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

Isaiah Chapter 52

Isaiah 52:1

isa 52:1

The same call, which was addressed in Isa 51:9 to the arm of Jehovah that was then represented as sleeping, is here addressed to Jerusalem, which is represented as a sleeping woman. "Awake, awake; clothe thyself in thy might, O Zion; clothe thyself in thy state dresses, O Jerusalem, thou holy city: for henceforth there will no more enter into thee one uncircumcised and unclean! Shake thyself from the dust; arise, sit down, O Jerusalem: loose thyself from the chains of thy neck, O captive daughter of Zion!" Jerusalem is lying upon the ground stupefied with the wrath of God, and exhausted with grief; but this shameful prostration and degradation will now come to an end. She is to rise up and put on her might, which has long been broken down, and apparently has altogether disappeared, but which can and must be constantly renewed, because it rests upon the foundation of an inviolable promise. She is to wake up and recover her ancient power, and put on her state robes, i.e., her priestly and royal ornaments, which belong to her as a "royal city," i.e., as the city of Jehovah had His anointed one. For henceforth she will be what she was always intended to be, and that without any further desecration. Heathen, uncircumcised, and those who were unclean in heart and flesh (Eze 44:9), had entered her by force, and desecrated her: heathen, who had no right to enter the congregation of Jehovah as they were (Lam 1:10). But she should no longer be defiled, not to say conquered, by such invaders as these (Joe 3:17; Nah 2:1; compare Joe 3:7 with Nah 2:1). On the construction non perget intrabit = intrare, see Ges. 142, 3, c. In Isa 52:2 the idea of the city falls into the background, and that of the nation takes its place. ירולשׁם שׁבי does not mean "captive people of Jerusalem," however, as Hitzig supposes, for this would require שׁביה in accordance with the personification, as in Isa 52:2. The rendering supported by the lxx is the true one, "Sit down, O Jerusalem;" and this is also the way in which it is accentuated. The exhortation is the counterpart of Isa 47:1. Jerusalem is sitting upon the ground as a prisoner, having no seat to sit upon; but this is only that she may be the more highly exalted; - whereas the daughter of Babylon is seated as a queen upon a throne, but only to be the more deeply degraded. The former is now to shake herself free from the dust, and to rise up and sit down (viz., upon a throne, Targum). The captive daughter of Zion (shebhiyyâh, αἰχμάλωτος, Exo 12:29, an adjective written first for the sake of emphasis, as in Isa 10:30; Isa 53:11) is to undo for herself (sibi laxare according to p. 62, note, like hithnachēl, Isa 14:2, sibi possidendo capere) the chains of her neck (the chethib התפתחו, they loosen themselves, is opposed to the beautiful parallelism); for she who was mourning in her humiliation is to be restored to honour once more, and she who was so shamefully laden with fetters to liberty.

Isaiah 52:3

isa 52:3

The reason for the address is now given in a well-sustained promise. "For thus saith Jehovah, Ye have been sold for nothing, and ye shall not be redeemed with silver. For thus saith the Lord Jehovah, My people went down to Egypt in the beginning to dwell there as guests; and Asshur has oppressed it for nothing. And now, what have I to do here? saith Jehovah: for my people are taken away for nothing; their oppressors shriek, saith Jehovah, and my name is continually blasphemed all the day. Therefore my people shall learn my name; therefore, in that day, that I am He who saith, There am I." Ye have been sold (this is the meaning of Isa 52:3); but this selling is merely a giving over to a foreign power, without the slightest advantage accusing to Him who had no other object in view than to cause them to atone for their sins (Isa 50:1), and without any other people taking their place, and serving Him in their stead as an equivalent for the loss He sustained. And there would be no need of silver to purchase the favour of Him who had given them up, since a manifestation of divine power would be all that would be required (Isa 45:13). For whether Jehovah show Himself to Israel as the Righteous One or as the Gracious One, as a Judge or as a Redeemer, He always acts as the Absolute One, exalted above all earthly affairs, having no need to receive anything, but able to give everything. He receives no recompense, and gives none. Whether punishing or redeeming, He always guards His people's honour, proving Himself in the one case to be all-sufficient, and in the other almighty, but acting in both cases freely from Himself.

In the train of thought in Isa 52:4-6 the reason is given for the general statement in Isa 52:3. Israel went down to Egypt, the country of the Nile valley, with the innocent intention of sojourning, i.e., living as a guest (gūr) there in a foreign land; and yet (as we may supply from the next clause, according to the law of a self-completing parallelism) there it fell into the bondage of the Pharaohs, who, whilst they did not fear Jehovah, but rather despised Him, were merely the blind instruments of His will. Asshur then oppressed it bephes, i.e., not "at last" (ultimo tempore, as Hvernick renders it), but (as אפס is the synonym of אין in Isa 40:17; Isa 41:2) "for nothing," i.e., without having acquired any right to it, but rather serving in its unrighteousness simply as the blind instrument of the righteousness of Jehovah, who through the instrumentality of Asshur put an end first of all to the kingdom of Israel, and then to the kingdom of Judah. The two references to the Egyptian and Assyrian oppressions are expressed in as brief terms as possible. But with the words "now therefore" the prophecy passes on in a much more copious strain to the present oppression in Babylon. Jehovah inquires, Quid mihi hic (What have I to do here)? Hitzig supposes pōh (here) to refer to heaven, in the sense of, "What pressing occupation have I here, that all this can take place without my interfering?" But such a question as this would be far more appropriate to the Zeus of the Greek comedy than to the Jehovah of prophecy. Knobel, who takes pōh as referring to the captivity, in accordance with the context, gives a ridiculous turn to the question, viz., "What do I get here in Babylonia, from the fact that my people are carried off for nothing? Only loss." He observes himself that there is a certain wit in the question. But it would be silly rather than witty, if, after Jehovah had just stated that He had given up His people for nothing, the prophet represented Him as preparing to redeem it by asking, "What have I gained by it?" The question can have no other meaning, according to Isa 22:16, than "What have I to do here?" Jehovah is thought of as present with His people (cf., Gen 46:4), and means to inquire whether He shall continue this penal condition of exile any longer (Targum, Rashi, Rosenmller, Ewald, Stier, etc.). The question implies an intention to redeem Israel, and the reason for this intention is introduced with kı̄. Israel is taken away (ablatus), viz., from its own native home, chinnâm, i.e., without the Chaldeans having any human claim upon them whatever. The words יהיליילוּ משׁליו (משׁלו) are not to be rendered, "its singers lament," as Reutschi and Rosenmller maintain, since the singers of Israel are called meshōrerı̄m; nor "its (Israel's) princes lament," as Vitringa and Hitzig supposed, since the people of the captivity, although they had still their national sârı̄m, had no other mōshelı̄m than the Chaldean oppressors (Isa 49:7; Isa 14:5). It is the intolerable tyranny of the oppressors of His people, that Jehovah assigns in this sentence as the reason for His interposition, which cannot any longer be deferred. It is true that we do meet with hēlı̄l (of which we have the future here without any syncope of the first syllable) in other passages in the sense of ululare, as a cry of pain; but just as הריע, רנן, רזח signify a yelling utterance of either joy or pain, so heeliil may also be applied to the harsh shrieking of the capricious tyrants, like Lucan's laetis ululare triumphis, and the Syriac ailel, which is used to denote a war-cry and other noises as well. In connection with this proud and haughty bluster, there is also the practice of making Jehovah's name the butt of their incessant blasphemy: מנּאץ is a part. hithpoel with an assimilated ת and a pausal ā for ē, although it might also be a passive hithpoal (for the ō in the middle syllable, compare מגאל, Mal 1:7; מבהל, Est 8:14). In Isa 52:6 there follows the closing sentence of the whole train of thought: therefore His people are to get to learn His name, i.e., the self-manifestation of its God, who is so despised by the heathen; therefore lâkhēn repeated with emphasis, like כּעל in Isa 59:18, and possibly min in Psa 45:9) in that day, the day of redemption, (supply "it shall get to learn") that "I am he who saith, Here am I," i.e., that He who has promised redemption is now present as the True and Omnipotent One to carry it into effect.

Isaiah 52:7

isa 52:7

The first two turns in the prophecy (Isa 52:1-2, Isa 52:3-6) close here. The third turn (Isa 52:7-10) exults at the salvation which is being carried into effect. The prophet sees in spirit, how the tidings of the redemption, to which the fall of Babylon, which is equivalent to the dismission of the prisoners, gives the finishing stroke, are carried over the mountains of Judah to Jerusalem. "How lovely upon the mountains are the feet of them that bring good tidings, that publish peace, that bring tidings of good, that publish salvation, that say unto Zion, Thy God reigneth royally!" The words are addressed to Jerusalem, consequently the mountains are those of the Holy Land, and especially those to the north of Jerusalem: mebhassēr is collective (as in the primary passage, Nah 2:1; cf., Isa 41:27; Psa 68:12), "whoever brings the glad tidings to Jerusalem." The exclamation "how lovely" does not refer to the lovely sound of their footsteps, but to the lovely appearance presented by their feet, which spring over the mountains with all the swiftness of gazelles (Sol 2:17; Sol 8:14). Their feet look as if they had wings, because they are the messengers of good tidings of joy. The joyful tidings that are left indefinite in mebhassēr, are afterwards more particularly described as a proclamation of peace, good, salvation, and also as containing the announcement "thy God reigneth," i.e., has risen to a right royal sway, or seized upon the government (מלך in an inchoative historical sense, as in the theocratic psalms which commence with the same watchword, or like ἐβασίλευσε in Rev 19:6, cf., Rev 11:17). Up to this time, when His people were in bondage, He appeared to have lost His dominion (Isa 63:19); but now He has ascended the throne as a Redeemer with greater glory than ever before (Isa 24:23). The gospel of the swift-footed messengers, therefore, is the gospel of the kingdom of God that is at hand; and the application which the apostle makes of this passage of Isaiah in Rom 10:15, is justified by the fact that the prophet saw the final and universal redemption as though in combination with the close of the captivity.

Isaiah 52:8

isa 52:8

How will the prophets rejoice, when they see bodily before them what they have already seen from afar! "Hark, thy watchers! They lift up the voice together; they rejoice: for they see eye to eye, how Jehovah bringeth Zion home." קול followed by a genitive formed an interjectional clause, and had almost become an interjection itself (see Gen 4:10). The prophets are here called tsōphı̄m, spies, as persons who looked into the distance as if from a watch-tower (specula, Isa 21:6; Hab 2:1) just as in Isa 56:10. It is assumed that the people of the captivity would still have prophets among them: in fact, the very first word in these prophecies (Isa 40:1) is addressed to them. They who saw the redemption from afar, and comforted the church therewith (different from mebhassēr, the evangelist of the fulfilment), lift up their voice together with rejoicing; for they see Jehovah bringing back Zion, as closely as one man is to another when he looks directly into his eyes (Num 14:14). בּ is the same as in the construction בּ ראה; and שׁוּב has the transitive meaning reducere, restituere (as in Psa 14:7; Psa 126:1, etc.), which is placed beyond all doubt by שׁוּבנוּ in Psa 85:5.

Isaiah 52:9

isa 52:9

Zion is restored, inasmuch as Jehovah turns away her misery, brings back her exiles, and causes the holy city to rise again from her ruins. "Break out into exultation, sing together, ye ruins of Jerusalem: for Jehovah hath comforted His people, He hath redeemed Jerusalem." Because the word of consolation has become an act of consolation, i.e., of redemption, the ruins of Jerusalem are to break out into jubilant shouting as they rise again from the ground.

Isaiah 52:10

isa 52:10

Jehovah has wrought out salvation through judgment in the sight of all the world. "Jehovah hath made bare His holy arm before the eyes of all nations, and all the ends of the earth see the salvation of our God." As a warrior is accustomed to make bare his right arm up to the shoulder, that he may fight without encumbrance (exsertare humeros nudamque lacessere pugnan, as Statius says in Theb. i. 413), so has Jehovah made bare His holy arm, that arm in which holiness dwells, which shines with holiness, and which acts in holiness, that arm which has been hitherto concealed and therefore has appeared to be powerless, and that in the sight of the whole world of nations; so that all the ends of the earth come to see the reality of the work, which this arm has already accomplished by showing itself in its unveiled glory - in other words, "the salvation of our God."

Isaiah 52:11

isa 52:11

This salvation in its immediate manifestation is the liberation of the exiles; and on the ground of what the prophet sees in spirit, he exclaims to them (as in Isa 48:20), in Isa 52:11, Isa 52:12 : "Go ye forth, go ye forth, go out from thence, lay hold of no unclean thing; go ye out of the midst of her, cleanse yourselves, ye that bear the vessels of Jehovah. For ye shall not go out in confusion, and ye shall not go forth in flight: for Jehovah goeth before you, and the God of Israel is your rear-guard." When they go out from thence, i.e., from Babylon, they are not to touch anything unclean, i.e., they are not to enrich themselves with the property of their now subjugated oppressors, as was the case at the exodus from Egypt (Exo 12:36). It is to be a holy procession, at which they are to appear morally as well as corporeally unstained. But those who bear the vessels of Jehovah, i.e., the vessels of the temple, are not only not to defile themselves, but are to purify themselves (hibbârū with the tone upon the last syllable, a regular imperative niphal of bârar). This is an indirect prophecy, and was fulfilled in the fact that Cyrus directed the golden and silver vessels, which Nebuchadnezzar had brought to Babylon, to be restored to the returning exiles as their rightful property (Ezr 1:7-11). It would thus be possible for them to put themselves into the right attitude for their departure, since it would not take place in precipitous haste (bechippâzon), as the departure from Egypt did (Deu 16:3, cf., Exo 12:39), nor like a flight, but they would go forth under the guidance of Jehovah. מאסּפכם (with the ē changed into the original ı̆) does not man, "He bringeth you, the scattered ones, together," but according to Num 10:25; Jos 6:9, Jos 6:13, "He closes your procession," - He not only goes before you to lead you, but also behind you, to protect you (as in Exo 14:19). For the me'assēph, or the rear-guard of an army, is its keystone, and has to preserve the compactness of the whole.

The division of the chapters generally coincides with the several prophetic addresses. But here it needs emendation. Most of the commentators are agreed that the words "Behold my servant," etc. (hinnēh yaskı̄l ‛abhdı̄) commence a new section, like hēn ‛abhdı̄ (behold my servant) in Isa 42:1.

Isaiah 52:13

isa 52:13

In this sense there follows here, immediately after the cry. "Go ye out from Babylon," an index pointing from the suffering of the Servant to His reward in glory. "Behold, my servant will act wisely; he will come forth, and arise, and be very high." Even apart from Isa 42:1, hinnēh (hēn) is a favourite commencement with Isaiah; and this very first v. contains, according to Isaiah's custom, a brief, condensed explanation of the theme. The exaltation of the Servant of Jehovah is the theme of the prophecy which follows. In v. 13a the way is shown, by which He reaches His greatness; in v. 13b the increasing greatness itself. השׂכּיל by itself means simply to gain, prove, or act with intelligence (lxx συνήσει); and then, since intelligent action, as a rule, is also effective, it is used as synonymous with הצליח, הכשׁהיר, to act with result, i.e., so as to be successful. Hence it is only by way of sequence that the idea of "prosperously" is connected with that of "prudently" (e.g., Jos 1:8; Jer 10:21). The word is never applied to such prosperity as a man enjoys without any effort of his own, but only to such as he attains by successful action, i.e., by such action as is appropriate to the desired and desirable result. In Jer 23:2, where hiskı̄l is one feature in the picture of the dominion exercised by the Messiah, the idea of intelligent action is quite sufficient, without any further subordinate meaning. But here, where the exaltation is derived from ישׂכיל as the immediate consequence, without any intervening על־כן, there is naturally associated with the idea of wise action, i.e., of action suited to the great object of his call, that of effective execution or abundant success, which has as its natural sequel an ever-increasing exaltation. Rosenmller observes, in Isa 52:13, "There is no need to discuss, or even to inquire, what precise difference there is in the meaning of the separate words;" but this is a very superficial remark. If we consider that rūm signifies not only to be high, but to rise up (Pro 11:11) and become exalted, and also to become manifest as exalted (Ps. 21:14), and that נשּׂא, according to the immediate and original reflective meaning of the niphal, signifies to raise one's self, whereas gâbhah expresses merely the condition, without the subordinate idea of activity, we obtain this chain of thought: he will rise up, he will raise himself still higher, he will stand on high. The three verbs (of which the two perfects are defined by the previous future) consequently denote the commencement, the continuation, and the result or climax of the exaltation; and Stier is not wrong in recalling to mind the three principal steps of the exaltatio in the historical fulfilment, viz., the resurrection, the ascension, and the sitting down at the right hand of God. The addition of the word מאד shows very clearly that וגבהּ is intended to be taken as the final result: the servant of Jehovah, rising from stage to stage, reaches at last an immeasurable height, that towers above everything besides (comp. ὑπερύψωσε in Phi 2:9, with ὑψωθείς in Act 2:33, and for the nature of the ὑπερύψωσε, Eph 1:20-23).

Isaiah 52:14

isa 52:14

The prophecy concerning him passes now into an address to him, as in Isa 49:8 (cf., Isa 49:7), which sinks again immediately into an objective tone. "Just as many were astonished at thee: so disfigured, his appearance was not human, and his form not like that of the children of men: so will he make many nations to tremble; kings will shut their mouth at him: for they see what has not been told them, and discover what they have not heard." Both Oehler and Hahn suppose that the first clause is addressed to Israel, and that it is here pointed away from its own degradation, which excited such astonishment, to the depth of suffering endured by the One man. Hahn's principal reason, which Oehler adopts, is the sudden leap that we should otherwise have to assume from the second person to the third - an example of "negligence" which we can hardly impute to the prophet. But a single glance at Isa 42:20 and Isa 1:29 is sufficient to show how little force there is in this principal argument. We should no doubt expect עליכם or עליך after what has gone before, if the nation were addressed; but it is difficult to see what end a comparison between the sufferings of the nation and those of the One man, which merely places the sufferings of the two in an external relation to one another, could be intended to answer; whilst the second kēn (so), which evidently introduces an antithesis, is altogether unexplained. The words are certainly addressed to the servant of Jehovah; and the meaning of the sicut (just as) in Isa 52:14, and of the sic (so) which introduces the principal sentence in Isa 52:15, is, that just as His degradation was the deepest degradation possible, so His glorification would be of the loftiest kind. The height of the exaltation is held up as presenting a perfect contrast to the depth of the degradation. The words, "so distorted was his face, more than that of a man," form, as has been almost unanimously admitted since the time of Vitringa, a parenthesis, containing the reason for the astonishment excited by the servant of Jehovah. Stier is wrong in supposing that this first "so" (kēn) refers to ka'ăsher (just as), in the sense of "If men were astonished at thee, there was ground for the astonishment." Isa 52:15 would not stand out as an antithesis, if we adopted this explanation; moreover, the thought that the fact corresponded to the impression which men received, is a very tame and unnecessary one; and the change of persons in sentences related to one another in this manner is intolerably harsh; whereas, with our view of the relation in which the sentences stand to one another, the parenthesis prepares the way for the sudden change from a direct address to a declaration. Hitherto many had been astonished at the servant of Jehovah: shâmēm, to be desolate or waste, to be thrown by anything into a desolate or benumbed condition, to be startled, confused, as it were petrified, by paralyzing astonishment (Lev 26:32; Eze 26:16). To such a degree (kēn, adeo) was his appearance mishchath mē'ı̄sh, and his form mibbenē 'âdâm (sc., mishchath). We might take mishchath as the construct of mishchâth, as Hitzig does, since this connecting form is sometimes used (e.g., Isa 33:6) even without any genitive relation; but it may also be the absolute, syncopated from משׁחתתּ = משׁחתת (Hvernick and Stier), like moshchath in Mal 1:14, or, what we prefer, after the form mirmas (Isa 10:6), with the original ă, without the usual lengthening (Ewald, 160, c, Anm. 4). His appearance and his form were altogether distortion (stronger than moshchâth, distorted), away from men, out beyond men, i.e., a distortion that destroys all likeness to a man;

(Note: The church before the time of Constantine pictured to itself the Lord, as He walked on earth, as repulsive in His appearance; whereas the church after Constantine pictured Him as having quite an ideal beauty (see my tract, Jesus and Hillel, 1865, p. 4). They were both right: unattractive in appearance, though not deformed, He no doubt was in the days of His flesh; but He is ideally beautiful in His glorification. The body in which He was born of Mary was no royal form, though faith could see the doxa shining through. It was no royal form, for the suffering of death was the portion of the Lamb of God, even from His mother's womb; but the glorified One is infinitely exalted above all the idea of art.)

'ı̄sh does not signify man as distinguished from woman here, but a human being generally.

The antithesis follows in Isa 52:15 : viz., the state of glory in which this form of wretchedness has passed away. As a parallel to the "many" in Isa 52:14, we have here "many nations," indicating the excess of the glory by the greater fulness of the expression; and as a parallel to "were astonished at thee," "he shall make to tremble" (yazzeh), in other words, the effect which He produces by what He does to the effect produced by what He suffers. The hiphil hizzâh generally means to spirt or sprinkle (adspergere), and is applied to the sprinkling of the blood with the finger, more especially upon the capporeth and altar of incense on the day of atonement (differing in this respect from zâraq, the swinging of the blood out of a bowl), also to the sprinkling of the water of purification upon a leper with the bunch of hyssop (Lev 14:7), and of the ashes of the red heifer upon those defiled through touching a corpse (Num 19:18); in fact, generally, to sprinkling for the purpose of expiation and sanctification. And Vitringa, Hengstenberg, and others, accordingly follow the Syriac and Vulgate in adopting the rendering adsperget (he will sprinkle). They have the usage of the language in their favour; and this explanation also commends itself from a reference to נגוּע in Isa 53:4, and נגע in Isa 53:8 (words which are generally used of leprosy, and on account of which the suffering Messiah is called in b. Sanhedrin 98b by an emblematical name adopted from the old synagogue, "the leper of Rabbi's school"), since it yields the significant antithesis, that he who was himself regarded as unclean, even as a second Job, would sprinkle and sanctify whole nations, and thus abolish the wall of partition between Israel and the heathen, and gather together into one holy church with Israel those who had hitherto been pronounced "unclean" (Isa 52:1). But, on the other hand, this explanation has so far the usage of the language against it, that hizzâh is never construed with the accusative of the person or thing sprinkled (like adspergere aliqua re aliquem; since 'eth in Lev 4:6, Lev 4:17 is a preposition like ‛al, ‛el elsewhere); moreover, there would be something very abrupt in this sudden representation of the servant as a priest. Such explanations as "he will scatter asunder" (disperget, Targum, etc.), or "he will spill" (sc., their blood), are altogether out of the question; such thoughts as these would be quite out of place in a spiritual picture of salvation and glory, painted upon the dark ground we have here. The verb nâzâh signified primarily to leap or spring; hence hizzâh, with the causative meaning to sprinkle. The kal combines the intransitive and transitive meanings of the word "spirt," and is used in the former sense in Isa 63:3, to signify the springing up or sprouting up of any liquid scattered about in drops. The Arabic nazâ (see Ges. Thes.) shows that this verb may also be applied to the springing or leaping of living beings, caused by excess of emotion. And accordingly we follow the majority of the commentators in adopting the rendering exsilire faciet. The fact that whole nations are the object, and not merely individuals, proves nothing to the contrary, as Hab 3:6 clearly shows. The reference is to their leaping up in amazement (lxx θαυμάσονται); and the verb denotes less an external than an internal movement. They will tremble with astonishment within themselves (cf., pâchădū verâgezū in Jer 33:9), being electrified, as it were, by the surprising change that has taken place in the servant of Jehovah. The reason why kings "shut their mouths at him" is expressly stated, viz., what was never related they see, and what was never heard of they perceive; i.e., it was something going far beyond all that had ever been reported to them outside the world of nations, or come to their knowledge within it. Hitzig's explanation, that they do not trust themselves to begin to speak before him or along with him, gives too feeble a sense, and would lead us rather to expect לפניו than עליו. The shutting of the mouth is the involuntary effect of the overpowering impression, or the manifestation of their extreme amazement at one so suddenly brought out of the depths, and lifted up to so great a height. The strongest emotion is that which remains shut up within ourselves, because, from its very intensity, it throws the whole nature into a suffering state, and drowns all reflection in emotion (cf., yachărı̄sh in Zep 3:17). The parallel in Isa 49:7 is not opposed to this; the speechless astonishment, at what is unheard and inconceivable, changes into adoring homage, as soon as they have become to some extent familiar with it. The first turn in the prophecy closes here: The servant of Jehovah, whose inhuman sufferings excite such astonishment, is exalted on high; so that from utter amazement the nations tremble, and their kings are struck dumb.

Next: Isaiah Chapter 53