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Isaiah 34:1-17 | Werner Bible Commentary

Isaiah 34:1-17

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34:1. Masoretic Text: Approach, O nations, to hear; and, O peoples, take heed. Let the earth hear and all that fills it, and the habitable land and all that comes from it.

Septuagint: Approach, O nations; and hear, O rulers. Let the earth hear and those in it, the habitable land and the people in it.

Commentary

YHWH’s message to be announced by his prophet is directed to everyone. Nations and peoples (“rulers,” LXX) everywhere in the various lands around the territory of the kingdom of Judah and beyond would be affected. The command to hear or listen applies to everyone, everything, and wherever anyone or anything may be. This is emphasized with the parallel expressions that are here rendered “earth” and “habitable land.”

The Hebrew text includes all that the habitable or cultivated land produces, but the Septuagint rendering limits it to the people who live on the earth or the land, as also does the Targum of Isaiah. While the produce of the land would not be able to listen, it would be affected by what would befall nations and peoples and, for this reason, may be included in the directive to hear. For the people in the two-tribe kingdom of Judah who heard the message proclaimed through Isaiah, they would have understood the “earth” to refer to all the land areas known to them.

34:2. Masoretic Text: For the wrath from YHWH [is] against all the nations, and [his] rage against all their host. He must annihilate them. He must give them over for slaughter.

Septuagint: For the wrath of the Lord [is] against all the nations and [his] anger against their number, to annihilate them and give them over for slaughter.

After the Hebrew verb here rendered “give over,” the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah has the conjunction “and.” In the main text of this scroll, the noun for “slaughter” is the same as in the Masoretic Text, but there is a correction above the line of the main text (a waw [W] is written between the last two letters). This does not, however, significantly change the meaning.

Commentary

The people of the nations acted contrary to YHWH’s will. Therefore, his wrath was directed against all of them. In the historical context, these would have been all the nations that had been hostile toward his people. The host of the nations may designate their military forces or “their number” (LXX) generally as a people. In the fulfillment of the prophetic words, the nations at enmity with the Israelites were handed over to the warriors of a mighty nation to be slain. This aspect indicates that “all the nations” is a relative expression.

34:3. Masoretic Text: And their slain will be cast out, and [from] their corpses their stench will rise. And mountains will melt with their blood.

Septuagint: But their wounded will be cast out, also the dead; and their stench will rise. And the mountains will be drenched with their blood.

In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, the definite article precedes “mountains.”

Commentary

As a consequence of the divine wrath expressed through the means YHWH would permit to act against the disapproved nations, many people would be slain. The fallen dead would lie unburied on the ground and decompose. As the carcasses would decompose, the stench would become overwhelming. So great would be the slaughter that the mountains are represented as melting, as if the blood of the slain saturated the soil to such an extent that the saturated soil began to flow down the mountain slopes.

34:4. Masoretic Text: And all the host of the heavens will dissolve [maqáq], and the heavens will be rolled up like a scroll. And all their host will wither like withering leafage from a vine and like [leafage or fruit] from a fig tree.

Septuagint: And the heaven will be rolled up like a scroll, and all the stars will fall like leaves from a vine and like leaves fall from a fig tree.

The Hebrew word maqáq can mean “decay” or “rot.” In this context, however, it may be understood to signify “melt” or “dissolve.”

The opening words of the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah are, “And the valleys will be split, and all the host of the heavens will wither.”

According to the Targum of Isaiah, the hosts of heaven would be “blotted out from under the heavens” as had been said about them in the scroll.

Commentary

In connection with the heavens, the poetic language suggests how a human observer might perceive the sky in relation to the land. The celestial dome or vault appears like an opened scroll, on the face of which the stars and planets (the “host of the heavens”) are visible. Because the people of the nations regarded the celestial orbs as deities, the rolling up of the heavens like a scroll and the falling of the stars like wilted leaves could indicate that these deities would be useless. What had been considered as a source of aid would at the time of YHWH’s judgment be revealed as nonexistent.

It is also possible that, in this context, the words “heavens” and “earth” identify the sphere in which humans live and so may not necessarily have any link to the deities of the nations. This sphere is an area of land and water that lies below what appears to be a vault or dome, where the sun may be seen during the day and the moon and the stars at night. Thus the sky or the celestial vault would be portrayed as a scroll that touches the land and, upon being separated from the horizon, is rolled up. When the nations are no more, the sphere in which they lived (their land and its apparent celestial dome) no longer exists as far as they are concerned.

34:5. Masoretic Text: For my sword shall drink its fill in the heavens. Look! Upon Edom it will descend, and upon a people my ban [has decreed] for judgment.

Septuagint: My sword became drunk in the heaven. Look! Upon Idumea it will descend and upon the people of destruction with judgment [a people whom God’s judgment has destined for destruction].

The Targum of Isaiah refers to the “sword” as being revealed or seen in the heavens. This agrees with the reading of the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, which says, “My sword will be seen in the heavens.” YHWH is portrayed as wielding the sword. For this reason, it is said to be seen “in the heavens.”

Commentary

In Hebrew and Greek, the edge of the sword is called the “mouth” of the sword. Therefore, the sword can be poetically described as drinking the blood of those slain with it. YHWH’s sword is portrayed as coming down from above, and so its becoming saturated or filled with blood is spoken of as being in the heavens. This sword comes down on Edom, the land inhabited by the descendants of Jacob’s twin brother Esau and, therefore, the people most closely related to the Israelites. They did not, however, conduct themselves in a brotherly way toward the Israelites but often revealed themselves to be their enemies. For this reason, they were in line for YHWH’s adverse judgment that would result in annihilating them as a people. Centuries ago they did cease to exist as a people in their land.

In view of the earlier reference to YHWH’s wrath being directed against “all the nations” (verse 2), the judgment against Edom may be representative of that which was to be executed upon all the nations at enmity with God’s people.

34:6. Masoretic Text: The sword of YHWH must be filled with blood, glutted with fat, with blood of lambs and goats, with fat of the kidneys of rams, for a sacrifice to YHWH in Bozrah and a great slaughter in the land of Edom.

Septuagint: The sword of the Lord is filled with blood; it is glutted with the fat of lambs and with the fat of goats and rams, for the Lord [has] a sacrifice in Bosor [Bozrah] and a great slaughter in Idumea.

Commentary

The depiction of the great slaughter continues, with YHWH’s sword being portrayed as coming to be filled with blood. As the Edomites are represented as lambs, goats, and rams, the sword is also depicted as glutted with fat. The Targum of Isaiah refers to the “blood of kings and rulers” and the “fat of the kidneys of princes.” It is as if the people are like a multitude of sacrificial victims offered to YHWH at Bozrah, a major city in Edom that has been linked to Buseirah in southern Jordan. (For pictures of and comments about Bozrah and Edom, see Bozrah.) The great slaughter, though, is not confined to Bozrah but takes place in the land of Edom.

34:7. Masoretic Text: And the wild bulls will fall with them, and young bulls with strong ones. And their land will be drunk with blood, and their ground fattened with fat.

Septuagint: And the mighty ones will fall with them, and the rams and the bulls. And the land will be drunk with the blood and will be filled with their fat.

The Targum of Isaiah, like the Septuagint, does not refer to “wild bulls,” but mentions “mighty men”or “mighty ones.”

Commentary

“Wild bulls” and “young bulls and strong ones” or “rams and bulls” apparently designate the powerful men, leaders, or mighty warriors among the Edomites. The Targum of Isaiah mentions the overthrow of “rulers.” In view of the representation of animals as the object of the great slaughter, the result is portrayed as an abundance of blood and fat that saturates the soil, making the land drunk with blood and enriching or filling (LXX) it with fat.

34:8. Masoretic Text: For YHWH [has] a day of vengeance, a year of retributions for the [judicial] case of Zion.

Septuagint: For [it is] a day of the Lord’s judgment and a year of retribution of Zion’s judgment.

Commentary

In the context of punitive action against the Edomites, YHWH’s day of vengeance would pertain to them and may be representative of what is in store for other nations who acted contrary to his will. The “year of retributions” denotes the time for recompensing the mistreatment Zion or Jerusalem had experienced from the Edomites. As the capital of the kingdom of Judah, Zion would denote all the people of the realm. Based on the mistreatment stemming from the enmity of the Edomites, Zion had a judicial case that YHWH would decide by letting a mighty military power overthrow Edom.

Zion would then have a just judgment rendered as recompense for Edom’s unjust treatment. The Targum of Isaiah identifies the retribution as being for the purpose of exacting righteous vengeance for the humiliation of Zion.

34:9. Masoretic Text: And its [Edom’s] torrents will be turned into pitch and its ground into sulfur, and its land will become burning pitch.

Septuagint: And its ravines will be turned into pitch and its land into sulfur, and its land will be burning like pitch

According to the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, the word translated “burning” does not modify “pitch” but belongs at the beginning of verse 10, where it is preceded by the conjunction “and.”

In the Septuagint, the sentence continues in the next verse.

The interpretation of the Targum of Isaiah disregards the contextual application to Edom and identifies the streams as those of “Rome.”

Commentary

Torrents or streams dry up, and the land is transformed into an extremely dry state. As if the try torrents have become pitch or tar and the ground sulfur, the land of Edom bursts into flames.

34:10. Masoretic Text: Night and day it will not be extinguished. For limitless time, its smoke will ascend. From generation to generation, it will be waste. Forever and ever, none will be passing through it.

Septuagint: night and day, and it will not be extinguished for eternal time. And its smoke will ascend upward. For generations it will be waste and for much time.

In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, the inclusion of the conjunction “and” in four places results in linking the various phrases in a way that differs from the Masoretic Text. “And it will be burning night and day and will not be extinguished for limitless time. Its smoke will ascend from generation to generation, and it will lie waste forever and ever, and none will be passing through it.

Commentary

The fire is not extinguished but is represented as burning throughout the night and the day, with the smoke continuing to ascend for all time to come. This transforms the land into a state of desolation from generation to generation. No one will choose to pass through the area that will become a wasteland.

The description of the devastation as being like that of a land engulfed in flames should not be understood to mean that every plant or tree is burned up. A total destruction of every vestige of greenery would have made it impossible for various kinds of birds and other creatures to make their home in the desolated land.

34:11. Masoretic Text: And bird [qa’áth] and hedgehog [qippód] will possess it, and owl [yanshóhph] and raven [‘orév] will dwell in it, and he will stretch over it a [measuring] line of formlessness [tóhu] and plummets [literally, “stones”] of wasteness [bóhu].

Septuagint: And birds and hedgehogs and ibises and ravens will dwell in it, and a measuring line of desolation will be cast upon it, and donkey centaurs will reside in it.

In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, the conjunction “and” follows the word for “line.” This changes the sentence to read, “And he will stretch over it a line, and formlessness, and plummets of wasteness.

Commentary

In the desolated and depopulated territory of Edom, a variety of birds and animals would come to have their habitat. There is uncertainty about the specific bird to which the Hebrew word qa’áth applies. Translators have variously rendered the designation as “jackdaws” (Tanakh), “desert owl” (NAB, NIV), “horned owl” (REB), and “pelican” (NJB). Hedgehogs are native to Jordan, and so the rendering of the Septuagint for the Hebrew word qippód appears to be a good choice. Other renderings include “bustard” (REB), “owls” (Tanakh), “hawks” (CEV), “screech owl” (NIV), and “hoot owl” (NAB). The Hebrew word yanshóhph is commonly regarded as denoting a kind of owl, whereas the Septuagint rendering is “ibises.” Like the Greek kórax in the Septuagint, the Hebrew word ‘orév is commonly considered to mean “raven.”

YHWH is portrayed as stretching over the territory of Edom a “measuring line of formlessness and plummets of wasteness,” suggesting that the region would be changed to an uncultivated wilderness state devoid of human habitation. In Genesis 1:2, the Hebrew expressions tóhu and bóhu describe the state of the earth in its primeval state prior to the first creative day.

Unlike the Masoretic Text, the Septuagint mentions mythical creatures — donkey centaurs or satyrs. The ancients commonly believed that such creatures had their haunt in desolate places.

34:12. Masoretic Text: Its nobles (“No Kingdom There” will they name it) and all its princes will be nothing.

Septuagint: Its rulers will not be, for its kings and its rulers and its great ones will be for destruction.

In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, the conjunction “and” precedes “its nobles.”

Commentary

In the Hebrew text, the relationship of “nobles” to the rest of the words is unclear. As here rendered, the phrase “‘No Kingdom There’ will they name it” is represented as a parenthetical expression. A number of translations make this significance explicit. “It shall be called, ‘No kingdom is there,’ its nobles and all its lords shall be nothing.” (Tanakh) “Edom will be called ‘Kingdom of Nothing.’ Its rulers will also be nothing.” (CEV) According to the Septuagint, Edom would cease to have any rulers, for its kings, rulers, and prominent men would all be destined for destruction. Without any rulers, there would be no kingdom. For rulers, leading men, nobles and princes to come to nothing would signify that they would perish.

On account of the measure of obscurity in the Hebrew text, translations vary in their renderings in an effort to convey a more specific meaning. “No king will be acclaimed there, and all its princes will come to naught.” (REB) “Her nobles shall be no more, nor shall kings be proclaimed there; all her princes are gone.” (NAB) “Her nobles will have nothing there to be called a kingdom, all her princes will vanish away.” (NIV) “Edom’s nobles won’t have anything left there that can be called a kingdom. All of its princes will vanish.” (NIRV) “There will be no more nobles to proclaim the royal authority; there will be an end of all its princes.” (NJB) “The important people will have no one left to rule them; the leaders will all be gone.” (NCV)

The Targum of Isaiah appears to interpret the words to mean that the ones against whom YHWH’s judgment is directed considered themselves to be “freeborn” and would not have another kingdom over them.

34:13. Masoretic Text: And thorns will sprout up on its citadels, nettle and bramble in its strongholds. And it will be the habitation of jackals, an abode for ostriches.

Septuagint: And thorny woody plants will sprout up in its cities and in its strongholds, and it will be a dwelling of sirens and a courtyard of ostriches.

The Septuagint rendering includes “sirens,” mythical creatures believed by the ancients as having their haunt in desolate places.

Commentary

In the desolated land of Edom, thorny plants and weeds would overgrow citadels and strongholds or fortifications of cities and towns and other structures in the depopulated places. As scavengers, jackals are well-adapted to life in deserted places. Ostriches can go for a long time without water, making it possible for them to live in arid and desolate regions.

34:14. Masoretic Text: And wild beasts [“yelpers” or “desert animals”] will meet with howlers [or “hooters”], and a hairy creature will call to its fellow. Indeed, there the lilith will repose and find a resting place for herself.

Septuagint: And demons will meet donkey centaurs, and they will call to one another. Donkey centaurs will rest there, for they found a resting place for themselves.

In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, the spelling for the word here rendered “howlers” is different, and the designation “lilith” is plural (as also are the accompanying verbs).

Commentary

Most of the creatures here mentioned are also included among the ones that would make desolated Babylon their haunt. (13:21) According to the rendering of the Septuagint, none of the designations apply to actual animals. All of them are represented as mythical creatures that the superstitious people would have regarded as making their home in desolated places.

The portrayal of the Hebrew text seems to be of a desolate region from which eerie yelps, hoots, and howls would be resounding. “Lilith” (not mentioned in 13:21) is a transliteration of the Hebrew word and is often regarded as applying to a female night demon. Others have suggested that the expression could designate birds, either the screech owl or the nightjar.

The uncertainty about the meaning of the Hebrew words has given rise to a variety of renderings. “Marmots will live alongside jackals, and he-goats will congregate there. There too the nightjar will return to rest and find herself a place for repose.” (REB) “The wild beasts will meet hyenas, and one wild goat will call to another. Indeed, the screech owl will stay there and will find a resting place for herself.” (HCSB) “Desert creatures will meet with hyenas and wild goats will bleat to each other; there the night creatures will also repose and find for themselves places of rest.” (NIV) “Wild animals of the desert will mingle there with hyenas, their howls filling the night. Wild goats will bleat at one another among the ruins, and night creatures will come there to rest.” (NLT) “And wild animals shall meet with hyenas; the wild goat shall cry to his fellow; indeed, there the night bird settles and finds for herself a resting place.” (ESV) “The desert creatures will meet with the wolves, the hairy goat also will cry to its kind; yes, the night monster will settle there and will find herself a resting place.” (NASB) “Wildcats and hyenas will hunt together, demons will scream to demons, and creatures of the night will live among the ruins.” (CEV) “Wildcats shall meet with desert beasts, satyrs shall call to one another; there shall the lilith repose, and find for herself a place to rest.” (NAB)

34:15. Masoretic Text: There the arrow snake [qippóhz] will nest and lay and hatch and gather in her shadow. Indeed, there buzzards [dayyáh] will be gathered, each one with her mate.

Septuagint: There the hedgehog has nested, and the earth has preserved its [literally, “her”] young in safety. There deer met and saw the face of one another.

In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, the Hebrew word here rendered “indeed” is repeated.

The Septuagint rendering bears no resemblance to the extant Hebrew text. Hedgehogs are found in desolated regions. Grammatically, the words “its young” do not refer to the “hedgehog,” for the Greek word echínos is masculine, and “her young” refers to those of the earth (gé, which is feminine gender). Possibly readers of the Septuagint text understood the preserving in safety to relate to what is available on earth to make it possible for young offspring to survive. Perhaps the encounter of deer with deer relates to each coming to have a mate.

Commentary

In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, the Hebrew word qippóhz is spelled differently but provides no clue about the specific creature that is being named. Lexicographers have suggested either “arrow snake” (perhaps Coluber najadum, Coluber jugularis, or Coluber nummifer) or “owl” as possible meanings. Owls do lay eggs, hatch them, and guard their young. The arrow snake also lays eggs, and the gathering “in her shadow” could be understood to refer to the snake’s coiling around the eggs.

In Deuteronomy 14:12 and 13, the Hebrew designation dayyáh appears among a list of unclean birds of prey. This indicates that the Septuagint reference to “deer” could not possibly be the correct rendering for dayyáh, and in the Deuteronomy passage it does not contain a corresponding translation for this Hebrew word. The Vulgate rendering in the Isaiah passage is milvi (miluus, milvus), “kite,” a raptor in the same family as hawks and eagles.

34:16. Masoretic Text: Search in the scroll of YHWH and read, Not one of these will be missing. Each one will not fail [to have] her mate, for the mouth [of YHWH] has commanded, and his spirit has gathered them.

Septuagint: They have gone by in [full] number and not one of them has been lost. The one did not seek the other, for the Lord has commanded them, and his spirit has gathered them.

After the word for read, the phrase in the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah is shorter (“And not one will be missing; each her mate”). For the rendering of the words in this scroll, “of YHWH” does not need to be added after “the mouth.” The scroll says, “his mouth.”

Commentary

There is no way to determine whether a scroll known as the “scroll of YHWH” existed at one time and that it contained the words about each animal having a mate. The closest parallel is in the account regarding the direction for Noah to take the animals into the ark, with each of the “unclean” animals having a mate. (Genesis 6:19, 20; 7:2, 3)

Instead of humans being married and raising families in the territory of Edom, the desolated region would be the place where a variety of animals would each have their mates and produce young. YHWH’s will respecting this is expressed as his command, and the gathering of the animals — their coming into the depopulated region — is attributed to his spirit. As though God’s spirit had made them aware that they could freely move about in the land, the animals began to frequent areas that they had formerly avoided.

The Septuagint rendering could be understood to mean that the number of animals was complete, with none being lost or without a mate. As each one had a mate, they did not need to try to find one.

34:17. Masoretic Text: And he has cast a lot for them, and his hand has allotted it to them with a [measuring] line. For limitless time (‘ohlám) they will inherit it; from generation to generation they will dwell in it.

Septuagint: And he himself will cast lots for them, and his hand allotted [this region] to them to feed. For time eternal you will inherit it, from generation to generation they will rest on it.

In the main text of the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, the word ‘ohlám, here translated “limitless time,” is the last word (“his hand has allotted it to them with a [measuring] line for limitless time”). The next statement begins with what is verse 3 of chapter 35. Seemingly another copyist, in much smaller writing, inserted the remainder of chapter 34 and the first two verses of chapter 35. Above the line where verse 17 ends, the copyist wrote the first word (that is found in the Masoretic Text). The rest of the text that is contained in the Masoretic Text is written between this line and the next line of the main text. It is not possible to determine if the shorter text is original or if the addition serves to correct an inadvertent scribal omission.

Commentary

YHWH is represented as giving the animals the inheritance in the land of Edom. He is portrayed as casting the lot for their particular portion and then using the measuring line to determine their specific area for habitation. According to the Septuagint, the allotment of land is for them to derive their food from it. For limitless time to come, the animals (not the Edomites) will possess the land, living in it, or having their “rest” (LXX) or repose there, from generation to generation.