OK, here’s an interesting note from JSB: In 45:1 the text says, “Thus said the Lord to Cyrus, His anointed one…” Here the word translated to His anointed one is the same word translated elsewhere as Messiah. The author notably uses this word in reference to Cyrus, not of a king from the line of David. Two thoughts come to mind: Isaiah son of Amoz had clearly believed that the line of David would not be broken, that no one else would properly be called King. Secondly, the JSB notes that the Hebrew Bible (our Old Testament) exclusively uses the word Messiah in reference to the currently reigning king, never to indicate a future ideal one. I guess that comment depends upon the decision as to whether ch. 45 was written during the time of Cyrus or nearly 200 years prior.
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The prophet seems particularly concerned with monotheism: That there is only one God, and all idols are not gods at all, are in fact nothing more than the material they are carved from. This would be an obvious reaction to spending 70 years living among the Babylonian polytheists, but might feel a bit out of place for someone living in Jerusalem prior to the 8th c. exile.
Isaiah, however, caricatures idolatry and attacks a straw dog. The typical practice of idol worship did not presume the hand-made idol to actually be a god. Rather, the people formed images to represent one or more of the various gods they believed to exists, then through complex rituals hoped to entice the essence or spirit of that god into the idol, where it would be able to hear the prayers and petitions of the worshiper. In fact, idol worship worked much like the temple did for the Israelites, in that Israel believed the presence of their God could be accessed only at the temple in Jerusalem (which they did indeed build with their hands), while typical 7th c. BCE idolaters believed they could communicate with their gods via these portable handmade idols.
Much of Isaiah’s proof that God is the one true God rests on His ability to predict the future. If the prophets of old made incorrect prophecies, how does that bode for the reliability of God?
So the style of the text has changed dramatically. Ch. 39 gives a fairly clear prediction of the fall of Jerusalem and the castration and enslavement of the Davidic line, concepts quite at odds with the previous position of Isaiah son of Amos. While style and content alone do not necessarily indicate a change in authorship – my own written work has undergone profound variations in both features since my earliest compositions – many modern textual scholars find the differences sufficient to conclude that a different person, from a different time period, wrote these passages. The editors of the JSB do not waver in their conviction: Study notes at the beginning of ch. 40 state plainly, “The first of the three sections within chs 40-66 was written by the anonymous exilic prophet in Babylonia, shortly before or immediately after the fall of Babylonia to the Persians led by Cyrus in 539 BCE, but before Cyrus issued his decree allowing the Judean exiles to return to Zion in 538.” HarCol moderates the statement somewhat: “These chapters, which console the people of Judah with the promise of a joyous return to their homeland, presuppose the Babylonian exile and probably date from the period between 545 and 539 BCE.” (Emphasis mine.) The Reformation Study Bible, on the other (third) hand, clearly ascribes all of the text to Isaiah son of Amoz with the statement, “Isaiah originally addressed these words to the future exiles in Babylon to encourage them to flee from there and return by faith to the Promised Land. The encouragement partially arises from there supernatural character. These prophecies, delivered more than a century and a half beforehand, astonish their audience by predicting Israel’s (i.e. Judah’s) immediate deliverance from Babylon by Cyrus, the coming of the suffering Christ to save them from their sins after they return to the land, and Israel’s final salvation in the last days.” (Again, I added the emphasis.)
A friend of mine questioned why Hezekiah would have prayed to have years added to his life when the end of this life means going on to life with Christ in Heaven. I agree: Why wait? The sooner the better, right? The Apostle in Phil. 1:20-24 seems to agree. Unfortunately Hezekiah didn’t have the NT to help him see the glory of life with Christ though – he saw things as he prays in Is. 38:17b-19a:
You saved my life from the pit of destruction, for You have cast behind Your back all my offenses. For it is not Sheol that praises You, not the Land of Death that extols You; nor do they who descend into the Pit hope for Your grace. The living, only the living can give thanks to You as I do this day…
Hezekiah seems to break with Isaiah’s belief in an afterlife here, or at least to believe that only torment awaited him there.
Hezekiah speaks of salvation in military terms, as when the city is saved from an advancing army. In that view, salvation equals not dying.
Also, the JSB notes that the story of Hezekiah’s illness predates the story of the Rabshakeh’s siege of Jerusalem by at least a decade. The 15 years added to Hezekiah’s life allowed him to be king during this extremely stressful event. Perhaps by the end of it he was wondering if he made the right choice asking for more years! Then again, he did get to see the miraculous salvation of Jerusalem in the end…
The commentators in the JSB repeatedly point out Isaiah’s belief that Zion shall never fall and David shall always have an heir on the throne. Each of the passages they’ve mentioned, though, seemed to leave room for alternate interpretations. 32:17, though, has me thinking that at the very least Isaiah’s prophecies are meant to reach only through the short-term, the Assyrian invasion. When Babylon ultimately came and decimated Jerusalem, the remnant did not come forth from the Holy City, they returned to Zion from Babylon.
Ch. 33 concludes, or so the commentary claims, the initial portion of Isaiah son of Amoz’s prophecy with a counterpoint to the opening message in 1:21-27. One interesting thing that I’ve noticed today is the focus on individual salvation: vv. 14-16 note the distinction between sinners and the righteous in the same holy city of Zion. Much of the OT imparts salvation and judgment on entire people-groups rather than individuals. After noticing this, though, and flipping back to ch. 1 to compare the intro and end of this section, I see that similar wording exists there bestowing the fruits of actions on individuals.
Ch. 34, then, may well have been written during or after the Babylonian exile. Apparently the Edomites inflicted unusually harsh treatment on the Jews during this period, hence this psalm or prayer against them. The prophecy failed to play out in exactly the manner predicted, though (at least according to the JSB – I have not verified this with any other sources): Far from being slaughtered, by the 2nd c. BC the Edomites were known by their Greek name Idumeans, and by and large they converted to Judaism with passionate endurance during the Roman occupation.
Alone among the writings of Isaiah, at least Isaiah son of Amos, is 32:12-14 in predicting the fall of Jerusalem. Apparently, according to the JSB, all of Isaiah’s writings save this passage describe Jerusalem being saved, though often just by a miraculous last-moment intervention by God. I guess it’s possible these verses were added later during the exile, but the editors of the JSB gave no indication that they suspected such.
JSB accounts 31:1 – 32:8 as a single poem; HarCol places a new heading at the top of ch.32. In JSB’s view, the poem moves from prophecies of destruction (31:1 – 31:3 or 4) through prophecies of salvation (31:4 or 5 – 31:9) and finally to prophecies of end times (32:1-8). I understand the tendency to call 32:1-8 eschatological, but I don’t take this view as a certainty: These verses might just refer to the time following God’s salvation of Jerusalem from the Assyrians. However, the remainder of ch. 32 has a similar move, with the final verses seeming more convincingly like end times prophecies.
I must say that I am getting quite a lot out of all this study of Isaiah even at this early stage. In my prior readings of the prophets I found them completely disorganized, flipping randomly between topics, curses and blessings, with no clarity as to the subject of the various messages. Taking the time to go through these passages more slowly, and comparing several commentaries, helps to make a little more sense of things. The passages still appear to be scrambled, and my commentaries attest as much. However, with the guidance of the various commentators I’m able to recognize where one passage ends and the next begins, and in many instances even discern the topic of the little chunks of text.
Take, as an example, the verses of chapter 27: The translators’ notes in the JSB (actually from the JPS Tanakh translators rather than the JSB commentators) suggest that verse 9 might be better moved to after verse 6 as it seems to complete that thought, and verses 7, 8, 10, and 11 flow well together. This is not the first time that they have suggested moving verses; in fact, in some instances they have actually done so, with footnotes explaining the reason. It seems odd to me that a single verse might have gotten out of order in the original Hebrew such that translators would consider moving it, but I do see their point in this instance, as well as the others that I’ve noticed. However, things like this would not have occurred to me on my own without considerably more decades of study.
These chapters are long! I remember reading this a couple years back with the 66 Books group, when we read four chapters each day. I was just skimming, didn’t get much meaning out of it then. I know I must have written something about these chapters, will have to go back and look at that sometime.
Isaiah, it seems to me, dearly loves Israel, both north and south, and views them as the people chosen by God to redeem the earth. Still, he sees them going wrong, and fears what God will do to them in either correction or retribution. Much of his writing in these chapters focuses on the punishment and torment that is coming, but scattered here and there we see mentions of God’s overarching love for His people, along with promises that they will be saved out of their seemingly impossible circumstances if they just turn to Him wholeheartedly. Their haughtiness, their pride, their stubbornness, all just block them off from God’s freely-offered Grace.
One particular passage that struck me today: Is. 29:13-14. Rote ritual will not bring a person closer to God. This is not to say that all rituals are bad: I know that having a regular set of practices to pray at certain times, show up at Church, do kind things for people, these are good habits. If I don’t develop good habits, I will surely develop bad habits. The nature of humanity is to follow our habits, so being proactive about what we allow to become habits can only help. However, the habits by themselves will not bring us closer to God. We cannot rely solely on ritual to save us, else it too becomes an idol. The thing we must do is hardly a thing at all, but at the same time is the deepest and hardest and contrarily perhaps even the easiest: we must love God and love our neighbor(s) as ourselves. This, the most difficult thing to measure, something that can never become ritualized because as soon as it does it ceases to be love.
First interesting item: 26:4b in the JSB reads, “For in Yah the Lord you have an everlasting Rock.” HarCol interprets that as, “For in the Lord God…” as does the ESV. The NRSV footnotes of HarCol mention the alternate reading that JSB gives. None of these books gives any more detail as to what Isaiah meant by “Yah the Lord.” I assume this has something to do with the divine name YHWH, but I don’t thing I’ve ever seen this phrasing before. I hear something similar in the ska and reggae music, their name for God being Jah. Certainly the names are connected, but I don’t have any history on this.
Also in tonight’s reading, a couple verses (25:8 and 26:19) dealing to some extent with life after death. 25:7-8 seems to say that the “shroud” (what I take to mean the curse or veil) of death will be lifted, followed by the drying of all tears as in Rev. 7:17. Isaiah 26:19 goes on to mention the dead coming to life, though this could well be interpreted as bringing joy (life) back to the downtrodden people of Israel. Apparently, according to the JSB notes, these verses and a very few others (esp. Dan 12) form the entirety of the basis for Jewish belief in an afterlife. The Old Testament rarely mentions it, and most of those passages could be interpreted as metaphors for life in this world, without actual intent to describe eternal life.
Isaiah is just full of interesting passages!I had to stop yesterday because I ran out of time, not because I ran out of notable texts. And again today: We’re at a transition from prophecies against the nations to apocalyptic prophecies, and both 23 and 24 have numerous interesting points. The one I will mention from ch. 23: The end of the chapter paints an interesting picture of conversion, and none of my commentaries say anything about this. Are we to learn from this that the Lord will accept offerings gained in an ungodly manner? Are the wages of a prostitute proper endowments to elegantly clothe and feed the people of God?
And what to make of the transition in 24:14-16? The remnant after the destruction turns to the Lord who worked this destruction in the world. This in contrast to Rev. 16:8-9 in which the people refuse to repent, but instead curse the name of God unto their continued suffering. Still, even the songs to God in Is. 24:16 do not halt the coming terror, pit, and trap. Perhaps Isaiah describes a faithless mock exultation meant only to ease the pain of judgment rather than a true turning of the heart.
The message in ch. 19 to the Egyptians struck me. My first inclination is that Egypt and Israel are enemies due to the Plagues & Passover events. However, considering the friendly relationship that the U.S. has with England after that whole Revolution of Independence dispute, I have to assume that if we can work through our differences after only 200 years, Israel and Egypt might have managed to resolve theirs after a millennium.
Also in that chapter I noticed the idea of a “pillar to the Lord” in v. 19, which reminded me of something Patti said. Is this pillar similar to the Asherah poles? In some ways, no: The Asherah were typically made of wood, or even living trees, while pillars to the Lord were commonly stone (see Gen. 28:18, 31:45, 35:14, 1 Sam 7:12), though in this case the material is not mentioned. Also, this pole is clearly a pillar to the Lord, not to Asherah. However, while pillars to the Lord have history all the way back to the patriarch Jacob, I see no indication that Moses prescribed their use.
How could Isaiah have gone naked for three years without even knowing why until the end of that time? (Is. 20:2-4)
I like the Dumah pronouncement of ch. 21:11-12 – It is particularly short, and so vague as to be almost unintelligible. Just my kind of thing!