To sift the nations with a sieve of vanity "To toss the nations with the van of perdition" - The word lahanaphah is in its form very irregular. Kimchi says it is for lehaniph . Houbigant supposes it to be a mistake, and shows the cause of it; the joining it to the he , which should begin the following word. The true reading is lehaniph haggoyim , "to sift the nations."
The Vulgate seems to be the only one of the ancient interpreters who has explained rightly the sense; but he has dropped the image: AD perdendas gentes in nihilum , "to reduce the nations to nothing. "Kimchi' s explanation is to the following effect:" naphah is a van with which they winnow corn; and its use is to cleanse the corn from the chaff and straw: but the van with which God will winnow the nations will be the van of emptiness or perdition; for nothing useful shall remain behind, but all shall come to nothing, and perish. In like manner, a bridle is designed to guide the horse in the right way; but the bridle which God will put in the jaws of the people shall not direct them aright, but shall make them err, and lead them into destruction." This latter image the prophet has applied to the same subject afterwards, Isaiah 37:29 : -
\ri720 "I will put my bridle in thy jaws, And turn thee back by the way in which thou camest."
And as for the former it is to be observed, that the van of the ancients was a large instrument, somewhat like a shovel, with a long handle, with which they tossed the corn mixed with the chaff and chopped straw into the air, that the wind might separate them. See Hammond on Matthew 3:12.
There shall be a bridle in the jaws - A metaphor taken from a headstrong, unruly horse: the bridle checks, restrains, and directs him.
What the true God does in restraining sinners has been also attributed to the false gods of the heathen. Thus Aeschylus, prom. Vinct. 691: -
\ri720 "But the bridle of Jupiter violently constrained him to do these things."
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