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Bible Commentaries

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes

- Isaiah

by Albert Barnes

Introduction to Isaiah

The following are among the principal ones which may be referred to in illustration of Isaiah:

(1) Commentarius in Librum Prophetiarum Isaiae, Cura et Studio Campegii Vitringa, 2 vol. fol. 1714, 1720, 1724. This great work on Isaiah first appeared at Leuwarden in 1714. It has been several times reprinted. Vitringa was professor of theology at Franecker, and died in 1722. In this great work, Vitringa surpassed all who went before him in the illustration of Isaiah; and none of the subsequent efforts which have been made to explain this prophet have superseded this, or rendered it valueless. It is now indeed indispensable to a correct understanding of this prophet. He is the fountain from which most subsequent writers on Isaiah have copiously drawn. His excellencies are, great learning; copious investigation; vast research; judicious exposition; an excellent spirit, and great acuteness. His faults - for faults abound in his work - are:

(1) Great diffuseness of style.

(2) A leaning to the allegorical mode of interpretation.

(3) A minute, and anxious, and often fanciful effort to find something in history that accords with his view of each prediction. Often these parts of his work are forced and fanciful; and though they evince great research and historical knowledge, yet his application of many of the prophecies must be regarded as wholly arbitrary and unsatisfactory.

(4) He did not seem to be fully acquainted with the poetic and figurative character of the prophetic style. Hence, he is often forced to seek for fulfillment of particular expressions when a more complete acquaintance with the character of that style would have led him to seek for no such minute fulfillment. Yet no one can regard himself as furnished for a correct and full examination of Isaiah who is not in possession of this elaborate work.

(2) The collection of commentaries in the Critici Sacri, 9 vols. fol. This great work contains a collection of the best commentaries which were known at the time in which it was made. Valuable critical notes will be found in the commentary of Drusius, and occasional remarks of great value in the brief commentary of Grotius. Grotius is the father of commentators; and especially on the New Testament, he has furnished more “materials” which have been worked up into the recent commentaries, than all other expositors united. He is especially valuable for the vast amount of Classical learning which he has brought to illustrate the Scriptures. His main faults are a lack of spirituality and a laxness of opinions; but no man who wishes to gain a large and liberal view of the sacred writings will deem his library complete who has not the commentary of this great man. His notes, however, on Isaiah and the Old Testament generally, are very brief.

(3) The same work abridged and arranged by Poole, in 5 vols. fol. This work has often been reprinted, and is well known as Poole’s Synopsis. It is a work of great labor. It consists in arranging in one continuous form the different expositions contained in the work last mentioned. With all the learning and labor expended on it, it is, like most other abridgements, a work which will make him who consults it regret that an abridgement had been attempted, and sigh for the original work. It is an arrangement of opinions, without any reasons for those opinions as they existed in the minds of the original authors. To a man disposed to collect opinions merely, this work is invaluable; to a man who wishes to know on what opinions are based, and what is their true value, it will be regarded generally as of comparatively little use. The original work - the Critici Sacri - is of infinitely more value than this Synopsis by Poole.

(4) The commentary of Calvin. This may be found in his works printed at Amsterdam in 1667. This commentary on Isaiah was originated in discourses which were delivered by him in his public ministry, and which were committed to writing by another hand, and afterward revised by himself. The critical knowledge of Calvin was not great; nor does he enter minutely into criticisms, or philology. He aims at giving the sense of Isaiah, often somewhat in the form of a paraphrase. There is little criticism of words and phrases, little attempt to describe customs, or to illustrate the geography of the places referred to, and there is often in the writings of this great man a lack of vivacity and of point. However, Calvin is judicious and sound. His practical remarks are useful, and his knowledge of the human heart, and his good sense, enabled him to furnish a commentary that is highly valuable.

(5) Rosenmuller on Isaiah. This distinguished and very valuable work was first published in 1793, in three parts, and afterward in a completely revised edition in 1810, in three volumes. The merit of Rosenmuller consists in his great learning; in his cautious and careful collection of all the materials which existed to throw light on the prophet; and in his clear and simple arrangement and statement. The basis of this work is indeed Vitringa; but Rosenmuller is by no means confined to him. He has gathered from all sources what he regarded as necessary to an explanation of the prophet. He is judicious in his criticisms; and not rash and reckless in attempting to modify and amend the text. He does not resemble Grotius, who is said to have “found Christ nowhere;” but he is almost always, particularly in the first part, an advocate for the Messianic interpretation. There can be found nowhere a more valuable collection of “materials” for an understanding of Isaiah than in Rosenmuller.

(6) Philologisch-Kritischer und Historischer Commentar uber den Isaiah, von W. Gesenius, 3 Th. Leipzig, 1821. ‘The commentary of Gesenius has not rendered the work of Rosenmuller superfluous. Gesenius has certainly been more independent in ascertaining the meaning of words, and in this respect has rendered a great service to the prophet. His diligence has considerably increased the materials of exegesis by collecting a number of striking parallel passages, especially from Arabian and Syrian writers, which though not numerous, have been very accurately read. His historical illustrations, especially of the prophecies relating to foreign nations, are for the most part very valuable; and his acuteness has made new discoveries.’ “Hengstenberg.” The great value of Gesenius consists in his explanation of words and phrases; in his bringing to bear his vast learning in the Hebrew, and the cognate languages, to an explanation of the prophet; in his acuteness and skill in philological investigations; and in his use of illustrations of customs, geography, etc., from modern travelers. A favorable specimen of his manner of exposition may be seen in his commentary on the prophecy respecting Moab, Isa. 15–16. This is translated in the Biblical Repository for January 1836. See also a translation of Isaiah 17:12-14; Isaiah 18:1-7, in the Biblical Repository for July, 1836. Of this exposition Prof. Stuart says, ‘I consider it the only successful effort which has been made, to unravel the very difficult passage of which it treats. I consider it a kind of “chef d’ oeuvre” among the philological efforts of this distinguished writer;’ Bib. Rep. July, 1836, p. 220. For the general merits of Gesenius, see the article ‘Hebrew Lexicography,’ by Prof. Stuart, in Bib. Repository, 1836, p. 468ff.

(7) Isaiah; a New Translation with a Preliminary Dissertation, and Notes, Critical, Philological, and Explanatory. By Robert Lowth, D. D., Lord Bishop of London. This very beautiful translation of Isaiah was first published in London, in quarto, in 1778, and has been reprrinted several times. A German translation was published by M. Koppe, with notes and additions, at Gottingen, 1779, 1780, in 4 vols. 8 vo. It is the only work in English with which I am acquainted of any very great value on Isaiah, and it will doubtless continue to hold its rank as a standard work in sacred literature. Of all the interpreters of Isaiah, Lowth has probably most clearly discerned the true nature of the prophetic visions, has been enabled most clearly to apprehend and express the sense of the prophet, and has presented a translation which has been universally admired for its beauty. The faults of the work are: that his translation is often too paraphrastic, that he indulges in great caprice of criticism, that he often changes the Hebrew text on very slight authority, and that there is a lack of copiousness in the notes for the purpose of those who would obtain a full and accurate view of Isaiah. Lowth made good use of the aids which in his time might be derived from the researches of Oriental travelers. But since his time, this department of literature has been greatly enlarged, and important light has been thrown upon many passages which in his time were obscure.

(8) A new translation of the Hebrew prophets, arranged in chronological order. By George Noyes, Boston, 1833. This work professes to be simply a literal translation of the prophets, without an extended commentary. A very few notes are appended. The translation is executed with great skill and fidelity, and gives in general very correctly the meaning of the original. The translator has availed himself of the labors of Gesenius, and of the other modern critics. For a further view of this work, see North American Review for January, 1838.

(9) Esaias ex recensione Textus Hebraei, ad fidem Codd. et verss. Latine, vertit, et Notas subjecit, John C. Doederlin. Altdorf, 8 vo. 1780. Norimbergae, 1789.

(10) The Book of the Prophet Isaiah, in Hebrew and English. The Hebrew text metrically arranged, the translation altered from that of Bishop Lowth. By Joseph Stock, D. D., Bishop of Killala, 1804, 4to. ‘There is a variety of notes, critical and explanatory, supplied partly by the translator, and partly by others. Many of these are uncommonly valuable for their depth and acuteness, and tend to elucidate in a high degree the subject matter of these prophecies;’ British Critic, vol. xxviii. p. 466.

(11) Lectures on the Prophecies of Isaiah, by Robert Macculoch. London, 1791, 4 vols. 8vo.

(12) Hierozoicon, Sive de animalibus Sacrae Scripturae. Auctore Samuele Bocharto. Folio, Lond. 1663. This great work has been reprinted several times. It is a work of immense research and learning and is invaluable to all who desire to obtain a knowledge of the subjects on which it treats. Great use may be made of it in the interpretation of the Scriptures; and authority has often been used in the following translation and notes. There is repeated mention of animals in Isaiah; and in no other work known to me can so accurate and valuable a description of those animals be found as in Bochart.

(13) Christology of the Old Testament and a commentary on the Predictions of the Messiah, by the prophets. By E. W. Hengstenberg, Doctor of Philology and Theology, Professor of the latter in the University of Berlin. Translated from the German by Reuel Keith, D. D. Alexandria, 1836. For a notice of Prof. Hengstenberg, and the character of his writings, see Biblical Repository, vol. i. p. 21. The first vol. of this work was published in 1829. It is a very valuable accession to sacred literature, and should form a part of every theological library. It evinces great learning; accurate research; and is deeply imbued with the spirit of piety. Its fault on Isaiah is that there are many parts of this prophet which should be regarded as predictions of the Messiah, which are not noticed, or so regarded in his work. His expositions of those parts which he has examined (Isaiah 2:0; Isaiah 4:1-6; Isaiah 7:0; Isaiah 8:2-3; Isaiah 9:1-6; Isaiah 11:0; Isaiah 12:1-6; Isaiah 40:0 following) are very valuable.

(14) Oriental Travelers. In regard to these, the main design is not usually to demonstrate the truth of the predictions of the prophets, or to furnish formal expositions of the meaning of the passages of Scripture. The illustration of the sacred writings which is to be derived from them, is mainly incidental, and often is as far as possible from the intention of the traveler himself. The illustrations which are derived from these travels, relate particularly to manners, rites, customs, usages, modes of traveling, conversation, and laws; to the animals which are mentioned in the Bible; to houses, articles of dress and furniture; and more especlally to the fulfillment of the prophecies. In this respect almost a new department pertaining to the truth of the Bible has been opened by the researches of modern travelers. Many of the older commentaries were exceedingly defective and unsatisfactory for the lack of the information which can now be derived from such researches; and the principal advance which can be anticipated in the interpretation of the prophecies, is probably to be derived from this source.

In this respect such researches are invaluable, and particularly in the exposition of Isaiah. Some of the most complete and unbreakable demonstrations of the inspiration of the sacred writings are furnished by a simple comparison of the predictions with the descriptions of places mentioned by modern travelers. In this work, I have endeavoured to embody the results of these inquiries in the notes. As an illustration of the kind of aid to be expected from this quarter, I may refer to the notes on Isa. 13–14 respecting Babylon; Isa. 15–16 respecting Moab; Isaiah 23:0 of Tyre; and Isa. 34–35 of Edom. Perhaps no part of the world has excited more the attention of travelers than those where the scenes of Scripture history and of prophecy are laid. Either for commercial purposes, or by a natural desire to visit those parts of the earth which have been the scenes of sacred events, or by the mere love of adventure, most of the places distinguished either in history or in prophecy have been recently explored.

The sites of Babylon, Nineveh, Tyre, Damascus, and Jerusalem have been examined; Lebanon, Egypt, Arabia, and Palestine in general have been visited; and even Moab and Arabia have been traversed. The ancient land of Idumea, long deemed inaccessible, now Arabia Petraea, has been explored by Burckhardt, by Captains Irby and Mangles, by Laborde, and still more recently by our own countrymen, Mr. Stephens, and by Messrs. Smith and Robinson. The capital of that once celebrated kingdom has been discovered and examined after it had been unknown for ages, and a most striking fulfillment of the sacred predictions has thus been furnished; see the notes at Isaiah 16:1-14; Isaiah 34:0. Perhaps there is no department of sacred learning that promises so much to illustrate the Scripturcs, as that of modern travels. It is to he remembered (to use the words of Prof. Bush), that since ‘the Bible, in its structure, spirit, and costume, is essentially an Eastern book, it is obvious that the natural phenomena and the moral condition of the East should be made largely tributary to its elucidation.

In order to appreciate fully the truth of its descriptions, and the accuracy, force and beauty of its various allusions, it is indispensable that the reader, as far as possible, separate himself from his ordinary associations, and put himself by a kind of mental transmutation into the very circumstances of the writers. He must set himself down in the midst of Oriental scenery, gaze upon the sun, sky, mountains and rivers of Asia - go forth with the nomade tribes of the desert - follow their flocks - travel with their caravans - rest in their tents - lodge in their khans - load and unload their camels - drink at their watering places - pause during the heat of the day under their palms - cultivate the fields with their own rude implements - gather in or glean after their harvests - beat out and ventilate the grain in their open threshing floors - dress in their costume - note their proverbial or idiomatic forms of speech, and listen to the strain of song or story with which they beguile their vacant hours;’ Preface to Illustrations of the Scriptures. To use the words of a late writer in the London Quarterly Review, ‘we confess that we have felt more surprise, delight, and conviction in examining the account which the travels of Burckhardt, Mangles, Irby, Leigh, and Laborde have so recently given of Judea, Edom, etc., than we have ever derived from any similar inquiry. It seems like a miracle in our own times. Twenty years ago, we read certain portions of the prophetic Scriptures with a belief that they were true, because other similar passages had, in the course of ages, been proved to be so, and we had an indistinct notion that all these (to us) obscure and indefinite denunciations had been - we know not very well when or how - accomplished; but to have graphic descriptions, ground plans and elevations, showing the actual existence of all the heretofore vague and shadowy denunciations of God against Edom, does, we confess, excite our feelings, and exalt our confidence in prophecy to a height that no external evidence has hitherto done.

Here we have, bursting upon our age of incredulity, by the labors of accidental, impartial, and sometimes incredulous witnesses, the certainty of existing facts, which fulfil what were hitherto considered the most vague and least intelligible of all the prophecies. The value of one such contemporaneous proof is immense.’ ‘It is,’ to use the language of the Biblical Repository (vol. ix. pp. 456, 457), ‘sensible evidence, graven on the eternal rocks, and to endure until those rocks shall melt in the final catastrophe of earth. The exactness between the prediction and the fulfillment is wonderful. The evidence for the truth of the prophecies is sometimes said to be cumulative; but here we have a new volume at once opened to our view; a sudden influx of overpowering light. It is a monumental miracle, an attestation to the truth of God wrought into the very framework of the globe;’ Review of Laborde’s Journey to Petra. It may be added, that the sources of information on these interesting subjects are becoming very numerous, and already leave little to be desired.

To see this, it is sufficient to mention the following: Roberts’ Oriental Illustrations; Maundrell’s Journey from Aleppo to Jerusalem; Volney’s Travels through Egypt and Syria; Mariti’s Travels through Cyprus, Syria and Palestine; Russell’s Natural History of Aleppo; Clarke’s Travels in the Holy Land; Burckhardt’s Travels in Syria; - Travels in Nubia and Egypt; Keppel’s Narrative of a Journey from India to England; Morier’s Journey through Persia; Jowett’s Christian Researches; Burnes’ Travels in Bokhara; Laborde’s Journey to Petra, and the travels of Chandler, Pococke, Shaw, Pitts, Niebuhr - the ‘prince of travelers’ - Porter, Seetzen; from all of whom valuable illustrations may be derived, and confirmations of the truths of the Scripture prophecies. Of all the works of this description, the most valuable for an accurate exposition of the Scriptures, in relation to the geography of the Holy Land, is the recent work of our own countrymen - ‘Biblical Researches in Palestine, Mount Sinai, and Arabia Petraea,’ a journal of Travels in the year 1838, by E. Robinson and E. Smith, 3 vols. 8vo, 1841.

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