December 27: Isaiah 7:18-25

Isaiah 7:18-25

These verses contain prophetic sayings of judgment against the kingdom of Israel, each beginning with “(and it shall be) on that day…”. It is possible that they were originally uttered in a separate context, only later being connected with the oracles in 7:1-17 (and 8:1-4). While they fit the overall message of judgment, against Aram-Damascus and the Northern Kingdom, the closing words of v. 17 (cf. the previous note) give these sayings a greater sense of immediacy. The reference to the “king of Assyria” provides the literary impetus for the prophetic sayings in vv. 18-25.

Probably these sayings originally were directed against the Northern Kingdom, but they would also have applied as a warning to the Southern Kingdom. And, indeed, in the wider context of chapters 2-39, they could function as a prophecy of the devastating invasion of Judah by Sennacherib at the end of the 8th century.

Saying #1 (vv. 18-19)

“And it shall be, on that day, (that) YHWH shall whistle, to the fly that is on (the) edge of (the) streams of Egypt, and to the bee that is in (the) land of Aššûr {Assyria}, and they shall come and shall rest, all of them, in (the) wadis of the steep (rock)s, and in (the) holes of the cliffs, and in all the thorn-bushes, and in all the (place)s one leads (flocks to drink).”

The basic meaning of this colorful imagery is clear enough. The Assyrians, along with the Egyptians, will invade the land like a swarm of flies and bees, and will take their place in every part of the land (no matter how small or remote). The image of a swarm of angry, stinging bees is appropriate for depicting an invading army (cf. Deut 1:44; Psalm 118:2). Flies are more of a nuisance, and here they presumably allude to Egypt’s status as a subordinate (ally) to Assyria. The historical reference may be to the pro-Assyrian position of the Nubian Pharaoh Shabako (c. 716-702), or to Shebiktu (c. 702-690) as an unreliable ally (a “broken reed”, 36:6) for Judah against the Assyrian threat; cf. Blenkinsopp, p. 236. There is some evidence that the Nubians had ties with Assyria even earlier (c. 732-720), even to the point of sending troops to aid Sargon in his siege of Gaza (cf. Roberts, p. 126).

Saying #2 (v. 20)

“On that day, my Lord shall shave with a razor th(at is) hired—(done) by (those) beyond (the) River, by (the) king of Aššûr—the head and (the) hair of the feet [i.e. genitals], and also the aged (beard) it shall sweep (away)!”

This second saying utilizes the motif of a person being shaved (lit. made bald/bare) with a razor. It is again used to depict  the military action of the king of Assyria, and the Assyrians from the northeast (“over [the Euphrates] River”). The victim—i.e., the kingdom of Israel (and/or Judah)—will be shaved completely, including (most shamefully) his pubic hair (lit. hair of the ‘feet’). Even the long beards of the distinguished elders will be “swept away” (vb hp*s*), in a complete and destructive manner.

Saying #3 (vv. 21-22)

“And it shall be, on that day, (that) a man shall keep alive a young calf of (the) cattle; and it shall be (that) from (the) abundance of (her) making milk he shall eat butter-milk—for butter-milk and syrup (is what) every (one) left over in (the) midst of the land shall eat.”

The reference to “butter-milk [ha*m=j#] and syrup [vb^D=]” echoes the oracle in verses 10-17 (v. 15, cf. the previous note). And, as in the prior verse, there is a certain ambiguity in the reference. Is it a promise that the ‘remnant’ in the land will have blessing, eating rich food? Or, is it here a reference to the pathetic condition of the land, such that the survivors will have to subsist on the food given to newly-weaned infants? Almost certainly, the latter sense is intended, confirmed (it would seem) from the imagery in verse 20, where a man is able to keep alive only a young calf from the cattle, and will have to survive by eating whatever milk-product she is able to produce.

Saying #4 (vv. 23-25)

“And it shall be, on that day, (that) every standing-place, in which were there a thousand vines (valued) at a thousand (pieces of) silver, it shall be (a place) for thorn(s), and (even) for weed(s) it shall be. With arrows and with bows (men) shall come here, for all the shall shall come to be thorn(s) and weed(s). And on all the hills that were dug with the hoe, you shall not come there, (for) fear of (the) thorn(s) and weed(s), and it shall be (a place) for sending oxen and for (the) treading of cattle.”

The wording of this saying is rather awkward, repetitive, and less colorful, but the imagery is quite clear. As a result of the Assyrian military invasion (spec. the bowmen), the entire land will be turned into a wilderness, a rough pasture-land overgrown with weeds and thornbushes.

References above marked “Roberts” are to J. J. M. Roberts, First Isaiah, Hermeneia (Fortress Press: 2015).
Those marked “Blenkinsopp” are to Joseph Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 1-39, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 19 (Yale University Press: 2000).

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