On the housetops
In a prophecy about Jerusalem, Isaiah said: “What aileth thee now, that thou art wholly gone up to the housetops?” [Isaiah 22:1]
Commentators point out that in ancient Palestine the houses were built with flat roofs. Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible says, on Isaiah 22:1,
The houses in the east were in ancient times, as they are still, generally, built in one and the same uniform manner. The roof or top of the house is always flat, covered with broad stones, or a strong plaster of terrace, and guarded on every side with a low parapet wall; see Deuteronomy 22:8. The terrace is frequented as much as any part of the house. On this, as the season favors, they walk, they eat, they sleep, they transact business, (1 Samuel 9:25, see also the Septuagint in that place), they perform their devotions Acts 10:9. The house is built with a court within, into which chiefly the windows open: those that open to the street are so obstructed with lattice-work that no one either without or within can see through them. Whenever, therefore, any thing is to be seen or heard in the streets, any public spectacle, any alarm of a public nature, every one immediately goes up to the house-top to satisfy his curiosity. In the same manner, when any one has occasion to make any thing public, the readiest and most effectual way of doing it is to proclaim it from the house-tops to the people in the streets. “What ye hear in the ear, that publish ye on the house-top,” saith our Savior, Matthew 10:27.
The housetops of Jerusalem in Isaiah’s time were a communication network. They were used as the means of rapid communication of news and information, which is what the Internet has become in modern times.
Commentators in the past had no idea that such a means of communication as we have available today through the Internet would come about. But, perhaps that is precisely what Isaiah’s prophecy refers to. In the present age, Christians are engaged in discussions, posting on blogs, publishing articles on web sites, etc., all of which is the modern equivalent of the ancient housetop.
In Isaiah’s prophecy, Jerusalem is said to be “full of stirs,” and is called “a tumultuous city,” and “a joyous city.” In the NIV this is expressed as “commotion, tumult, and revelry.”
There is a lot of “noise” in the Christian material posted on the Net. However, in Matthew 10:27, Jesus referred to the “housetop” as a means for promoting the gospel. This may well apply to the modern Internet. In the Olivet Discourse Jesus said:
When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:)
Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains:
Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house:
Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes.
And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days!
The abomination that Daniel spoke of was a desolation of the temple, a type of the future desolation of the church. People can recognize the state of desolation, when they come to understand the message of prophecy.
The mountains that the saints need to flee to are the promises of God. Mountains are durable, and long lasting. In Genesis 49:26, Jacob refers to the blessings he had received as extending to “the utmost bound of the everlasting hills.” They were high, and lofty, that is, spiritual in nature, as well as durable, or eternal. Mountains don’t change significantly over time; David said, “Thy righteousness is like the great mountains.” [Psalm 36:6] Thus the mountains resemble the promises of God, which endure forever.
Jesus encouraged people to follow him, rather than resist the truth. Coming down to take anything out of his house, refers to looking for ways to resist and oppose the gospel of Christ’s heavenly kingdom.
Those who are in the field, refers to people involved in sowing the word in the minds of men, that is, spreading the gospel, and growing the church in preparation for the harvest.
Those that are “with child” and those who “give suck” are teachers; the “milk” is spiritual nourishment of believers. Paul compared himself to a mother “travailing in birth,” in his epistle to the Galatians, of whom he said, “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you.” [Galatians 4:19]
Why did Jesus pronounce “woe” on them? Jesus promised that he will seek out his saints, as a shepherd seeks his sheep that are scattered. Ezekiel 34 shows that the shepherds have fed themselves, and the flock of God has become a prey. Ezekiel said that God will guide and lead his sheep and bring them into their own land, and they will feed on the mountains of Israel. These mountains represent the spiritual, eternal things promised to the saints. Ezekiel wrote:
For thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out. As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day. And I will bring them out from the people, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land, and feed them upon the mountains of Israel by the rivers, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them in a good pasture, and upon the high mountains of Israel shall their fold be: there shall they lie in a good fold, and in a fat pasture shall they feed upon the mountains of Israel.