Rain and rivers in Isaiah 30:20-28
In his commentary on Isaiah 30:20, where the English translation reads “yet shall not thy teachers be removed into a corner any more,” John Calvin translated: “Thy rain shall no longer be restrained.” Calvin viewed ‘rain’ as better suited to the immediate context in the verse itself, (‘the water of affliction’) than the word ‘teachers.’
Robert Lowth agreed with Calvin. His translation is:
Isaiah 30:20 [Lowth]
Though Jehovah hath given you bread of distress, and water of affliction;
Yet the timely rain shall no more be restrained;
But thine eyes shall behold the timely rain.
Albert Barnes in Barnes’ Notes on the Bible said Lowth had no manuscript authority for ‘rain’ in place of ‘teachers,’ but John Gill noted, in his comments on Isaiah 30:20, “one and the same word signifies both rain and a teacher,” alluding to Deuteronomy 32:2, “My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass.” Thus, the same word could possibly be translated either ‘rain’ or ‘teachers.’ Gill wrote [Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible]:
… yet shall not thy teachers be removed into a corner any more; or, “thy rain”, as some interpret it; one and the same word signifies both rain and a teacher, because doctrine from the mouth of a teacher drops like rain upon the tender herb, and as showers on the grass; and is to be understood, not merely in a literal sense, of rain, and fruitfulness by it, in opposition to penury and famine for want of it; but of rain of spiritual doctrine; and so the sense is much the same as if it was rendered teachers; that though the people of God should be attended with afflictions, yet they should have spiritual consolation; and though they might have a famine of bread and water, yet not of hearing the word of the Lord; their teachers should not be removed from them, as they had formerly been …
Isaiah 30:23 refers to the rain; “Then shall he give the rain of thy seed, that thou shalt sow the ground withal; and bread of the increase of the earth, and it shall be fat and plenteous: in that day shall thy cattle feed in large pastures.”
Here the prophet uses the metaphor of rain to picture the Spirit causing the gospel to bring forth its fruit, as James wrote: “Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.” [James 5:7]
In Isaiah 30:24 the oxen and asses are given clean provender, which of course does not mean literal oxen, as Paul said, “Doth God take care for oxen?” [1 Corinthians 9:9] The prophecy must mean those who labour in the work of God; young asses probably refers to people who lack understanding. [Psalm 32:9] This is supported in verse 28, where the “bridle in the jaws of the people” implies the prophet identifies people who are deceived with horses or asses.
In Isaiah 30:25, the rivers and streams of waters upon every high mountain and hill seem contrary to nature, as rivers and streams belong in valleys rather than mountains and hills. But Isaiah refers to symbolic mountains, that is, the promises of God to his saints, and the gospel, the kingdom of God being the highest mountain of all. It is upon these mountains the spiritual streams and rivers flow.
Isaiah’s prophecy is similar to Joel 3:18, where “the mountains shall drop down new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk.” Clearly this is not meant literally. On this verse, Ellicott’s commentary states:
(18) The mountains shall drop down new wine.–The material prosperity depicted in these verses symbolises the glorious reign of Jehovah when the last enemy has been destroyed, and “God is all in all.”
A fountain shall “come forth.–The spiritual fertilising power of the knowledge of the Lord is compared to the life-giving influence or a stream of water, which causes luxuriance to the trees on its banks. This imagery is exemplified by Ezekiel, who traces the course of the waters issuing from under the threshold of the house of the Lord (Ezek. xlvii.). (Comp. Zech. xiv. 8; Rev. xxii. 1.)
* The valley of Shittim.–Heb., acacias. Shittim, in the land of Moab, is symbolical of the barrenness and sterility of land where there is no water; of the dry places of the world, where there are trees lacking moisture: the heathen, to whom God is not known, shall yet become covered with the knowledge of the Lord.
Isaiah 30:26 describes the light of the moon becoming as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun increasing sevenfold. The sun represents the gospel, as in Revelation 12:1, the woman in heaven, who represents the church, is clothed with the sun. Jesus said, when the tares are removed from among the wheat, “Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.” [Matthew 13:43]
Isaiah 30:27-28 says: “Behold, the name of the LORD cometh from far, burning with his anger, and the burden thereof is heavy: his lips are full of indignation, and his tongue as a devouring fire: And his breath, as an overflowing stream, shall reach to the midst of the neck, to sift the nations with the sieve of vanity: and there shall be a bridle in the jaws of the people, causing them to err.”
In the New Testament Paul says Jesus will be revealed from heaven, “In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ,” unto whom also God has sent a “strong delusion” to deceive those who do not love the truth. [2 Thessalonians 1:7-9; 2:10-12]