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Isaiah is the prophet of Salvation. He is also known as the truly "Universalist" prophet, by which is meant that He makes it clear that salvation is extended equally to all nations and not just to Israel. He lived to see the fall of Israel and the deportation of the Israelites to Assyria, and he prophesied of their "return" to God (through repentance). He is truly a "major prophet" whose prophecies greatly influenced the Apostle Paul in the New Testament.
Category - Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 8:19 says,
19 When they say to you, “Consult the mediums [owb] and the spiritists [yidde’oniy] who whisper [tsaphaph] and mutter [hagah],” should not a people consult their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living?
Many of the people in Isaiah’s time consulted spiritist mediums rather than God Himself. They thought they might acquire knowledge from the dead rather than from the living God. A prime example of this was when King Saul went to the witch of En-dor in order to speak to the prophet Samuel, who had died many years earlier (1 Sam. 28:7).
After Saul’s rebellion against God, Samuel refused to see him or speak with him until the day of his death (1 Sam. 15:35) . Apparently, no other prophet was led to give Saul the word of the Lord. Saul felt abandoned by God, and though he “removed from the land those who are mediums and spiritists” (1 Sam. 28:3), Saul did not repent, for he thought he was doing the right thing.
The example of the witch of En-dor gives us an example of what was expected of a medium or spiritist. They were paid to consult the dead, and this was what Isaiah was criticizing. If they want to obtain knowledge, they ought to consult God, not the dead.
The word translated “medium” is from the Hebrew word owb, “a water bottle made of skin.” The Septuagint Greek translation of the Old Testament translates this word as a ventriloquist. Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon tells us that the word also means “python,” which then connects with the story of the “slave-girl having a spirit of divination” (literally, python) in Acts 16:16.
The word picture of owb portrays a medium who acts as a “bottle” for a python spirit to inhabit. It is not a clay jar but is made of skin, even as every medium is a skin-vessel holding water. In this case, the skin holds the spirit of divination or a python spirit. In Dr. Bullinger’s notes on Acts 16:16, he tells us,
“The Python was a serpent, destroyed, according to Greek Mythology, by Apollo, who was hence called Pythius, and the priestess at the famous temple at Delphi was called the Pythoness. Through her the oracle was delivered… The term Python became equivalent to a soothsaying demon, as in the case of this slave-girl who had an evil spirit as ‘control’. She would be nowadays called a medium.”
The oracle at Delphi was the most important of all the Greek oracles. It was established about 1400 B.C. at a sacred spring on the slopes of Mount Parnassus. The spring was said to be the center, or “navel,” of the world. Men came from all over the world to consult the oracle, which was given through the Pythoness (Pythia).
Every four years, starting in 586 B.C. (when the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by Babylon), the Pythian games began (later called the Olympics).
The “navel of the earth” was called in Greek, Omphalos, or Omphale, the name of the mistress of Heracles/Hercules (the Roman Atlas), whose role Samson played as the strong man when he was a judge in Israel. He was able to overcome Dagon, the strong male god of Gaza, but he was overcome by Dagon’s consort, Atargatis, the seducing goddess worshiped in Ashkelon.
Hence, just as Heracles was once sentenced to grind wheat at the Wheel of Omphale, so also was Samson sentenced to grind wheat for the Philistines (Judges 16:21). Though Samson was strong physically, he was weak morally, and so he finally succumbed to his mistress and was thus overcome by the spirit of python. Only at the end did his faith return.
The story of Samson and the manner in which he interacted with the gods of the Philistines is portrayed in the fourth novel in my series, The Anava Chronicles called Power of the Flame, chapter 18. The book focuses on the story of Samson.
A Spiritist (Hebrew: yidde’oniy) is a “knower.” The word is derived from yada, “to know, perceive, discern, acquire knowledge.” The word denotes the attempt to learn something by spiritual discernment. Leviticus 19:31 says,
31 Do not turn to mediums or spiritists; do not seek them out to be defiled by them. I am the Lord your God.
Isaiah understood this to mean that we were to consult with Yahweh, rather than mediums or spiritists. Again, Lev. 20:6 tells us,
6 As for the person who turns to mediums and to spiritists, to play the harlot after them, I will also set My face against that person and will cut him off from among his people.
In other words, those who consulted mediums and spiritists rather than God Himself were to be removed from the registry of his tribe. He was to lose his citizenship and was no longer to be considered an Israelite or a Judahite (“Jew”) or an Ephraimite, etc. In the eyes of God, citizenship was a matter of law, not genealogy, as Paul confirms in Rom. 2:28, 29.
Of course, we must also recognize that repentance will reinstate any sinner. The judgment of the law is clear, but so is God’s mercy.
Isaiah 8:20 says,
20 To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn [shachar].
Every spiritual word and discernment must conform to the laws of God, including the methods by which we obtain such knowledge. To consult with mediums and spiritists is sin, a violation of the law. 1 John 3:4 says, “sin is lawlessness.”
Those who turn aside to consult other gods or spirits, regardless of the accuracy of the knowledge they may receive, are an affront to the Creator Himself, for He alone has the right to be worshiped by those that He created. The Creator owns His labor and has the rights of ownership over all that He has created.
For this reason, the prophet says, those who consult other gods and spirits “have no dawn.” The Hebrew word translated “dawn” (NASB) or “light” (KJV), is shachar, “dawn, morning.” Its root word means “to seek early,” picturing a man in darkness who seeks the light of dawn. Isaiah obviously used this word to picture those in darkness who seek the light of truth even as one seeks the dawn. Yet he says that if they lawlessly seek knowledge or the light of truth through mediums and spiritists, they will remain in darkness. “They have no dawn.”
Isaiah 8:21, 22 says,
21 They will pass through the land hard-pressed and famished, and it will turn out that when they are hungry, they will be enraged and curse their King and their God as they face upward. 22 Then they will look to the earth, and behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish, and they will be driven away into darkness.
Those who lack the true light of the word will walk in darkness, “hard-pressed and famished,” the prophet says. They will not understand why God’s judgment has come upon them and will be “enraged and curse their King and their God.” In other words, they will be angry and will blame God for their troubles.
Men seldom blame the spirit of Python which they had consulted in their failed attempt to gain light. It is strange indeed that those who had no faith in God always seem to blame God for their troubles. Their refusal to consult God and to hear His word is the cause of their darkness and distress, but yet they curse God for not allowing them to consult their mediums.
Yet in spite of the condition of men’s hearts, the prophet gives a ray of hope for the future, based on God’s New Covenant vow to make us His people and to be our God (Deut. 29:12, 13). He continues in Isaiah 9:1-3,
1 But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish; in earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles [goyim, “Nations”]. 2 The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them. 3 You shall multiply the nation, you shall increase their gladness; they will be glad in Your presence, as with the gladness of harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.
We know from Matt. 4:14-16 that this was a messianic prophecy. Though Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, He came out of “Galilee of the Nations,” and set up His headquarters in Capernaum along the Sea of Galilee. He ministered in the ancient territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, which was in northern Israel. Those tribes were long gone, of course, for they had been carried into Assyria 700 years earlier, but the people living in Galilee did indeed see “a great light.” It was the dawn that they had been seeking.
Hence, we find that Isaiah did not leave Israel in a state of hopelessness. If the people had sought the knowledge of God, they might have known more about the coming of the Messiah and that He would not merely be a king in Jerusalem. The dawn was to be seen in Galilee first, the dawn of a new era and a greater understanding of the law and the testimony.