on Isaiah 30 :28
To sift the nations with a sieve of vanity "To toss the nations with the van of perdition" - The word להנפה lahanaphah is in its form very irregular. Kimchi says it is for להניף lehaniph. Houbigant supposes it to be a mistake, and shows the cause of it; the joining it to the ה he, which should begin the following word. The true reading is להניף הגוים lehaniph haggoyim, "to sift the nations."
The Vulgate seems to be the only one of the ancient interpreters who has explained rightly the sense; but he has dropped the image: ad perdendas gentes in nihilum, "to reduce the nations to nothing. "Kimchi's explanation is to the following effect:" נפה naphah is a van with which they winnow corn; and its use is to cleanse the corn from the chaff and straw: but the van with which God will winnow the nations will be the van of emptiness or perdition; for nothing useful shall remain behind, but all shall come to nothing, and perish. In like manner, a bridle is designed to guide the horse in the right way; but the bridle which God will put in the jaws of the people shall not direct them aright, but shall make them err, and lead them into destruction." This latter image the prophet has applied to the same subject afterwards, Isaiah 37:29 : -
"I will put my bridle in thy jaws, And turn thee back by the way in which thou camest."
And as for the former it is to be observed, that the van of the ancients was a large instrument, somewhat like a shovel, with a long handle, with which they tossed the corn mixed with the chaff and chopped straw into the air, that the wind might separate them. See Hammond on Matthew 3:12.
There shall be a bridle in the jaws - A metaphor taken from a headstrong, unruly horse: the bridle checks, restrains, and directs him.
What the true God does in restraining sinners has been also attributed to the false gods of the heathen. Thus Aeschylus, prom. Vinct. 691: -
αλλ' επηναγκαζε νιν
Διος χαλινος προς βιαν πρασσειν ταδε.
"But the bridle of Jupiter violently constrained him to do these things."
on Isaiah 30 :28
And his breath - The word רוח rûach properly means "wind," air in motion; then a breathing, an exhalation, a breath; then the soul, spirit, etc. The idea here seems to be that of excited, and rapid, and agitated breathing, as when one is in anger (compare Judges 8:3; Zechariah 6:8).
As an overflowing stream - This figure is common to express desolating judgments (see the notes at Isaiah 8:8; Isaiah 10:22; Isaiah 28:17; compare Psalm 69:2, Psalm 69:15).
Shall reach to the midst of the neck - Isaiah Isa 8:8, in describing the invasion of Sennacherib, and comparing it to an oveflowing torrent, says it would 'reach even to the neck;' that is, it would overflow the land, and even approach the head, the capital, but that that would be spared. By the use of a similar figure, and perhaps referring to that, he here says, that the judgment of God would overflow the army of the Assyrians, but that it would approach only to the neck, the head would still be spared; the commander and sovereign would not be destroyed. In accordance with this prediction, the angel in one night, as with an overflowing flood, cut off the army, and yet spared the sovereign, Sennacherib, who escaped with his life Isaiah 37:36-37. The word rendered 'shall reach' (רחצה yechĕtseh) properly means "shall divide," or cut into two parts Genesis 33:8; Numbers 31:37, Numbers 31:42; Judges 9:43; and the idea here seems to be that a man who is in the water seems to be "divided" into two parts, one part above, and one in the water.
To sift the nations - Doubtless many nations were laid under requisition to furnish an army so large as that of Sennaherib, as the kingdom of Assyria was made up of a number of tributary people and provinces. The word rendered 'to sift' refers to the act of winnowing or fanning grain, in which the grain is "tossed" or thrown from the shovel into the air. As the chaff is driven away by the wind, so the nations in the army of Sennacherib would be scattered.
With the sieve of vanity - That is, of emptiness or perdition; he would so scatter them that nothing would be left.
A bridle in the jaws of the people - The idea is, that he had all these nations as much under his control as a man has a horse with a bridle in his mouth. The same idea the prophet has used in reference to the same subject in Isaiah 37:29 :
I will put my bridle in thy jaws,
And I will turn thee back by the way by which thou camest.
Causing them to err - That shall cause them to wander; that is, he would turn them from the path in which they had designed to go. They had purposed to go to Jerusalem, but he would lead them back to their own land, discomfited and disheartened (see Isaiah 37:29).
on Isaiah 30 :28