Larry Hunt's Bible Commentary


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Isaiah 59

Chapter Fifty-nine:

v. 5:  I believe that hatching the adders’ eggs parallels weaving the spider’s webs.  If that is true, then they both say essentially the same thing: the works of the sinners in question (and possibly the sinners themselves) should be left alone.

The metaphor of the adders’ eggs is meant to illustrate how dangerous it is to encounter the works of the sinners in question.  If you participate with them and indulge in their sins (i.e. if you eat the eggs), then you die from the poison.  If you try to destroy their work (i.e. if you crush the eggs), then it spreads anyway and creates new dangers (i.e. a new viper is released from the egg).  Perhaps a modern manifestation of this principle may be seen when a blasphemous movie comes out.  Going to see the movie is taking poison into your soul, while opposing the movie publicly is likely to give it more popularity and power than it would have had otherwise.  Given this scenario, I guess the advice of the prophet is simply to flee the sins and sinners altogether and leave them to God.  It reminds me of Proverbs 26:4: “Do not answer fools according to their folly, or you will be a fool yourself.”  Of course the very next proverb gives the opposite advice:  “Answer fools according to their folly, or they will be wise in their own eyes” (Proverbs 26:5).  I reconcile the two by believing that they address two scenarios.  On the one hand, the fool will not listen but only draw you into danger, or at least into a fruitless argument.   Trying to teach this one is the equivalent of casting your pearls before swine, and this is the scenario that Isaiah is addressing with the metaphor of the adders’ eggs.  The other scenario describes a fool who may listen to good teaching if he hears it.

The metaphor of the spider’s webs is meant to illustrate how useless the works of the sinners in question are.  Good works are like woven cloth: Just as woven cloth is useful for clothing the body by protecting it, keeping it warm, etc., so good works are useful for clothing the mind and the soul, by giving them joy and protection from evil influences.  However, the works of sin are insubstantial and flimsy, like spider webs.  Only a fool would consider spider webs useful for clothing his body, and only a fool would consider sinful works useful for his mind or soul.

As for whether or not these examples of spider webs and adders’ eggs agree with our current theories of such things, I cannot say.  I suspect that we could, given time, figure out a way of weaving spider webs into a functional garment of some type.  Also, I am not sure if eating the egg of a poisonous creature is deadly; it may be in the case of the type of adder that Isaiah had in mind.  Nevertheless, even if it turns out that we can weave a useful garment out of spider webs, or that we can eat the eggs of adders without being poisoned, these facts would not refute the truth of Isaiah’s analogies.  In Isaiah’s experience, nobody used spider webs to clothe himself, so to say that we can do this now and to infer from this that Isaiah’s analogies are false is foolish.  Besides, an analogy can be true even if certain elements of the analogy are not.  For instance, I can say that, just as the basilisk can kill with its gaze, so a tyrant brings death with a flash of his eyes.  The analogy is true in spite of the fact that basilisks do not really exist.  Furthermore, the fact that I used a basilisk in my analogy does not necessarily mean that I believe basilisks exist in reality; it only means that I found the story of the basilisk’s gaze (whether fictional or not) to be similar to a tyrant’s gaze.  I can see myself doing this very thing with my friend Troy, using some event in Star Wars as an element in my analogy even though neither of us believe Star Wars is real.

v. 11:  I believe that the bear growl symbolizes angry complaint to God, whereas the dove coo represents sad complaint.  These contrasting methods of complaint represent the range of emotions that have been present in the sinners’ fruitless attempts to manipulate God.  Barnes points out that the word translated for “growl” is hamah, which is applied to the mourning of doves in Ezekiel 7:16.  This might lead one to believe that these two complaints are not as contrasting as I have described them.  But according to Strong’s Concordance, the verb hamah is not specific to doves (like the verb “coo” is in English).  It means simply “to make a great sound…” and by implication “…to rage, war, moan, clamor”   (Strong’s entry 1993); thus, our specific interpretation of the manner of the moaning or complaining must be drawn from the nature of the creature who is doing the moaning or complaining.  Bears growl and doves coo.  I have a hard time believing that Isaiah meant for the bear growl and dove coo to parallel each other except in their common ground as complaints.

Vs. 15-16:  The actions of God in these verses were, at first, difficult for me to understand, but I think I have an explanation now.

First, I will describe the difficulty.  God has not been helping his people because they were sinful, and here in verse 15 the sinfulness of the people is even reemphasized.  Why, then, in verse 16 does God resolve to save his people?  What has changed?  First he looks for someone to intervene on behalf of his people, but finds nobody.  Then he resolves to save them himself, but between vs. 15 and 16  the prophet never says that any of the people have repented and turned from their evil.[1]  Actually, the fact that God could find nobody to intervene on behalf of his people seems to argue that they have not repented; not one person is willing and/or fit to approach him on behalf of the people.

So, I was confused.  In the first part of the chapter, God only saves those who repent.  Nevertheless, here in verse 16, he saves the people in spite of the fact that they have not yet repented.  I believe now that this must be a reference to the undeserved and unlooked for mercy of the Messiah.  Paul uses verse 20 of this chapter in Romans 11:26 to refer to the Messiah’s salvation of the Jewish people.  It seems, therefore, that these verses and those that describe the arming of God should be applied to the Messiah as God.  God saw that no human could save humanity; consequently, he saved us himself as the Messiah even though we had not repented.  Earlier in Romans, Paul says this very thing:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person-though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.  But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.  (Romans 5:6-8)

V. 17:  I wonder if Paul had this place in mind when he described the spiritual armor in Ephesians 6:14-17.

As I said in the notes for vs. 15-16, I believe these verses refer to the Messiah.  However, there are a couple of descriptions in this passage that seem strange to associate with the Messiah.  For instance, it seems odd to describe Christ as putting on “garments of vengeance” and wrapping himself “in fury as in a mantle.”  Still, such imagery is in keeping with the battles in the book of Revelation.  His just vengeance is directed against those who have persecuted his people; his mercy is extended toward his people even though they do not deserve it.

v. 21:  This verse in not difficult to interpret in a general sense:  God will be with his people forever.  However, what God specifically means by saying that his words will never depart out of the mouth (of Isaiah, Israel, Christ?) nor out of the mouths of (his[2], their?) children is a little unclear.  First of all, I would have expected him to say that his words would not depart from the hearts of his people rather than from their mouths.  Nevertheless, the mouth specifically designates teaching; therefore, I suspect that God is saying that he will always provide his people with spiritual guidance, with prophecy.

[1] Verses 9-13 are a confession of sin and represent a type of repentance (or a recognition of the need to repent), and verse 20 of this chapter says, “He will come…to those in Jacob who turn from transgression…,” but it still seems odd to me that vs. 15 and 16 should be presented the way that they are unless they are interpreted as I suggest above.

[2] In the case of Christ, or even Isaiah, the children could be spiritual, i.e., disciples of these men.


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