Isaiah Chapter 34 Notes

Isaiah Ch 34 Commentary // larryhuntbiblecommentary.wordpress.com

Notes for Isaiah Thirty-four

Although this chapter begins with the declaration that God is “enraged against all the [pagan] nations,” the specific nation that bears the brunt of that rage is Edom; therefore, I will present a brief history of Edom.

The nation of Edom, or Idumea according to the Greeks (Barnes 489) was located just south of the Dead Sea and had two capitals: Bozrah in the East and Selah (the famous city better known as Petra[1]) to the south (Barnes 489).  Edom is named for the man who fathered it: Edom (also known as Esau) the twin brother of Jacob (also known as Israel).  These two twins were the sons of Isaac, the son of Abraham.  The names Esau and Edom both mean “red” and were given to Jacob’s brother on two separate occasions: he got the name Esau at his birth because, as a newborn, he was covered with reddish-brown hair[2] (Genesis 25:25).  He got the nameEdom after selling his birthright to his younger (by only a few seconds) twin brother for some red-colored stew (Genesis 25:29-34).  In his youth, Jacob seems to have been a clever but deceitful man, and Esau seems to have been strong but slow-witted, being more oriented toward the flesh than toward the mind or the spirit; thus, Jacob was able to cheat his older brother out of his birthright, twice (Genesis 25:29-34, 27:1-40).  After the second time, Jacob fled in fear from his brother and lived in a foreign land (Genesis 27:41-43) where God proceeded to humble the future father of the twelve patriarchs (Genesis 28-32).  After much fear and pain, Jacob returned to his home and he and his brother were reconciled to each other (Genesis 33).  When Esau eventually took his family to the land later known as Edom, he apparently left on his own free will for more elbow room (Genesis 36:6-8); the brothers seem to have parted on reasonably good terms.

The next significant interaction recorded between Edom and Israel is when the nation of Israel, under the guidance of Moses, asked for permission to pass peacefully through the land of Edom on their way to the Promised Land of Canaan (Genesis 20:14-21).  Moses seems to have asked humbly, and he appealed to the nation of Edom as a brother; nevertheless, Edom refused to let them pass through.  Thus, Israel turned back and had to go around Edom.  According to Barnes, there is no mention of Edom again until the time of David (490).

David waged a fierce war against the Edomites, eventually making them his subjects (2ndSamuel 8:13-14).  Later, during the reign of Jehoram, the Edomites rebelled against Judah and set up their own king (2nd Chronicles 21:8-10).  After this time, the relationship between the Jews and the Edomites seems to have been particularly turbulent and violent.  Amaziah, king of Judah, killed 10,000 Edomites in battle during one of his campaigns, and executed another 10,000 afterward by hurling them from the top of one of the cliffs of their capital city, Selah – later known as Petra (2nd Chronicles 25:11-12).

But the act that drove the greatest wedge between the two nations seems to have been Edom’s jubilation over (and assistance in) the Babylonian conquest of Judah (Psalm 137:7, Ezekiel 25:12-14).  This, no doubt, is why the Edomites are the particular object of God’s wrath in this chapter of Isaiah.

v.7: I am not sure why the writer distinguishes between “wild” oxen and those seemingly domestic animals of v. 6.  (If the v.6 animals are supposed to be wild too, then why specify the oxen of v. 7 as wild?)  I feel certain that the animals marked for sacrifice in v. 6 represent the people of Edom in some respect.[3] Perhaps, then, the wild oxen (young and old) represent some subset of Edomites, or some neighboring people who will share the same fate as the Edomites.  Regardless of whom the wild oxen represent, the image of sacrifice here and in v. 6 is really powerful, frightening and violent; I think it depicts the rage of God very well.

v. 9: Barnes and the Oxford commentary agree that the allusion here is to Sodom and Gomorrah.  See Jeremiah 49:17-18.

v. 10: Since Edom is not (I suppose) still literally smoking from the flames of burning pitch, at least some of this language must be hyperbole, or the allusion could be similar to that of the “everlasting flames” of 33:14.

v. 12: For some reason Luther’s version has an extra line of text that neither the King James version nor the NRSV has.  It reads, “Und Feldgeister werden darin wohnen, und seine Edlen werden nicht mehr sein,” which means, “and spirits of the field will live therein, and his (precious ones?) will be no more.”

v. 14: There are some odd creatures in this list of the future inhabitants of Edom.  One is a creature called a satyr, in the OKJ, a goat-demon in the NRSV, and a Feldgeist (field spirit) in Luther’s version.  Here is a very interesting point of irony: according to Strong’s Concordance, the Hebrew word here translated in these various ways is saiyr, the same word that all the translations (that I have) render as “hairy” in Genesis 27:11: “Look, my brother Esau is a hairyman.”  How odd that these hairy creatures should replace the children of Esau, the hairy man from whom the land of Edom derived its name.

As for what the creature actually is, I have no idea.  Most versions seem to translate the word as some sort of demon or creature out of mythology, like a satyr.[4] According to Barnes, however, this is not necessary since the word basically means “hairy” and could be applied just as easily to a wild goat (260-261).

The word also occurs in chapter thirteen, which describes the destruction of Babylon in similar terms.[5] I wonder if Isaiah intended to connect the two passages by using similar imagery?  Perhaps he meant to suggest that, since Edom sided with Babylon against Judah, Edom would share the fate of Babylon.

Another strange creature in this passage is the one translated as “Lilith” in the NRSV.  The oxford commentary reads this as “a malevolent, winged female demon, in later Jewish tradition identified as Adam’s first wife.” The OKJ translates it as “screech owl” or “night monster.”  Luther translates the word as Nachtgespenst (“Night Specter”).

[1] I am not sure what culture was responsible for the famous cliff-rock (Petra) carved architecture of this city.  The sources that Barnes quotes describe the style as Egyptian and Greek (296-297).

[2] Esau also means “hairy.”

[3] In the context of the chapter, I cannot imagine that the Edomites themselves literally sacrificed these animals to God, just as I cannot imagine that God literally and personally sacrificed animals like this to himself on this occasion. In fact, whenever this chapter addresses the literal fate of wild animals, they seem to come off rather well, having inherited the land of Edom as their home.  See vs. 11-17.

[4] Just because Isaiah may have intended it to be a mythological creature does not necessarily mean that he believed in the literal existence of such things.  It may just be a poetical way of saying that the land would be the home of wild and dangerous things.  I can imagine a modern poet using similar language without actually believing in satyrs.  Then again, maybe Isaiah (as a member of his culture) falsely believed in the literal existence of such creatures.  In that case, I do not believe God would be lying to Isaiah to say that Edom would be the home of satyrs because he (God) would simply be using language and imagery that Isaiah would understand to convey the true statement: “Edom will be a wasteland inhabited only by wild and dangerous things.”  Perhaps God would use language similarly if he were speaking to a modern prophet to accommodate our modern constructs of how the world works.  For instance, we have invented the modern construct of gravity as an “impersonal force,” but gravity may not exist as such.  For instance, what if God himself is personally, actively responsible for the things we attribute to the impersonal force of gravity?  Would God be lying, then, if he incorporated our mistaken construct into some true message he had for us?  I do not believe so.  Finally, of course, it should be noted that the creature may have been real.  This would certainly be true of demons, anyway.

[5] Not only does Isaiah say that Babylon will be inhabited by these goat-demons, but in 13:19, he also draws a parallel between the fate of Babylon and that of Sodom and Gomorrah, just as in v. 9 of this chapter he draws a parallel between the fate of Edom and that of Sodom and Gomorrah.


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