Here the prophet returns to foretel the woeful desolations that should be made in the land of Israel by the army of the Assyrians. 1. That the cities should be deserted. Even the strong cities, which should have protected the country, shall not be able to protect themselves: They shall be as a forsaken bough and an uppermost branch of an old tree, which has gone to decay, is forsaken of its leaves, and appears on the top of the tree, bare, and dry, and dead; so shall their strong cities look when the inhabitants have deserted them and the victorious army of the enemy pillaged and defaced them, Isa. 17:9. They shall be as the cities (so it may be supplied) which the Canaanites left, the old inhabitants of the land, because of the children of Israel, when God brought them in with a high hand, to take possession of that good land, cities which they built not. As the Canaanites then fled before Israel, so Israel should now flee before the Assyrians. And herein the word of God was fulfilled, that, if they committed the same abominations, the land should spue them out, as it spued out the nations that were before them (Lev. 18:28), and that as, while they had God on their side, one of them chased a thousand, so, when they had made him their enemy, a thousand of them should flee at the rebuke of one; so that in the cities should be desolation, according to the threatenings in the law, Lev. 26:31; Deut. 28:51. 2. That the country should be laid waste, Isa. 17:10, 11. Observe here, (1.) The sin that had provoked God to bring so great a destruction upon that pleasant land. It was for the iniquity of those that dwelt therein. “It is because thou hast forgotten the God of thy salvation and all the great salvations he has wrought for thee, hast forgotten thy dependence upon him and obligations to him, and hast not been mindful of the rock of thy strength, not only who is himself a strong rock, but who has been thy strength many a time, or thou wouldst have been sunk and broken long since.” Note, The God of our salvation is the rock of our strength; and our forgetfulness and unmindfulness of him are at the bottom of all sin. Therefore have we perverted our way, because we have forgotten the Lord our God, and so we undo ourselves. (2.) The destruction itself, aggravated by the great care they took to improve their land and to make it yet more pleasant. [1.] Look upon it at the time of the seedness, and it was all like a garden and a vineyard; that pleasant land was replenished with pleasant plants, the choicest of its own growth; nay, so nice and curious were the inhabitants that, not content with them, they sent to all the neighbouring countries for strange slips, the more valuable for being strange, uncommon, far-fetched, and dear-bought, though perhaps they had of their own not inferior to them. This was an instance of their pride and vanity, and (that ruining error) their affection to be like the nations. Wheat, and honey, and oil were their staple commodities (Ezek. 27:17); but, not content with these, they must have flowers and greens with strange names imported from other nations, and a great deal of care and pains must be taken by hot-beds to make these plants to grow; the soil must be forced, and they must be covered with glasses to shelter them, and early in the morning the gardeners must be up to make the seed to flourish, that it may excel those of their neighbours. The ornaments of nature are not to be altogether slighted, but it is a folly to be over-fond of them, and to bestow more time, and cost, and pains about them than they deserve, as many do. But here this instance seems to be put in general for their great industry in cultivating their ground, and their expectations from it accordingly; they doubt not but their plants will grow and flourish. But, [2.] Look upon the same ground at the time of harvest, and it is all like a wilderness, a dismal melancholy place, even to the spectators, much more to the owners; for the harvest shall be a heap, all in confusion, in the day of grief and of desperate sorrow. The harvest used to be a time of joy, of singing and shouting (Isa. 16:10); but this harvest the hungry eat up (Job 5:5), which makes it a day of grief, and the more because the plants were pleasant and costly (Isa. 17:10) and their expectations proportionably raised. The harvest had sometimes been a day of grief, if the crop was thin and the weather unseasonable; and yet in that case there was hope that the next would be better. But this shall be desperate sorrow, for they shall see not only this year’s products carried off, but the property of the ground altered and their conquerors lords of it. The margin reads it, The harvest shall be removed (into the enemy’s country or camp, Deut. 28:33) in the day of inheritance (when thou thoughtest to inherit it), and there shall be deadly sorrow. This is a good reason why we should not lay up our treasure in those things which we may so quickly be despoiled of, but in that good part which shall never be taken away from us.
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