Isaiah 10:1 Commentary - The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
1. that decree unrighteous decrees, &c. ] Better perhaps, that draw up mischievous ordinances and are continually writing oppression. The magnates are addressed not as judges but as legislators; their offence is that they embody injustice in arbitrary written enactments, which enable them to perpetrate the most grievous wrongs under legal forms.
and that write … prescribed ] The construction is peculiar. The intensive form of the verb “to write” occurs only here.
1 4. Fourth strophe. Most critics consider that at this point the scene changes from Samaria to Jerusalem; (1) because the internal condition of Ephraim has already been depicted in the last stages of dissolution and (2) because the abuses here denounced are a constant feature of Isaiah’s prophecies against Judah. In the absence of positive indications these reasons are hardly sufficient to justify so abrupt a transition. It would be more plausible to hold with Giesebrecht and others that the strophe had its place originally among the “woes” of ch. 5; but this also seems unnecessary.
Jehovah’s hand stretched out in wrath over His people. An oracle against North Israel
The key-note of the prophecy is given in the recurrent refrain Isa 9:12; Isa 9:17; Isa 9:21, Isa 10:4, Isa 5:25. (On the reasons for including ch. Isa 5:25-30 see on that passage.) It is the most artistically arranged of all Isaiah’s writings, being divided into regular strophes as follows:
(i) Ch. Isa 9:8-12. The introduction ( Isa 9:8-10) explains that the oracle concerns the inhabitants of Samaria, and points to the buoyant assurance and self-confidence which was the habitual temper of the Northern Kingdom. The prophet then enters on a review of the various calamities by which Jehovah had sought to bring the nation to repentance, the first of these being the aggressions of its powerful neighbours on the East and the West ( Isa 9:11-12). This was the first stroke of Jehovah’s hand.
(ii) Isa 9:13-17. A second blow descends on the impenitent nation in some sudden disaster by which the state is bereft of its leaders, great and small (13 16); the condition of the people is then seen to be utterly corrupt, so that Jehovah withdraws His compassion even from the helpless widows and orphans (17).
(iii) Isa 9:18-21. The third visitation is a state of anarchy and internecine strife, which is described mainly in a succession of powerful and telling images. The nation is rent by the conflict of rival factions, the only bond of unity being a common hatred of Judah.
(iv) Ch. Isa 10:1-4. The fourth strophe opens with a “Woe” on the maladministration of the judges, which was always to Isaiah’s mind the chief symptom of a rotten republic ( Isa 9:1-2). This is followed by an allusion to a day of slaughter in which the magnates shall vainly seek safety beneath the slain (3, 4).
[It is possible that another strophe originally stood here, the closing words of which are preserved in Isa 5:25.]
(v) Ch. Isa 5:26-30. The prediction of the Assyrian invasion forms, as has been already explained, the dénouement of this great drama of judgment. (For the exegesis, see on the passage above, pp. 40 42.) The refrain is of course dropped; Jehovah’s wrath is stayed, His hand is no longer stretched forth.
It is assumed in the foregoing analysis that the passage is in the main (down at least to the end of ch. 9) a retrospect of historical judgments; and this is the view naturally suggested by the tenses of the original, which are with few exceptions perfects, or the equivalents of perfects. A majority of commentators, however, taking the perfects as those of prophetic certainty, interpret the oracle as an ideal delineation of the stages of a judgment yet to come. And it is no doubt conceivable that the prophet might assume an ideal standpoint on the eve of the Assyrian invasion, regarding the preliminary chastisements as past, although they were in reality still future at the time of writing. But such a lavish and continuous use of the prophetic perfect would be unparalleled; and the change to the impf. at Isa 5:26 seems too significant to be explained on this hypothesis. It is, therefore, on the whole safer to assume that in Isa 9:8-21 the references are to past events, although it may not be possible in every case to specify the exact circumstances that are meant. A shorter oracle arranged on the principle here supposed is found in Amo 4:6-12.
The date of the prophecy is not easily determined. The most probable view is that it was composed just before the outbreak of the Syro-Ephraimitish war. A later date (though not perhaps impossible) is difficult to reconcile with the fact that the issues of that expedition, so disastrous to the Northern Kingdom, are not mentioned. The Assyrians, moreover, are described in terms so vaguely poetic as to suggest that they were as yet unknown to the Israelites at close quarters. Syria also is mentioned as the enemy of Israel, without any hint of an alliance between them; while it is thought by some that Isa 9:21 alludes to the incipient antagonism towards Judah which afterwards found vent in the invasion. None of these indications are very decisive, but there are none to neutralise them (see, however, on Isa 9:10-11 below); and the passage may at least be regarded provisionally as a product of the earliest period of Isaiah’s ministry.
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The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges is a biblical commentary set published in parts by Cambridge University Press from 1882 onwards. Anglican bishop John Perowne was the general editor. The first section published was written by theologian Thomas Kelly Cheyne and covered the Book of Micah.
Perowne exercised limited editorial control over the writers of individual commentaries: his aim was "to leave each contributor to the unfettered exercise of his own judgment".