Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
From the gods of Babylon the proclamation of judgment passes onto Babylon itself. "Come down, and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter Babel; sit on the ground without a throne, O Chaldaeans-daughter! For men no longer call thee delicate and voluptuous. Take the mill, and grind meal: throw back they veil, lift up the train, uncover the thigh, wade through streams. Let thy nakedness be uncovered, even let thy shame be seen; I shall take vengeance, and not spare men. Our Redeemer, Jehovah of hosts is His name, Holy One of Israel." This is the first strophe in the prophecy. As v. 36 clearly shows, what precedes is a penal sentence from Jehovah. Both בּת in relation to בּתוּלת (Isa 23:12; Isa 37:22), and בּבל and כּשׂדּים in relation to בּת, are appositional genitives; Babel and Chaldeans (כשׂדים as in Isa 48:20) are regarded as a woman, and that as one not yet dishonoured. The unconquered oppressor is threatened with degradation from her proud eminence into shameful humiliation; sitting on the ground is used in the same sense as in Isa 3:26. Hitherto men have called her, with envious admiration, rakkâh va‛ânuggâh (from Deu 28:56), mollis et delicata, as having carefully kept everything disagreeable at a distance, and revelled in nothing but luxury (compare ‛ōneg, Isa 13:22). Debauchery with its attendant rioting (Isa 14:11; Isa 25:5), and the Mylitta worship with its licensed prostitution (Herod. i. 199), were current there; but now all this was at an end. תוסיפי, according to the Masora, has only one pashta both here and in Isa 47:5, and so has the tone upon the last syllable, and accordingly metheg in the antepenult. Isaiah's artistic style may be readily perceived both in the three clauses of Isa 47:1 that are comparable to a long trumpet-blast (compare Isa 40:9 and Isa 16:1), and also in the short, rugged, involuntarily excited clauses that follow. The mistress becomes the maid, and has to perform the low, menial service of those who, as Homer says in Od. vii. 104, ἀλετρεύουσι μύλης ἔπι μήλοπα καρπόν (grind at the mill the quince-coloured fruit; compare at Job 31:10). She has to leave her palace as a prisoner of war, and, laying aside all feminine modesty, to wade through the rivers upon which she borders. Chespı̄ has ĕ instead of ĭ, and, as in other cases where a sibilant precedes, the mute p instead of f (compare 'ispı̄, Jer 10:17). Both the prosopopeia and the parallel, "thy shame shall be seen," require that the expression "thy nakedness shall be uncovered" should not be understood literally. The shame of Babel is her shameful conduct, which is not to be exhibited in its true colours, inasmuch as a stronger one is coming upon it to rob it of its might and honour. This stronger one, apart from the instrument employed, is Jehovah: vindictam sumam, non parcam homini. Stier gives a different rendering here, namely, "I will run upon no man, i.e., so as to make him give way;" Hahn, "I will not meet with a man," so destitute of population will Babylon be; and Ruetschi, "I will not step in as a man." Gesenius and Rosenmller are nearer to the mark when they suggest non pangam (paciscar) cum homine; but this would require at any rate את־אדם, even if the verb פּגע really had the meaning to strike a treaty. It means rather to strike against a person, to assault any one, then to meet or come in an opposite direction, and that not only in a hostile sense, but, as in this instance, and also in Isa 64:4, in a friendly sense as well. Hence, "I shall not receive any man, or pardon any man" (Hitzig, Ewald, etc.). According to an old method of writing the passage, there is a pause here. But Isa 47:4 is still connected with what goes before. As Jehovah is speaking in Isa 47:5, but Israel in Isa 47:4, and as Isa 47:4 is unsuitable to form the basis of the words of Jehovah, it must be regarded as the antiphone to Isa 47:1-3 (cf., Isa 45:15). Our Redeemer, exclaims the church in joyfully exalted self-consciousness, He is Jehovah of Hosts, the Holy One of Israel! The one name affirms that He possesses the all-conquering might; the other that He possesses the will to carry on the work of redemption - a will influenced and constrained by both love and wrath.
In the second strophe the penal sentence of Jehovah is continued. "Sit silent, and creep into the darkness, O Chaldeans-daughter! for men no longer call thee lady of kingdoms. I was wroth with my people; I polluted mine inheritance, and gave them into thy hand: thou hast shown them no mercy; upon old men thou laidst thy yoke very heavily. And thou saidst, I shall be lady for ever; so that thou didst not take these things to heart: thou didst not consider the latter end thereof." Babylon shall sit down in silent, brooding sorrow, and take herself away into darkness, just as those who have fallen into disgrace shrink from the eyes of men. She is looked upon as an empress (Isa 13:9; the king of Babylon called himself the king of kings, Eze 26:7), who has been reduced to the condition of a slave, and durst not show herself for shame. This would happen to her, because at the time when Jehovah made use of her as His instrument for punishing His people, she went beyond the bounds of her authority, showing ho pity, and ill-treating even defenceless old men. According to Loppe, Gesenius, and Hitzig, Israel is here called zâqēn, as a decayed nation awakening sympathy; but according to the Scripture, the people of God is always young, and never decays; on the contrary, its ziqnâh, i.e., the latest period of its history (Isa 46:4), is to be like its youth. The words are to be understood literally, like Lam 4:16; Lam 5:12 : even upon old men, Babylon had placed the heavy yoke of prisoners and slaves. But in spite of this inhumanity, it flattered itself that it would last for ever. Hitzig adopts the reading עד גּברת, and renders it, "To all future times shall I continue, mistress to all eternity." This may possibly be correct, but it is by no means necessary, inasmuch as it can be shown from Sa1 20:41, and Job 14:6, that (ד is used as equivalent to אשׁר עד, in the sense of "till the time that;" and gebhereth, as the feminine of gâbhēr = gebher, may be the absolute quite as well as the construct. The meaning therefore is, that the confidence of Babylon in the eternal continuance of its power was such, that "these things," i.e., such punishments as those which were now about to fall upon it according to the prophecy, had never come into its mind; such, indeed, that it had not called to remembrance as even possible "the latter end of it," i.e., the inevitably evil termination of its tyranny and presumption.
A third strophe of this proclamation of punishment is opened here with ועתה, on the ground of the conduct censured. "And now hear this, thou voluptuous one, she who sitteth so securely, who sayeth in her heart, I am it, and none else: I shall not sit a widow, nor experience bereavement of children. And these two will come upon thee suddenly in one day: bereavement of children and widowhood; they come upon thee in fullest measure, in spite of the multitude of thy sorceries, in spite of the great abundance of thy witchcrafts. Thou trustedst in thy wickedness, saidst, No one seeth me. Thy wisdom and thy knowledge, they led thee astray; so that thou saidst in thy heart, I am it, and none else. And misfortune cometh upon thee, which thou dost not understand how to charm away: and destruction will fall upon thee, which thou canst not atone for; there will come suddenly upon thee ruin which thou suspectest not." In the surnames given to Babylon here, a new reason is assigned for the judgment - namely, extravagance, security, and self-exaltation. עדין is an intensive from of עדן (lxx τρυφερά). The i of אפסי is regarded by Hahn as the same as we meet with in אתּי = אתּ; but this is impossible here with the first person. Rosenmller, Ewald, Gesenius, and others, take it as chirek compaginis, and equivalent to עוד אין, which would only occur in this particular formula. Hitzig supposes it to be the suffix of the word, which is meant as a preposition in the sense of et praeter me ultra (nemo); but this nemo would be omitted, which is improbable. The more probable explanation is, that אפס signifies absolute non-existence, and when used as an adverb, "exclusively, nothing but," e.g., קצהוּ אפס, nothing, the utmost extremity thereof, i.e., only the utmost extremity of it (Num 23:13; cf., Num 22:35). But it is mostly used with a verbal force, like אין (אין), (utique) non est (see Isa 45:14); hence אפסי, like איני, (utique) non sum. The form in which the presumption of Babylon expresses itself, viz., "I (am it), and I am absolutely nothing further," sounds like self-deification, by the side of similar self-assertion on the part of Jehovah (Isa 45:5-6; Isa 14:21, Isa 14:22 and Isa 46:9). Nineveh speaks in just the same way in Zep 2:15; compare Martial: "Terrarum Dea gentiumque Roma cui par est nihil et nihil secundum." Babylon also says still further (like the Babylon of the last days in Rev 18:7): "I shall not sit as a widow (viz., mourning thus in solitude, Lam 1:1; Lam 3:28; and secluded from the world, Gen 38:11), nor experience the loss of children" (orbitatem). She would become a widow, if she should lose the different nations, and "the kings of the earth who committed fornication with her" (Rev 18:9); for her relation to her own king cannot possibly be thought of, inasmuch as the relation in which a nation stands to its temporal king is never thought of as marriage, like that of Jehovah to Israel. She would also be a mother bereaved of her children, if war and captivity robbed her of her population. But both of these would happen to her suddenly in one day, so that she would succumb to the weight of the double sorrow. Both of them would come upon her kethummâm (secundum integritatem eorum), i.e., so that she would come to learn what the loss of men and the loss of children signified in all its extent and in all its depth, and that in spite of (בּ, with, equivalent to "notwithstanding," as in Isa 5:25; not "through = on account of," since this tone is adopted for the first time in Isa 47:10) the multitude of its incantations, and the very great mass (‛ŏtsmâh, an inf. noun, as in Isa 30:19; Isa 55:2, used here, not as in Isa 40:29, in an intensive sense, but, like ‛âtsūm, as a parallel word to rabh in a numerical sense) of its witchcrafts (chebher, binding by means of incantations, κατάδεσμος). Babylonia was the birth-place of astrology, from which sprang the twelve-fold division of the day, the horoscope and sun-dial (Herod. ii. 109); but it was also the home of magic, which pretended to bind the course of events, and even the power of the gods, and to direct them in whatever way it pleased (Diodorus, ii. 29). Thus had Babylon trusted in her wickedness (Isa 13:11), viz., in the tyranny and cunning by which she hoped to ensure perpetual duration, with the notion that she was exalted above the reach of any earthly calamity.
She thought, "None seeth me" (non est videns me), thus suppressing the voice of conscience, and practically denying the omnipotence and omnipresence of God. ראני (with a verbal suffix, videns me, whereas ראי saere in Gen 16:3 signifies videns mei = meus), also written ראני, is a pausal form in half pause for ראני (Isa 29:15). Tzere passes in pause both into pathach (e.g., Isa 42:22), and also, apart from such hithpael forms as Isa 41:16, into kametz, as in קימנוּ (Job 22:20, which see). By the "wisdom and knowledge" of Babylon, which had turned her aside from the right way, we are to understand her policy, strategy, and more especially her magical arts, i.e., the mysteries of the Chaldeans, their ἐπιχώριοι φιλόσοφοι (Strabo, xxi. 1, 6). On hōvâh (used here and in Eze 7:26, written havvâh elsewhere), according to its primary meaning, "yawning," χαῖνον, then a yawning depth, χάσμα, utter destruction, see at Job 37:6. שׁאה signifies primarily a desert, or desolate place, here destruction; and hence the derivative meaning, waste noise, a dull groan. The perfect consec. of the first clause precedes its predicate רעה in the radical form בא (Ges., 147, a). With the parallelism of כּפּרהּ, it is not probable that שׁחרהּ, which rhymes with it, is a substantive, in the sense of "from which thou wilt experience no morning dawn" (i.e., after the night of calamity), as Umbreit supposes. The suffix also causes some difficulty (hence the Vulgate rendering, ortum ejus, sc. mali); and instead of תדעי, we should expect תראי. In any case, shachrâh is a verb, and Hitzig renders it, "which thou wilt not know how to unblacken;" but this privative use of shichēr as a word of colour would be without example. It would be better to translate it, "which thou wilt not know how to spy out" (as in Isa 26:9), but better still, "which thou wilt not know how to conjure away" (shichēr = Arab. sḥḥr, as it were incantitare, and here incantando averruncare). The last relative clause affirms what shachrâh would state, if understood according to Isa 26:9 : destruction which thou wilt not know, i.e., which will come suddenly and unexpectedly.
Then follows the concluding strophe, which, like the first, announces to the imperial city in a triumphantly sarcastic tone its inevitable fate; whereas the intermediate strophes refer rather to the sins by which this fate has been brought upon it. "Come near, then, with thine enchantments, and with the multitude of thy witchcrafts, wherein thou hast laboured from thy youth: perhaps thou canst profit, perhaps thou wilt inspire terror. Thou art wearied through the multitude of thy consultations; let the dissectors of the heavens come near, then, and save thee, the star-gazers, they who with every new moon bring things to light that will come upon thee. Behold, they have become like stubble: fire has consumed them: there is not a red-hot coal to warm themselves, a hearth-fire to sit before. So is it with thy people, for whom thou hast laboured: thy partners in trade from thy youth, they wander away every one in his own direction; no one who brings salvation to thee." Hitzig and others adopt the simple rendering, "Persevere, then, with thine enchantments." It is indeed true, that in Lev 13:5 בּ עמד signifies "to remain standing by anything," i.e., to persevere with it, just as in Eze 13:5 it signifies to keep one's standing in anything; in Kg2 23:3, to enter upon anything; and in Ecc 8:3, to engage in anything; but there is no reason for taking it here in any other sense than in Isa 47:13. Babylon is to draw near with all the processes of the black art, wherein בּאשׁר, according to our western mode of expression, equivalent to בּהם אשׁר, Ges. 123, 2*) it had been addicted to abundance of routine from its youth upwards (יגעאתּ with an auxiliary pathach for יגעתּ); possibly it may be of some use, possibly it will terrify, i.e., make itself so terrible to the approaching calamity, as to cause it to keep off. The prophet now sees in spirit how Babylon draws near, and how it also harasses itself to no purpose; he therefore follows up the עמדי־נא, addressed in pleno to Babylon, with a second challenge commencing with יעמדוּ־נא. Their astrologers are to draw near, and try that power over the future to which they lay claim, by bringing it to bear at once upon the approaching destruction for the benefit of Babylon. עצתיך is a singular form connected with a feminine plural suffix, such as we find in Psa 9:15; Eze 35:11; Ezr 9:15, connected with a masculine plural suffix. Assuming the correctness of the vowel-pointing, the singular appears in such cases as these to have a collective meaning, like the Arabic pl. fractus; for there is no ground to suppose that the Aramaean plural form ‛ētsâth is used here in the place of the Hebrew. Instead of שׁמים הברו (which would be equivalent to הברו אשׁרא, the keri reads שׁמים הברי, cutters up of the heavens, i.e., planners or dissectors of them, from hâb, dissecare, resecare (compare the rabbinical habhârâh, a syllable, i.e., segmentum vocabuli, and possibly also the talmudic 'ēbhârı̄m, limbs of a body). The correction proposed by Knobel, viz., chōbherē, from châbhār, to know, or be versed in, is unnecessary. Châzâh b' signifies here, as it generally does, to look with pleasure or with interest at anything; hence Luther has rendered it correctly, die Sternkucker (Eng. ver. star-gazers). They are described still further as those who make known with every new moon (lechŏdâshı̄m, like labbeqârı̄m, every morning, Isa 33:2, etc.), things which, etc. מאשׁר is used in a partitive sense: out of the great mass of events they select the most important, and prepare a calendar or almanack (ἀλμενιχιακά in Plutarch) for the state every month. But these very wise men cannot save themselves, to say nothing of others, out of the power of that flame, which is no comforting coal-fire to warm one's self by, no hearth-fire (Isa 44:16) to sit in front of, but a devouring, eternal, i.e., peremptory flame (Isa 33:14). The rendering adopted by Grotius, Vitringa, Lowth, Gesenius, and others, "non supererit pruna ad calendum," is a false one, if only because it is not in harmony with the figure. "Thus shall they be unto thee," he continues in Isa 47:15, i.e., such things shall be endured to thy disgrace by those about whom thou hast wearied thyself (אשׁר = בּהם אשׁר). The learned orders of the Chaldeans had their own quarter, and enjoyed all the distinction and privileges of a priestly caste. What follows cannot possibly be understood as relating to these masters of astrology and witchcraft, as Ewald supposes; for, according to the expression שׁחרהּ in Isa 47:11, they would be called שׁחריך. Moreover, if they became a prey of the flames, and therefore were unable to flee, we should have to assume that they were burned while taking flight (Umbreit). סחריך are those who carried on commercial intercourse with the great "trading city" (Eze 17:4), as Berossos says, "In Babylon there was a great multitude of men of other nations who had settled in Chaldea, and they lived in disorder, like the wild beasts;" compare Aeschylus, Pers. 52-3, Βαβυλὼν δ ̓ ἡ πολύχρυσος πάμμικτον ὄχλον πέμπει. All of these are scattered in the wildest flight, אל־עברו אישׁ, every one on his own side, viz., in the direction of his own home, and do not trouble themselves about Babylon.