Isaiah 10:15

15 Does an ax exalt itself above the one who chops with it? Does a saw magnify itself above the one who saws with it? As if a staff could wave those who lift[a] it! As if a rod could lift what isn't wood![b]

Isaiah 10:15 Meaning and Commentary

Isaiah 10:15

Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth
&c.] Hitherto are the words of the Assyrian monarch; and here begin the words of the prophet, rebuking him for his pride, and deriding his vain boasting, in attributing that to himself, to his wisdom and power, who was but an instrument, which belonged to God, the sole Governor and wise orderer of all things; which was all one as if an axe should ascribe the cutting down of trees to itself, and insist on it that the man that cut with it had no share in the action, nor was it to be ascribed to him; than which nothing is more absurd. The sense is, that the king of Assyria, in taking cities, and conquering kingdoms, and adding them to his own, was only an instrument in the hand of God, like an axe in the hand of one that hews down trees; and therefore it was vain and ridiculous to take that to himself which belonged to the Lord, on whom he depended as an instrument, as to motion, operation, and effect; from whom he had all power to act, all fitness for it, and efficacy in it, as the axe has from the person that makes and uses it, or any other instrument, as follows: [or] shall the saw magnify itself against him that shaketh it?
or draws it to and fro; which is the sense of the Targum, Septuagint, and Vulgate Latin versions, and others; and which further exposes the vanity and arrogance of the Assyrian monarch, who had no more concern in the spoiling of nations, and destruction of kingdoms, than the saw has in cutting of timber that is hewn; which has its form, its sharp teeth, not of itself, but from the maker; and when thus made, and fit for use, cannot draw itself to and fro, and cut trees in pieces, which are felled by the axe, but must be moved by another; and to insult the mover of it, as if it was not his act, but its own, is not more absurd than what this haughty prince was guilty of, in boasting of his power, wisdom, and prudence, in the above mentioned things: as if the rod should shake [itself] against them that lift it up
{m}; for such was the king of Assyria, he was no other than the rod of the Lord's anger, ( Isaiah 10:5 ) and which he lifted up, and with it chastised his people; wherefore for him to behave haughtily against the Lord, and arrogate that to himself which was the Lord's doing, was as if a rod should shake itself against him that lifts it up; or, "as if a rod should shake those that lift it up": as if there were more power in the rod than in them that take it up and strike with it; yea, that even the rod moves them, and not they the rod, which is wretchedly absurd: [or], as if the staff should lift up [itself, as if it were] no
F14; but something more than wood, an animate creature, a rational agent, whereas it is nothing else but wood; or "as if a staff should lift up" itself against that which is "not wood", like itself, but is a man, that can move himself and that too; or "as if a staff should lift up" that which is "not wood"; attempt to bear, carry, move, and direct that which is not material like itself, but is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, even the almighty God. De Dieu thinks that (Myrh) is not a verb, but a noun of the plural number, of (rh) , "a mountain": and renders it, "as if a rod should shake those that lift it up: and as if a staff were mountains, and not wood". The Targum is,

``when a rod is lifted up to smite, it is not the rod that smites, but he that smites with it.''
The sense is, that the Assyrian monarch was only a rod and staff in the hand of the Lord, and only moved and acted as used by him; whereas, according to his vain boast, he was the sole agent, and all was done by his own power and prudence; and was so far from being moved and directed by the power and providence of God, that he was the director of him; which is infinitely more absurd than the things instanced in.

F13 Ben Melech observes, that this is to be understood of the blessed God; and the word being in the plural number, it is the same way, of speaking as in Josh. xxiv. 19. "the Holy Gods is he".

F14 Gussetius thinks this clause contains an ironical answer to the above questions, "shall the axe boast itself?" &c.; "shall the saw magnify itself?" &c.; they should, "as the rod should shake itself" &c.; just in like manner as that does, and so by lifting up itself, ceases to be wood; and which being sarcastically spoken, carries in it a strong negative, that the axe and saw should not glory, or magnify themselves, and no more should the king of Assyria. Vid. Comment. Ebr. p. 360.

Isaiah 10:15 In-Context

13 For he said: I have done [this] by my own strength and wisdom, for I am clever. I abolished the borders of nations and plundered their treasures; like a mighty warrior, I subjugated the inhabitants.
14 My hand has reached out, as if into a nest, to seize the wealth of the nations. Like one gathering abandoned eggs, I gathered the whole earth. No wing fluttered; no beak opened or chirped.
15 Does an ax exalt itself above the one who chops with it? Does a saw magnify itself above the one who saws with it? As if a staff could wave those who lift it! As if a rod could lift what isn't wood!
16 Therefore the Lord God of Hosts will inflict an emaciating disease on the well-fed of Assyria, and He will kindle a burning fire under its glory.
17 Israel's Light will become a fire, and its Holy One, a flame. In one day it will burn up Assyria's thorns and thistles.

Footnotes 2

  • [a]. Some Hb mss, Syr, Vg read wave he who lifts
  • [b]. A human being
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