Isaiah 18:4 - clear heat upon herbs

Discussion in 'OT Prophets' started by Fool for Christ, Jun 24, 2017.

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  1. Fool for Christ

    Fool for Christ Puritan Board Freshman

    Can anyone explain "like a clear heat upon herbs" in the KJV? Nothing in my commentaries sheds any light and a sampling of modern versions has not helped me come any closer to a sensible meaning. What do you think?
  2. KeithW

    KeithW Puritan Board Freshman

  3. KMK

    KMK Administrator Staff Member


    He therefore declares that he will be like a clear and calm sky, and like the heat that drieth up the rain.

    J. A. Alexander:

    The obvious meaning of the figures is, that God would let the enemy proceed in the execution of his purposes until they were nearly accomplished.
  4. Fool for Christ

    Fool for Christ Puritan Board Freshman

    Thank you, Keith. This is how the Sept. translates: "For thus said the Lord to me, There shall be security in my city, as the light of noonday heat, and it shall be as a cloud of dew in the day of harvest."

    Compared to KJV: Isa 18:4 For so the LORD said unto me, I will take my rest, and I will consider in my dwelling place like a clear heat upon herbs, and like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest.

    I have looked at many other translations and none of them shed any more light on the puzzle.

    Every reference to "herbs" does not help because H215, the Strongs number corresponding to this word is, in every other case, translated as "day, light, morning, bright," etc. Here in Isaiah is the only place in the Old Testament that the word is translated as "herbs". How did they get the meaning of "herbs" out of a word that is always elsewhere translated as "light"? Why did they translate using the word "herbs"? And what is a "clear heat"?

    I sometimes like to paraphrase for my dull understanding when I find a difficult verse, but this one has, for years, had me baffled. In my own wisdom, I cannot paraphrase it and make it make sense. But without a doubt, there is profound meaning and wisdom here, if the spirit of God will reveal it! I believe those old translators knew something we do not. Did they have a text we no longer possess that made the translation of this word practical?

    Thank you for your input.
  5. Fool for Christ

    Fool for Christ Puritan Board Freshman

    Thank you Ken, I had not seen Calvin's translation/paraphrase before. "A clear and calm sky" sounds like a bright sunshiny day. But still no clue as to where the herbs come from or how they compare to a refreshing "cloud of dew in the heat of harvest" which is found at the end of verse 4 in the KJV.

    J.A. Alexander's quote is very interesting indeed and I believe he may be right in the context of the chapter; I'll have to think on this interpretation some more, but my understanding is still cloudy concerning the "herbs". It is rare that a passage of God's word does not make sense to me. But His understanding is infinitely higher than mine.

    Thank you very much for your help.
  6. iainduguid

    iainduguid Puritan Board Sophomore

    The common Hebrew word 'or means "light"; the unusual word 'orah means "herb"; it doesn't occur in the singular, while the plural 'orot only occurs twice in the OT: in 2 Kings 4:39 and in Isaiah 26:19. The former clearly refers to wild plants used to season cooking, while the latter might mean plants or could be an abstract plural of "light", which is how some modern translations take it.

    Returning to Isaiah 18:4, it is hard to justify the KJV translation of 'or as "herb". I can only speculate that the similarity to Isaiah 26:19, which speaks of "Dew" and "Herb(s)" slanted their translation, and perhaps made them assume that a he had somehow dropped off. But they weren't translating the traditionally accepted Masoretic text, nor were they following the Septuagint or the Latin Vulgate. It's unlikely they had some other manuscript; most likely they were using an edition of Bomberg's Rabbinic Bible that would have been similar to that used by Luther and Calvin, who both clearly take the Hebrew word as "light" here. So most likely it is a simple mistake on the part of the translators of the KJV.
  7. iainduguid

    iainduguid Puritan Board Sophomore

    One more footnote to what I said above. The KJV is in large measure a revised version of the Geneva Bible (much like modern versions are updated versions of earlier translations); in Isaiah it is often almost word for word, except for clarifying and updating adjustments. If we set the two side by side, though, we can see that this is one of the places the KJV differed from the Geneva:

    4 For so the Lord said unto me, I will rest and behold in my tabernacle, as the heat drying up the rain, and as a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest.

    For so the LORD said unto me, I will take my rest, and I will consider in my dwelling place like a clear heat upon herbs, and like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest.

    Which makes it all the more puzzling that they would introduce herbs here.
  8. KMK

    KMK Administrator Staff Member

    The 1611 marginal note says, "Isaiah 18:4 upon herbs: Or, after rain", so they did admit some difficulty.
  9. KeithW

    KeithW Puritan Board Freshman

    Ian, this is good information. Here are some additional details about those 2 words for the rest of us.

    'or - אוֹר - (Strong's H216)
    Authorized Version (KJV) Translation Count — Total: 123
    AV — light(s) 114, day 2, bright 1, clear 1, flood 1, herbs 1, lightning 1, morning 1, sun 1

    'orah - אוֹרָה - (Strong's H219)
    Authorized Version (KJV) Translation Count — Total: 4
    AV — herbs 2, light 2

    In the case of 'orah the context clearly shows when to use "herbs" and when to use "light".
  10. KeithW

    KeithW Puritan Board Freshman

    Is it a possibility that an English translator of the KJV made a mistake with this one word? Is that something the Spirit of God might reveal to you, or to any of us?

    I'm not trying to put you on the spot. For example, last year I found a place in the New Testament where Jesus quotes the Old Testament. The KJV is the only English translation which got it right and used a more awkward word, because of the lexicon definition and based on an exact quotation of the Septuagint. And it is easy to understand in that particular case why translators would not go with the awkward translation but one which makes more sense.

    In the case of Isa. 18:4 "herbs", is it a possibility that a translator got 'or and 'orah mixed up?
  11. KMK

    KMK Administrator Staff Member

    Theoretically speaking, if there is a 'mix up' on Isaiah 18:4, it was not done by 'a translator'. Isaiah was translated by a committee of eight and subjected to a rigorous review process.
  12. Beezer

    Beezer Puritan Board Freshman

    Here's what the NLT has for that verse:

    4 For the Lord has told me this:
    “I will watch quietly from my dwelling place—
    as quietly as the heat rises on a summer day,
    or as the morning dew forms during the harvest.”
  13. tdh86

    tdh86 Puritan Board Freshman

    Barnes is quite helpful here I think...
    'Like a clear heat - A serene, calm, and steady sunshine, by which plants and herbs are made to grow. There seem to be two ideas blended here: the first, that of the "stillness" with which the sun shines upon the herbs; and the other, that of the fact that the sun shines that the herbs "may grow."

    Upon herbs - Margin, 'After rain' (עלי־אוי ‛ălēy 'ôry). The word אוי 'ôr usually signifies "light," or "fire." The plural form (ואורות ô'ôrôth) is used to denote herbs or vegetables in two places, in 2 Kings 4:39, and Isaiah 26:19. For in the Shemitic languages the ideas of "sprouting, being grown, growing" etc., are connected with that of the shining of the sun, or of light; that which grows in the light; that is, vegetables. But in the singular phorm the word is not thus used, unless it be in this place. That it may have this signiphication cannot be doubted; and this interpretation makes good sense, and suits the connection. The rabbis generally interpret it as it is in the margin - 'rain.' In proof of this they appeal to Job 36:30; Job 37:11; but the word in these passages more properly denotes a cloud of light or of lightning, than rain. The common interpretation is probably correct, which regards the word אור 'ôr here as the same as אורה 'ôrâh - 'herbs' (see Vitringa). The Syriac reads it על־יאר ‛al-yeor - 'upon the river.' The parallelism seems to require the sense of "herb," or something that shall answer to 'harvest' in the corresponding member.'
  14. iainduguid

    iainduguid Puritan Board Sophomore

    Yes, I don't think the language of "mix up" is helpful for several reasons. First, given the general close dependence of the KJV upon the Geneva Bible, which is very marked in Isaiah, this is unlikely to be a casual slip. It is more likely a deliberate thought-through change. In addition, if you mix words up in translation you are more likely to substitute a common word for a rare one than to create a new meaning for a common word. I think the explanation given in Barnes is plausibly their rationale. However it does require conjecturing a word that isn't attested in Biblical Hebrew ('or meaning herb) arguing backwards from an anomalous feminine plural form (we would expect the plural of 'or to be 'orim; the singular of 'orot ought to be 'orah), without any support from the ancient versions (Septuagint or Syriac). That's a pretty bold exegetical move, and not one I would be comfortable with. Does the parallelism with "harvest" really require something like "herb" here, especially since "the heat of harvest" seems to match the "clear heat" in the first part? Are we really required to affirm that the KJV translators got everything exactly right?
  15. KMK

    KMK Administrator Staff Member

    I was not arguing for this one way or the other. I was just pointing out that if there are errors in Isa 18:4, it wasn't because of a 'mix up'.
  16. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    The simile includes something tacit which must be supplied by a broader understanding of the world in which the text was written. It appears the Old Testament company of translators for King James have seen the tacit reference in connection with the effects of heat on vegetation, as in 2 Sam. 23:4; Ps. 72:6; and Hos. 14:5.
  17. Fool for Christ

    Fool for Christ Puritan Board Freshman

  18. Fool for Christ

    Fool for Christ Puritan Board Freshman

    My dear fellow believers,

    Thank you all for sharing with me your thoughts and words. What a blessing to have brothers in Christ. I agree with some of you wholeheartedly and with some of you I vehemantly disagree. I am a busy old man: a carpenter and crew leader in Alaska and summer time here is when most of our work gets done. I am a city councilman and church elder as well as owning my own business, so right now I am very stretched for time. I wish I had time to answer all of you individually, but I do not. I am so thankful for all of your responses, however. In my remote home it is wonderful to hear from men of God all over the world.

    This is what I believe:

    1) The translation of Isaiah 18:4 could not possibly be an error. Why? Because only a few years before (the 1611 KJB was published), the Douay Version was published by the Catholic church. The Catholics knew that the protestants were working on a new translation, which, if I remember right, took the greater part of seven years. Therefore they rushed to print their own bible because they were being criticised for not allowing their people a bible in English, which the Church of England had done for years. This Catholic translation was scrutinized by the Church of England as well as the Puritans and every difference was made note of. The translators also scrutinized the Geneva Bible because the Puritans placed great stock in that translation. How do I know this? Because this is found in “The Translators to the Reader” in the preface to the 1611 bible:

    “...God himself...(uses) divers words in his holy writ...we, if we will not be superstitious, may use the same liberty in our English versions out of Hebrew and Greek, for that copy or store that he hath given us. Lastly we have on the one side avoided the scrupulosity of the Puritans, (Geneva Bible) who leave the old ecclesiastical words, and betake them to other, as when they put washing for baptsim, and congregation instead of church; as on the other side we have shunned the obscurity of the Papists, (Douay Version) in their Azimes, Tunike, Rational, Holocaust, Praepuce, Pashce*, and a number of such like, whereof their late translation is full, and that of purpose to darken the sense, that since they must needs translate the Bible, yet by the language thereof it may be kept from being understood.”

    Thus, I know that when the Douay Version translated the Hebrew in Is 18:4 as “...I will take my rest, and consider in my place, as the noon light is clear, and as a cloud of dew in the day of harvest.” that they examined this thoroughly, and with much discussion among the three groups of the King's translators, they chose the wording as they did. But the point was made that there is a footnote of an alternate translation in the margin of the 1611 version which would read thus: “ a clear heat after rain...” I take this to mean that most of the translators agreed that the passage should read, “...clear heat upon herbs...” but they refused to be dogmatic on that, so they inserted the footnote. They refer to these alternate translations also in the Translators to the Reader:

    “Some peradventure would have no variety of senses to be set in the margin, lest the authority of the scriptures for deciding of controversies by that show of uncertainty should somewhat be shaken. But we hold their judgment not to be so sound on this point...St Augustine (hath said) is better to make doubt of things which are secret, that to than to strive about those things that are uncertain. There be many words in the scriptures which be never found there but once, (having neither brother nor neighbor, as the Hebrews speak) so that we cannot be holpen by conference of places. (Some translators)...seem to have defined this or that, rather because they would say something, than because they were sure of that which they said, as St Jerome somewhere says of the Septuagint....For as it is a fault of incredulity, to doubt of those things that are evident; so to determine of such things as the spirit of God hath left questionable, can be no less than presumption.”

    Therefore they admitted they were not positive about the translation in Is 18:4. They suggest that if one is in doubt about a translation to ask the assitance of God, and other brothers of their opinion, which is what I have done to you. In my prayer of many years ago, I asked God, by his providence to show me the meaning of the verse. I wanted to know if God had shown any of you the same thing as I received. I believe he answed that prayer in an unusual way for me, which I will share with you.

    I had several times stumbled upon the verse in my reading and studies and it troubled me. As with some of you, I asked if it could be a mistake as it sounded so odd. But I continued to ask for wisdom. Then one beautiful sunny day I stepped out the back door of our home into the heat of an unusually warm sun and smelled the sweet aroma of several pots of herbs my dear wife had planted there. The sun had warmed the oils in the plants and a slight breeze brought the delightful smell to my senses. Immediately Isaiah 18:4 flashed through my mind and suddenly I knew the meaning: Like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest is so refreshing, so is the sweet smell of a garden of herbs on a clear sunshiny day.

    God is awesome in his ability to make puzzles so that it takes His spirit to guide us in putting it all together. Jesus spoke parables, not so that just anyone would understand, but so that he could explain it to those close to Him. If we seek, we shall find. There are pearls of price hidden in the field. If God is a God who hides Himself, what other things does he hide that are very worthwhile to look for? (Job 23:9) Will we search for them or will we in our own wisdom automatically say, “it's just a mistake.” We must also recognise that God does not mince words and sometimes what he says is brilliantly abbreviated, just like this verse. His thoughts and ways are not ours.

    This is not to say that my interpretation is 100% correct or “thus sayeth the Lord.” I am asking you for your opinion. You are my peers. What do you think? I also recognise that a warm sunshine after rain can also be refreshing, and consider this as a very possible alternative, as the translators put in the margin.

    Thank you for all your replies. I look forward to any more comments you may have although my time is short to answer.

    May Christ guide you all,


    * The Douay bible used the word “pasche” instead of Easter, in Acts 12:4. Of course we have all heard about that terrible mistake by the KJV translators to improperly translate “Passover” as “Easter”. But they were so sure of that translation that there is not even a sidenote in the margin. But there is in the margin of the Douay Version. They said their translation (Pasche) “answers to” the English word “Easter.” Is it possible we are mistaken about that grave “error” in the KJV? Even the Catholics of the time understood it as Easter, not Passover.
  19. bookslover

    bookslover Puritan Board Professor

    The ESV at Isaiah 18.4: "For thus said the Lord to me: 'I will quietly look from my dwelling like clear heat in sunshine, like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest.'"

    The ESV is sort of a KJV-English/English-KJV dictionary. Heh.
  20. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    Herbs - sunshine. Sunshine - herbs. That is an odd sort of dictionary. :)
  21. iainduguid

    iainduguid Puritan Board Sophomore

    Mike, I love your eagerness to study God's Word and seek the truth. Would that all believers had your hunger for the Word!

    Two general points about Bible interpretation to ponder.
    1) Not all Scripture is equally clear, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the doctrines themselves are exceedingly profound. Sometimes, as here, the translation is somewhat uncertain (as the marginal rendering shows). When there is a level of uncertainty in the Bible translation, it is best not to rest the interpretation too strongly on the uncertain word. In other words, in this verse there are two parallel parts, one of which is undisputed ("like a rain cloud in harvest heat") and one of which could possibly be rendered in several different ways; whichever alternative is chosen for the difficult part, the meaning should align with the part that is clear, and not rest too strongly on the disputed word (in this case "herb" vs "rain").

    2) Context is key. Whatever you think "a clear heat upon herbs" means, it needs to make sense in the context of the preceding and following verses. I think Calvin's explanation leads us in the right direction (he obviously isn't reading the KJV, and independently renders the text in line with the KJV marginal note; what is important to notice, however, is that his explanation doesn't really rest on that decision):

    As the heat that drieth up the rain. (20) By this beautiful metaphor the Prophet expresses more fully what he had formerly said. Yet there are two ways in which it may be shewn to agree with the Prophet’s meaning; either that God, aroused, as it were, from his rest, will shew a smiling countenance to gladden believers, or will water them by a refreshing shower; and in this way the Prophet would describe their varied success. Or there is an implied contrast, by which he reminds us that, while God appears to remain unemployed and to look at what is going on, still he can execute his judgments as if it were in sport. And yet, as the two following verses are closely connected with this verse, Isaiah appears to mean, that though God does not act in a bustling manner like men, or proceed with undue eagerness and haste, still he has in his power concealed methods of executing his judgments without moving a finger. Perhaps also he intended to shew, that in destroying this nation, God will act in an extraordinary manner. But we ought to be satisfied with what I lately suggested, that when men carelessly resign themselves to sleep in the midst of prosperity, and, intoxicated by their pleasures, imagine that they have nothing to do with God, “sudden destruction is at hand,” because God, by a look, frustrates all the designs or preparations of the world. (1 Thessalonians 5:3.) He therefore declares that he will be like a clear and calm sky, (21) and like the heat that drieth up the rain.

    And as a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest. (22) Now we know that this rain is exceedingly adapted to ripen the fruits, and likewise that the heat which follows the rain penetrates the fruits with its force, and drives the moisture more inward, by which it hastens their maturity and renders them more productive. Now the Prophet meant, that though calamities and distresses await the reprobate, still everything proceeds so much to their wish, that they appear to be supremely happy, as if the Lord intended to load them with every kind of blessings; but that they are fattened like oxen destined for slaughter, for when they appear to have reached the highest happiness, they suddenly perish.

    Hence it follows, that we ought not to form an estimate of the judgments of God according to outward appearances; for when men imagine themselves to be exceedingly safe, they are not far from destruction and from utter ruin. Thus he speedily comforts believers, that they may not suppose that it fares better with the reprobate so long as God forbears to strike; for though he appears to cherish in his bosom those whom he sustains, he will quickly reduce them to nothing. These statements ought to be applied to those wretched and disastrous times when the tyrants who oppress the Church are the only persons that are prosperous, and abound in all kinds of wealth, and contrive in such a manner as if everything were in their power, because they surpass other men in power, and skill, and cunning. But let us know that all these things are done by the appointment of God, who promotes their endeavors and renders them successful, that he may at length slay and destroy them in a moment. I am aware that a widely different meaning is given by some to these words of the Prophet; but any one who takes a judicious view of the whole passage will have little difficulty, I trust, in assenting to my interpretation.
  22. KeithW

    KeithW Puritan Board Freshman

  23. KeithW

    KeithW Puritan Board Freshman

    I wrote,

    Another possibility not yet examined in this thread is, what was the definition for this Hebrew word that was in the lexicon used by the KJV translators? I ask because I currently only know how to consult modern lexicons. These don't support either "herbs" or "rain" used in the KJV. And if their lexicon had a different definition why has that definition changed over time?

    Let's consider this conclusion,

    You set in opposition two ideas -- 1) searching for the meaning of "pearls of price hidden in the field", and 2) "we in our own wisdom automatically say, "it's just a mistake"". That is not what was being demonstrated here. In this thread people provided a lot of information from different resources -- English renderings of this text, foreign language renderings, Hebrew lexicon entries, commentaries, etc. I read and considered all of this, and more that was not mentioned. Is a translation mistake automatically on my list of possibilities? Yes, but only after all other possibilities have been exhausted, and only if a theoretical case could be made like the difference between 'or and 'orah.

    If I may offer a word of advice. If someone brings up a possibility of a translator "mistake", please consider what is meant in the context of where it is said, and that this particular context was a broad process of search for meaning.
  24. Fool for Christ

    Fool for Christ Puritan Board Freshman

    Thank you for these two points, I do agree with you on them. And, yes, I also think Calvin's quote leads us in the right direction. And thank you for your kindness to take time out of your schedule to share your thoughts. I now have a greater understanding of not only the text itself, but the probable meaning behind it.
  25. Fool for Christ

    Fool for Christ Puritan Board Freshman

    Here you make an excellent point: I have noticed that some words have changed in meaning over time and although I cannot read Greek (without a lexicon) and get lost with Hebrew, I often do look up the words in question in my Webster's 1828 English Dictionary. I figure it was written closer to the time of the translation (1611) and would therefore be rendered more accurate to the actual meaning of the day it was written than later definitions, such as Strong's concordance (which was published about 50 years later). I often compare Webster's and Strong's and sometimes find they disagree. Also it is amazing to me the knowledge that Webster had on biblical topics, such as the Nicolaitans (Rev 2:15) which knowledge seems to be very scant today. By 1813 Webster had learned 20 different languages including, Hebrew, Greek and Latin.

    One of the words I have noted that has changed meaning over time is the word, "pale." (Rev 6:8) Modern dictionaries such as Meriram-Webster's 10th edition, define pale as "deficient in color...not bright or brilliant, DIM..." But at the time the KJV translators used the word, it meant a yellowish green, or pale green. This could be significant when considering prophesy. Many environmentalists today refer to themselves as "pale green". But if our understanding of the word is clouded by a time-changed definition, the exact meaning of the text will also be clouded. As you probably already know, the Greek word used in Rev 6:8 for "pale" is the same one used in Rev 8:7 and 9:4, for "green".

    Thank you for your mild rebuke on considering the context of what one has said when considering the possibility of a translator's "mistake". I will consider that next time. I appreciate your input.
  26. KeithW

    KeithW Puritan Board Freshman

    If someone only speaks of translator mistakes definitely challenge them on what research they have done before arriving there.

    To follow your thought on using resources like the Webster's 1828 Dictionary (which I also use), there are many resource tools available to us. The "Westminster Confession of Faith" states,

    All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded [1] and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.​

    1. propounded: proposed; offered for consideration

    And from "Gleanings In The Godhead" by Arthur W. Pink,

    Before we proceed further with this much misunderstood theme, let us define our terms. What is meant by "foreknowledge"? "To know beforehand" is the ready reply of many. But we must not jump to conclusions, nor must we turn to Webster’s dictionary as the final court of appeal, for it is not a matter of the etymology [2] of the term employed. What we need is to find out how the word is used in Scripture. The Holy Spirit’s usage of an expression always defines its meaning and scope. Failure to apply this simple rule is responsible for so much confusion and error. So many people assume they already know the significance of a certain word used in Scripture, then they are too dilatory [3] to test their assumptions with a concordance.​

    2. etymology - That part of philology which explains the origin and derivation of words, with a view to ascertain their radical or primary signification.

    3. dilatory - given to procrastination

    Pardon me for going so far off the original topic, but Pink's statement here is based on an incident he went through. His first edition of that book used the common understanding of foreknowledge. Readers challenged him on this so he went back and studied it, then completely rewrote that section of the book. In a way, in this quotation he is reproving himself for not using one of the study tools which are available to us.

    And still much of the Bible is hard for me to understand.

    (definitions from Webster's 1828 Dictionary)
  27. Fool for Christ

    Fool for Christ Puritan Board Freshman

    Yes, you are correct, of course. God has given us an abundance of tools to use in examining his word. I do not know the Westminster Confession as well as I should. But you (Mr. Pink) is right that comparing scripture with scripture is the primary way we must approach knowledge of things within the word that are not plain. Thank you for sharing Pink's experience, I will remember that. Procrastination is not one of those deficits I want to be accused of.

    I too long to know the scriptures better than I do, for many mysteries would instantly be cleared up by that knowledge.
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