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Isaiah 5:14-17


5:14 So Death 1  will open up its throat,

and open wide its mouth; 2 

Zion’s dignitaries and masses will descend into it,

including those who revel and celebrate within her. 3 

5:15 Men will be humiliated,

they will be brought low;

the proud will be brought low. 4 

5:16 The Lord who commands armies will be exalted 5  when he punishes, 6 

the sovereign God’s authority will be recognized when he judges. 7 

5:17 Lambs 8  will graze as if in their pastures,

amid the ruins the rich sojourners will graze. 9 

1 tn Heb “Sheol” (so ASV, NASB, NRSV); the underworld, the land of the dead, according to the OT world view. Cf. NAB “the nether world”; TEV, CEV “the world of the dead”; NLT “the grave.”

2 tn Heb “so Sheol will make wide its throat, and open its mouth without limit.”

sn Death is portrayed in both the OT (Prov 1:12; Hab 2:5) and Canaanite myth as voraciously swallowing up its prey. In the myths Death is portrayed as having “a lip to the earth, a lip to the heavens … and a tongue to the stars.” (G. R. Driver, Canaanite Myths and Legends, 69, text 5 ii 2-3.) Death describes his own appetite as follows: “But my appetite is the appetite of lions in the waste…If it is in very truth my desire to consume ‘clay’ [a reference to his human victims], then in truth by the handfuls I must eat it, whether my seven portions [indicating fullness and completeness] are already in the bowl or whether Nahar [the god of the river responsible for ferrying victims from the land of the living to the land of the dead] has to mix the cup.” (Driver, 68-69, text 5 i 14-22).

3 tn Heb “and her splendor and her masses will go down, and her tumult and the one who exults in her.” The antecedent of the four feminine singular pronominal suffixes used in v. 14b is unclear. The likely referent is personified Zion/Jerusalem (see 3:25-26; 4:4-5).

4 tn Heb “men are brought down, men are brought low, the eyes of pride are brought low.”

5 tn Or “elevated”; TEV “the Lord Almighty shows his greatness.”

6 tn Heb “by judgment/justice.” When God justly punishes the evildoers denounced in the preceding verses, he will be recognized as a mighty warrior.

7 tn Heb “The holy God will be set apart by fairness.” In this context God’s holiness is his sovereign royal authority, which implies a commitment to justice (see the note on the phrase “the sovereign king of Israel” in 1:4). When God judges evildoers as they deserve, his sovereignty will be acknowledged.

sn The appearance of מִשְׁפָט (mishpat, “justice”) and צְדָקָה (tsÿdaqah, “fairness”) here is rhetorically significant, when one recalls v. 7. There God denounces his people for failing to produce a society where “justice” and “fairness” are valued and maintained. God will judge his people for their failure, taking “justice” and “fairness” into his own hands.

8 tn Or “young rams”; NIV, NCV “sheep”; NLT “flocks.”

9 tc The Hebrew text reads literally, “and ruins, fatlings, resident aliens, will eat.” This part of the verse has occasioned various suggestions of emendation. The parallelism is tighter if the second line refers to animals grazing. The translation, “amid the ruins the fatlings and young sheep graze,” assumes an emendation of “resident aliens” (גָּרִים, garim) to “young goats/sheep” (גְּדַיִם, gÿdayim) – confusion of dalet and resh is quite common – and understands “fatlings” and “young sheep” taken as a compound subject or as in apposition as the subject of the verb. However, no emendations are necessary if the above translation is correct. The meaning of מֵחִים (mekhim) has a significant impact on one’s textual decision and translation. The noun can refer to a sacrificial (“fat”) animal as it does in its only other occurrence (Ps 66:15). However, it could signify the rich of the earth (“the fat ones of the earth”; Ps 22:29 [MT 30]) using a different word for “fatness” (דָּשֶׁן, dashen). If so, it serves a figurative reference to the rich. Consequently, the above translation coheres with the first half of the verse. Just as the sheep are out of place grazing in these places (“as in their pasture”), the sojourners would not have expected to have the chance to eat in these locations. Both animals and itinerant foreigners would eat in places not normal for them.

sn The image completes the picture begun in v. 14 and adds to the irony. When judgment comes, Sheol will eat up the sinners who frequent the feasts; then the banqueting halls will lie in ruins and only sheep will eat there.

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