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Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at

Isaiah Chapter 34


isa 34:0

Finale of the Judgment upon All the World (More Especially upon Edom); Redemption of the People of Jehovah - Isaiah 34-35 part vi

These two chapters stand in precisely the same relation to chapters 28-33 as chapters 24-27 to chapters 13-23. In both instances the special prophecies connected with the history of the prophet's own times are followed by a comprehensive finale of an apocalyptic character. We feel that we are carried entirely away from the stage of history. There is no longer that foreshortening, by which the prophet's perspective was characterized before the fall of Assyria. The tangible shapes of the historical present, by which we have been hitherto surrounded, are now spiritualized into something perfectly ideal. We are transported directly into the midst of the last things; and the eschatological vision is less restricted, has greater mystical depth, belongs more to another sphere, and has altogether more of a New Testament character. The totally different impression which is thus made by chapters 34-35, as compared with chapters 28-33, must not cause any misgivings as to the authenticity of this closing prophecy. The relation in which Jeremiah and Zephaniah stand to chapters 34 and Isa 35:1-10, is quite sufficient to drive all doubts away. (Read Caspari's article, "Jeremiah a Witness to the Genuineness of Isaiah 34, and therefore also to the Genuineness of Isaiah; 13:1-14:23, and Isa 21:1-10," in the Lutherische Zeitschrift, 1843, 2; and Ngelsbach's Jeremia und Babylon, pp. 107-113, on the relation of Jer 50-51 more especially to Isaiah 34-35.) There are many passages in Jeremiah (viz., Jer 25:31, Jer 25:22-23; Jer 46:10; Jer 50:27, Jer 50:39; Jer 51:40) which cannot be explained in any other way than on the supposition that Jeremiah had the prophecy of Isaiah in chapter 34 before him. We cannot escape from the conclusion, that just as we find Jeremiah introducing earlier prophecies generally into his cycle of prophecies against the nations, and, in the addresses already mentioned, borrowing from Amos and Nahum, and placing side by side with a passage from Amos (compare Jer 25:30 with Amo 1:2) one of a similar character, and agreeing with Isaiah 34, so he also had Isaiah 34 and Isa 35:1-10 before him, and reproduced it in the same sense as he did other and earlier models. It is equally certain that Zep 1:7-8, and Zep 2:14, stand in a dependent relation to Isa 34:6, Isa 34:11; just as Zep 2:15 was taken from Isa 47:8, and Zep 1:7 fin. and Isa 3:11 from Isa 13:3; whilst Zep 2:14 also points back to Isa 13:21-22. We might, indeed, reverse the relation, and make Jeremiah and Zephaniah into the originals in the case of the passages mentioned; but this is opposed to the generally reproductive and secondary character of both these prophets, and also to the evident features of the passages in question. We might also follow Movers, De Wette, and Hitzig, who get rid of the testimony of Isaiah by assuming that the passages resting upon Isaiah 34, and other disputed prophecies of Isaiah, are interpolated; but this is opposed to the moral character of all biblical prophecy, and, moreover, it could only apply to Jeremiah, not to Zephaniah. We must in this case "bring reason into captivity to obedience" to the external evidence; though internal evidence also is not wanting to set a seal upon these external proofs. Just as chapters 24-27 are full of the clearest marks of Isaiah's authorship, so is it also with chapters 34-35. It is not difficult to understand the marked contrast which we find between these two closing prophecies and the historical prophecies of the Assyrian age. These two closing prophecies were appended to chapters 13-23 and 28-33 at the time when Isaiah revised the complete collection. They belong to the latest revelations received by the prophet, to the last steps by which he reached that ideal height at which he soars in chapters 40-66, and from which he never descends again to the stage of passing history, which lay so far beneath. After the fall of Assyria, and when darkness began to gather on the horizon again, Isaiah broke completely away from his own times. "The end of all things" became more and more his own true home. The obscure foreground of his prophecies is no longer Asshur, which he has done with now so far as prophecy is concerned, but Babel (Babylon). And the bright centre of his prophecies is not the fall of Asshur (for this was already prophetically a thing of the past, which had not been followed by complete salvation), but deliverance from Babylon. And the bright noon-day background of his prophecies is no longer the realized idea of the kingdom of prophecy - realized, that is to say, in the one person of the Messiah, whose form had lost the sharp outlines of chapters 7-12 even in the prophecies of Hezekiah's time - but the parousia of Jehovah, which all flesh would see. It was the revelation of the mystery of the incarnation of God, for which all this was intended to prepare the way. And there was no other way in which that could be done, than by completing the perfect portrait of the Messiah in the light of the ultimate future, so that both the factors in the prophecy might be assimilated. The spirit of Isaiah, more than that of any other prophet, was the laboratory of this great process in the history of revelation. The prophetic cycles in chapters 24-27 and 34-35 stand in the relation of preludes to it. In chapters 40-66 the process of assimilation is fully at work, and there is consequently no book of the Old Testament which has gone so thoroughly into New Testament depths, as this second part of the collection of Isaiah's prophecies, which commences with a prediction of the parousia of Jehovah, and ends with the creation of the new heaven and new earth. Chapters 34 and Isa 35:1-10 are, as it were, the first preparatory chords. Edom here is what Moab was in chapters 24-27. By the side of Babylon, the empire of the world, whose policy of conquest led to its enslaving Israel, it represents the world in its hostility to Israel as the people of Jehovah. For Edom was Israel's brother-nation, and hated Israel as the chosen people. In this its unbrotherly, hereditary hatred, it represented the sum-total of all the enemies and persecutors of the church of Jehovah. The special side-piece to chapter 34 is Isa 63:1-6.

Isaiah 34:1

isa 34:1

What the prophet here foretells relates to all nations, and to every individual within them, in their relation to the congregation of Jehovah. He therefore commences with the appeal in Isa 34:1-3 : "Come near, ye peoples, to hear; and he nations, attend. Let the earth hear, and that which fills it, the world, and everything that springs from it. For the indignation of Jehovah will fall upon all nations, and burning wrath upon all their host; He has laid the ban upon them, delivered them to the slaughter. And their slain are cast away, and their corpses - their stench will arise, and mountains melt with their blood." The summons does not invite them to look upon the completion of the judgment, but to hear the prophecy of the future judgment; and it is issued to everything on the earth, because it would all have to endure the judgment upon the nations (see at Isa 5:25; Isa 13:10). The expression qetseph layehōvâh implies that Jehovah was ready to execute His wrath (compare yōm layehōvâh in Isa 34:8 and Isa 2:12). The nations that are hostile to Jehovah are slaughtered, the bodies remain unburied, and the streams of blood loosen the firm masses of the mountains, so that they melt away. On the stench of the corpses, compare Eze 39:11. Even if châsam, in this instance, does not mean "to take away the breath with the stench," there is no doubt that Ezekiel had this prophecy of Isaiah in his mind, when prophesying of the destruction of Gog and Magog (Ezek 39).

Isaiah 34:4

isa 34:4

The judgment foretold by Isaiah also belongs to the last things; for it takes place in connection with the simultaneous destruction of the present heaven and the present earth."And all the host of the heavens moulder away, and the heavens are rolled up like a scroll, and all their host withers as a leaf withers away from the vine, and like withered leaves from the fig-tree" (Nâmaq, to be dissolved into powdered mother (Isa 3:24; Isa 5:24); nâgōl (for nâgal, like nâzōl in Isa 63:19; Isa 64:2, and nârōts in Ecc 12:6), to be rolled up - a term applied to the cylindrical book-scroll. The heaven, that is to say, the present system of the universe, breaks up into atoms, and is rolled up like a book that has been read through; and the stars fall down as a withered leaf falls from a vine, when it is moved by even the lightest breeze, or like the withered leaves shaken from the fig-tree. The expressions are so strong, that they cannot be understood in any other sense than as relating to the end of the world (Isa 65:17; Isa 66:22; compare Mat 24:29). It is not sufficient to say that "the stars appear to fall to the earth," though even Vitringa gives this explanation.

When we look, however, at the following kı̄ (for), it undoubtedly appears strange that the prophet should foretell the passing away of the heavens, simply because Jehovah judges Edom. But Edom stands here as the representative of all powers that are hostile to the church of God as such, and therefore expresses an idea of the deepest and widest cosmical signification (as Isa 24:21 clearly shows). And it is not only a doctrine of Isaiah himself, but a biblical doctrine universally, that God will destroy the present world as soon as the measure of the sin which culminates in unbelief, and in the persecution of the congregation of the faithful, shall be really full.

Isaiah 34:5

isa 34:5

If we bear this in mind, we shall not be surprised that the prophet gives the following reason for the passing away of the present heavens. "For my sword has become intoxicated in the heaven; behold, it comes down upon Edom, and upon the people of my ban to judgment. The sword of Jehovah fills itself with blood, is fattened with fat, with blood of lambs and he-goats, with kidney-fat of rams; for Jehovah has a sacrifice in Bozrah, and a great slaughter in the land of Edom. And buffaloes fall with them, and bullocks together with bulls; and their land become intoxicated with blood, and their dust fattened with fat." Just as in chapter 63 Jehovah is represented as a treader of the wine-press, and the nations as the grapes; so here He is represented as offering sacrifice, and the nations as the animals offered (zebhach: cf., Zep 1:7; Jer 46:10); Eze 39:17.: all three passages founded upon this). Jehovah does not appear here in person as judge, as He does there, but His sword appears; just as in Gen 3:24, the "sword which turned every way" is mentioned as an independent power standing by the side of the cherub. The sword is His executioner, which has no sooner drunk deeply of wrath in heaven, i.e., in the immediate sphere of the Deity (rivvethâh, an intensive form of the kal, like pittēăch, Isa 48:8; Ewald, 120, d), than it comes down in wild intoxication upon Edom, the people of the ban of Jehovah, i.e., the people upon whom He has laid the ban, and there, as His instrument of punishment, fills itself with blood, and fattens itself with fat. הדּשׁנה is the hothpaal = התדּשׁנה, with the ת of the preformative syllable assimilated (compare הזּכּוּ in Isa 1:16, and אדּמּה in Isa 14:14). The penultimate has the tone, the nâh being treated as in the plural forms of the future. The dropping of the dagesh in the שׁ eht ni hse is connected with this. The reading מחלב, in Isa 34:6, is an error that has been handed down in modern copies (in opposition to both codices and ancient editions); for חלב (primary form, chilb) is the only form met with in the Old Testament. The lambs, he-goats, and rams, represent the Edomitish nation, which is compared to these smaller sacrificial animals. Edom and Bozrah are also placed side by side in Isa 63:1. The latter was one of the chief cities of the Edomites (Gen 36:33; Amo 1:12; Jer 49:13, Jer 49:22) - not the Bozrah in Auranitis (Haurân), however, which is well known in church history, but Bozrah in the mountains of Edom, upon the same site as the village of Buzaire (i.e., Minor Bozrah), which is still surrounded by its ruins. In contrast with the three names of the smaller animals in Isa 34:6, the three names of oxen in Isa 34:7 represent the lords of Edom. They also will fall, smitten by the sword (yâredū: cf., Jer 50:27; Jer 51:40; also Jer 48:15). The feast of the sword is so abundant, that even the earth and the dust of the land of Edom are satiated with blood and fat.

Isaiah 34:8

isa 34:8

Thus does Jehovah avenge His church upon Edom. "For Jehovah hath a day of vengeance, a year of recompense, to contend for Zion. And the brooks of Edom are turned into pitch, and its dust into brimstone, and its land becomes burning pitch. Day and night it is not quenched; the smoke of Edom goes up for ever: it lies waste from generation to generation; no one passes through it for ever and ever." The one expression, "to contend for Zion," is like a flash of lightning, throwing light upon the obscurity of prophecy, both backwards and forwards. A day and a year of judgment upon Edom (compare Isa 61:2; Isa 63:4) would do justice to Zion against its accusers and persecutors (rı̄bh, vindicare, as in Isa 51:22). The everlasting punishment which would fall upon it is depicted in figures and colours, suggested by the proximity of Edom to the Dead Sea, and the volcanic character of this mountainous country. The unquenchable fire (for which compare Isa 66:24), and the eternally ascending smoke (cf., Rev 19:3), prove that the end of all things is referred to. The prophet meant primarily, no doubt, that the punishment announced would fall upon the land of Edom, and within its geographical boundaries; but this particular punishment represented the punishment of all nations, and all men who were Edomitish in their feelings and conduct towards the congregation of Jehovah.

Isaiah 34:11

isa 34:11

The land of Edom, in this geographical and also emblematical sense, would become a wilderness; the kingdom of Edom would be for ever destroyed. "And pelican and hedgehog take possession of it, and eared-owl and raven dwell there; and he stretches over it the measure of Tohu and the level of Bohu. Its nobles - there is no longer a monarchy which they elected; and all its princes come to nought." The description of the ruin, which commences in Isa 34:11 with a list of animals that frequent marshy and solitary regions, is similar to the one in Isa 13:20-22; Isa 14:23 (compare Zep 2:14, which is founded upon this). Isaiah's was the original of all such pictures of ruin which we meet with in the later prophets. The qippōd is the hedgehog, although we find it here in the company of birds (from qâphad, to draw one's self together, to roll up; see Isa 14:23). קאת is written here with a double kametz, as well as in Zep 2:14, according to codd. and Kimchi, W.B. (Targ. qâth, elsewhere qâq; Saad. and Abulwalid, qûq: see at Psa 102:7). According to well-established tradition, it is the long-necked pelican, which lives upon fish (the name is derived either from קוא, to vomit, or, as the construct is קאת, from a word קאה, formed in imitation of the animal's cry). Yanshūph is rendered by the Targum qı̄ppōphı̄n (Syr. kafûfo), i.e., eared-owls, which are frequently mentioned in the Talmud as birds of ill omen (Rashi, or Berachoth 57b, chouette). As the parallel to qâv, we have אבני (stones) here instead of משׁקלת, the level, in Isa 28:17. It is used in the same sense, however - namely, to signify the weight used in the plumb or level, which is suspended by a line. The level and the measure are commonly employed for the purpose of building up; but here Jehovah is represented as using these fore the purpose of pulling down (a figure met with even before the time of Isaiah: vid., Amo 7:7-9, cf., Kg2 21:13; Lam 2:8), inasmuch as He carries out this negative reverse of building with the same rigorous exactness as that with which a builder carries out his well-considered plan, and throws Edom back into a state of desolation and desert, resembling the disordered and shapeless chaos of creation (compare Jer 4:23, where tōhū vâbhōhū represents, as it does here, the state into which a land is reduced by fire). תהוּ has no dagesh lene; and this is one of the three passages in which the opening mute is without a dagesh, although the word not only follows, but is closely connected with, one which has a soft consonant as its final letter (the others are Psa 68:18 and Eze 23:42). Thus the primeval kingdom with its early monarchy, which is long preceded that of Israel, is brought to an end (Gen 36:31). חריה stands at the head as a kind of protasis. Edom was an elective monarchy; the hereditary nobility electing the new king. But this would be done no more. The electoral princes of Edom would come to nothing. Not a trace would be left of all that had built up the glory of Edom.

Isaiah 34:13

isa 34:13

The allusion to the monarchy and the lofty electoral dignity leads the prophet on to the palaces and castles of the land. Starting with these, he carries out the picture of the ruins in Isa 34:13-15. "And the palaces of Edom break out into thorns, nettles and thistles in its castles; and it becomes the abode of wild dogs, pasture for ostriches. And martens meet with jackals, and a wood-devil runs upon its fellow; yea, Liiliith dwells there, and finds rest for itself. There the arrow-snake makes its nest, and breeds and lays eggs, and broods in the shadow there; yea, there vultures gather together one to another." The feminine suffixes refer to Edom, as they did in the previous instance, as בּת־אדום or אדום ארץ. On the tannı̄m, tsiyyı̄m, and 'iyyı̄m, see at Isa 13:21-22. It is doubtful whether châtsı̄r here corresponds to the Arabic word for an enclosure (= חצר), as Gesenius, Hitzig, and others suppose, as elsewhere to the Arabic for green, a green field, or garden vegetable. We take it in the latter sense, viz., a grassy place, such as was frequented by ostriches, which live upon plants and fruits. The word tsiyyim (steppe animals) we have rendered "martens," as the context requires a particular species of animals to be named. This is the interpretation given by Rashi (in loc.) and Kimchi in Jer 50:39 to the Targum word tamvân. We do not render 'iyyı̄m "wild cats" (chattūilin), but "jackals," after the Arabic. קרא with על we take in the sense of קרה (as in Exo 5:3). Lı̄lı̄th (Syr. and Zab. lelitho), lit., the creature of the night, was a female demon (shēdâh) of the popular mythology; according to the legends, it was a malicious fairy that was especially hurtful to children, like some of the fairies of our own fairy tales. There is life in Edom still; but what a caricature of that which once was there! In the very spot where the princes of Edom used to proclaim the new king, satyrs now invite one another to dance (Isa 13:21); and there kings and princes once slept in their palaces and country houses, the lı̄lı̄th, which is most at home in horrible places, finds, as though after a prolonged search, the most convenient and most comfortable resting-place. Demons and serpents are not very far distant from one another. The prophet therefore proceeds in Isa 34:15 to the arrow-snake, or springing-snake (Arabic qiffâze, from qâphaz, related to qâphats, Sol 2:8, to prepare for springing, or to spring; a different word from qippōd, which has the same root). This builds its nest in the ruins; there it breeds (millēt, to let its eggs slide out) and lays eggs (bâqa‛, to split, i.e., to bring forth); and then it broods in the shade (dâgar is the Targum word in Job 39:14 for chimmēm (ithpael in Lam 1:20 for חמרמר), and is also used in the rabbinical writings for fovere, as Jerome renders it here). The literal sense of the word is probably to keep the eggs together (Targum, Jer 17:11, בּעין מכנּשׁ, lxx συνήγαγεν), since דּגר (syn. חמּר) signifies "to collect." Rashi has therefore explained it in both passages as meaning glousser, to cluck, the noise by which a fowl calls its brood together. The dayyâh is the vulture. These fowls and most gregarious birds of prey also collect together there.

Isaiah 34:16

isa 34:16

Whenever any one compared the prophecy with the fulfilment, they would be found to coincide. "Search in the book of Jehovah, and read! Not one of the creatures fails, not one misses the other: for my mouth - it has commanded it; and His breath - it has brought them together. And He has cast the lot for them, and His hand has assigned it (this land) to them by measure: they will possess it for ever; to generation and generation they will dwell therein." The phrase על כּתב is used for entering in a book, inasmuch as what is written there is placed upon the page; and מעל דּרשׁ for searching in a book, inasmuch as a person leans over the book when searching in it, and gets the object of his search out of it. The prophet applied the title "The Book of Jehovah" to his collection of the prophecies with which Jehovah had inspired him, and which He had commanded him to write down. Whoever lived to see the time when the judgment should come upon Edom, would have only to look inquiringly into this holy scripture; and if he compared what was predicted there with what had been actually realized, he would find the most exact agreement between them. The creatures named, which loved to frequent the marshes and solitary places, and ruins, would all really make their homes in what had once been Edom. But the satyrs and the lı̄lı̄th, which were only the offspring of the popular belief - what of them? They, too, would be there; for in the sense intended by the prophet they were actual devils, which he merely calls by well-known popular names to produce a spectral impression. Edom would really become a rendezvous for all the animals mentioned, as well as for such unearthly spirits as those which he refers to here. The prophet, or rather Jehovah, whose temporary organ he was, still further confirms this by saying, "My mouth hath commanded it, and His breath has brought them (all these creatures) together." As the first creating word proceeded from the mouth of Jehovah, so also does the word of prophecy, which resembles such a word; and the breath of the mouth of Jehovah, i.e., His Spirit, is the power which accomplishes the fiat of prophecy, as it did that of creation, and moulds all creatures and their history according to the will and counsel of God (Psa 33:6). In the second part of Isa 34:16 the prophet is speaking of Jehovah; whereas in the first Jehovah speaks through him - a variation which vanishes indeed if we read פּיו (Olshausen on Job 9:2), or, what would be better, פּיהוּ, but which may be sustained by a hundred cases of a similar kind. There is a shadow, as it were, of this change in the להם, which alternates with להן in connection with the animals named. The suffix of chilleqattâh (without mappik, as in Sa1 1:6) refers to the land of Edom. Edom is, as it were, given up by a divine lot, and measured off with a divine measure, to be for ever the horrible abode of beasts and demons such as those described. A prelude of the fulfilment of this swept over the mountainous land of Edom immediately after the destruction of Jerusalem (see Khler on Mal 1:2-5); and it has never risen to its previous state of cultivation again. It swarms with snakes, and the desolate mountain heights and barren table-lands are only inhabited by wild crows and eagles, and great flocks of birds. But the ultimate fulfilment, to which the appeal in Isa 34:16 refers, is still in the future, and will eventually fall upon the abodes of those who spiritually belong to that circle of hostility to Jehovah (Jesus) and His church, of which ancient Edom was merely the centre fixed by the prophet.

Next: Isaiah Chapter 35