Bible Commentaries

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Isaiah 14


As already stated, this chapter, in great part if not in the whole of it, is but a continuation of the preceding. The closing thought there coheres specially with that of the first three verses here, namely, that providential dealing in this world is primarily with reference to God’s Church on earth. This judgment on Babylon was to prepare the way for Israel’s becoming the centre of the future of the kingdom of God on earth. Delitzsch says, we have in a nutshell the whole of chapters xl to lxvi in verses one and two of this chapter.

Verse 1

1. For The word is a sign of a continued drift of thought from the foregoing chapter.

The Lord will have mercy In accordance with a perpetual covenant. It was a mercy to punish with captivity. The discipline was needed.

On Jacob Jacob and Israel are terms collective of the spiritual people Jews purified through their afflictions in Babylon. Such carried the seeds of their religion with them, which grew to fruit-age. Thus the Lord has mercy on them and re-chooses them.

Strangers shall be joined with them Proselytes in Babylon to the true religion. In like manner, from Esther 8:17, we learn that “many of the people of the land became Jews,” as the effect of evidences that God had mercy on them and chose them. Many probably accompanied them back to their land.

Verse 2

2. And the people Literally, peoples; they of Babylon; heathen turned friends; Cyrus and authorities under him.

Bring them to their place They shall attend them to the land of Judea.

The house of Israel The Jews.

Possess them As converts from heathenism.

In the land of the Lord In the low sense, this means in Judea. But the prophecy sweeps, as usual, into the times of the Messiah, the spiritual realm of the Church.

Take them captives Into the true religion.

Shall rule over their oppressors Under laws and truths of the Messiah’s kingdom. There are here predicted exchanged conditions, external and internal. The chosen people and the other peoples change places, the Jews to their own land, with heathen in a willing sense subject to them; but the full accomplishment of the prophecy is to be fulfilled when the Church of Christ shall become prevalent in the earth.

Verses 3-4

3, 4. The state of deliverance and rest expressed in the third verse is intensified by the contrast of exchanged positions between recovered Israel and the fallen oppressor, who poetically represents the whole series of the oppressors of Israel in that empire of the east, now crushed and ruined forever.

Thou shalt take up this proverb Rather, This song. The meaning is, Thou shall raise in a musical sense, including the ideas of commencement, utterance, and loudness. “Proverb,” ( mashal,) a word variously rendered; in Isaiah 24:3, a parable; in Ezekiel 12:23, a proverb; in Joel 2:17, a song of derision; in Ezekiel 17:2, a symbolical discourse, etc.; in Psalms 69:12, a by-word. Here the tenor of discourse requires its meaning to be a derisive song or discourse.

Golden city From מדהבה , ( madhebah,) a word formed in the manner of a Hiphil participle from זהב , ( zahab,) the first radical interchanged with its cognate ד , ( daleth,) and its own proper meaning, therefore, becomes gold maker, or gold exacter, all which terminates tropically in the feminine abstract idea of oppression: How hath oppressor and oppression ceased!

Verse 5

5. Staff… wicked This means the imperial power of Babylon. In this verse is apparently the answer to the exclamation of the preceding verse.

Rulers Who claimed absolute dominion over all minor kingdoms of the East.

Verse 6

6. The oldest and the latest writers, with few exceptions, make this verse descriptive of the Babylonian tyranny.

He who smote the people Nebuchadnezzar, no doubt, the loftiest king of Babylon, who “smote” not only the Jews, but other nations contiguous to his own territory.

Continual stroke Never intermitted. The tyrant’s sceptre smote nations with incessant blows and persecution. The phrase, ruled the nations in anger, is persecuted, and none hindereth, is better rendered: Subdued nations in anger with a pursuit unrestrained. The expression refers to Babylonian tyranny, yielding to no pity, nor restraint of conscience.

Verses 7-8

7, 8. Earth is at rest Better, Hath gone into rest.

Is quiet Has become quiet. The verbs are inchoatively past.

Break forth into singing There being no subject to the verb, great generality is given to the rejoicing. Yea, the fir trees, etc. Indeed, cypress and cedar join the chorus. By these, some suppose the usual symbols for rulers, leaders, generals, etc., are intended. Now that they are safe from an all-crushing opposer, they too rejoice. But a better sense is, that firs and cedars are conspicuous parts of the one great scenery, or picture, representing all nature as rejoicing. These almost imperishable timbers were used by the tyrants for ornamental building, for siege apparatus, for fleets and ordinary ships, and they also share the general joy. Tristram, ( Nat. Hist. Bible,) regards the “fir” of the Bible to be the Aleppo pine, and for strength and durability to be only inferior to the cedar of Lebanon.

Verse 9

9. While it is all quiet on the earth, it is all excitement in the regions below. The bold personification goes on, but in the world invisible, and a good reading of this verse is as follows:

Hell from beneath Or, The kingdom of the dead below, is all in an uproar on account of thee, to meet thee at thy coming; it stirreth up the shades for thee, all the he-goats of the earth; it raiseth up from their throne-seats all the kings of the nations.”

Hell On this word see notes on Isaiah 5:14. There is something awfully grand and fearful in the sheol, the underworld of the Hebrews, the hades of the New Testament, and the “hell” of the English Old Testament: an immense subterranean kingdom, (Isaiah 14:9; Jeremiah 5:14; Job 26:6,) thickly dark, (Job 10:21-22,) deeply gullied, (Proverbs 9:19,) closed with strong gates, (Isaiah 38:10,) and a place whence there is no escape, (Job 7:9-10; Luke 16:26;) all which passages, too, describe the popular conceptions of the Hebrews and Jews poetically embellished, as well as express what to the Hebrews contained an indisputable doctrine, namely, that of life after death.

Stirreth up the dead The “dead” Hebrew, רפאים , rephaim rendered, in Isaiah 26:14, “deceased;” in Deuteronomy 2:11; Deuteronomy 3:11, giants; ( so the Septuagint and Vulgate;) either from being long time dead, or because shades or spectres may be conceived as actually larger than living men.

Chief ones of the earth Literally, he-goats; bellwethers, leaders. Isaiah 3:6; Zechariah 10:3.

Their thrones The personification retains for the shadowy souls of the great, their relative positions, even in the underworld.

Verse 10

10. Shall speak The scene is as if, before his coming, they stood in dread; but his approach revealing his weakness, they become bolder, and venture the expression, on his advance toward them, “Thou art weak as we.” Delitzsch is of opinion that this is all the shades say; that what follows does not belong to them. And on the ground that surprise naturally, after an expressive burst, says but little, this is probably true.

Verse 11

11. If so, the triumphal elegiac song begun at Isaiah 14:4 is here resumed; strong ethical sentiment, not thoughts of propriety as to condition or place, being dominant with the restored Jews, the chief actors in this scene.

Thy pomp Thy pride.

Down to the grave To the underworld. Isaiah 14:9.

Thy viols The same word is in Isaiah 5:12, where see note. They are now a poor accompaniment to downcast pomp.

The worm The idea is, as Kay puts it, “Beneath thee is spread the maggot for thy couch, and for coverlet is spread the worm,” not the vermilion derived from it. Lamentations 4:5. The original word for “worm” denotes the worm which gnaws grapes and other plants; (Deuteronomy 28:39; Jonah 4:7;) also corpses, (Isaiah 66:24; Isaiah 14:11;) and is, according to Furst, the coccus worm, from which the scarlet or vermilion colour is produced. When used for the latter, as in several places in Leviticus, the adjunct word, שׁני , ( shani,) the light-giving, is used with it. But both functions of this insect may be supposed to be here employed in poetic association in contrast.

Verse 12

12. Fallen from heaven A new image is now introduced, but felicitously appropriate, on account of the early date of Babylonian culture, reaching into far primeval times, and of a predominant astrological character.

From heaven That is, from the sky.

Lucifer, son of the morning The epithet “Lucifer,” coupled with a phrase which defines it, is from a verb which means to shine, to give forth, to radiate; hence its proper meaning is light-bearer, radiant one, son of the morning dawn, so called, probably, in virtue of Babylon’s having, from ages immemorial, shone forth in the dawn of the world’s history with surprising lustre, first in culture as the world’s teacher, then in perverted power.

Cut down to the ground Literally, hewn down. As if this Babel-power were the impersonation of the impurest idolatry, whose asherah, or groves, need an utter cutting up.

Verse 13

13. Ascend into heaven Or, I will climb the heaven. Perhaps an allusion to the old time tower of Babel. Genesis 11:4.

Above the stars of God The Babylonians connected the several constellations with minor kingdoms over which they claimed dominion.

Mount of the congregation Two interpretations have been given to these words. One is, that the mountains of Jerusalem are meant, and that the great eastern world-kingdom strove long to make there its dominion complete. The other is, a reputed widespread eastern notion of a very high mountain in the far north, where gods were believed to reside, as in northern Greece they were thought to have their abode on Mount Olympus. The one makes the words to come as the prophet’s own; the other, as quoted (not endorsed) by the prophet as from the king’s mouth. The latter accords with facts of the Eastern theology as found in the old Zend books, and may be the true explanation. And it more easily explains the remaining words of the verse.

Verse 14

14. Heights of the clouds The simplest sense of the words is doubtless their true meaning. To climb above the highest clouds is an expression of the highest ambition and arrogance.

Like the Most High This completes the climax. The wall sculptures of Assyria show, it is said, symbols of deity assigned to kings.

Verse 15

15. Down to hell To hades, as in Matthew 11:23.

To the sides To the recesses the side burial places. The image is taken from the shelves and recesses of sepulchres.

Verses 16-17

16, 17. The scene is now changed from sheol to earth; from a shadowy personage to an unburied corpse.

Look upon… consider thee Intently examine thee as some strange sight.

Is this the man Hardly a jibe, as some think, but a serious reflection on man’s feebleness.

Made the earth to tremble By his former power and tyranny. But now how fallen!

Made the world as a wilderness The world which would otherwise have been fruitful and habitable.

Opened not the house Set not his captives free to go homeward.

Verse 18

18. All… kings… lie in glory This is the ordinary fact; and it is a great mark of dishonour not to be buried, even for a private person, (1 Kings 13:22,) and how much more for a sovereign. 2 Chronicles 21:20; 2 Chronicles 34:24. The language is not that of derision, but of astonishment.

Verse 19

19. Cast out of thy grave A neglected carcass, far from thy grandly-built sepulchre. How horrible the contrast in this case!

Abominable branch A shoot or branch cut off as an abhorred thing; cast away for burning.

Stones of the pit A place of burial either excavated or built up with stones. Even common soldiers, when slain, were not denied this.

Verse 20

20. Shalt not be joined with them Not even with the slain herd of men who have a decent burial. Hast destroyed thy land, etc. To the Oriental such a judgment was the harshest conceivable; but in this case it is pronounced deserved.

Verse 21

21. Prepare slaughter for his children Such is the impulse of inexorable sentiment with the Oriental to this day; and such, too, the reasons for it as are here given. In this case the iniquity of their fathers was judicially visited upon their children. This is considered as prophetically addressed to the Medes, if to any people in particular.

Verses 22-23

22, 23. I will rise up against Hitherto the prophet had spoken in his own name, though not by his own authority; but now he speaks in the name of Jehovah, intimating not human agency merely, but the Lord’s

also, as concerned in Babylon’s destruction.

Cut off… name… remnant… son, and nephew Every trace of the old empire is to go out of existence. This was literally fulfilled through Cyrus and his successors of the Medo-Persian empire. And finally the population was swept away, and the city was exterminated; so hedgehogs took the place vacated by men, and marshes the place of palaces.

Verses 24-25

24, 25. A change is here made from the prophetic scene in the distance, to a nearer view: to that of the Assyrian power with which Judah is more or less to be concerned for a hundred or more years before reaching the Babylonian era. This is done either to make the events predicted of Assyria accredit those predicted of Babylon, or to assure the prophet’s own generation of Jews that God is as interested to protect them from Assyria as he is to deliver the coming generations from Babylon.

I have sworn To this God’s oath is interposed.

I will break the Assyrian To Isaiah this event is quite in the near future, and Sennacherib is the prominent sufferer.

In my land So claimed Leviticus 25:23. Immanuel’s land, Isaiah 8:8.

My mountains Isaiah 49:11; Isaiah 65:9.

Yoke… burden Same as in Isaiah 9:4; Isaiah 10:27. In this land and upon these mountains Assyria virtually fell to pieces for a season, so far forth as Jerusalem was concerned, in the destruction of Sennacherib’s army. See the vision of this event in Isaiah 10:33-34. If further words be necessary as to the allusion again to Assyria, and just in this place, they may be to this effect: The fate of both Assyria and Babylon were, in the absolute sense, in far future to Isaiah. The prophecy against Assyria had, in partial form, already gone forth. The foregoing prophecy against Babylon is complete. As a pledge of its fulfilment the matter of these two verses is placed here, in accordance with assurances common to the prophets, as appears in Jeremiah 50:18, “Behold, I will punish the king of Babylon and his land, as I have punished the king of Assyria.” The purpose and certainty against Assyria are a pledge for the purpose and certainty against Babylon. There is another view less probable, but having plausibility, namely, that Isaiah quite survived what seemed the assured fate of Assyria, and then himself confidently appended these verses as God’s pledge against Babylon, thus reaffirming predictions against Assyria formerly made.

Verses 26-27

26, 27. This is the purpose The sense of these verses is, That the “purpose” formed against Babylon and Assyria is also formed against all peoples who deserve punishment, and it must be executed. Rules of justice control the Almighty in regard to all nations, and they cannot be changed.

Verse 28

28. The year… Ahaz died About B.C. 726.

Burden An utterance, an oracle, a threatening message, a sentence denounced in this case denounced in the year that Ahaz died.

Verses 28-32

AGAINST PHILISTIA, Isaiah 14:28-32.

Properly, another chapter begins and ends with these verses. The prophet had treated fully of Babylon’s downfall in the far future; then he reverted to the earlier overthrow of Assyria; and now, returning to the exigencies of his own time, he utters this note of warning to Philistia not to exult unduly in the foredoom of her old enemy. The apostrophe is to the Philistines, though uttered chiefly for the comfort of Judah.

Verse 29

29. Rejoice not… whole Palestina Rather, Philistia, a territory in the southwest of Judah, and which the Philistines, a people from Caphtor in the Mediterranean, though of Egyptian origin, had long occupied, and from which they were never dislodged, though much of the time kept in subjection.

Because the rod… that smote thee is broken “The rod” is a symbol for dominion; and probably refers here to the former Jewish power. Some commentators, however, refer it to the Assyrian oppressers.

Serpent’s root This is argued to be Uzziah, the grandfather of Ahaz, who had subjected Philistia, but from which subjection she had recovered under Ahaz.

Cockatrice Hezekiah, who again subjected Philistia. The “root” was of the ordinary serpent, not over venomous; but its offspring, the basilisk, was very venomous.

And his fruit… a fiery flying serpent Poetically intensive of the basilisk. The warning is to Philistia not to exult because of denounced Assyria; she has yet to drink of a bitter cup from the hands of a lesser enemy Hezekiah.

Verse 30

30. Firstborn of the poor Or, sons of the poor,

God’s own the lowly; here, his true people in Judah.

Feed… lie down The figures are from a flock of sheep shall feed quietly, undisturbed by Philistine skirmishes.

Thy root Compare Amos 2:9.

Slay thy remnant Make a radical destruction of thee.

Verse 31

31. Howl, O gate Ye who throng the gates; the chief place of concourse for trials of justice, for news, and for business. The gates here are those of Philistia’s fortress-towns.

Dissolved Possibly, this word is used in allusion to another panic stricken Philistian scene, recorded in 1 Samuel 14:12-16. The word is well illustrated by it.

From the north a smoke From Judah, north and northeast. The passage, literally translated, reads: “Out of the north cometh a smoke,” as of a marching column of cloud or flame; symbol of Jehovah’s lead of his own to battle.

None shall be alone in his appointed times Most commentators now agree in the main with Lowth’s rendering: “There is no straggler in his levies,” or “in his appointed places.” That is, all the portions of his host are at their appointed posts of duty, and reach their places of rendezvous in good time and accurate order.

Verse 32

32. What… answer What answer shall be given to the messengers of the nation The ambassadors sent from a nation, ( גוי , goi, collection of peoples.) From what nation, what people? There is no article, and no indication as to any nation meant. It may be intended to be indefinite. Any people may send to know what is the outcome to Israel from surrounding complications, from Philistine revolts or restiveness under subjection; or from dreaded Assyrian invasions. The answer is the most important part of the passage, and that is always the same; the same now, that it was to Rabshakeh in his argument with Hezekiah’s servants against trusting Jehovah, (Isaiah 36:4-10,) and in effect the same as this text has it, namely: That Jehovah has founded Zion, and that in it the afflicted of his people shall seek refuge. They shall trust in Jehovah, and never be moved. This is the answer which may be given to inquiries made from any quarter.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Isaiah 14". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.