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Antichrist in Isaiah 59:19?

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Question:  Dear Brother/Sister in Christ, I read somewhere that in the translation of the Bible the comma was placed in the wrong place in the following verse, Isaiah 59:19:

... When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him. (King James version)

... When the enemy shall come in, like a flood the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him.

Which is the correct interpretation? The Holy Spirit and the anointed Word of God is greater than any crisis that the enemy can create - but it will seem like a flood if the believer is walking in defeat. The Lord never gives us more than we can bear and He always trains us first before sending something our way.

Response:  This is an interesting and much disputed verse. Other versions (New American Standard and New International, for example) change the first clause entirely, making God the subject, and read the Hebrew tsar (צר)not as "enemy" but as an adjective meaning "restrained" or "pent up", and modifying the word river. But I would translate this part of verse 19 as follows:

"Although the enemy (i.e., antichrist) will attack like the River (i.e., the great Nile or Euphrates; cf. Dan.11:22; 11:26), the Spirit of the Lord will put him to flight."

Translated in this way, this half verse acts as a summary statement for the picture of the Second Advent painted in the previous verses, and as a transition to the picture of our Lord's arrival to establish His kingdom in verse 20 (followed by the millennial out-pouring of the Spirit in verse 21 [cf. Joel 2:28-29]).

What we have here is a classic use of the "Day of the Lord Paradigm" (see the link: The Coming Tribulation: Part 1; section IV.1.b: The "Day of the Lord" Paradigm). That is, the use by the Old Testament prophet of these future events to draw teaching parallels for his contemporary listeners (i.e., "God will destroy the enemy and restore the people then, and He will also do so now, delivering us from Assyria - if we repent and trust Him.").

As is often the case, the King James is the closest to the mark on this verse of any versions I have checked. The only major thing I would change is their derivation of the Hebrew word nosesah as coming from the root for "standard" rather than the root for "flee". Both roots are identical in Hebrew, but the verbal formation, the more verbal nature of the "flee" root in Hebrew usage, and the context all argue for the translation "put to flight". The only reason I can see for the KJV's mistake is a misunderstanding of the integral connection between this half verse and the verses which immediately proceed and follow. But then, eschatology in general was misunderstood by the reformers and following generations, and the translation of the KJV precedes the revival in interest and acceptance of eschatology in the true Church. That is to say, the KJV translators only thought about this verse in historical terms (Isaiah's day), and never gave much thought to the fact that Isaiah was drawing a comparison based upon what he understood from God's Spirit would happen in the end times.

As to the translation "pent up" referred to above, the reason one finds this erroneous rendering taking out the idea of "enemy" altogether (which would be historically Assyria, eschatologically antichrist and his followers) in such prestigious versions is due to the work of F. Delitzsch. In his highly influential commentary on Isaiah, he discards the possibility that "enemy" could be right - not on linguistic grounds, but purely on a mistaken and unsupported notion of what the context here can bear. His solution requires taking liberties with the text (not only repointing the vowels of several words, but also imposing a dubious meaning upon the word tsar) which are beyond what careful and conservative criticism ought to allow. To be fair, Delitzsch was perhaps the finest critic of the Old Testament text ever (and was a believer, at least during most of his lifetime, as far as I can tell). It is Delitzsch's unparalleled reputation which has come to influence later translators (and other commentators) so heavily. But on this one he was clearly mistaken.

That brings us to your comma! Although the only "punctuation" in the Hebrew Bible is late (far more than a millennium after Isaiah wrote) and, while learned and helpful, is not by any means inspired, here we have word order to make it clear that "like the River" must go with "enemy", and not with "the Spirit of the Lord". Here is a literal rendering which reflects the Hebrew word order:

Although will-attack like-the-River [the]-enemy (subject) - (major break) - the-Spirit-of [the] Lord [will be] putting-to-flight him.

One major purpose of this verse is to reassure listeners of the past viewing the Assyrian attack, listeners after the fact anticipating future events, and listeners of the future, awed by antichrist's actual attack, that no matter how overwhelming the hand of man may seem as it drives against the godly, even though it be like a flood, like Pharaoh's legions pressing down upon the Israelites at the Red Sea, no human power can stand up to the power of God, His Spirit, and the delivering Hand of His Son, our Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.

This passage is treated with many others in the context of the Battle of Armageddon in part 5 of the Coming Tribulation series (Armageddon and the 2nd Advent) at the link:

Armageddon

For more on antichrist, "the beast", please see:

Part 3B:  Antichrist and his Kingdom: The Beast: All about Antichrist

In Him in whom we have the deliverance of salvation, and deliverance upon deliverance, past, present and future, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob Luginbill


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