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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
In Isaiah 14:29-32 we are given a short prophecy about Philistia, the land of the Philistines. The KJV calls it Palestina, because the name Palestine is derived from Philistia and was later applied to the land of Israel as well.
If we apply the previous verse (Isaiah 14:28) to this prophecy, then the prophet received this revelation in the year that King Ahaz died. The prophecy, then, would have reference to the events that had occurred during the latter part of Ahaz’ reign. Therefore, to understand what Isaiah was saying depends upon our knowledge of the events that had recently occurred at the time of the prophecy.
But first we must go back two generations to Ahaz’ grandfather, Uzziah, and his conquest of Philistine cities.
In 2 Chron. 26:6 we read of the exploits of King Uzziah of Judah,
6 Now he went out and warred against the Philistines and broke down the wall of Gath and the wall of Jabneh and the wall of Ashdod; and he built cities in the area of Ashdod and among the Philistines.
We see, then, that there were Judahite communities (or colonies) in the area of Ashdod, which was a city near the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Uzziah’s grandson, Ahaz, was an idolatrous king of Judah, and for this reason God caused Israel and Syria to form an alliance and to attack Judah. King Ahaz of Judah then appealed to Assyria for help, and Assyria’s intervention turned aside the attack on Judah.
When 120,000 Judahites were killed in just one battle, fighting Israel and Syria (2 Chron. 28:6), the Edomites and the Philistines each took advantage of the situation. So we read in 2 Chron. 28:16-18,
16 At that time King Ahaz sent to the kings of Assyria for help. 17 For again the Edomites had come and attacked Judah and carried away captives. 18 The Philistines also had invaded the cities of the lowland and of the Negev of Judah and had taken Beth-shemesh, Aijalon, Gederoth, and Soco with its villages, Timnah with its villages, and Gimzo with its villages, and they settled there.
The reason God allowed Judah to be afflicted in this way was because Ahaz had “sacrificed to the gods of Damascus which had defeated him” (2 Chron. 28:23) and “in every city of Judah he made high places to burn incense to other gods” (2 Chron. 28:25). In other words, divine judgment came upon Judah, and for this reason, many men were killed or taken captive, and a number of cities were taken by the Philistines.
These events took place in the final years of the reign of King Ahaz, who died in 727 B.C. Isaiah then received his prophecy about Philistia (Isaiah 14:28). The prophecy was fulfilled about 15 years later. During the interim, the Assyrians took the Philistine cities and installed a puppet king in Ashdod named Ahimiti. Assyria remained allied with Judah during that time, and for this reason, Judah was not attacked until 713, or eight years after the fall of Samaria.
But the Philistines soon revolted against their puppet king and set up their own king named Yamani. The Assyrians then returned and invaded Philistia, forcing Yamani to flee. We read in Isaiah 20:1,
1 In the year that the commander [“Tartan”] came to Ashdod, when Sargon the king of Assyria sent him and he fought against Ashdod and captured it…
At that time the Assyrians decided to void their alliance with Judah and began capturing the cities of Judah as well. Isaiah attributes the Ashdod war to Sargon, who was the king of Assyria from 721-705 B.C. His predecessor, Shalmanezer V, had invaded Israel and had captured Samaria. Not much is known about him, but it appears that he was killed and Sargon took the throne.
Eight years later, Sargon sent his commander (“Tartan”) to retake Ashdod, while his son Sennacherib invaded Judah. 2 Kings 18:13 calls Sennacherib the “king of Assyria,” so he was probably the co-regent with his father, as was the common practice in those days.
The invasion of Philistia was part of the campaign against Judah, where 46 walled cities of Judah were captured and its citizens deported to Assyria. Finally, they surrounded Jerusalem. Recall that God then destroyed 185,000 Assyrian troops, which ended the war.
With this background, let us look at Isaiah’s prophecy to Philistia.
Assuming that this prophecy came in the year that Ahaz died (Isaiah 14:28), we note that it came to pass 15 years later. Isaiah 14:29 begins,
29 Do not rejoice, O Philistia, all of you, because the rod that struck you is broken; for from the serpent’s [nachash] root a viper [tsephah] will come out, and its fruit will be a flying serpent [seraph].
It tells the Philistines not to rejoice that “the rod that struck you is broken.” There is some question as to who was “the rod.” Obviously, it was the rod of God, because God always took credit for what His agents did. The rod may have been Judah, which had occupied Ashdod in the days of Uzziah, or it may have been the later “rod” of Assyria.
Either way, the Philistines were not to rejoice when they saw the Assyrian army destroying Judah, because the Philistines were not going to be set free of occupation. They were only to change masters. If “the rod” was a reference to Assyria, then Isaiah 14:29 prophesies the destruction of the Assyrian army, which ended its occupation in the entire region.
In other words, the prophecy instructs the Philistines not to “rejoice” over its escape from conquest and occupation.
Isaiah tells Philistia that “from the serpent’s root a viper will come out, and its fruit will be a flying serpent.” The first “serpent” (with the “root”) is the Hebrew word nachash, the same word used of the original tempter in the Garden (Gen. 3:1). The “flying serpent” is the same as “the fleeing serpent” in Isaiah 27:1, also known as “Leviathan.”
The “root” of the serpent, in this case, is the underlying cause, or the “father,” even as Jesse was the “root” of David in Isaiah 11:1. This root produces offspring, “and its fruit will be a flying serpent,” that is, a serpent that is fleeing or trying to flee.
In the prophecies of the constellations, the fleeing serpent (Serpens) is pictured as a serpent trying to escape from Ophiuchus, the “Serpent-Holder.” Ophiuchus is an early picture of Christ in His role as the great Healer. Greek mythology called him Aesculapius, who was the god of healing. Unfortunately, they perverted the truth and thus introduced the worship of false gods, including the false god of healing.
Serpens is pictured attempting to seize the crown (“Corona”), but Ophiuchus prevents him from achieving his goal. So also the serpent (the devil) attempts unsuccessfully to usurp the crown that belongs to Christ.
Isaiah’s prophetic metaphor tells Philistia that it can neither take the crown (as a free country) nor can it escape the dominion of Christ. For this reason, Philistia should not rejoice when it appears that they might be able to regain their freedom from either Judah or Assyria.
Isaiah 14:30 prophesies to Philistia,
30 Those [bekore, “firstborn”] who are most helpless [dal, “poor, weak, needy”] will eat, and the needy [ebyown, “destitute, poor, lowest class”] will lie down in security; I will destroy your root with famine, and it will kill off your survivors.
Most commentators have little or nothing to say about this verse. Who are these “who are most helpless?” Are they the poorest of the Philistines? If so, the prophet offers no explanation before telling us that the “root” of Philistia was to be destroyed with famine.
The KJV reads, “the firstborn of the poor,” which is accurate, but this is a Hebrew idiom that means “the poorest of the poor” (Bullinger). These, the prophet says, will eat in the midst of famine. The parallel explanatory statement is that “the needy will lie down in security.” The most natural way to read this is to say that God will assist and save those poor Philistines who are of the lower class. It implies that their rich upper class will suffer loss.
It was common practice, after conquering cities or nations, to take the skilled workmen away and make them citizens of the conquering nation. This was done largely for economic reasons, because this would increase commerce, build the nation’s power, and increase the size of its population. The Philistines were skilled at working iron, and for this reason they had chariots to protect their country (1 Samuel 13:5). Hence, the Assyrians would benefit militarily from their skilled labor.
A century later, we see Babylon doing the same with Judah. At first they took the skilled help only, but at last they took even some of the unskilled labor. Jer. 52:15, 16 says,
15 Then Nebuzardan, the captain of the guard, carried away into exile some of the poorest of the people, the rest of the people who were left in the city, the deserters who had deserted to the king of Babylon and the rest of the artisans [amown, “skilled workers”]. 16 But Nebuzardan the captain of the guard left some of the poorest of the land to be vinedressers and plowmen.
Perhaps this was also the Assyrian policy toward the Philistines. The poorest of the poor became virtual slaves working the land that was claimed by the Assyrians. Yet slaves must be fed in order to do the manual labor required to farm the land, and they must also be protected from harm. Hence, they will eat during a time of famine, and they will lie down in security in the midst of armed conflict.
This view remains consistent with the latter half of Isaiah 14:30, for it does not contradict the prophecy that there would be “famine” in Philistia that would “kill off your survivors.” The “root” being destroyed was the root or heart of the Philistines themselves, that is, the upper class that defined the character of the nation itself.
Isaiah 14:31 continues,
31 Wail, O gate; cry, O city; melt away, O Philistia, all of you; for smoke comes from the north, and there is no straggler in his ranks.
The gate of a city was where the judges sat to judge cases. It was where the administration of government took place. So Isaiah was telling the Philistine judges and government officials to “wail” at their loss. To “melt away” was also a Hebrew idiom that usually referred to their loss of courage (Josh. 2:11), resulting in desertions (Josh. 2:24).
The “smoke” coming from the north was the Assyrian army. An approaching army would have stirred up dust. Smoke coming from one’s nostrils was also a Hebrew idiom for (2 Sam. 22:9) anger, or “heat.” Thus, Isaiah uses the “smoke” as a metaphor for the fury of the Assyrian army as it was coming to conquer and destroy the Philistine cities.
The prophet concludes his oracle against Philistia in Isaiah 14:32,
32 How then will one answer the messengers [malak, “deputy, agent, angel”] of the nation? That the Lord has founded Zion, and the afflicted of His people will seek refuge in it.
The “messengers” communicated and negotiated between nations and between armies. The prophet visualizes messengers sent to the Assyrian army commander, seeking to know the demands and purpose for the attack and also wanting to know their terms of peace. But in this case, it is the Assyrian messengers who have come to present their demands. How, then, should one answer their demands? Should a nation or city submit to the invaders or fortify the city to prepare for war?
The answer is “that the Lord has founded Zion, and the afflicted of His people will seek refuge in it.” In other words, “Zion” is the place of refuge, where God protects those who believe. One would hardly expect the Philistines to find refuge in Zion in Jerusalem, but the prophet gave them the answer, nonetheless. It was the answer to Judah as well, not merely that they should fight the Assyrian army but that they should trust in the God who had “founded Zion.”
Isaiah’s later prophecies (especially Isaiah 56:6-8) show the prophet’s universal view, inviting foreigners to worship at the temple in Jerusalem. So when the prophet gives Philistia the true solution to their troubles, it is not out of place, even though it is unlikely that any of the Philistines at that time believed his words.