By Christina M Wilson. Simultaneously published at Septuagint Variation: Isaiah Devotional Journal 72 – justonesmallvoice.com.
Isaiah 32:9-20 Septuagint Modernized NETS
Before leaving Chapter 32, there is one more Septuagint variation that sheds light on the chapter as a whole.
The prior Journal entry, Isaiah Devotional Journal 71, shows how Chapter 32 alternates between desolation for the then-existing nation of Israel and blessing for those in the future kingdom of the righteous King. These sections alternate in large chunks, rather than single verses:
- The blessings of Messiah: verses 1-4
- Contrast between the foolish wicked and the godly wise: verses 5-8
- Warning of the desolation to come: verses 9-14
- Messianic blessings: verses 15-20
Verse 19 in the Masoretic
Verse 19, in the ESV, protrudes like a thorn in the middle of a wedding bed. Then verse 20 returns to blessing.
ESV Isaiah 32:15 until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field, … 16 Then justice … righteousness … fruitful field. 17 … righteousness … peace … righteousness, quietness and trust forever. 18 … peaceful habitation, … secure dwellings, … quiet resting places. 19 And it will hail when the forest falls down, and the city will be utterly laid low. 20 Happy are you who sow beside all waters, who let the feet of the ox and the donkey range free.
A Difficult Text
Deciphering what the biblical text reads for this verse must be difficult, since other translations in the Masoretic tradition vary widely.
- For example, the Bible of the Jewish Publication Society (JPS) reads, “Isaiah 32:19 And it shall hail, in the downfall of the forest; but the city shall descend into the valley.“
- NRS “The forest will disappear completely, and the city will be utterly laid low.“
- KJV “When it shall hail, coming down on the forest; and the city shall be low in a low place.“
- Amplified Bible “But it [the wrath of the Lord] shall hail, coming down overpoweringly on the forest [the army of the Assyrians], and the capital  city shall be utterly humbled and laid prostrate.”
- NASB “And it will hail when the forest comes down, And the city will be utterly laid low.“
NIV and NET
The NIV, NET, and a few other dynamic translations (paraphrased) come closer to the text in the Septuagint. These translations combine verses 19 and 20. The outcome is a combination of blessing and trial.
- NIV “19 Though hail flattens the forest and the city is leveled completely, 20 how blessed you will be, sowing your seed by every stream, and letting your cattle and donkeys range free.“
- NET “19 Even if the forest is destroyed and the city is annihilated, 20 you will be blessed, you who plant seed by all the banks of the streams, you who let your ox and donkey graze.“
The blessing in the texts above is qualified. It appears to be due to a difference in geographic location. The forest and city suffer extreme damage. However, those living by the banks of the streams will be blessed, as they continue to farm and graze their animals.
The Septuagint Text Is Plain and Simple
15 until the Spirit shall come upon you from on high, and Carmel shall be desert, and Carmel shall be counted for a forest. 16 Then judgment shall abide in the wilderness, and righteousness shall dwell in Carmel. 17 And the works of righteousness shall be peace; and righteousness shall ensure rest, and the righteous shall be confident forever. 18 And His people shall inhabit a city of peace, and dwell in it in confidence, and they shall rest with wealth. 19 And if the hail should come down, it shall not come upon you; and they that dwell in the forests shall be in confidence, as those in the plain country. 20 Blessed are they that sow by every water, where the ox and the donkey tread.
Contrasts Between the Septuagint and the Masoretic
1. Verse 19 in the Septuagint brings no contextual contradictions that must be explained. The verse smoothly follows the theme of blessing found throughout the passage.
2. All geographic areas are blessed. There is no distinction among them. The city will be blessed, the forest blessed, the plains blessed, and the waterways blessed.
3. Unlike the Masoretic, verse 18 of the Septuagint specifically states that “His people shall inhabit a city of peace.” Then, verse 19 brings no calamity upon that city. In contrast, verse 18 of the Masoretic makes no mention of a city. However, in verse 19 various calamities fall upon “the city,” depending upon the version.
- JPS: the city shall descend into the valley
- NRS: the city will be utterly laid low.
- KJV: the city shall be low in a low place
- Amplified: the capital  city shall be utterly humbled and laid prostrate.
- NASB: the city will be utterly laid low.
- NET: Even if … the city is annihilated,
- NIV: Though … the city is leveled completely,
4. In both textual traditions, the occurrence of hail appears either certain or likely. But only in the Septuagint does the hail harm no one.
Concrete-Literal or Spiritual-Literal
The Septuagint text of Isaiah 32:19 states, “And if the hail should come down, it shall not come upon you.” When does falling hail not harm objects or people it may hit? The Masoretic translations present a catastrophic hailstorm that flattens forests and cities. But the hail that falls in the Septuagint does not harm the people who inhabit every corner of the righteous King’s kingdom.
In the prior post, Isaiah Devotional Journal 71, I presented the argument that in Chapter 32 Isaiah writes using concrete terms for spiritual realities (1). Verse 19 adds evidence to this hermeneutic. Although it speaks to us by means of concrete (physical) language, the realities this verse describes are spiritual. See, for example, John Calvin’s description of this passage.
While Isaiah thus prophesies concerning the reign of Hezekiah, all this is declared by him to relate to the kingdom of Christ as its end and accomplishment; and therefore, when we come to Christ, we must explain all this spiritually, so as to understand that we are renewed as soon as the Lord has sent down the Spirit from heaven, that we who were “wildernesses” may become cultivated and fertile fields. Ere the Spirit of God has breathed into us, we are justly compared to wildernesses or a dry soil; for we produce nothing but “thorns and briers,” and are by nature unfit for yielding fruits. Accordingly, they who were barren and unfruitful, when they have been renewed by the Spirit of God, begin to yield plentiful fruits; and they whose natural dispositions had some appearance of goodness, being renewed by the same Spirit, will afterwards be so fruitful, that they will appear as if they had formerly been a “wilderness;” for all that men possess is but a wild forest, till they have been renewed by Christ. Whenever, therefore, the Church is afflicted, and when her condition appears to be desperate, let us raise our eyes to heaven, and depend fully on these promises. (2)
In the life of the Spirit in a believer’s heart, the “hail” of real-life difficulties and circumstances shall not harm the believer’s faith or persistent peace, security, and well-being in Christ. Is this Isaiah’s intended meaning? Rather one should ask, Is this God’s intended meaning for this text? Within the context of the Septuagint Gospel of Isaiah, yes, I believe that God intends us to find the Spirit of Christ in this passage.
Right or Wrong?
When trying to answer the question, “Which text is right and which text wrong?” there is no exact answer. The truth is that two completely different textual traditions have been handed down to us. A “textual tradition” encompasses many hundreds, or even thousands, of years. The Septuagint began as a translation of Hebrew approximately three centuries before the birth of Christ. Readers should not hold this fact of birth against it (3). Later scholars and religious persons have edited both the Greek and Hebrew texts within their own tradition. The Masoretic Bible we hold today did not reach its final form until centuries after Christ.
One thing is clear, however. Jesus of Nazareth and his followers accessed the Septuagint. Greek was the “lingua franca” of Christ’s day. And, the New Testament writers often quoted from the Septuagint. I am fully satisfied to use the Septuagint translation as my devotional Bible for the book of Isaiah. I like it because there is so much of Christ in it.
1 “Because the time markers fail to represent accurately the concrete-literal history of Israel, it is good biblical hermeneutics to interpret the language of this chapter spiritually. Using concrete-literal language, Isaiah prophesies the spiritual demise of one kingdom and the arrival of a new King. The new kingdom will be eternal.” Isaiah Devotional Journal 71
2 Calvin, John. “Commentary on Isaiah 32:15”. “Calvin’s Commentary on the Bible”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/isaiah-32.html. 1840-57. These files are public domain.
3 For readers who would like to learn more about the Septuagint translation of the Bible, the following post might be a good place to start: Psalm 28: Why the Septuagint? Part 1-Background – justonesmallvoice.com.