Cyprus (23:1) is the third largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Seafarers like the people of Sidon (23:12) would have valued it as both a seaport and a place of refuge.
The key to the house of David was carried by the steward, and it opened every door and gate in the palace. It was probably bronze and was large enough that it had to be worn around the neck (“on his shoulder,” 22:22). For the steward, it was a status symbol.
Competing Pharaohs. Beginning in about 1000 b.c., Egypt fell into a period of decline and royal feuding that lasted nearly 400 years. During Isaiah’s time, there were four rival pharaohs claiming the Egyptian throne.
Olive harvesting was very similar to grain harvesting. The olive harvesters would beat the branches of the tree with long poles, knocking the olives to the ground. The uppermost branches were left untouched so that the poor could gather what remained (17:6).
Payment in lambs. The people of Moab offered to pay the Israelites to protect them from their enemies. Such tribute was often paid in goods rather than with money; since the Moabites had many sheep, that’s how they paid (16:1).
Joyful trees. For many centuries, the “cedars of Lebanon” were hauled away by powerful empires like Assyria and Babylon. When Babylon is defeated, those trees will rejoice that “no woodcutter comes up against us” (14:8).
The idea of tame farm animals living in harmony with wild animals such as lions and bears (11:6–9) would have been a startling thought for the people of Isaiah’s day, for whom such predators were a frequent threat (see also 65:17–25).
Yokes were wooden frames placed on work animals such as oxen to harness their power. When Israelites heard prophets like Isaiah speak of the yokes placed on them by their oppressors (10:27), they would readily understand what he meant.
A sanctuary and a rock? Elsewhere in Scripture, the Lord is described as a “rock” that provides a place of “sanctuary” or “refuge” (see Ps. 61:2–3). Here, however, he is a “sanctuary” for his people but a “rock” over which his enemies will stumble (Isa. 8:14; compare Rom. 9:33).
Shaving. Being forced to shave was a mark of humiliation (7:20). In some nations of that time, the hair of slaves was shaved in a particular way to identify them as their owner’s property.