Bible Verse Explanations and Resources


Isaiah 1:29

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

For they shall be ashamed of the oaks "For ye shall be ashamed of the ilexes" - Sacred groves were a very ancient and favorite appendage of idolatry. They were furnished with the temple of the god to whom they were dedicated, with altars, images, and every thing necessary for performing the various rites of worship offered there; and were the scenes of many impure ceremonies, and of much abominable superstition. They made a principal part of the religion of the old inhabitants of Canaan; and the Israelites were commanded to destroy their groves, among other monuments of their false worship. The Israelites themselves became afterwards very much addicted to this species of idolatry.

"When I had brought them into the land,

Which I swore that I would give unto them;

Then they saw every high hill and every thick tree;

And there they slew their victims;

And there they presented the provocation of their offerings;

And there they placed their sweet savor;

And there they poured out their libations."

Ezekiel 20:28.

"On the tops of the mountains they sacrifice;

And on the hills they burn incense;

Under the oak and the poplar;

And the ilex, because her shade is pleasant."

Hosea 4:13.

Of what particular kinds the trees here mentioned are, cannot be determined with certainty. In regard to אלה ellah, in this place of Isaiah, as well as in Hosea, Celsius (Hierobot.) understands it of the terebinth, because the most ancient interpreters render it so; in the first place the Septuagint. He quotes eight places; but in three of these eight places the copies vary, some having δρυς, the oak, instead of τερεβινθος, the terebinth or turpentine tree. And he should have told us, that these same seventy render it in sixteen other places by δρυς, the oak; so that their authority is really against him; and the Septuagint, "stant pro quercu," contrary to what he says at first setting out. Add to this that Symmachus, Theodotion, and Aquila, generally render it by δρυς, the oak; the latter only once rendering it by τερεβινθος, the terebinth. His other arguments seem to me not very conclusive; he says, that all the qualities of אלה ellah agree to the terebinth, that it grows in mountainous countries, that it is a strong tree, long-lived, large and high, and deciduous. All these qualities agree just as well to the oak, against which he contends; and he actually attributes them to the oak in the very next section. But I think neither the oak nor the terebinth will do in this place of Isaiah, from the last circumstance which he mentions, their being deciduous, where the prophet's design seems to me to require an evergreen, otherwise the casting of its leaves would be nothing out of the common established course of nature, and no proper image of extreme distress and total desolation, parallel to that of a garden without water, that is, wholly burnt up and destroyed. An ancient, who was an inhabitant and a native of this country, understands it in like manner of a tree blasted with uncommon and immoderate heat; velut arbores, cum frondes aestu torrente decusserunt. Ephrem Syr. in loc., edit. Assemani. Compare Psalm 1:4; Jeremiah 17:8. Upon the whole I have chosen to make it the ilex, which word Vossius, Etymolog., derives from the Hebrew אלה ellah, that whether the word itself be rightly rendered or not, I might at least preserve the propriety of the poetic image. - L.

By the ilex the learned prelate means the holly, which, though it generally appears as a sort of shrub, grows, in a good soil, where it is unmolested, to a considerable height. I have one in my own garden, rising three stems from the root, and between twenty and thirty feet in height. It is an evergreen.

For they shall be ashamed "For ye shall be ashamed" - תבושו teboshu, in the second person, Vulgate, Chaldee, three MSS., one of my own, ancient, and one edition; and in agreement with the rest of the sentence.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

For they shall be ashamed - That is, when they see the punishment that their idolatry has brought upon them, they shall be ashamed of the folly and degradation of their worship. Moreover, the gods in which they trusted shall yield them no protection, and shall leave them to the disgrace and confusion of being forsaken and abandoned.

Of the oaks - Groves, in ancient times, were the favorite places of idolatrous worship. In the city of Rome, there were thirty-two groves consecrated to the gods. Those were commonly selected which were on hills, or high places; and they were usually furnished with temples, altars, and all the implements of idolatrous worship. Different kinds of groves were selected for this purpose, by different people. The Druids of the ancient Celtic nations in Gaul, Britain, and Germany, offered their worship in groves of oak - hence the name Druid, derived from δρῦς drus an oak. Frequent mention is made in the Scriptures of groves and high places; and the Jews were forbidden to erect them; Deuteronomy 16:21; 1 Kings 16:23; 2 Kings 16:4; Ezekiel 6:13; Ezekiel 16:16, Ezekiel 16:39; Exodus 34:13; Judges 3:7; 1 Kings 18:19; Isaiah 17:8; Micah 5:14. When, therefore, it is said here, that they should be ashamed of the oaks, it means that they should be ashamed of their idolatrous worship, to which they were much addicted, and into which, under their wicked kings, they easily fell.

Their calamities were coming upon them mainly for this idolatry. It is not certainly known what species of tree is intended by the word translated oaks. The Septuagint has rendered it by the word “idols” - ἀπὸ τῶν εἰδώλων αὐτῶν apo tōn eidōlōn autōn The Chaldee, ‹ye shall be confounded by the groves of idols.‘ The Syriac version also has idols. Most critics concur in supposing that it means, not the oak, but the terebinth or turpentine tree - a species of fir. This tree is the Pistacia Terebinthus of Linnaeus, or the common turpentine tree, whose resin or juice is the China or Cyprus turpentine, used in medicine. The tree grows to a great age, and is common in Palestine. The terebinth - now called in Palestine the but‘m-tree - ‹is not an evergreen, as is often represented; but its small, leathered, lancet-shaped leaves fall in the autumn, and are renewed in the spring.

The flowers are small, and are followed by small oval berries, hanging in clusters from two to five inches long, resembling much the clusters of the vine when the grapes are just set. From incisions in the trunk there is said to flow a sort of transparent balsam, constituting a very pure and fine species of turpentine, with an agreeable odor like citron or jessamine, and a mild taste, and hardening gradually into a transparent gum. The tree is found also in Asia Minor, Greece, Italy, the south of France, and in the north of Africa, and is described as not usually rising to the height of more than twenty feet.‘ Robinson‘s Bib. Researches, iii. 15,16. It produces the nuts called the pistachio nuts. They have a pleasant, unctuous taste, resembling that of almonds, and they yield in abundance a sweet and pleasant oil. The best Venice turpentine, which, when it can be obtained pure, is superior to all the rest of its kind, is the produce of this tree. The picture in the book will give you an idea of the appearance of the terebinth. The Hebrew word אילים 'ēylı̂ym from איל 'eyl or more commonly אלה 'ēlâh seems to be used sometimes as the Greek δρῦς drus is, to denote any large tree, whether evergreen or not; and especially any large tree, or cluster of trees, where the worship of idols was celebrated.

Which ye have desired - The Jews, until the captivity at Babylon, as all their history shows, easily relapsed into idolatry. The meaning of the prophet is, that the punishment at Babylon would be so long and so severe as to make them ashamed of this, and turn them from it.

Shall be confounded - Another word meaning to be ashamed.

For the gardens - The places planted with trees, etc., in which idolatrous worship was practiced. ‹In the language of the Hebrews, every place where plants and trees were cultivated with greater care than in the open field, was called a garden. The idea of such an enclosure was certainly borrowed from the garden of Eden, which the bountiful Creator planted for the reception of his favorite creature. The garden of Hesperides, in Eastern fables, was protected by an enormous serpent; and the gardens of Adonis, among the Greeks, may be traced to the same origin, for the terms horti Adenides, the gardens of Adonis, were used by the ancients to signify gardens of pleasure, which corresponds with the name of Paradise, or the garden of Eden, as horti Adonis answers to the garden of the Lord. Besides, the gardens of primitive nations were commonly, if not in every instance, devoted to religious purposes. In these shady retreats were celebrated, for a long succession of ages, the rites of pagan superstition.‘ - Paxton. These groves or gardens were furnished with the temple of the god that was worshipped, and with altars, and with everything necessary for this species of worship. They were usually, also, made as shady and dark as possible, to inspire the worshippers with religious awe and reverence on their entrance; compare the note at Isaiah 66:17.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
Neither holy cities nor royal ones are faithful to their trust, if religion does not dwell in them. Dross may shine like silver, and the wine that is mixed with water may still have the colour of wine. Those have a great deal to answer for, who do not help the oppressed, but oppress them. Men may do much by outward restraints; but only God works effectually by the influences of his Spirit, as a Spirit of Judgment. Sin is the worst captivity, the worst slavery. The redemption of the spiritual Zion, by the righteousness and death of Christ, and by his powerful grace, most fully accord with what is here meant. Utter ruin is threatened. The Jews should become as a tree when blasted by heat; as a garden without water, which in those hot countries would soon be burned up. Thus shall they be that trust in idols, or in an arm of flesh. Even the strong man shall be as tow; not only soon broken, and pulled to pieces, but easily catching fire. When the sinner has made himself as tow and stubble, and God makes himself as a consuming fire, what can prevent the utter ruin of the sinner?
Ellen G. White
SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 4 (EGW), 1137

1 (Hebrews 11:37). Isaiah Was Sawn Asunder—Isaiah, who was permitted by the Lord to see wonderful things, was sawn asunder, because he faithfully reproved the sins of the Jewish nation. The prophets who came to look after the Lord's vineyard, were indeed beaten and killed. “They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword; they wandered about in sheepskins and goat-skins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented”—men of whom the world was not worthy. They were cruelly treated, and banished from the world (The Signs of the Times, February 17, 1898). 4BC 1137.1

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