORS.
The connection of this fragment with what precedes is: notwithstanding the calamities coming on Israel, the people of God shall not be utterly destroyed ( Isaiah 6:12 Isaiah 6:13 ); the Assyrian spoilers shall perish ( Isaiah 17:13 Isaiah 17:14 ).
12. Woe . . . multitude--rather, "Ho (Hark)! a noise of," &c. The prophet in vision perceives the vast and mixed Assyrian hosts (Hebrew, "many peoples," hills of Judah (so "mountains," Isaiah 17:13 ):but at the "rebuke" of God, they shall "flee as chaff."
to the rushing . . . that make--rather, "the roaring . . . roareth" (compare Isaiah 8:7 , Jeremiah 6:23 ).
13. shall . . . shall--rather, "God rebuketh ( Psalms 9:5 ) them, and they flee--are chased"; the event is set before the eyes as actually present, not future.
chaff of . . . mountains--Threshing floors in the East are in the open air on elevated places, so as to catch the wind which separates the chaff from the wheat ( Psalms 88:13 , Hosea 13:3 ).
rolling thing--anything that rolls: stubble.
14. eventide . . . before morning--fulfilled to the letter in the destruction "before morning" of the vast host that "at eveningtide" was such a terror ("trouble") to Judah; on the phrase see Psalms 90:6 , 30:5 .
he is not--namely, the enemy.
us--the Jews. A general declaration of the doom that awaits the foes of God's people ( Isaiah 54:17 ).