With their face toward the earth "With their faces to the earth" - It is well known that expressions of submission, homage, and reverence always have been and are still carried to a great degree of extravagance in the eastern countries. When Joseph's brethren were introduced to him, "they bowed down themselves before him with their faces to the earth," Genesis 42:6. The kings of Persia never admitted any one to their presence without exacting this act of adoration; for that was the proper term for it. Necesse est, says the Persian courtier to Conon, si in conspectum veneris, venerari te regem; quodπροσκυνειν π illi vocant. "It is necessary, if thou shouldest come in sight, to venerate thee as king; which they call worshipping." - Nepos in Conone. Alexander, intoxicated with success, affected this piece of oriental pride: Itaque more Persarum Macedonas venerabundos ipsum salutare, prosternentes humi corpora. "The Macedonians after the manner of the Persians, saluted their monarch with the ceremony of prostration." - Curtius, lib. 8. The insolence of eastern monarchs to conquered princes, and the submission of the latter, is astonishing. Mr. Warmer, Observ. 2:43, gives the following instance of it from D'Herbelot: "This prince threw himself one day on the ground, and kissed the prints that his victorious enemy's horse had made there; reciting some verses in Persian, which he had composed, to this effect: -
"The mark that the foot of your horse has left upon the dust, serves me now for a crown."
"The ring which I wear as the badge of my slavery, is become my richest ornament."
"While I shall have the happiness to kiss the dust of your feet, I shall think that fortune favors me with its tenderest caresses, and its sweetest kisses."
These expressions therefore of the prophet are only general poetical images, taken from the manners of the country, to denote great respect and reverence: and such splendid poetical images, which frequently occur in the prophetical writings, were intended only as general amplifications of the subject, not as predictions to be understood and fulfilled precisely according to the letter. For the different kinds of adoration in the east, see the note on Isaiah 44:17.
And kings shall be thy nursing fathers - Margin, ‹Nourishers.‘ That is, they would patronize the church of God; they would protect it by their laws, and foster it by their influence and become the personal advocates of the cause of Zion. The idea is properly that of guarding, educating, and proriding for children; and the sense is that kings and princes would evince the same tender care for the interests of the people of God which a parent or a nurse does for a child. It is needless to say that this has been already to a considerable extent fulfilled, and that many princes and monarchs have been the patrons of the church, though doubtless it is destined to a more ample fulfillment still in the brighter days of this world‘s history, when the gospel shall spread everywhere. It is remarkable that, in the Sandwich and South Sea Islands, the Christian religion has been uniformly, almost, taken under the protection of the kings and chiefs since its first introduction there, and has been carried forward and extended under their direct authority.
They shall bow down to thee with their face toward the earth - A posture indicating the profoundest reverence. This is the common posture of showing great respect in the East.
And lick up the dust of thy feet - An act denoting the utmost possible respect and veneration for the church and people of God.
For they shall not be ashamed that wait for me - They who worship me shall not be ashamed of the act requiring the deepest self-abasement, to show their reverence for me. Even those of most elevated rank shall be willing to humble themselves with the profoundest expressions of adoration.