Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall rule in judgment.XXXII.
(1) Behold, a king shall reign . . .—More accurately, the king. Isaiah 32:1-8 form a separate section, standing in the same relation to the foregoing chapter that the picture of the ideal king in Isaiah 11 does to the anti-Assyrian prophecy of Isaiah 10 “The king” is accordingly the true Anointed one of the future, not, of course without a reference to the character of Hezekiah as the partial and present embodiment of the idea. The addition of “princes” worthy of their king emphasises this reference. The words are as an echo of Proverbs 8:15-16.
And a man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.(2) A man shall be . . .—The word is that used in Isaiah 31:8 for “mighty man,” in Isaiah 2:9 for “great man,” and probably retains that meaning here. The nobles of Judah, who had been tyrannous and oppressive (Isaiah 1:23), should become a true aristocracy, beneficent and protecting. Of both the “king” and the “man” it is true that they find their fulfilment in the true servant of the Lord, who is also the ideal king.
As rivers of water . . .—The words paint the picture of the two great blessings of an Eastern landscape: the streams that turn the desert into an oasis, the “rock” throwing its dark shadow as a shelter from the noontide heat. The word for “rock” is the same as that used for Assyria in Isaiah 31:9, and is obviously chosen to emphasise the contrast.
And the eyes of them that see shall not be dim, and the ears of them that hear shall hearken.(3) The eyes of them that see . . .—Another reversal, like that of Isaiah 29:18, of the sentence of judicial blindness with which Isaiah’s work as a prophet had begun (Isaiah 6:10).
The heart also of the rash shall understand knowledge, and the tongue of the stammerers shall be ready to speak plainly.(4) The heart also of the rash . . .—“Heart,” as in Proverbs 4:23 and elsewhere, for the intellect rather than the emotions. The “rash” are those that are “hurried,” precipitate, reckless; the “stammerers,” those who have no power to speak clearly of the things of God, who hesitate and are undecided.
The vile person shall be no more called liberal, nor the churl said to be bountiful.(5) The vile person shall be no more called liberal.—Better, noble, the καλοκάγαθος of the Greeks, the ingenuus of the Latin. So for “bountiful,” read gentle. Here, again, we have a picture, the exact contrast of that which met us at the beginning of Isaiah’s work, when men “called good evil, and evil good” (chap 5:20).
For the vile person will speak villany, and his heart will work iniquity, to practise hypocrisy, and to utter error against the LORD, to make empty the soul of the hungry, and he will cause the drink of the thirsty to fail.(6) The vile person will speak villany.—Another echo, like that of Isaiah 28:23-29, of the teaching of the Book of Proverbs. In that better day men would learn to see men as they are, and not as they pretend to be. “By their fruits ye shall know them” was to be one of the blessings of the reign of the true king (Matthew 7:20).
To utter error against the Lord.—The “error” is either that of “heresy,” or of hollow profession, or of open scoffing. In either case it finds its practical outcome, like the hypocrisy of the Pharisees (Matthew 23:14), in violence and wrong towards the poor and weak.
The instruments also of the churl are evil: he deviseth wicked devices to destroy the poor with lying words, even when the needy speaketh right.(7) To destroy the poor with lying words . . .—The words, though perfectly generic in their form, are probably not without an implied reference to those who had thus acted towards Isaiah himself, making even him an “offender for a word” (Isaiah 29:21).
But the liberal deviseth liberal things; and by liberal things shall he stand.(8) The liberal deviseth liberal things . . .—Better, as before, noble.
Rise up, ye women that are at ease; hear my voice, ye careless daughters; give ear unto my speech.(9) Rise up, ye women that are at ease . . .—The beginning of a new section, probably a distinct sermon, or, as it were, pamphlet, against the evils of which the prophet had spoken in Isaiah 2:16-22, and which continued, it would seem, unabated, in spite of Hezekiah’s reformation. It probably finds a place here as painting the harem influence, which then, as in the policy of modern Eastern monarchies, Constantinople and elsewhere, lay behind the counsels of the king and his ministers. The whole tone is that of invective against the women of the pseudo-aristocracy that had been covertly attacked in the preceding verses.
Give ear unto my speech . . .—Another echo of the teaching of the Proverbs (Proverbs 2:1; Proverbs 3:1; Proverbs 4:1; Proverbs 6:1; Proverbs 6:20.)
Many days and years shall ye be troubled, ye careless women: for the vintage shall fail, the gathering shall not come.(10) Many days and years . . .—Literally, days to the year, a phrase after the pattern of “add ye year to year” in Isaiah 29:1, but implying, not the long continuance of the trouble, but its quick arrival, as in “a year and a day.”
The vintage shall fail . . .—The words are commonly taken as predicting a literal failure of the vine-crop, and therefore of the supply of wine for the banquets of the rich. A truer insight into the language of a poet-prophet would lead to our seeing in it a symbol of the failure of all forms of earthly joy.
Tremble, ye women that are at ease; be troubled, ye careless ones: strip you, and make you bare, and gird sackcloth upon your loins.(11) Tremble, ye women that are at ease . . .—The words find at once a parallel and a contrast in those spoken to the daughters of Jerusalem in Luke (Luke 23:28-30). The call to repentance includes their stripping themselves of their costly finery, and putting on the “sackcloth” (the word is implied, though not expressed in the Hebrew), which was the outward symbol of repentance (Jonah 3:5-8). The words, it may be noted, are masculine, the call not being limited to the women.
They shall lament for the teats, for the pleasant fields, for the fruitful vine.(12) They shall lament for the teats . . .—Better, shall smite upon the breasts. The Hebrew nouns for “teats” and “fields,” Shâdaim and Sadè, have an assonance which may be represented by the Latin ubera and ubertas. In the renewed, unabated luxury of the women of Jerusalem Isaiah sees the precursor of another time of desolation like that which he had foretold before in the reign of Ahaz (Isaiah 7:24). “Thorns and briers” are again to take the place of the fair gardens in the outskirts of Jerusalem during the invasion of Sennacherib, as they had once before in that of Rezin and Pekah. The “houses of joy” are manifestly what we should call the stately villas of the rich.
Because the palaces shall be forsaken; the multitude of the city shall be left; the forts and towers shall be for dens for ever, a joy of wild asses, a pasture of flocks;(14) The palaces shall be forsaken.—With a bold pencil and rapid strokes the picture of desolation is sketched in outline. The forts are those of Ophel (so in Heb.), the fortified south-eastern slope of the Temple mountain; the towers, probably such as “the tower of the flock,” mentioned in conjunction with Ophel in Micah 4:8. These would serve as dens for the wild asses, which commonly roved in the open country.
Until the spirit be poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness be a fruitful field, and the fruitful field be counted for a forest.(15) Until the spirit be poured upon us from on high . . .—There was, then, a fixed limit of the desolation then described. Isaiah dwelt, as Joel (Joel 2:28) had dwelt before him, on the outpouring of the Spirit which should sweep away the frivolities of a profligate luxury and lead to a nobler life. The effect of that outpouring is described in symbolic language which had been used before (see Note on Isaiah 29:17), the “wilderness” taking the place of Lebanon.
Then judgment shall dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness remain in the fruitful field.(16) Then judgment shall dwell . . .—Outward blessings, themselves symbols of something beyond themselves, are followed by spiritual. Over the whole country, from the one extreme of cultivation to the other, the judgment and righteousness which had been so lacking should now find a home, and bring their blessed fruits of peace, and confidence, and calm. The whole picture is that of a smiling land, a God-fearing and contented people, all in striking contrast with the panic and unrest with which the people had been but too familiar.
When it shall hail, coming down on the forest; and the city shall be low in a low place.(19) When it shall hail, coming down on the forest.—Better, But it shall hail. A time of sharp judgment, “hailstones and coals of fire,” is to precede that of blessedness and peace. Of such a judgment “hail” was the natural symbol. (Comp. Isaiah 30:30; Ezekiel 13:13.) The “forest” stands in the symbolism of prophecy for the rulers and princes of any kingdom, as in Isaiah 10:34 for those of Assyria, and here probably of Judah. Not a few commentators refer the words here also to Assyria, but the city that follows is clearly Jerusalem, and the interpretation given above harmonises accordingly better with the context. Of that city Isaiah says that it shall be “brought down to a low estate,” its pride humbled even to the ground, in order that it may afterwards be exalted.
Blessed are ye that sow beside all waters, that send forth thither the feet of the ox and the ass.(20) Blessed are ye that sow beside all waters.—The picture of a golden age of agriculture receives its final touch. The whole land should be irrigated by calmly flowing streams, and men should cast their seed broadcast, and the oxen and the asses should draw the plough over a rich and fertile land. The whole land should be under tillage, instead of being left to supply (as in Isaiah 7:21-22) a poor and meagre pasturage, or to bring forth nothing but the “thorns and briars” of Isaiah 32:13. It is obvious that here also a spiritual meaning underlies the literal.