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Commentary on the Old Testament Prophets: Isaiah
The word prophet has at least two senses in the Old Testament. There are ecstatic prophets, and classic prophets.
The ecstatic prophets are marked by odd, even frenzied behavior. They do not appear in Israel before the time of Samuel; they disappear after the 5th century B.C. They lived in groups, with a sort of a leader. They wore a hairy mantle and a leather girdle. (cf. 2 Kings 1:8). They often had scars, from wounds inflicted by themselves or by others when in a frenzy: 1 Kings 18:28. They sometimes went in for repeated cries (1 Kgs 18:26, 28). Some prophets, perhaps of the same type, resided at the royal court. In 1 Samuel 19:20-14 David had just escaped, for the time, the hands of Saul. But Saul sent messengers to arrest him. The messengers found Samuel seeming to lead a band of frenzied prophets. The messengers fell into frenzy too. Saul himself then pursued, but the "spirit of God" came upon him, and he fell into the same state. He took off his clothes and lay naked all that day and night. Ecstatic prophets sometimes did this in their frenzies.
The ecstatic type of prophets in the times of the kings were often in large groups, of even 400 at a time. Their prophecy might be induced by music. Kings often consulted them, and at times they gave messages such as the kings wanted, showing that at least in such cases there was nothing supernatural about their state. In other cultures there are similar phenomena, e.g., the dervishes.
Was this really a spirit of God that came upon them, or merely what the onlookers would call that? It is hard to imagine the spirit of God leading to uncontrollable frenzy and making a king lie naked all day and night. In 1 Cor 14 St. Paul speaks much of prophets, and compares the gift of tongues to them, unfavorably for tongues. Paul speaks of a supernatural gift of prophecy, and even then, in 14:32-33 we find: "The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets; God is not a God of uproar but of peace." Such then is the nature of really supernatural prophecy, at least, such as it was known to St. Paul. Such an example as that of 1 Samuel 19 does not seem to be of supernatural origin especially since the spirits of the prophets in 1 Samuel seem not to be subject to the prophets. As to the statement that Samuel was leading them, he could have fallen into a non-supernatural frenzied state, or could have feigned it, to protect David from Saul.
Even Abraham is called a prophet in Genesis 20:7 and the whole people of Israel are called prophets in Psalm 105:15. But the meaning does not seem to be ecstatic prophets.
Before the great prophets there were lesser non-ecstatic prophets, such as Samuel (except for the case mentioned), Elijah, Elisha, Micaiah, and Nathan.
But it is clear that the classic prophets, of the type of Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel are very different from the ecstatic prophets. Amos explicitly says (7:12-16) he is not a prophet - he meant he was not an ecstatic prophet.
The call of a classic prophet may have come by way of a vision (e.g., Isaiah 6), or also through an interior communication. Such an experience enabled the prophet to understand God in a way not given to others. Thus they had a basis for judging events in God's way. So the prophet was a spokesman for God. The image of Ezekiel eating a scroll given him by God (2:8 - 3:3. cf. also Jer 15:16 and Rev. /Apoc. 10:8-11) is probably a way of expressing this. Foretelling the future was not the basic work of a prophet, it was only part of his whole message. We notice especially that in Ezekiel 37, several times the prophet is told to prophesy to the dry bones -- which does not at all refer to foretelling the future, but to announcing the word of God.
Moses had foretold (Dt. 18:15): "The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own kinsmen. You shall listen to him." This could have been taken to mean just a great prophet, and might even refer to the great classic prophets. But both Jews and Christians by the time of Christ understood the promise of Moses to refer to a special individual prophet: cf. John 6:14 (the people thought Jesus was that prophet) and 7:40. So too did the Apostles understand it: Acts 3:22 and 7:37. Indeed Moses was said to have spoken to God face to face, as one man would to another: Ex 33:7-11. So the great prophet would be entirely unique, it would be Christ Himself.
However, we need to notice that even Moses did not see the face of God. In Exodus 33:18-23 Moses asked to see God. But God said He would put Moses in the hollow of the rock, and cover him with His hand, so that Moses could see only "His back". But no man could see His face. The prophet foretold by Moses in Dt. 18:15 really would see God fully, for Christ Himself is divine, His human soul saw the vision of God from the first instant of His human conception, as the Church teaches, e.g., Pius XII, Mystici Corporis (cf. Wm. Most, The Consciousness of Christ).
Further it seems possible to gather from these words of Moses about the coming prophet who would be like Moses in speaking to God face to face, that the intervening classic prophets did not, at least, ordinarily speak to God thus. Rather they obtained their messages by the general illumination described above, or by interior locutions.
The books of the greatest prophets are collections of things they had said on various occasions. The collections could have been made by others, e.g., Baruch for Jeremiah. It is not always easy to determine the original setting. And continuity may be poor, especially in Jeremiah. The fact that so many prophetic utterances were in poetry makes it more difficult to understand them, for they may indulge in poetic fancy.
Besides the exaggerations of poetry - and Semitic poets at that - we need to keep some other things in mind to understand the prophecies of the future. St. Augustine, in City of God 17. 3, notices that some predictions refer to Old Testament persons, some to New Testament persons, some to both. He finds an indication of this latter when something that at first sight would seem to refer to a certain figure, does not entirely fit him, e.g., . the prophecy of Nathan to David in 2 Samuel 7:12 speaks of a successor who will come "after David sleeps with his fathers." At first sight this would seem to be Solomon. But Augustine notices that Solomon became king not after David's death, but before it: so he concludes the prophecy is only partly fulfilled in Solomon: we must look ahead also to Christ. And only Christ would have the kind of realm and reign predicted (cf. Psalm 72:8, which is entitled, "Of Solomon").
Further, some predictions may have a less glorious fulfillment than it might have been, e.g., Gen. 49:10, as we saw, says a ruler will not be lacking from Judah until the time of the Messiah. This came true, but would have had a much more glorious fulfillment, in splendid kings on the throne of David, if the Jews had not been so unfaithful so many times.
Isaiah: His times
His ministry began about 742,"the year King Uzziah died", and ran until sometime in the reign of Hezekiah (715-687). He worked chiefly in Judah. The time before the death of Uzziah had been one of great external development and prosperity for both northern and southern kingdoms, especially since the power of
Assyria had declined at that time. Also the power of Syria, which had disturbed the north in the 9th century, had also declined. During the reign of Uzziah there were victories over the Philistines, Arabs, Ammonites, and Edomites. Jerusalem was fortified. Uzziah promoted agriculture and industry.
In the north, it was the time of Jeroboam II, another forceful king, who restored the boundaries of his nation . Prosperity and wealth were everywhere, which opened the way to corruption. Both northern and southern kingdoms then enjoyed power such as they had not known since the division of the kingdom.
But that was to change. Tiglath Pileser III, who was conquest-minded, came to the throne of Assyria. He made Syrian Arpad a province, and so got tribute from Damascus under Rezin and from Tyre under Hiram. Next he extended his power to Lebanon, and soon penetrated the territory of Israel. He seems to have been the Pul mentioned in 2 Kings 15:19 to whom King Menahem gave tribute a thousand talents of silver. The name Azariah, which is the same as Uzziah, appears on Assyrian tablets as among the princes who joined an alliance against Tiglath Pileser. In many ways Uzziah seems to have been religious, but yet he did not remove the high places. Josephus, Antiquities 9. 22 tells that at the height of his power he became proud, attempted to offer sacrifice in the temple, even though the high priest warned him. At that very time he was stricken with leprosy, thus ending his public exercise of kingship, and a devastating earthquake came at the precise moment of his sin against the priests. (cf. 2 Kings 15:5). Yet the prosperity of Judah in his reign was greater than that of any period since Solomon.
During this general period God sent some to whom He revealed His plan, such as the prophet Amos (cf. 3:7) who told of the coming dangers and called for repentance and faith. A bit later Hosea preached in the northern kingdom, which was to fall with the fall of Samaria in 722 BC. God's plans span great periods of time with ease.
So it was a very turbulent time for Judah and others, since Assyria was expanding to the west, aiming at a world empire. Isaiah, with divine guidance, saw the danger before others did. Many of his contemporaries mocked his predictions (5:19). Isaiah saw not only the international situation, but also the sins of his people, which were to lead to a judgment by God (chapter 6). Most likely Isaiah 5:26-30 has the Assyrian threat in mind, even though Isaiah does not at this time mention Assyria by name. Syria and Damascus tried to force Judah into an alliance with them against Assyria. King Achaz refused, and even joined an alliance with Assyria, contrary to the urging of Isaiah (chapter 7). Syria and Damascus invaded Judah in 735. Isaiah offered Achaz a sign in the sky or in the depths. But Achaz pretended that would be tempting God - which it was not, since God had invited him to ask for it. Achaz gave tribute to Assyria, which then took Damascus, and killed its king Rezin. Achaz was a wicked king, who even offered his own son in sacrifice to an idol: 2 Kings 16:3.
Hezekiah, son of Achaz, was a good king who eliminated idols and human sacrifice. He also resisted Egyptian requests to join in a coalition against Assyria, but still, when Sennacherib became king of Assyria, he withheld tribute (2 Kings 18:7). Contrary to the warnings of Isaiah he became a leader in the revolt against Assyria, and made a treaty with Egypt (Is 30:1-7;31:1-3).
Isaiah seems to have had little to say in the period 727 (probable date of death of Achaz) to 705, death of Sargon of Assyria, even in 722 when Sargon conquered Samaria as Isaiah had predicted (probably around 725). Yet Isaiah begins to speak much again around 715, when Hezekiah took full power. The prophecies of chapter 18 and 20 probably show Isaiah's lively interest in the revolt of the Palestinian states, supported by Egypt, against Assyria. Hezekiah was inclined to cooperate with alliances against Assyria, and Isaiah warned against this. When Sennacherib laid siege to Jerusalem, Isaiah encouraged Hezekiah. The lesser cities in Judah were all reduced by Sennacherib. But he did not take Jerusalem, though he claimed he shut up Hezekiah, "like a bird in a cage" (ANET 288). Hezekiah sued for terms, and tribute to Assyria was greatly increased. 2 Kings 18:17 - 19:37 also mentions what some scholars think was a second revolt against Assyria, in which Hezekiah was again besieged, but Isaiah assured him the city would not fall. Assyria was turned back, either because of an epidemic in the army (2 Kings 19:35) or because Sennacherib was needed suddenly back home. About this time Hezekiah became ill, seemed likely to die. But at his prayer, God gave him 15 more years of life: Is 38:10-20. There is an unverifiable tradition that Isaiah was sawed in two by order of King Manasseh (687-42).
In all, it is very difficult to be sure which of these events Isaiah had I mind in a particular passage.
The Text of Isaiah
Most scholars today see three Isaiahs, for chapters 1-39, 40-55, and 56-66, describing three periods: threat of punishment, exile, and restoration. We consider this is possible, but there is surely no convincing proof that there were three. For this is simply the familiar deuteronomic pattern we have met before. And, as we pointed out, Amos and Hosea show the same pattern. Isaiah merely fills it in more thoroughly. Further, even within the so-called three sections, Isaiah can easily shift from one tone to another.
Another attempt against the unity of Isaiah comes from the fact that there is a the prediction of the actions of Cyrus by name (44: 28). But this argument is valid only if one insists there can be no true prophecies. Actually, as we will soon see, Isaiah did predict things about the Messiah in three passages. Micah 5:2, his contemporary, predicted by name the place of birth of the Messiah. And someone less than a major prophet in 1 Kings 13:2 foretells actions of King Josiah, to come about 300 years later (which are recorded in 1 Kings 23:15). Flavius Josephus, in Antiquities XI. 1. 1-2 asserts that Cyrus before releasing the Jews from captivity, read the prophecy about himself in Isaiah, and that this influenced his decision.
The book opens with a denunciation of the sinfulness of the people, with special stress on the fact that sacrifices then were mere externalism. This thought is crystallized in a passage farther on, in 29:13: "This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." Older critics used to claim that Isaiah and other major prophets rejected sacrifices. But it was the empty external "participation" that they denounced. Then 29:14 goes on to say that because of this defective worship, "the wisdom of the wise will perish". This would be a punishment like that given through Rehoboam.
Some major messianic prophecies are found in Isaiah, which the targums recognize as messianic - except, in their present form, for 7:14.
Summary of Chapter 1
In the times of Kings Uzziah, Jothan, Ahaz and Hezekiah, Isaiah saw a vision from God about Jerusalem.
He calls on the people to listen, for God has spoken. God complains that He has brought up children who have rebelled against Him. Even dumb animals, the ox and the ass, know their master: yet Israel does not recognize its master and its father. It is a sinful people, full of wickedness who have provoked the Holy One to anger. Why should they act so as to call for further chastisements? Already their whole head is sick, their heart is faint. There is no sound part of that body from head to foot. Everywhere there are bruises, sores, bleeding wounds that have not been cared for or bandaged. So the country is desolate, the villages are burned: foreigners devour their land. It is desolate. Daughter Zion is left like a tent in a vineyard, like a shelter in a field of cucumbers, like a city under siege. If the God of armies had not let a remnant survive, Israel would have been totally wiped out like Sodom, like Gomorrah.
Now the prophet calls on the rulers of Sodom and Gomorrah -that is, Jerusalem. Yes, they offer so many sacrifices, but God has more than enough of those animals and their blood, for the offerings are meaningless, mere externalism, with no interior dispositions. He says He cannot put up with their New Moons and Sabbaths. The people spread out their hands in prayer, but God will not look, for their hands are really full of blood. So they should stop doing evil and seek what is morally right, and help the oppressed, defend those who are fatherless and the widows. If they do that, then he appeals to their good sense: cannot they see that if they do as He asks He will listen to them? Even if their past sins have been as red as scarlet, He will cleanse them to be as clean as fresh wool. If they do this they will eat the best, and the sword will not come upon them. God has spoken!
But no, in actuality, the city that was once faithful has become a harlot. Once there was righteousness and justice in Jerusalem, but now instead He sees murderers. Their silver, probably meaning their rulers, has turned to dross, and their wine which once was choice, is now heavily watered. It is because their rulers rebel against God, going after bribes and gifts. They do this instead of taking up rightly the case of the fatherless and the widows. Therefore His hand, which once was turned against their enemies, will now turn on them to put things right. But His action will result in cleansing their dross, and taking away their impurities. Then He will give them judges as in days of old and wise counselors. After this is all over it will be called a faithful city, a city of righteousness. Those who are penitent will be redeemed with righteousness, but rebels and sinners will be broken. They who have forsaken the Lord are going to perish.
They will be ashamed then of their sacred oaks which they once cultivated. Their gardens will dry up. Mighty men will burn together with their works, and no one will quench the fire.
Comments on Chapter 1
Of what period of history is Isaiah speaking here? As usual, we cannot be sure. A large possibility is the constant threat of Assyria. Another is the fact that after the Syro-Ephramitic war Pekah had destroyed the army of Achaz, and the Edomites and Philistines invaded Judah. Jerusalem too was threatened.
But the chief message is clear. God calls heaven and earth to witness to the fact that His people have been wicked. Even brute animals, such as the ox and ass, know their master: these people do not know their Father. (The mention of the ox and ass here may have suggested putting those animals in Christmas cribs). The people are loaded with guilt, they have forsaken the Lord, the Holy One of Israel. Isaiah is fond of the expression, the Holy One. God's holiness means basically that He observes what is morally right in all His actions. Cf. Psalm 11:7: "God is morally right [sadiq], and He loves the things that are morally right [sedaqoth]." Quite a contrast to the gods of Mesopotamia, who seem to have been amoral, acting as if there were no such thing as morality, or the Greek Zeus, a big time adulterer, or Roman Jupiter. Cf. Ez 28:2: "Behold I am against you, O Sidon... and they shall know that I am the Lord when I inflict punishments on her, and I shall show myself holy in her [niqdashti]." Cf. also Is 5:15-16: "God, the Holy One, will show Himself holy by moral rightness."(We do find even in paganism some who speak of the God as morally right and the guardian of justice. Socrates did this. It was at times said in Mesopotamia, from where the Jews came. Cf. Wolfram von Soden, The Ancient Orient, tr. D. Schley, Eerdmans, 1994, pp. 131, 142, 248).
The prophet asks if they want to be beaten still more? It seems they have hardened themselves, and do not understand even when there is no sound part from head to toe in them. Their country is desolate, cannot they see? Does he mean the desolation is already at hand, or is he, with prophetic vision, looking ahead? The Daughter of Zion means the Daughter that is Zion (the hill on which were built the palace and temple). Yet God's mercy has left them a remnant, they are not completely wiped out, so they are not like Sodom and Gomorrah, which were totally destroyed.
Now Isaiah picks upon the notion of Sodom, and calls the rulers of Jerusalem the rulers of Sodom. Did he refer to homosexuality there? We know from all the major prophets what kind of sins Jerusalem committed: social injustice, not defending the widow and orphan, instead, going for bribes. But this does not mean that Isaiah did not know what the real sin of
Sodom was. Cf. Jude 7: "Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise acted immorally and indulged in unnatural lust serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire." This is confirmed abundantly by the Intertestamental Jewish literature.
God says He cannot stand their sacrifices and festivals, He is weary of them. Some time ago, commentators often made the mistake of saying the major prophets were all against sacrifice. But no, they objected to empty externalism. We can gather the right concept of sacrifice from Isaiah 29:13: "This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me." We see there are two elements, lips, the externals, and hearts, the interior dispositions. The outward sign should be a means of expressing the interior, which is basically obedience to God's will. The external without the interior is worthless, arouses God's anger instead of pleasing Him. The Jews of Isaiah's day enjoyed the externals, answering prayers, singing, joining in processions - but it was all just empty: they disobeyed the will of God in not caring for widows and orphans, and instead oppressed them for financial gain. Even the sacrifice of Jesus would have been worthless without obedience: cf. Romans 5:19.
Isaiah then urges them to stop doing evil, to do what is good, to seek what is right, to help the oppressed. To most persons this does not sound strange, but to some Protestant commentators this creates a problem, to a thorough Lutheran it is unacceptable. For in his major work, The Bondage of the Will (tr. J. L. Packer & O. R. Johnston, Revell, Old Tappan. , 1957) Luther explicitly denies free will (p. 273) and adds that a human being is like a horse (pp. 103-04): either God or satan may ride him, and accordingly he does good or evil and goes to heaven or hell. The human has nothing to say about which one rides him (pp. 103-04). Yet all Scripture testifies we do have free will, or else all the exhortations to turn to God, to repent, to do good, all over Scripture, are all mockery. St. Paul gives us a fascinating problem. In one set of texts (2 Cor 3:5, Phil 2:13) he says we cannot get a good thought of ourselves, or make a good decision, or carry it out. In the other set (e.g., 2 Cor 6:1) he says what Isaiah says here, that when grace comes, it is our decision whether it comes in vain or not. How to fit together these two sets of texts is a problem that has been a subject of hot controversy over the centuries. It is, of course, no answer at all to simply deny free will, as Luther did. We know the texts can be reconciled, for Scripture does not contradict itself, but how to reconcile the texts is debated. For a new proposal which fully accepts all texts, cf. Wm. Most, New Answers to Old Questions (London, 1971),
Verses 18-20 also raise a problem for Protestants. God asks the people to think it over: even if their sins are scarlet, they shall be as white as wool. The favorite classic Protestant tactic here is to say this means only acquittal. The sinner is not really made white as wool - God throws the merits of Christ, like a cloak, over him, and refuses to look underneath where all is total corruption. If we recall that in the same line of thinking, that man has no free will - this may fit. But 2 Peter 1:4 says we become sharers in the divine nature; 1 Cor 3:16 and 6:19 say we become temples of the Holy Spirit - who would not like to dwell in total corruption; and we become capable for the face to face vision of God in the next life (1 Cor 13:12) -- hardly possible for someone totally corrupt, for as Malachi 3:2-3 says, "He is like a refiner's fire." "Who can stand when He appears?" Even now we become white as wool, and even, as St. Paul puts it, "a new creation" (Gal 6:15; 2 Cor 5:17). Creation is making something out of nothing, not putting a white cloak over total corruption.
But the faithful city has become a harlot. Isaiah is not just using rose-colored glasses here. Jerusalem once was faithful to God, in the time of David, and the first part of the reign of Solomon, and under some good kings, such as Jehoshapat. The imagery behind thee lines is that Jerusalem is the bride of God, and so must be faithful (a theme much developed in Hosea). But she has become unfaithful, has gone into association with the Assyrians, who require that Assyrian idols be placed in Jerusalem.
He says their silver has become dross - which is the impurities removed in the process of purifying silver. A sulphide ore of lead was a source of silver. The ore was put into a shallow cup. A blast of hot air in the furnace would oxidize the lead, and leave the silver. Lye might be added to speed up the process. In Jeremiah 6:27-30 God tells Jeremiah He will make him a refiner of silver - but his attempts to refine the people were in vain, so they were rejected. Hence God Himself (Jer 9:7) said He would refine and test them Himself - referring to the fall of Jerusalem and the temple.
The silver may refer to the rulers of Jerusalem. For certain they are in mind when he speaks of them as thieves, loving bribes. They do not help the widow and the orphan.
Hence, in 24-26 God says, in some versions, that He will "get relief", and "avenge" Himself on them. The words "get relief," Hebrew nhm, can indicate He has been burdened by their empty sacrifices, and now will get relief by acting to set things right. But His acting will be not what the English word avenge implies, it is more strictly the sense of Hebrew naqam, used in v. 24, which means action by the highest authority to correct things, whether it be favorable or unfavorable to the persons affected (thus in Judges 11:36 there is vindication for Israel, but punishment for enemies. Cf. also Isaiah 59. 15b-18 where both yesha and naqam are used in the sense of punishment, even though yesha usually means saving.
Vengeance is really an exercise of hatred, willing evil to another so it may be evil to him - the opposite of love, which is wiling good to another for the other's sake. God does not hate or act in hatred, naqam is rather His righting of the objective order. Cf. Simeon ben Eleazar (Tosefta, Kiddushin 1. 14):"He [anyone] has committed a transgression: woe to him, he has tipped the scale to the side of debt for himself and for the whole world". Cf. also Paul VI, doctrinal introduction to his Constitution on Indulgences of Jan 1, 1967.
God here threatens punishment, but it is for the sake of repentance and purification. Hence He adds that He will bring back judges as they once were and Jerusalem will be called a city of righteousness, faithful city. But that really was far in the future, after the end of the Babylonian exile, 539 BC.
He says they will be ashamed of their sacred oaks and groves, where the Jews, like the Canaanites, used to offer sacrifices to pagan gods. They thought they were getting fertility - but it will turn out to be the opposite, all will become tinder for fire.
Chapter 2: Summary
This is what Isaiah saw concerning Jerusalem: Finally, in the last days, the mountain of the Lord will be the highest of all, and all nations will come to it. Many people will say: Let us go to the mountain of the Lord, to learn His ways, so we may walk as He wills. The Lord will judge between the nations from Jerusalem. Then they will make ploughshares out of swords and pruning hooks out of spears. There will be no more war anymore.
But then Isaiah puts aside this glorious vision of the future and urges the house of Jacob to follow the light of the Lord. Really, the prophet says, God has abandoned His people, for they are full of superstitions from the East, they cultivate divination as the Philistines do. They have material treasures without end, a multitude of horses. But they also have many idols and they bow down to the things their hands have made.
So Isaiah utters the terrible prediction: they will be brought low. May God not forgive them!
Because of the coming wrath of the Lord, he tells them to hide themselves in the ground. For human pride will be humiliated on that Day of the Lord, when all the cedars of Lebanon, every high tower, every ship of trade, and all human arrogance will be brought low. Only the Lord will then be exalted, and idols will be no more. In fear men will flee to caves, to holes, they will cast away their idols. They have even treated rodents as gods. So men will flee to caverns in the rocks out of dread of the Lord when He comes to shake the earth. So they should no longer trust in man: a man has only breath in his nostrils: he is of no account!
Comments on Chapter 2
At the start of this chapter, Isaiah lets his mind turn to a glorious future, in which all nations will come to Jerusalem to worship God, and there will be no more war.
Supplement on the Messianic Age
We wish to consider two kinds of material: 1) highly idealized pictures; 2) prophecies that seem to indicate all gentiles will join Judaism.
First, the idealized picture: Isaiah 11:6-9 says the wolf will be a guest of the lamb and the leopard with be with the kid, and a calf and lion will eat together, with a child to lead them, while the baby plays at the Cobra's den. There will be no harm anywhere, and they will even beat their swords into ploughshares (2:4).
What shall we say? First, we know the Semites had powerful imaginations, and could exaggerate more than Hollywood. In fact, the dire language of Matthew 24 about the sun being darkened, the moon giving no light, and stars falling from the skies -- all these are found in the descriptions of much milder events. Isaiah 13:10 speaks of the fall of Babylon thus: "The stars in the sky and the constellations will not give their light. The sun will be dark when it rises, the moon will not give its light." Similarly, Isaiah 34:4 said in speaking of the judgment on Edom: "All the stars will be dissolved, the sky will roll up like a scroll, and the host of the heavens will fall like dried leaves from the vine." Again, Ezekiel 32:7-8 foretells the judgment on Egypt thus: "When I blot you out, I will cover the heavens and darken the stars... the moon will not give its light."
Which is the more powerful, the more exaggerated imagery? That about the wolf and the lamb, or about the sun and moon? Hard to say.
In passing, some leftwing authors like to say that Joel 3:10 contradicts Isaiah 2:4. Joel says they will beat their ploughshares into swords. A simple distinction will help. Even the nonconservative NAB in a note on Joel 4:10 (= NRSV 3:10) explains that warlike weapons are made in reply to God's call to armies to expel forever the unlawful invaders, from the land of the chosen people. Isaiah looks to a different situation: the heavily idealized age of the Messiah.
But our second problem is much more complex. Many times over the prophets foretell all the nations being converted to God. Objectively and actually, that meant that the gentiles would be called to be part of God's people. But that was new. Ephesians 3:5-6 tells of a secret not revealed to past ages: that Gentiles are also called to be part of the people of God.
But to read Isaiah, for example, things would sound different. For example Isaiah 2:2-5 says the mountain of the Lord will become the highest mountain, and all nations will stream toward it. They will say: "Now let us go up the mountain of the Lord... that He may teach us in His ways and we will walk in His paths. Teaching shall go forth from Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem."
Specially striking too is Zechariah 8: 22-23: "Many peoples. . shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem... ten men from nations of every language will grasp a Jew, and take hold of his garment: "Let us go with you. For we have heard that God is with you."
A related problem is in the last chapters of Ezekiel, chapters 40-48 which give a detailed description of a Jerusalem to be restored, with a great temple and animal sacrifices. Significantly, however there is no mention of a Day of Atonement, or an ark of the covenant, or veil. The real day of Atonement was Good Friday, and the veil was then broken forever. The ark is replaced by the Eucharist.
How can we understand this? St. Augustine in City of God 4. 33 said that in the OT, material things were used to stand for spiritual things: "there, even earthly gifts were promised, while the spiritual men understood even then, although they did not preach it clearly, what eternity was signified by those temporal things, and in which gifts of God was true happiness." St. Paul in Gal 3:15-21 spoke of the promises given to Abraham as really standing for eternal salvation.
So, these images given by Ezekiel could be taken to stand for eternal goods. And the lack of such essential things as a Day of Atonement, an ark, and a veil give a hint of what the real sense is.
But no wonder the first Christians had a hard time understanding. Yes, Jesus had told the Apostles to go and teach all nations. But we fear Peter and the others thought this meant all nations would become proselytes. So in Acts 10, Peter, after not understanding the vision of the sheet let down from the sky, went to the Roman centurion Cornelius. Jewish Christians were shocked that he would associate with Gentiles. Clearly the commission of Mt 28:18-20 had not registered on them at all.
Let us not accept the foolish proposal that Jesus after the resurrection never spoke words at all, that He just used interior locutions; and that only in time did Peter and others come to understand. This will not do at all, and only someone ignorant of mystical theology could say such a thing. St. Teresa of Avila, who had much experience with locutions, explained (Life 25): "When God speaks in this way, the soul has no remedy, even though it displeases me, I have to listen, and to pay such full attention to understand that which God wishes us to understand that it makes no difference if we want or not. For He who can do everything wills that we understand, and we have to do what He wills." She added (Interior Castle 6. 3. 7):"When time has passed since heard, and the workings and the certainty it had that it was God has passed, doubt can come" about the authenticity of the message. So Peter would have had to understand clearly at once , if Jesus had used an interior locution, and later could begin to doubt. But the foolish proposal has that turned precisely around.
We have already seen at least a glimpse of the truth: the OT prophecies could easily give the impression, not that gentiles would be accepted into the Church as gentiles, but that they would all become proselytes.
But now we must ask: How and why did Jesus and the Scriptures speak in away so readily misunderstood? We add that toward the end of His public life some in the crowds began to suggest He might be the Messiah. But others said no, for the Messiah must come from Bethlehem (John 7:40-44). He could so easily have said on that occasion: But I was born in Bethlehem. But He did not.
So we ask why? God wants faith to be free, not coerced. He could have arranged to have His resurrection take place with all Jerusalem, including His enemies, assembled before the tomb. This would have bowled them over. There would have been no freedom left to such a faith.
To understand, we need to notice that there are two main kinds of evidence that lead us to accept something as true: compulsive and noncompulsive. Compulsive evidence, such as the fact that 2 x 2 = 4, forces the mind, does not leave it at all free. But noncompulsive evidence is different, Further, there is a broad spectrum of noncompulsive evidence running from some things at the top of the scale, where the evidence is so strong that no one actually doubts, e.g., that Washington crossed the Delaware. But at the low end of that scale there are things where feelings can enter, e.g., if one would say, about the original Mayor Daley of Chicago, that he was a good honest politician, those who received favors would agree he was good and honest. The opposition would say quite the opposite.
Now the evidence for things of our faith is objectively adequate, but definitely noncompulsive. It lies somewhere on that scale we mentioned where it is rational to believe, but one's dispositions can enter into the result.
This in turn is the same sort of framework we can see with the parables. If we wanted to follow the chronology of Mark - we are not sure of it of course - Jesus at first taught rather clearly. But then the scribes charged He was casting out devils by the devil. Then He turned to parables, and all three Synoptics quote Isaiah 6:9-10, in varied forms, saying the same thing: It is so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.
This was not deliberate blinding by Him. Otherwise why would He later weep over Jerusalem for not understanding the time of their visitation (Mt 23:27)?
No, He was setting up a marvelous divine device for dividing people according to their dispositions. We might speak of two spirals, in opposite directions. Let us think of a man who has never been drunk before, but tonight he gets very drunk. Next day - for this is the first time - he has guilt feelings. There is a clash between his moral beliefs and his actions. Our nature abhors such clashes, and something will have to give. Either he will align his actions with his faith, or his faith will be brought into line with his actions. This goes on and on, like a spiral that gets larger as it goes out, and feeds on itself. In other words, the man is getting more and more blind. In time he will lose perception of other moral truths and even of doctrinal truths.
Here is another remarkable thing. We know that God is identified with each of His attributes, so He does not have love, but is love. Similarly He is justice, and He is mercy. How is this possible? We can begin to understand as we are now explaining. The man who goes out on the bad spiral is getting more and more blind. This is justice, he has earned the blinding. But it is also mercy, for the more one knows about religion at the time of acting, the greater the responsibility. So his responsibility is mercifully being reduced. And in one and the same action, we find both mercy and justice exercised.
On the good spiral we also see both. The man who lives strenuously according to faith, which says the things of the world are worth little compared to eternity, he will go farther and farther on the good spiral. His ability to understand spiritual things gets greater and greater. This added light is, in a secondary sense, merited, and is justice. We say secondary, for in the most basic sense, no creature by its own ability can establish a claim on God. So all is basically mercy. Yet as we said, secondarily there is justice: God in the covenant has promised to reward those who keep His covenant law. So again, in one and the same action, there is both mercy and justice exercised.
So it seems we may have found at least some insight into God's ways in these matters. One example is that He wants Scripture to be difficult, so we may work on it more, and get more out of it (cf. EB 563) but still more, so that those well disposed will be justly rewarded, while those who ill-disposed will lose the little they have. To him who has, it will be given. From him who has not, even what he seems to have will be taken away (Mt. 25:29).
Here we might borrow a line from St. Paul (Romans 11:33-34): "O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How incomprehensible are His judgments, and unsearchable His ways." We have had the privilege of seeing, not all things about His wisdom, but some little corner, like Moses who had the privilege of seeing God from behind.
Comments on Chapter 2 continued
Isaiah turns from this glorious vision to the realities of his day, when the people and rulers alike were so unfaithful to God. He says the wrath of God will strike, and he suggests, in poetic fancy, that they hide themselves in caves, or in the ground, from His anger.
Incidentally this is just the same kind of fancy that Job indulges in in Job 14:13 ff. He says in effect he would like to hide in Sheol, the realm of the dead, until God's anger would pass. He knows he cannot do this of course. Incidentally, one foolish commentator, not understanding this poetic imagery, thinks Job raises the possibility of an afterlife, and then denies survival - what would be left of the inspiration of Scripture whose chief author is the Holy Spirit?
In 2:20 the prophet says then men will throw away their idols, which include idols of rodents. Is this more fancy? No, the Egyptians considered scarab beetles sacred, which gather dung into a ball for food, roll the ball and carry it into a crevice.
Chapter 3:1 - 4:1, Summary
The supreme Lord is taking away all support of food from Jerusalem, and all warriors, judges, prophets, and officers. Mere boys will rule over them, and will be insolent to old men, the base will be disrespectful to the honorable. Someone may even tell one of his relatives who has a cloak that he should be the ruler - such will be the poverty.
Their faces will show their guilt, like Sodom. They have brought all this on themselves. But the innocent will be better off, and will eat the fruit of their labors, while the guilty will be repaid for their sin.
Children and women will oppress them.
God arises to judgment. He charges that the princes and elders have devoured his vineyard, Israel. What they have taken from the poor, to be seen in their houses, testifies against them.
The women have been haughty, have gone to extremes to adorn themselves. But now instead of ornamental chains on their ankles there will be iron chains. Instead of fine hairdresses their heads will be shaved, and have scabs. No more perfume, instead a stench. Sackcloth will replace rich robes. There will be only shame where there used to be beauty. Their foreheads will be burned with a branding iron, to mark them as slaves.
Comments on 3:1 - 4:1
We do not know to which invasion Isaiah refers, it could be one from the Assyrians or the Babylonian siege (cf. Lamentations 2:20). Incompetent young people and women will take over - who normally should respect the elders and those in authority. They even ask someone who has no more than a cloak to take control of a "heap of ruins", the city. They are so wicked that they are open about their sins, like Sodom. Romans 1:31 says the lowest degradation is found in those who not only sin, but even say sin is good.
Then comes a scene in which there is an imaginary court, in which the Lord charges the leaders of the people, on whom the chief blame falls. They have abused their office to make themselves rich at the expense of the poor.
Then the prophet specially rebukes the proud and ostentatious women who went about with necks raised, flirting with their eyes, taking mincing steps - since they had ornamental chains on their ankles, which prevented large steps. Zion was the part of the city where the royal palace was located. It was especially the ladies of the court who were guilty of this vain display, who did everything they could to entice men into sex. Zion here is used to refer to the entire city. God will change their adornments into things that oppress them. There will even be branding on their foreheads, done by the enemy, to mark them as slaves.
Women who once were proud, will have fallen so low that seven at a time they will come to any man asking him to give them his name so they will be protected.
Summary of 4:2-6
On the day of messianic salvation, the Branch of the Lord will be glorious, the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the remnant, the just, who have survived the invasion. For the Lord will have washed away the filth. And as of old, He will put a cloud of smoke by day and a shining pillar by night.
Comments on 4:2-6
The "branch of (semah) the Lord" means the Messiah. The Targums regularly take that word as standing for the messiah. Here the vision of the prophet shifts from the destruction of chapter 4 to the age just after the destruction, or even to the age of the Messiah. Such shifts occur many times in Isaiah, and help to show that the picture of three Isaiahs, so that one predicts punishment, the second speaks of exile, the third of restoration is too artificial. There are so many alternations of images and moods, as we see here.
It is a remnant that will enjoy the age. Isaiah often speaks of the remnant, e.g., also in 6:13. The word remnant was also used for those who remained after the wanderings in the wilderness and finally entered the promised land. It also refers to those who escaped the Assyrian deportation from the northern kingdom(cf. 2 Chr. 30:6; 34:9) to those left by the Babylonians in Judah after the destruction, and to those who returned from the great exile. There was also talk of a faithful remnant at a time of national apostasy; Elijah thought of himself as such a remnant) 1 Kgs. 19:10. St. Paul also speaks in Romans of a remnant who did not reject Christ.
Summary of chapter 5
Isaiah tells of a friend, who, later on turns out to be the Lord. The friend had a vineyard. He took good care, cleared out the stones, put it on a fertile hill, planted choice vines, built a watchtower, and a wine vat. But instead of good grapes, it turned out wild grapes, small and bitter tasting.
In v 3 the friend begins to speak, and asks Jerusalem to judge between him and his vineyard. Has he not done everything for it? But it gave only bad fruit. So he intends to take away the hedge that protected it and break the wall. It will be a wasteland, not pruned, nor cultivated. He will order the clouds to give no rain.
In v. 7 we learn that the vineyard is that of the Lord, and the vineyard is the house of Israel and the men of Judah. He hoped for what is right, but saw instead bloodshed, and cries of distress.
Woe to those who keep on adding houses to houses. They will become desolate, the mansions without anyone to live in them. A great vineyard will produce only a little, a large measure of seed only a bit of grain.
Woe too to those who get up early to start their drinking and keep it up late at night. They have music at their banquets, but no regard for the Lord or the work of his hands. So the people are destined to go into exile, and the powerful men will die of hunger, the masses will suffer thirst. Sheep will feed among the ruins of the rich.
Woe too to those who pull sin and guilt down on themselves as if with ropes.
Woe also to those who call evil good, and good evil, who make darkness light, and light darkness. To those who are wise in their own eyes. Woe to those who are champions at drinking and mixing drinks, who take bribes to acquit the guilty, while denying justice to those who are innocent. Their roots will decay and will burn in fire since they have scorned the word of the Holy One of Israel.
As a result of all these things, the Lord's anger blazes, the mountains shake, dead bodies lie in the streets. Even so his anger has not yet run its course. For he calls to far off nations, to the Assyrians. They will come speedily. Their arrows are sharp, their bows keen, their horses' hoofs like flint, their chariot wheels like a whirlwind. They roar like a lion carrying off prey. On that day of the Lord they will roar over it as the sea roars. If one looks at the land, he will see darkness and distress and heavy clouds.
Comments on Chapter 5
Here is another shift: after the idyllic picture in the last part of chapter 4, we suddenly find a threat, opening with the imaginary song of the vineyard. Since antiquity the agriculture of Israel has depended much on the unfailing produce of the olive, fig and grape. Even in the long hot summers, the vine can flourish because of its deep roots. The vineyard of course is the People of God, The vine is a symbol of Israel. God transplanted it from Egypt (cf. Psalm 80:8-13), and gave it every care and protection. Yet it produces only sour fruit.
There follows a group of six woes: against those who endlessly expand their ownership of houses and add field to field until there is no space left. But God says the great houses will be desolate, and the great vineyards will produce hardly anything. Who to those who are pleasure lovers, who get up early to start their drinking and stay at it late at night. Therefore exile is coming and all will be brought low. God will be exalted in His justice, that is His concern for moral order, and the Holy
God will show Himself holy by doing what is right. Woe to those who are shameless sinners who make fun of Isaiah's words in 1:4 about the Holy One of Israel (cf. Jeremiah 5:12-14), Woe to those who turn morality inside out, calling evil good and good evil, (compare Romans 1:31: to not only sin but say sin is good is the lowest degradation). Woe to those who are champions at drinking and indulge in drinking bouts, and free the guilty for a bribe, while condemning the innocent. So the anger of the Lord burns against His people, and He will summon the fierce and speedy might of the Assyrians against them on the day of the Lord - a day often mentioned in Scripture, which sometimes means a nearby time when God will right things, sometimes means the final righting at the end of the world. The prophet also speaks of an earthquake. This is likely to be that in the time of Uzziah.
Summary of Chapter 6
In the year in which King Uzziah died Isaiah saw a wonderful vision that inaugurated his mission as a prophet. He saw the Lord on a throne, the train of the Lord's robe filled the temple. Above Him were seraphs, each having six wings. Two of these wings covered their faces, two covered their feet, and with the other two they were flying. They called to each other: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty. The whole earth is full of his glory.
Then the doorposts and thresholds shook, and smoke filled the temple.
Isaiah, recognizing what the vision was, said: Woe to me! I am a man with unclean lips and yet I have seen the Almighty Lord!
Then one of the seraphs flew to him. He had a live coal which he had taken from the altar with tongs. The seraph touched Isaiah's mouth saying: This has touched your lips. You guilt is taken away, your sin is atoned for.
Then the Lord said: Whom shall I send? Who will go? Isaiah replied: Here I am. Send me!
The Lord replied: Go and tell this people: Really listen, but do not understand. Really look, but do not perceive. Make the heart of this people calloused. Make their ears dull. Close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, and hear with their ears and their heart might understand and turn and be healed.
This hardening is to last until their cities are ruined and deserted, and their houses empty, their fields ruined and ravaged, until the Lord has sent everyone far away, and the land is deserted. And even though a tenth remains, it will be laid waste again. But just as the terebinth and the oak leave behind stumps after being cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.
Comments on Chapter 6
This was the vision in which Isaiah received his commission as a prophet. It is strange indeed that the account of it is put here in chapter 6, instead of at the beginning. But the sayings of prophets were often given at different times, and later arranged.
Isaiah says it happened in the year in which king Uzziah died. The date of his death is disputed, estimates range from 747 to 735. We commented on the circumstances of his death in the introduction.
The vision Isaiah saw was of course anthropomorphic. God does not have human form. But the whole scene powerfully impressed Isaiah with the transcendence of God. That word means the fact that He is above and beyond all our categories. To illustrate: When we know something we know either passively or actively. Int he passive mode, we take in an image from something outside, we are passive, we gain information. Now God cannot be passive, cannot gain anything. So the passive mode is not correct for Him. But in the active mode a person knows what is happening only if and because he is causing it, like a blind man pushing a chair. Obviously we cannot make God so limited. so we must simply say: He is above and beyond all our categories. (Some unfortunate theologians commonly called "Thomists" have insisted God knows only by causing thing. But St. Thomas himself never said that. Rather, every time- and it was several times -- when he wanted to explain how God can know future contingents (e.g., what I will do tomorrow at 10 A. M) Thomas first explains carefully that although a future free act as future is unknowable even to God, yet since God is in eternity, which has no past, and no future, the thing is present to Him. And so He knows it. But Thomas always stops there. He never tries to explain just how God knows a thing once it is present to His eternity. That is part of the mystery of His transcendence.
This transcendence of God is something we greatly need to realize, or try to realize. For there are two poles, i.e., centers about which things cluster, in our relationship to God. One is the pole of love, closeness, warmth. The other is the sense of His infinite majesty, greatness. It is this that Isaiah saw so well by means of this anthropomorphic vision. The Saints and Fathers of the Church have understood this aspect especially well. Thus Dionysius the Areopagite, writing around the year 500. A.D. said that God is best known by "unknowing." St. Gregory of Nyssa in his Life of Moses said: "The true vision of the One we seek... consists in this: in not seeing. For the one sought is beyond all knowledge." St. Augustine (On Christian Doctrine 1. 6. 6 said: "He must not even be called inexpressible, for when we say that word, we say something."
There is just a trifle of exaggeration in such sayings as that of Augustine. Yet there is far more truth in them. Similarly the philosopher Plotinus said (Enneads 6. 8. 9) that God is"beyond being." Plato seems to have said much the same in Republic 6. 509B.
The explanation of such sayings it this: If we compare any word, e.g., good or being, as used to apply to God, and as used to apply to any creature, we find that the sense is, in the two cases, partly the same, but mostly different. Hence God is inexpressible, as Augustine said.
Isaiah had a deep sense of this reality. To lack it means that one's devotion will be sick, mired in the slush of a distortion of love.
As part of this vision Isaiah sees some seraphim, which he describes a bright creatures with six wings each. That word seraph, plural seraphim, is indeed rare, being found only in this passage. Basically the same Hebrew word appears in Numbers 21:6 where God sends burning serpents - such seems to be the meaning of sarap, to punish the faithless Jews. Moses prayed, and God directed Moses to make a bronze serpent, and put it upon a pole. Anyone bitten would recover if he looked at the bronze serpent. This was very obviously a forecast in action, a prefiguration, of Christ on the cross.
Sometimes people speak of nine choirs of angels, and seem to have found them in St. Paul's Colossians and Ephesians. But that is a mistake, for St. Paul especially in Colossians, is using such terms, which he took from his opponents, in countering their errors. The opponents were most likely either Gnostics or Jewish apocalyptic speculators. In St. Paul's context, they are evil spirits, not angels.
The seraphim were calling out Holy, holy, holy. The holiness of God is a most prominent theme in Isaiah. Basically holiness means God's concern for what is morally right - cf. the appendix to Wm. Most, Commentary on St. Paul. We can see the thought well in Isaiah 5:15-16:"Man is bowed down, and men are brought low. But the Lord of hosts will be exalted in right judgment [mishpat], and God, the Holy One, will show Himself holy [niqdesh from the root of qadosh, holy] by moral rightness [i.e., by doing what moral rightness calls for]." Similarly in Ezek 28:22: "They will know I am the Lord when I inflict punishment on her [Sidon] and I will show myself holy in her [niqdashti]."
This shaking of the doorposts would recall the earthquake at the time of King Uzziah.
Isaiah thought he was doomed, because he knew no man could see God and live. We think of Moses who wanted to see God, but was refused, as we saw in the introduction. He aid his lips were impure from sin. But one of the seraphim, in a symbolic action, took a coal from the altar and touched his lips to purify them.
In John 12:41 we read, remarkably, that it was Jesus Isaiah had seen. that saying came right after a quotation of the next mysterious lines of Isaiah, which we are about to consider.
Those next lines are indeed mysterious. God asks for someone to volunteer to be sent, and Isaiah volunteers. Then God gives him a strange commission, which seems to mean he is to blind the people so they could not be forgiven.
To understand, we must know that the Hebrews commonly spoke of God as positively doing things He only permits. Thus in 1 Samuel 4:3 - if we read the Hebrew, and not the slanted translations - the Jews said after a defeat by the Philistines: "Why did God strike us today before the face of the Philistines?" They knew perfectly well it was the Philistines who had struck them. Similarly, in the account of the plagues in Exodus, several times God says He will harden Pharaoh, and again the text says God did harden the heart of Pharaoh. Again, God merely permitted it. Cf. Is 45:7, where God says: "I bring well-being and create woe." And in Amos 3:6 He said: "When evil comes to a city, has not the Lord caused it?"
The mysterious words God spoke to Isaiah are quoted in all three synoptics, in connection with the parables. If we follow the chronology of Mark's Gospel-- for the Gospels are not intent on chronology - Mark indicates Jesus at first spoke clearly, but then, after His enemies charged He was casting out devils by the devil, He turned to parables. Jesus told His disciples that to them was given to know the mysteries of the kingdom, but to others, all was in parables, "so that seeing they might look and not see, and hearing they might hear and not understand." These words are from Isaiah 6:9-10, which we saw above. They have been much discussed of course. St. Mark quotes them in the form found in the Targum. St. Matthew quotes Isaiah in softer form (13:13-15): "Therefore do I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear." Isaiah had used imperative forms: "Hearing hear, but do not understand, seeing see, but do not perceive... ."
First, as we said, it is well known that the Hebrews often attributed to positive direct action of God what He only permits, He did not really want to blind people. For in Mt 23;37 He wept over Jerusalem because they would not listen.
So we need a different way to understand the purpose of parables. It is this: We might think of two spirals in the reactions of people to parables - and other things too. Let us imagine a man who has never been drunk before, but tonight he gets very drunk. The next day there will be guilt feelings - we specified it was the first time. Over time, something must give: either he will align his actions with his beliefs, or his beliefs will be pulled to match his actions. In other words, if he continues to get drunk, he will lose the ability to see there is anything wrong with getting drunk. But other beliefs are interconnected, and so his ability to see spiritual things becomes more and more dull.
In the other direction, if one lives vigorously in accord with faith, which tells us the things of this world are hardly worth a mention compared to the things of eternity (cf. Phil 3:7-8), such a one grows gradually more and more in understanding of spiritual things; he is on the good spiral. So the parables are a magnificent device of our Father, showing both mercy and justice simultaneously. To one who goes on the bad spiral, the blindness is due in justice, yet it is also mercy, for the more one realizes, the greater his responsibility. On the good spiral, the growing light is in a sense justice for good living; yet more basically it is mercy, for no creature by its own power can establish a claim on God. So in both directions, mercy and justice are identified, even as they are in the divine essence, where all attributes are identified with each other.
Rather similarly, Pius XII said (Divino afflante Spiritu: EB 563) that God deliberately sprinkled Scripture with difficulties to cause us to work harder and so get more out of them.
So we can understand God's words to Isaiah in this way.
But then God foretold the exile, yet said that a holy remnant, a holy seed, would be left, which would be a "stump
in the land". We think of course of the great prophecy in Isaiah 11:1 which says that there will be a shoot from the stump of David, that is, after David's line had been deprived of its power, and seemed dead, a great ruler, the Messiah, would come. (More on Isaiah 11 later, of course).
Summary of Chapter Isaiah 7
When Ahaz was king of Judah, King Resin of Aram and Pekah, son of Remeliah, King of Israel, tried to fight against Jerusalem, but could not take it. The king of Judah was told of this alliance, and king and people were fearful, shaking like trees in the wind.
Then God told Isaiah to take his son Shear-jasub and to go out to meet King Ahaz, to tell him to have faith. God promised the invasion would not succeed. He added that within 65 years Ephraim, the northern kingdom, Israel, would be shattered. But if Ahaz did not have faith, he would not stand.
Isaiah then offered Ahaz a sign in the sky or in the depths. Ahaz refused to ask, as if it would be tempting God. Isaiah then said: "Is it not enough for you to weary men? Must you also weary God? The Lord Himself is going to give you a sign: A virgin will be with child and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. The son will eat curds and honey when he comes to know right from wrong. But before this, the land of the two kings of the north will be devastated.
But because Ahaz did not have faith, God said he would bring a terrible time on Judah: The king of Assyria would come. at God's call. Yet after the attack there would still be milk and honey. But where three were rich vines, there would be only grazing land for cattle and sheep.
Comments on Chapter 7
At the beginning of this chapter 7, we read of the time of the Syro-Ephraimite war. Near the end of the reign of Joatham, around 734, Rezin of Syria in alliance with Pekah of Ephraim (that is, Israel) had attacked Judah (as we learn in 2 Kings 15:37) and the threat was in earnest. It seems Syria wanted to draw Judah together with Ephraim into an alliance to offer resistance to the aggressive Assyrians. But Judah was not so inclined. Hence Syria and Ephraim wanted to force Judah. Details of the events can be found in 2 Kings 16 and 2 Chronicles 28. After some military actions such as the capture of Elath (2 Kings 16:6) the northern allies wanted to capture Jerusalem. It was a tense time.
The house of David, Judah, learned that Aram was in alliance with Ephraim. Ahaz and his people were shaken like leaves blown by the wind. But then the Lord told Isaiah to take his son Shear-Jashub (the name means "a remnant will return") to meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool on the way to Washerman's field. The idea"a remnant will return" is of unclear import. It could mean either warning or hope, or physical return from exile or spiritual return to God. God had ordered Isaiah to name his son this way, it seems
God told Isaiah to tell Ahaz not to be afraid of those two smoldering stumps who wanted to invade Judah, for they would not last long. Isaiah was assure Ahaz that the Lord said: It will not happen. In saying that Damascus is the head of Aram and Rezin is the head of Damascus, God was saying in effect: These are only humans! Similarly He said that Samaria is the head of Ephraim and the head of Samaria is just the son of Remeliah, just a human again. They planned to set up the son of Tabeel as a usurper, king of Judah. The way Isaiah spells Tabeel may be deliberate corruption of spelling for contempt, so as to mean, in Aramaic: "Good for nothing", instead of "God is good". So God wanted to assure Ahaz that within 65 years Ephraim would be shattered as a people. So Ahaz is ordered to stand firm in faith. If not, he would not stand at all. The prophecy of the 65 years was fulfilled in a series of events: The fall of Samaria to Sargon II, and eventually Esarhaddon of Assyria just about 65 years after this prophecy, introduced a racial mixture in the area of the northern kingdom.
Tiglath-Pileser came to the throne of Assyria in 745. This prophecy of Isaiah probably came around 733. Damascus fell to Tiglath in 732. Then Shalmaneser V (727-722) and Sargon II (722-705) attacked Samaria, which fell in 722 or 721.
But Ahaz would not believe, and so through Isaiah God offered Ahaz a sign in the sky or in the depths. Ahaz said he did not want to put the Lord to the test.
At that point Isaiah gave the great prophecy: The virgin (or young woman) will be with child, and will have a son and call him Immanuel. Before that boy will be old enough to reject wrong and choose right, the land of the two northern kings will be laid waste.
Isaiah told Ahaz in the name of the Lord that Assyria, in whom he wanted to trust against the northern kings, would not help. Instead God would summon Assyria to swiftly punish Judah. Instead of rich vines there would be briers and thorns. It would be a place for cattle and sheep.
Ahaz had even sacrificed his own son by fire 2 Kings 16:2-4 and 2 Chron. 28:1. In his fear he sent messengers to Tiglath-Pileser of Assyria declaring himself a vassal (2 Kings 16:7; 2 Chron 28:16. He took gold and silver from the temple to give as tribute. Tiglath Pileser responded quickly, in 734, and took Damascus, the city of Rezin whom he killed. Ahaz had a pagan altar, like one in Assyria, set up in the temple: 2 Kings 16:10. He sent so much temple equipment to Assyria that eventually the sanctuary was closed: 2 Kings 16:17-18; 2 Chron 28:24.
Now about that prophecy: "Behold, the young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel."
The date of this prophecy can be gleaned from the fact that it was spoken to Ahaz who reigned c 735-15 BC.
The Targum does not identify this passage as messianic. However, Jacob Neusner, (Messiah in Context p. 173) quotes the great Hillel, one of the chief teachers at the time of Christ, as saying that Hezekiah, son of Achaz (to whom Isaiah spoke) had been the Messiah. So Hillel considered the text messianic. But then Neusner adds (p. 190): "Since Christian critics of Judaism claimed that the prophetic promises... had all been kept in the times of ancient Israel, so that Israel now awaited nothing at all, it was important to reject the claim that Hezekiah had been the Messiah". Thus the Talmud, cited by Neusner, p. 173, quotes Rabbi Joseph as denying that Hezekiah had been the Messiah. St. Justin Martyr in Dialogue with Trypho 77 has Trypho the Jew say the Jews believe Hezekiah was the Messiah.
But even though the Targum does not mark this passage as messianic, yet it does mark 9:5-6 as messianic. Now both Is 7. 14 and 9. 5-6 are part of the section on Immanuel, which runs from 6. 1 to 12. 6. Hence it is generally accepted that the child in 7. 14 is the same as the child in 9. 5-6. This means, of course, that since 9. 5-6 is messianic, so is 7. 14. As Jacob Neusner, cited above, said, it was the actions of the Jews against Christians that caused them to stop saying 7. 14 was messianic.
Who, then, is the child of 7. 14? Some of the characteristics of 9. 5-6 are too grand for Hezekiah, as we shall see. Further the use of the definite article before almah in 7. 14 seems to point to someone special, not just to the wife of Achaz. Also, there is no clear example in the Old Testament of almah to mean a married woman. On the other hand, a sign to come seven centuries later would hardly be a sign for Achaz. We conclude: this is a case of multiple fulfillment of prophecy: it refers to both Hezekiah and Christ.
Still further, the Septuagint uses parthenos to render Hebrew almah (which means a young woman, of the right age for marriage, who at least should be a virgin. Betulah is the more precise word for virgin). R. Laurentin (The Truth of Christmas Beyond the Myths, Petersham, 1986, p. 412, claims the Septuagint sometimes uses parthenos loosely. But this is not true. Actually, there are only two places in the OT where the Septuagint translates almah by parthenos. One is in Genesis 24. 43, where the context shows the girl is a virgin. The other is Is 7. 14. There are several other places where almah is at least likely to be a virgin. But the Septuagint is so careful that it uses instead of parthenos, a more general word, neanis in those cases. Laurentin in the English version appeals also to Genesis 34. 3 (in the French he had appealed to 34. 4, which does not have the word parthenos at all)! But the case is at least unclear, since 34. 3 is likely to be an instance of concentric ring narration, common in Hebrew. In it the text begins to narrate and event, goes part way, then goes back to the start and retells, using different details. This may happen twice or three times. And as we have just said, in all clear instances the Septuagint is very precise in its use of parthenos, at times more precise than the Hebrew (as shown by the context).
Our conclusion: there are good reasons for taking 7:14 as meaning Jesus, but also good reasons for taking it to mean Hezekiah. So this is probably a case of multiple fulfillment of prophecies - on this pattern in general cf. again Wm. Most, Free From All Error (Libertyville, Il. 1990), chapter 5.
What invasion is meant here? The trouble did begin to come from Tiglath-Pileser of Assyria in 733-32, went further with the fall of Samaria, capital of the northern kingdom in 722. Then there was a racial mixture introduced into the north by Esarhaddon (681-69), which was about 65 years after the prophecy of Isaiah.
The Lord will bring a terrible time on them. He will whistle for flies from Egypt and bees from Assyria. They will settle in the ravines and crevices. The Lord will employ a razor from beyond the River, the King of Assyria. He will shave their heads and beards.
What about the comment in verse 15 that the child will eat curds and honey - and the same expression comes in verse 22. Now curds and honey could be taken in two ways: the words could suggest plenty: cf. Exodus 3:8. 17 and Dt 6:3. Or do the words suggest a normal diet for a recently weaned child? What then of the use of the words in verse 22:does it mean just a subsistence diet after an invasion, a small but adequate diet, from being able to keep a cow? To say the vine will be replaced by cattle grazing seems to mean a change from agricultural economy to pastoral. But where there had been a thousand rich vines, there will be only briers and thorns, and cattle will graze in that place.
Summary of Chapter 8
The Lord ordered Isaiah to take a large scroll and pen and write on it: Maher-shalal-Hash Baz, and Uriah the priest and Zechariah will come as reliable witnesses to what he is to write.
Then Isaiah went in to his wife, the prophetess, and she conceived and had a son, and named him Maher-shalal, hash-baz. And before the boy is old enough to say Father or mother, the wealth of Damascus and of Samaria will be taken away by the King of Assyria.
Since the people have rejected the gentle waters of Shiloah, a pool on the SE side of Jerusalem, (standing for the true faith in God), and feel confident over the fall of Rezin and the son of
Remeliah, the Lord will bring the pompous king of Assyria like a flood, and he will sweep into Judah with water as deep as the neck. The outspread wings will cover the land.
Then Judah will raise the war cry in the land of Immanuel, and so Assyria will not always triumph. There will be punishment for Ahaz for his lack of faith, but the faithful remnant will be helped.
So God tells Isaiah not to think the way most of the people think. The Lord is the Holy One. He will be a stone on which the faithless will stumble and fall and be broken.
So Isaiah should bind up the flaps of the revelation, which is for him and his disciples, the faithful remnant. They should wait for the Lord. They are a type of Christ and His Church to come. So they should not consult mediums, as so many are doing in a time of great fear, but hope in the Lord, who seems to be hiding His face at the time. . Those who do not accept his revelation will wander in darkness and distress.
But Isaiah and his little group are to be a sign from the Lord.
Comments on Chapter 8
The whole chapter is a warning of disaster to come. So Isaiah is to write the prediction on a scroll, and get witnesses to testify to it, seemingly so that later it will be proved he had predicted it. On the scroll he wrote: Mahar-shalal Hash-Baz, which seems to mean: quick plunder, swift spoil. He then goes to his wife, whom he calls a prophetess, probably simply because she was the wife of a prophet. In later centuries the wife of a Bishop was sometimes called episcopa, feminine form of Episcopus, and similarly the wife of a presbyter was presbytera. She had a son, named him Maher shalal, hash baz, as above. Before the child would be old enough to say My Father (age from 18 months to two years), Samaria would be plundered. it actually fell in 723 or 722 to Tiglath -Pileser III. :2 Kings 15:29.
Now Isaiah shifts from literal statement to images as he often does. The waters of Shiloah seem to refer to Jerusalem's means of water in a siege, bringing it from the spring
Gihon. It stood here for the rule or God founded on Sion. The River means the Euphrates, as usual in the OT. People were happy at the defeat of the two northern kings - but that was not to last, for Assyria was coming at Judah too, like a flood that would sweep everything, but the depth would be only to the neck - probably signifying that a remnant would be left - a theme appearing now, that will be frequent in the future.
The outspread wings could mean that Assyria would cover the land - or else be a means of recalling God's protection to Israel under His wings at the time of the Exodus. Hence the mention of Immanuel.
Then God speaks to Isaiah "with a strong hand", probably meaning an overpowering action of God upon Him. (Cf. our remarks in the introduction on the mode of messages given to prophets). He tells Isaiah that he and his little group must not think the way the people in general think. People think of the conspiracy of Rezin and his allies. Yes, there was a danger, but God's power was always greater. Rather than fear Rezin, they should fear the Holy One, God. He will be the stone on which many stumble. They thought of Him as their Rock, their solid support. But now Isaiah turns the figure around: the Rock may make them stumble if they do not have faith in Him.
The prophet is told to bind up the revelation. It seems to mean to reserve it for the faithful remnant about him. Later it is to be opened.
Many of the people, in their desperate state, are consulting mediums from whom they may have a whispering sound, as if from ghosts, or mutterings, as some of the so-called seers did. Such people will wander in darkness.
Summary of Chapter 9-10:4
Even though these people are in darkness, yet a time is coming when there will be no more gloom for the land of
Zebulun and Naphtali and the Galilee of the Gentiles. They will finally see a great light, which will dawn for those in the shadow of death. People are then to rejoice as at the harvest, or as when dividing spoils, at the defeat of Midian.
For a child is to be born. The government will be his. He will be called Wonderful Counsellor, even Mighty God, Everlasting father, Prince of Peace. There will be no limit to the increase of peace under Him, for he will sit on David's throne, establishing it - for it had fallen - and upholding it with what is right, from then on, and forever. The jealous love of the Almighty Lord will bring this about.
But now, after the pleasant vision of the future, in 9:8, Isaiah's vision turns to God's punishment of Jacob (Israel: northern kingdom: there are four woes, and a refrain at the end of each).
Woe to those who say in pride that if the brick houses are destroyed, they will rebuild with dressed stone. But the Lord has given the foes of Rezin power against them, "Even so, after all this, His anger is not appeased: He still raises His arm against them."
Woe to those who have not returned to the Lord: the Lord will cut off the rulers, the head, and the tail, the false prophets. So even the Lord will not take pity on the fatherless and widows, for all are wicked. "Even so, after all this, His anger is not appeased: He still raises His arm against them."
Woe to those whose ungodliness is like a fire, so that no one spares his brother: Manasseh against Ephraim; Ephraim against Manasseh. Both will turn against Judah. "Even so, after all this, His anger is not appeased: He still raises His arm against them."
Woe to those who make unjust laws, laws that should protect the poor, but are now turned against the poor. But a day of reckoning is coming. "Even so, after all this, His anger is not appeased: He still raises His arm against them."
Comments on Chapter 9-10. 4
The chapter opens with a cheerful prediction of the coming of the Messiah. The people who have been in darkness in the territories of Zabulon and Naphtali and the northern part of Naphtali, with its heavy gentile population, hence called "Galilee of the gentiles", will see a great light, the Messiah. For He is to grow up in Galilee, and do much of His public preaching there. The joy of the people will be great, like that of men at the harvest, or of men who divide the spoils of war. Formerly the boots of warriors trampled the land. Now the great light will come.
"For a child is born to us, a son is given us, and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called 'Wonderful Counselor, Mighty-God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.'"
Here the Septuagint omits the greatest title: "A child is born to us, and a son is given to us, his government is upon his shoulder, and his name will be called messenger of the Great Council."
But the great title is found in the Targum Jonathan: "A child is born to us, a son is given to us, and his name has been called from of old Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, He who lives forever, Messiah in whose day peace shall increase for us."
The sense of the Targum is disputed. We have rendered it substantially as does J. F. Stenning (The Targum of Isaiah, Oxford, 1949). However Samson Levey (The Messiah. An Aramaic Interpretation, (Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, 1974) turns the sentence structure around so as to read: "his name has been called Messiah... . by the Mighty God." The difference hinges on the Aramaic words min qedem which can mean either "by" or "from of old". As to the words "Mighty God" which the New American Bible renders God-hero - that version is not defensible, for the Hebrew El gibbor in the Old Testament always means only Mighty God, never God-hero. Levey makes a similar change in sentence structure for the Hebrew: "the Mighty God... has called his name 'Prince of Peace'." That translation raises the question of which terms belong to whom.
The Septuagint, which omits mighty God, testifies to the Jewish discomfort. We recall that the LXX since Qumran is thought to be in general a careful translation of the Hebrew, but of a Hebrew text differing from our Masoretic text, for the text then had not yet been stabilized.
Naturally, the ancient Jews, with their emphasis on monotheism, would have difficulty calling the Messiah God. Yet there are some other OT passages that could indicate divinity of the Messiah:
Psalm 80. 15-18: God is asked to visit this vine "which your right hand has planted... . Let your hand be upon the man of your right hand, upon the son of man whom you have strengthened for yourself." Samson Levey (The Messiah: An Aramaic Interpretation) here comments: "It would appear that the Targum takes the Messiah to be the son of God, which is much too anthropomorphic and Christological to be acceptable in Jewish exegesis." He notes that neither the earlier nor the later rabbis took up this interpretation by the Targum. Rather, he says that some of the later rabbis "carefully steer clear of any messianic interpretation " by the Targum here. (In passing: we note that here the Messiah is called Son of Man!)
Psalm 45. 7-8: "Your throne, O God, is ever and ever... . God your God has anointed you with the oil of rejoicing." Even though some think the Psalm was occasioned by a royal marriage, the Targum saw it as messianic. Levey even remarks that the Hebrew word for king, melech, in verses 2, 6, 12, 15, and 16 is understood as God.
Ezekiel 34. 11: God Himself said: "For thus says the Lord God: Behold I, I will search out my flock and seek them out." We notice the repeated "I", which seems to stress the thought that God Himself would come. But in verse 23 of the same chapter: "I will set one shepherd over them, my servant David." The Targum Jonathan does treat the psalm as messianic. Of course this is far from clear, but there could be an implication that the Messiah, called here "my servant David" would be God Himself.
Jeremiah 23. 3: God said: " And I myself shall gather the remnant of the my flock from all the lands to which I have driven them." But in verse 5:"I will raise up for David a righteous branch." That word "branch" is often taken by the Targums to indicate the Messiah. Hence Targum Jonathan on verse 5 does use "a righteous Messiah" instead of "branch". Then, surprisingly, in verse 6: "And this is the name which He shall call him: "the Lord is our righteousness." In the later Midrash, Lamentations Rabbah 1. 51 we read: "What is the name of the King Messiah? R. Abba b. Kahana said: 'His name is 'the Lord'". In the Hebrew text of that passage, the word for Lord is Yahweh! It is astounding to find a later rabbi doing such a thing. (cf. Levey, op. cit., p. 70).
Jeremiah 30. 11: "For I am with you - oracle of Yahweh - to save you." The Targum clearly calls this passage messianic. Levey notices this, and comments: "in v. 11 the apparent anthropomorphism of God being with Israel, in the physical sense is softened by the use of the word Memra" - Memra is a puzzling word in the Targums, which seems in general to refer to the complex interplay between God's constancy and the fickleness of His people - but a times, it seems to mean God Himself. (On Memra cf. Bruce Chilton, The Isaiah Targum, Glazier, 1987, p. lvi).
Jewish thought on the Preexistence of the Messiah:
Micah 5. 2: "And you, Bethlehem, Ephrathah, you are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from the days of eternity." The Targum Jonathan on this verse reads: "whose name was spoken from days of old, from the days of eternity." Samson Levey, a major Jewish scholar (The Messiah. An Aramaic Interpretation, p. 93) comments that although there does not seem to be a Rabbinic doctrine of a preexistent Messiah, yet the last words of the Hebrew text do tend to suggest such a preexistence.
Malachi 3. 1: "Behold, I send my messenger and he will prepare the way before my face, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple, the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight." R. H. Fuller (The Foundations of New Testament Christology, Chas. Scribner's Sons, NY, 1965, p. 48: The starting point for this expectation is Mal 4:5 f. (Mt. 3:23f. ). In this passage, an editorial note commenting on Mal 3: 1, Elijah appears as the forerunner not of the Messiah but of Yahweh himself... followed by the coming of Yahweh to his temple for the eschatological judgment." Fuller uses the number Mal 4. 5, following some English versions and the Vulgate. The Hebrew has it at 3:23-24. Jesus in Mt 11. 13 used a modified form of the text (by influence of the familiar and similar sounding Ex 23. 20, and makes clear that he is the one, the Messiah, and by implication, is Yahweh Himself.
b) Intertestamental literature:
First Enoch 48. 1-6 (Charlesworth, Pseudepigrapha I):
(p. 35): "... even before the creation of the sun and moon, before the creation of the stars, he was given a name in the presence of the Lord of Spirits... . he was concealed in the presence of (the Lord of Spirits) prior to the creation of the world and for eternity.
(p. 9) Comments by editor of segment, E. Isaac: "The Messiah in 1 Enoch, called the Righteous One, and the Son of Man, is depicted as a preexistent heavenly being who is resplendent and majestic, possesses all dominion, and sits on his throne of glory passing judgment upon all mortals and spiritual beings." Isaac also thinks (p. 8) that the work originated in Judea and was in use in Qumran before Christian times.
c) Rabbinic thought:
Babylonian Talmud, Pesahim 4. 4. 54a: "Seven things were created before the creation of the world, namely: Torah, repentance, paradise, gehenna, the throne of majesty, the temple, and the name of the Messiah."
Pesikta Rabati, Piska 33. 6 (775-900 AD). From: W. Braude, Yale Judaica Studies, 18. , 1968, p. 641-43): "You find that at the very beginning of the creation of the world, the king Messiah had already come into being, for he existed in God's thought even before the world was created. But where is the proof that the king Messiah existed from the beginning of God's creation of the world? The proof is in the verse, 'And the spirit of God moved, ' words which identify the king Messiah, of whom it is said, 'And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him (Isa 11. 2)."
COMMENTS: 1. As Levey notices, Micah 5 implies preexistence of the Messiah. Mal 3. 1 as used by Jesus implies even divinity. The words of 1 Enoch do state a real preexistence. The Rabbinic texts are at least close. For in Hebrew thought the name at times approaches identification with the person. The naming of things brings them into existence: Is 40. 26. To cut off a person's name means not only death but obliteration of his existence: cf. 1 Sam 24. 22 and Ps 9. 6.
2. We noticed that in 1 Enoch the Messiah is called Son of Man.
Now even if the stiff-necked Jews did not understand the divinity of the Messiah, what of Our Lady, filled with grace beyond all other creatures? And at the annunciation she had readily learned her Son was to be Messiah, for the angel said He would rule over the house of Jacob forever. But further, the angel explained that the Holy Spirit would 'overshadow' her, the same word used of the divine presence filling the tabernacle in the desert, and that as a result of that, a unique reason, the Son would be called Son of the Most High. With the further help of the above texts, it is hard to suppose she did not know of His divinity.
Amos had come from Judah to prophesy of the punishment of Israel, the northern kingdom. Here Isaiah does the same. Just as Amos had a remarkably structured presentation (5:7-6:14) so does Isaiah here, with four woes, prediction of punishment, each ending with the ominous: "Even so, after all this, His anger is not appeased: He will raises His arm against them." the fourth woe is in 10:1-4.
In the first woe, the basic cause of punishment is pride. Pride is the master vice, there is no virtue which it cannot mimic. One can even act humble to be praised for his humility. And when Eve listened to the tempter and looked at the fruit she as it were said: God may know what is right in some things, but right now, I know better!"
In the second: God will cut off both the head, the prominent men, and the tail, the false prophets - we note how he ridicules the prophets by making them just the tail. And the anger of God is great, for normally He is the protector of the widows and orphans, but here He says He will not pity the fatherless and the widows, for everyone is so wicked.
In the third: No one will spare his brother, strife it will spread like a forest fire in the wind. As to the time referred to: after the death of Jeroboam one usurper came after another. And fraternal strife broke out under Pekah,
In the fourth woe: God strikes out against the abuse of legal and judicial power, which should promote justice, but instead is used to promote wickedness.
Summary of Chapter 10:5-34
God says: Woe to Assyria. It is indeed my means of punishing Jerusalem. Yet such was not the attitude of Assyria. Assyria boasts of its power: all its generals are like kings. But Assyria really intended only to destroy. It destroyed for God Samaria and Damascus. So it destroys Jerusalem.
Assyria boasts that it was its own power that enabled it to strike these peoples. It was as easy as robbing eggs from the nest of a bird. The axe should not boast against the arm that swung it: nor should the King of Assyria boast against the God who used him for His purposes, to punish Israel.
But The Lord will send a wasting disease against the warriors of Assyria. It will quickly consume them.
Then the remnant left in Israel and Jacob will no longer rely on Assyria, but will rely on the Holy One of Israel. That remnant will return to God the Mighty (El gibbor). Yes, the people used to be as numerous as the sands of the sea, but now a remnant will return, for the Lord has decreed destruction.
So God tells them: do not fear the Assyrians. Soon my anger against you will end, and will be turned to destroy them, just as He once struck Midian, as He parted the Red Sea. Yes, they enter Aiath go through Migron, put supplies a Micmash, encamp overnight at Geba, so that Raham trembles, Gibeah of Saul flees and so they continue on.
But the All powerful Lord will lop them off like so many trees.
Comments on 10:5-34
The date of the invasions Isaiah speaks of here is much debated. The important thing is this: God will use a foreign power, as He has so often done in the past - recall Amalek, Midian, Philistines - but then when His people finally repent, He will humble these nations. Some think this speaks of the time of Tiglath-Pileser - he did invade in 734 BC, but that time did not take Samaria, which fell in 722. Others think of the time of Sargon, second successor to Tiglath-[Pileser, who came to the throne in 722. Still others think still later of Sennacherib. A good conjecture would be 715, after Sargon's conquest of Charchemish in 717.
However the vision of Isaiah is great, and it sweeps over immense reaches of time. He wants to call the people to repentance. If they do not repent, God will humble them, as He did so often in the past. Then finally, after repentance, He will rescue them, even though it be only a humble remnant that survives.
Incidentally this picture is precisely what many like to call the Deuteronomic theme: sin - disaster - repentance -rescue. And they use that framework on a grand scale to say there are three Isaiahs. As we saw above, their evidence is really scant.
But the prophet predicts Assyria after all the other conquests will turn against Assyria. He speaks of Assyria as a rod in the hand of God. God's providence controls all nations, and He did intend to punish His people. Yet, even though Assyria was doing God's will in one sense, in another it was not: it became proud, and thought it was by its own power that it won, as if an axe should tell the man who used it that the axe was the winner!
In what way does God use even nations for His own ends? In Proverbs 21. 1 we read: "The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will." How does God do this?: We must say it is by His transcendence, i.e., He is above and beyond all our categories. We explained something about it earlier, by a study of how He knows future free actions, though no one can fully understand it.
Similarly, in His transcendence, He can cause humans to do things, without completely taking away their freedom. We said, "not completely," since there is indeed a reduction in freedom.
In the ordinary pattern God sends me an actual grace, to lead me and to enable me to do a particular good thing here and now. if I simply make no decision at all, no decision against it, it will "work in me both the will and the doing" as Phil 2:13 says. But what it works in me is decided by that omission of resistance at the precise point at which a man could reject grace. That he can reject grace is evident from experience, and from St. Paul, 2 Cor 6:1: "We urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain." Similarly, all Scripture is full of exhortations to repent, to return to God to be converted. All these are meaningless, even mockery of the human, if we do not have the real power to reject grace.
So in the ordinary process, the first decision on the outcome is made by the human.
But there is an extraordinary process, in which the first decision is made by God, e.g., when He sends an extraordinary grace, that can either cut through resistance already present, or prevent it from developing. Then God makes the first decision, while the human seconds the motion. We call this extraordinary since it is a reduction in the freedom that God in general has pledged Himself to give us.
When does God do this, when does He use this extraordinary mode? We distinguish two orders, the external and the internal order. The internal order is that which includes all the things and steps that lead to eternal salvation, or the lack of it. In that internal category, God has bound Himself by accepting the infinite price of redemption, to offer grace without any limit, except what the resistance of humans imposes. Since He has pledged to give us freedom, then to routinely overrule that even in part would be self-contradiction.
The external order has to do with all else, including whether or not a king will wage war, how it will turn out, etc. In this external category God does not involve Himself in self-contradiction, since in this category He has not pledged to refrain from interference in freedom. Rather, as we saw in Proverbs 21:1, He has announced He will do so as He pleases. And in the case of the King of Assyria, God, as Isaiah says, had turned the kings' heart to carry out God's will. The way in which the king did it was not good, it was sparked by pride. God will punish that pride. But that basic fact that Assyria does conquer when and where God wills is part of the external order.
The mention that the Lord will send a wasting disease is fascinating. It could refer to more than one period. We are tempted to recall the appearance of Sennacherib before Jerusalem. Hezekiah, one of the few good kings, the son of Ahaz, prayed to the Lord when the threat came. God promised that Sennacherib would not take the city. And he did not take it. The inscriptions of these kings are full of boasting. Yet of this case Sennacherib merely says he received tribute from Jerusalem. He does not claim to have taken it. Instead (37:36) an angel of the Lord put to death 185, 000 men in the Assyrian camp. It seems it was a sort of plague. A plague could carry off so many, but the fact that it struck at this particular time and worked so very speedily is due to God's intervention. After it, as we shall read in chapter 37, Sennacherib went back to Nineveh, and there while worshipping in the temple of a false God, was killed by two of his own sons.
To return to chapter 10: God says there will be a remnant who will no longer rely on Assyria, as so many had once done, but rely on the Holy One of Israel. In 10:21 Isaiah says they will return to the Mighty God - the Hebrew is el gibbor, God the Mighty, the very words Isaiah used in 9:5-6 for the Messiah. This remnant theme, we will be seeing it several times more, especially after the return from the great exile. And this reminds us of the name Isaiah gave the son who accompanied him to speak to Ahaz: Shear jasub, which meant: a remnant will return.
But before that point is reached, God says again: Be not afraid of the Assyrians even though they take one city after another on the way to Jerusalem. (The route described seems not to be the actual one, but again, Isaiah is interested in the broad picture as we said in the comments on the first part of chapter 10). Yet He will cut the Assyrians down as He once did the Midianites in the time of Gedeon. Assyria also serves as a type of the powers arrayed against those whom God protects. Assyria finally fell only in 612, with the capture of Nineveh.
Summary of Chapter 11
What seemed to be a dead stump of the line of Jesse is going to bring forth a Branch. On him the Spirit of the Lord will rest, a spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel, power, knowledge, and fear of the Lord.
He will not judge by mere impressions or by flattery, but will give righteous judgment. He will strike the wicked with the rod of his mouth. Righteousness will be his belt, faithfulness his sash.
In this glorious age the wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard with the goat, the calf and lion will live together, while a small child can lead them. For there will be no harm on all the holy mountain of the Lord, the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord.
The Lord will again reclaim the remnant of His people from all other lands. There will be no more jealousy between Judah and Ephraim. Together they will capture Philistia, Edom, Moab, and the Ammonites.
To bring back His people the Lord will dry up the gulf of Egypt and make the Euphrates easy to walk through. There will be a highway for the remnant to return.
Comments on Chapter 11
The first verses read: "There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord."
Targum Jonathan sees this line as messianic:" A king will come from the sons of Jesse, and the Messiah will be anointed from his children's children."
Some scholars, disinclined to see a real prophecy, want to make this refer to the great reduction in size of the Kingdom of Judah at the time of Isaiah and Achaz - the king then controlled absolutely only Jerusalem (Cf. John H. Hayes and Stuart A. Irvine, Isaiah, the Eight Century Prophet, Abingdon, Nashville, 1987, pp. 212-13. They point out that the word which RSV renders "stump" is Hebrew geza, a rare word, found only three times in the OT, in this passage and in Job 14, 7 and Isaiah 40. 24. In the latter it means a newly planted tree; in Job it means a felled tree. The Targum renders it by "sons", as we saw. But the Targum also definitely makes it refer to the Messiah, and historically, the line of David had lacked power for about 600 years by that time (from 586 BC to the time of Christ).
So, following the Targum interpretation, we see this passage as a real prophecy that the Messiah would come from the line of Jesse, that is, the line of David. But that line disappeared after the exile. And so the Messiah did come from a shoot from the withered line of the sons of Jesse.
The Spirit of the Lord is to rest upon this Messiah. Several times the Gospels speak of Jesus as being moved or led by the Spirit, e.g., in Mt 4:1 He was led into the desert by the Spirit. In Lk 10. 21, He rejoiced in the Holy Spirit. In Lk 4. 18: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me," (referring to Is 61. 1-2. Similarly, in Mt 12. 18 the Evangelist says that His cures were to fulfil Is 42. 1-4). In view of His divinity, how is it that He would need or want the action of the Holy Spirit? The answer is that He had a complete and perfect humanity, and although His divinity could supply for anything, could even do the functions of a human soul, yet the Father, in His love of good order, willed that His humanity be full and fully provided for as such. This is in accord with the principle of St. Thomas, Summa I. 19. 5. c in which it is said that God wills that one thing be in place to serve as a title for the second thing, even though that title does not really move Him.
Incidentally this same reasoning can account for many other things: the role of the Mass and of Our Lady and the other Saints. Even though Jesus paid for all forgiveness and grace in dying once for all (Heb 10:12 & 18) there are still two reason for the Mass and His command, "Do this in memory of me"): 1) It is one thing for Him to earn forgiveness, another for us to receive it. For that we need to be like Him, esp. cf. Rom 8:17:"We are heirs of God, fellow heirs with Christ, provided that we suffer with Him so we may also be glorified with Him." 2) God in His love of holiness and good order loves to have one thing in place to serve as a title for the second, as we said above on the basis of I. 19. 5. c. Similarly the cooperation of Our Lady in Calvary was not needed, and her entire ability to do that came from Him, so that her role did not ADD to His. Yet the Father is pleased to have it to make the title for forgiveness and grace more rich. It is similar for her role in the subjective redemption, and for that of the other Saints.
The Spirit rests upon Him, does not merely come for a time, as it is reported to have done on various persons in the Old Testament. The qualities it gives Him are the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
There are two great categories of graces: sanctifying, and charismatic. The sanctifying are all those that lead to final salvation. These are offered without limit to all, since the Father has accepted the infinite price of redemption. These gifts mentioned here are in the sanctifying category, not in the category of tongues etc. Some today make the mistake of saying all Catholics have the Gifts. This is true, in the sanctifying category: they come with sanctifying grace. But then they add all Catholics must be charismatics, speaking in tongues etc, as if things in one category, charismatic, could be the actualization of things in a different category, sanctifying things.
The gifts in the Sanctifying category have many functions: e.g., they bring, in advanced souls, infused contemplation. They bring also guidance in which the soul does not need to reason from step to step to reach a conclusion: the conclusion is dropped ready made, as it were, into the mind. Of course, there is room for self-deception here. But we must remember that the clear manifestations of graces of this sort are found only in souls well advanced. Further, this sort of guidance usually leaves a soul somewhat less than certain of the course to be followed, as a sign that it should seek guidance from authority or a director. St. Teresa of Avila, who had so many extraordinary gifts, and had been told in a revelation to found a reformed branch of the Carmelites, would not go ahead without consulting four directors.
Kings and other powerful people are exposed o flattery, which may turn their heads. But the Messiah will judge righteously, and not by appearances. He knows what is in man: cf. John 2:25.
He will protect the weak and the poor. Remarkably ancient kings often were expected to do that, and many did. The Pharaohs of Egypt, especially in the Middle Kingdom did at least some of that. Hence one of the chief insignia of the Pharaoh was a shepherd's crook. So did the kings of the ancient Near East (cf. W. von Soden, the Ancient Orient, tr. D. Schley, Eerdmans, 1994, p. 63. . The Messiah of course was to be far greater than they in this respect. He is to use the rod of his mouth - not military force - to overcome the wicked (cf. 2 Th. 2:8 and Psalm 2:9).
The idyllic picture of the peace in the animal world seems to mean a return to the conditions of paradise, before sin: cf. Romans 8:19-23.
The earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord (11:9). Knowledge here is de`a (cf. Is 53:11. with same word: in his knowledge he shall make righteous (hiphil=make righteous, not: make to be accounted righteous). Same word is found in Hosea 6:6 "and knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings". The verb de`ath is the Qal infinitive of yada, which means not only know, but love also. So here: the earth is full of love of the Lord, that is, giving love to the Lord.
This root of Jesse, one thought of no account (cf. chapter 53) will be exalted like a banner. His place of rest will be inglorious: does this hint ahead to His rest in chapter 53?
Now another image: the return from exile. It had begun with deportation in 734, then more when Samaria fell in 722, and finally to come under Nebuchadnezzar in 597 and 587. The old jealousy of Ephraim and Judah will be gone. Together they will take the Philistines, Edom, Moab, and the Ammonites. This return from exile is then pictures in extremely idealistic terms: God will dry up the gulf of the Egyptian sea, make the Euphrates shallow, there will be a highway from Assyria. Literally Ephraim did not come back - this is idealized.
Further we may compare the idealized vision of a future temple in Ezekiel 40-48 -- which will not really have animal sacrifices. Just as in the old law material images were used which were later understood to stand for spiritual things, so also here (Augustine, City of God 4. 33). The real fulfillment comes in Christianity, which as Romans 11 shows is the continuation of the old Israel. Cf. Augustine City of God 17. 3 on the three kinds of prophecies.
Summary & Comments on Chapter 12:
The prophet says on the day when the Lord rescues Israel they will praise Him, for though He was angry, that anger has been turned away. They will trust in God. They will draw water joyfully from the springs of salvation, that is, the spiritual and temporal blessings that God has opened for them.
In a later time people sang that song during the Feast of Tabernacles as they drew water from the pool of Siloam (cf. John 7:37). They would shout loudly, for the Holy One of Israel- Isaiah's favorite name for God -- is among them.
This chapter completes the early series of prophecies, chapters 7-12.
Now begins a different series, oracles against the other nations (chapters 13-23. Even in this stretch, there are a few utterances of a different type, especially in chapter 22.
Prophecy Against Babylon: 13:12 to 14:23:Summary and Comments:
Some scholars think this part is not by Isaiah, since it happened after his time. But they are moved by a rationalist spirit, which denies anything supernatural. On the other hand, a basic conviction that God would punish the wicked could be enough to account for the picture painted here. This would really be much the same as the Deuteronomic pattern. We note too that Babylon could easily stand for the center of power of evil, as it does in Apocalypse 17 - 18. And St. Augustine, in his City of God, spoke of Babylon as capital of the City of this World.
He opens with a call to battle: raise a banner, as a rallying point for the holy ones - those solemnly dedicated to the battle by God. Isaiah imagines he hears a noise on the mountains of a great army assembling. It will sweep through Babylon easily. The mention of mountains recalls the mountains of Media, from where came the army of Medes and Persians that finally conquered Babylon.
Troops come even from faraway lands, for Babylon has ruled widely, and all want to destroy its power. The "Day of the Lord" is at hand - in Scripture that means either the day of reckoning for evil persons and things, or the great day at the end of time.
But now even nature quakes at the sight: The stars of the sky will not give their light, and the sun is dark at its rising, nor will the moon give light. These lines in verse 10 are apocalyptic genre, just as are similar words in Matthew 24, and similar words in Isaiah 34:4 for God's judgment on Edom, and in Ez 32:7-8, for His judgment on Egypt. God will put an end to the arrogance of the haughty.
People of many nations have been in Babylon for business, but in the face of this terror they will run back to their own lands. Those who do not leave will be thrust through, and their infants will be dashed to pieces, their houses looted, their wives raped. The jewel of kingdoms, Babylon, will be overthrown by God. Like Sodom and Gomorrah it will never again be inhabited. No Arab will pitch his tent there, desert creatures will live there. This happened in stages. In 538 Cyrus captured Babylon, but spared the city. In 518 after an uprising Darius conquered the city again and tore down its walls. Alexander had planned to make Babylon his metropolis, but died young. Later the city fell into complete disrepair, when Seleucus I made his capitol at Seleucia. In the first century B.C. Strabo called Babylon a wilderness. In the 19th century excavations began, to discover the ruins, still uninhabited.
In contrast, God will have compassion on His people. And men of other nations will come to them and become their servants.
There follows a taunt song against the king of Babylon - not necessarily a particular one, but the King standing for all the power of Babylon. The Lord will break the rod of the wicked with which they afflicted other peoples. So now other lands can be at peace. And even the cedars of Lebanon do not have to be cut down to build palaces in Babylon.
In a fine poetic fancy, Isaiah pictures the realm of the dead. Other ancient kings sit on their thrones there when the King of Babylon comes down. They mock Him: You have become just as weak as we are! In place of fine carpets, maggots will be spread beneath you.
That king had thought himself like the morning star, son of the Dawn, and had said he would ascent to heaven, and go above the stars. But now the king is brought to the depths of the grave.
Church Fathers like Jerome and Tertullian took this king
to stand for Lucifer, the leader of the devils. As a piece of fancy, such as that which Isaiah himself uses, this is suitable of course. The king of Babylon had considered himself the "morning star". So the Fathers made the name Lucifer, light bringer, for the chief devil.
The kings in the underworld ask: Is this the man who shook the earth? Who would not let the Hebrew captives go home? Other kings there lie in state, but the King of Babylon does not have an honorable burial. This was fulfilled specially in Belshazzar, the last king, who was killed in the invasion by the army of the Medes and Persians, and seems not to have had an honorable burial. His dynasty disappeared from history. Some object; Nabonidus was really the last king of Babylon. But cuneiform records show Nabonidus went off to Arabia on a religious mission, and never assumed the throne again, and before he left, made Belshazzar his regent. Hence the book of Daniel, and the natives, would speak of him as the king.
So the offspring of the wicked will never be mentioned. His sons will be slaughtered. Babylon itself will be a place for owls and a swampland.
Prophecy against Assyria: Summary & Comments: 14:24-27
Assyria disturbed Israel before Babylon did. Isaiah may have put Babylon first, since Babylon seems of greater lasting importance. And in the vision of a prophet, time means little.
Here God says: Surely , as I have planned, it will happen. I will crush Assyria in the land of my people. I will take his yoke from the peoples. This is my plan for the world.
Prophecy against the Philistines: Summary and Comments. 14:28-32
An oracle from the year in which King Ahaz died tells the Philistines not to be happy over the fall of Assyria. One Assyrian King has died, more are coming: a snake, a more venomous snake, a dragon. Tiglath-Pileser ruled 745-27; Shalmaneser, 727-22, Sargon II 721-05, Sennacherib 705-681. We have no record that Shalmaneser struck the Philistines, but Sargon II and Sennacherib did.
Who was that King who died? We are not certain of the date of the death of King Ahaz. Tiglath-Pileser King of Assyria died in 727, Ahaz probably died the year after that. Isaiah warned Philisthia against revolting at the death of Tiglath-Pileser, and implied that Judah should not try revolt either, as the Philistine envoys would urge. In general Isaiah advised against depending on foreign powers: they should depend upon the protection of God, if they would be faithful. Yes, Judah was to be humbled, but would be restored.
Prophecy against Moab, Summary and Comments. Chapters 15-16
Moab was a small state east of the Dead Sea, people descended from Lot (cf. Gen 19:37). They were related to Israelites, but not subject to them. .
Isaiah mentions quite a number of place names, cities that are destroyed in a night, that is, suddenly. The locations of many of these are not known. But the point of the prophecy is still clear.
Every head is shaved, every beard is cut off. Among the Israelites to shave a beard was a sign of disgrace (2 Sam 10:4-5) or mourning (Is 15:2; Jer 41:5) or sadness ( Ezra 9:3). Israelites, like Semites in general had full rounded beards. Philistines and Egyptians were usually clean shaven. Leviticus 19:27 and 21:5 says the Israelites should not shave or trim the edges of the beards -- too closely resembling gentile mourning customs (Dt 14:1). They also avoided the gentile practice of sacrificing hair to deities.
In 15:5 Isaiah shows a feeling of sympathy for Moab, something unusual in a prophet for an outside people. They flee as far as Zoar (SE tip of Dead Sea). The rulers of Moab seem to have sent lambs to acknowledge the overlordship of the King of Judah, in hope he would accept them as refugees. The reply from Jerusalem may be the lines 4b-5: Jerusalem is protected by God, and the Messiah will come. This reminds us of Is 9:7, speaking of the extension of the power of the future Messiah.
The refugees go as far as the Ravine of the Poplars, the southernmost boundary of Moab. Then they go into the land of Edom. The lament is heard everywhere. The waters of Dimon (or Dibon) seem to be those of the nearby Arnon river - they already run red with the blood of the slain, and worse things are yet to come. The enemy is as fierce as a lion, and about to fall on Moab.
Next Isaiah speaks of the reason for the crushing of Moab: its pride and insolence against Judah's God.
Remarkably, again Isaiah weeps for Moab in 16:9.
But in 16:13-14 he reports the Lord has said that within three years, counted as carefully as a servant bound by contract would count them, Moab will be despised, with few feeble survivors.
The fulfillment came fully with the Messiah, and there was a foreshadowing of Him in the incorporation of Ruth of Moab into the lineage of the coming King Messiah.
Oracle against Damascus and Ephraim. Summary and Comments. 17:1-14
At the start of this section, Isaiah predicts that Damascus will no longer be a city, but a heap of ruins. The problem is: In ancient times Damascus was not destroyed, but continued to exist, even though it stopped being the seat of a powerful king (such as we see in Isaiah 7). It is still a city today.
First, we recall the extremely colorful language we saw in chapter 13, where in speaking of the destruction of Babylon - which really was physically destroyed - the prophet used extreme language, saying the sun would not give its light etc. We gave references to anther passage of Isaiah on the punishment of Edom and one from Ezekiel on the punishment of Egypt. So we see that Semites do not speak like modern Americans.
Further, we must notice that the real center of this passage is the destruction of the northern kingdom, called here Ephraim. That did happen with the fall of Samaria in 721. It had allied with Damascus, which also lost its power. Further, in the Dead Sea Scrolls in what we have come to call the Damascus Document, in 5. 12, we find interpretations much different than ours. It says that the word Well stands for the Law, and those who dug it were the converts of Israel who left the land of Judah to sojourn in the land of Damascus. Now did some of the Scroll people really live in Damascus? Not very likely. This was a symbolic use of the name Damascus. Further, in the Pesher on the prophet Habakkuk from Qumram (xii. 3-4) we find that Lebanon has come to stand for the Temple. Similarly the old Targum Onkelos uses the name Lebanon where Habakkuk in the Hebrew text had spoken of the Temple. Also Temple was used to stand for the Council of the Community.
In Hosea 8:13, from middle of 8th century, the prophet threatens that if they do not reform, they "will return to Egypt." That was of course symbolic, for oppression. Samaria was destroyed in 721, Assyria oppressed them, took so many into captivity then.
Again, the name Kittim at first meant the people of Crete. But in the Scrolls it is commonly used to stand for the Romans. Even before that, in 1 Mac 1:1 Kittim stood for Greece proper. And in Daniel 11:30 the Kittim means the Romans.
Apocalypse/Revelation 11:8 says that the two witnesses after being killed will lie in the streets of the great city which is spiritually called Sodom and Egypt where also their Lord was crucified! What a free symbolism: Sodom = Egypt = Jerusalem.
So it is easily possible Isaiah was using similar symbolic language here.
A smaller problem is about the "cities of Aroer". Some versions make it just "her cities". The Hebrew would admit either possibility. The general message is the same either way. (There were three cites named Aroer, two of them could be meant here, the two in Transjordan).
The northern kingdom had prospered under Jeroboam II, and even a bit after him. But now it is to be turned into poverty. It will be like a field after the harvesters have gone through, leaving only a few stray gleanings. That, says Isaiah, will finally lead men to turn to the Holy One of Israel -- again, a favorite name he uses for God. Then men will give up the altars of idols, and the poles sacred to Asherah, the personification of female vitality.
Isaiah says that even if they have planted choice things, they will reap little. It reminds us of chapter 1 of Haggai, where God said through Haggai: You have planted much, reaped little - and have done many other things that should give good results, but they have not given them, because of the people's infidelity to God.
Some versions of 10b - 11 speak of "the desirable one", a surname for Adonis of Tammuz, worshipped in Babylonia and Syria as god of spring. In his honor people planted things that would shoot up quickly, but not last, expressing the short life and speedy death of Adonis.
The next three verses, 12-14 according to some scholars form separate section, not belonging to this one, but speaking of the raging of Assyria. That is not impossible, but seems less likely, for Isaiah has already had written a full section on Assyria.
Prophecy against Cush: Summary and Comments: Chapter 18
Chapters 18-20 form a sort of unit. Chapter 18 is on Cush or Ethiopia, 19 is on Egypt, 20 is on both. Cush is south of Egypt, but at one time had extended its rule over part of Egypt. It is divided by the tributaries of the Nile river. The date for these chapter is much debated. The best probabilities are around 712, the time of the Philistine revolt against Assyria, or the restlessness in 705 after the death of Sargon.
The "whirring wings" point to the Nile valley, with its numerous tsetse flies, locusts and other insects.
Ambassadors here do not mean permanent representatives of one nation living in another nation, as today. Rather, the embassies were sent at particular times. This one seems to have come to urge Judah to join in revolt against Assyria. Earlier, Hoshea, king of the northern kingdom c 725 had actually trusted Egyptian help against the Assyrians (cf. 2 Kings 17:4). They came this time in papyrus boats, which were of course very light. Here God through Isaiah tells them to go back to their own land. (Some think he is telling them to go to Assyria, a land cut by rivers, Mesopotamia). The prophet here, and elsewhere wants Judah to depend on God, not on foreign alliances. Actually both northern and southern kingdoms were geographically in a middle position, along the fertile crescent, between Assyria and Egypt, and hence often became a battle ground for those great powers. Even Hezekiah, a good king had had a tendency to take part in coalitions with foreign help.
Isaiah speaks of the ambassadors as tall, smooth-skinned. Perhaps their bearing in Jerusalem was majestic - a contrast to the ruin that was to come upon them later.
The Ethiopians were probably fearful of the Assyrians, and with reason. But God tells them that He rules the destiny of nations: He will remain quiet, and look down from above, serenely like the light high clouds that were common at harvest time when no rain clouds were seen. He looks calmly down from his dwelling place on their struggles, for He, as absolute Master, dominates the outcome. At the very moment when Assyria seemed most powerful, it was cut down.
The prophet predicts that even Egypt will bring gifts to the Lord's land. 2 Chronicles 32:23 tells how such gifts came after the Lord saved Jerusalem from Sennacherib in 701 (in Isaiah 37:36). Apocalypse/Revelation 21:26 tells of gifts from the nations to the new Jerusalem.
Prophecy on Egypt. Summary and Comment. Chapter 19
Riding on a swift cloud (as in Psalm 104. 3) the Lord will come to Egypt. The idols of the land will tremble before Him. (Some have imagined the idols bowing as the Holy Family came into Egypt on their exile there). St. Athanasius wrote exultantly in his work On the Incarnation that the triumph of the Gospel in his own land was fulfilling this prophecy.
There will be civil strife in Egypt. Then, being discouraged, the Egyptians will consult idols and the dead.
God will hand them over to a cruel master. This may be Pharaoh Shabaka, founder of the 25th Dynasty, an Ethiopian dynasty, sometime between 711 and 720. Before he took power there had been numerous city kings, with petty divisions in Egypt. Others think the cruel king was Esar-haddon of Assyria, who subdued Egypt in 670 BC.
The prophet predicts the river will go dry. Egypt as Herodotus said was "the gift of the NIle". Only its annual floods made life possible there, by their irrigation of the land. The threats in verses 1-34 remind us of the plagues at the time of the Exodus, when God had previously subdued Egypt.
Egypt had been thought to have specially wise men, but Isaiah says their wisdom will come to nothing. They cannot tell what God has planned against Egypt. Zoan seems to be the same as Tanis. If the late dating of the Exodus is correct (1290 BC), then Tanis would be the city where Moses confronted the Pharaoh and won, after the plagues struck the land The officials of Zoan and Memphis were thought to be among the noblest of Egypt, who were proud of their descent from ancient kings-- But they will be ineffectual.
The reason: The Lord has poured on them a spirit of dizziness, so that Egypt will stagger like a drunkard in his vomit. Then the Egyptians will lose manliness and be like women. They will shudder at the hand of the Lord raised against them.
Even a mention of the land of Judah will terrify them, as they realize that it is He who has struck them with His judgments. We could either say that the complete fulfillment of all of this must wait for the end-time, or consider this as another example of Hebrew hyperbole -- recalling the words about the sun and moon in chapter 13. Isaiah would then be imagining that the Egyptians remembered the power of God shown long before in the Exodus.
But then, at verse 18, the tone changes to a forecast of future blessings for Egypt. The mention of five cities may be an allusion to the Exodus, in which Joshua, after Jericho and Ai, conquered the kings of five cities who had united against Joshua (cf Joshua 10). It is evident that the number five is symbolic, meaning few in comparison to the total of Egyptian cities. Jews had probably lived in Egypt rather early. The pseudo-Aristeas reports that Pharaoh Psammtik (644-10) used Jews as mercenary troops against the Ethiopians.
Isaiah mentions that one of the five will be called City of Destruction. However the reading here is debated. Some think it means City of the Sun, which would be Heliopolis.
Isaiah then says that there will be an altar to the Lord in Egypt, and a monument, perhaps an obelisk, at its border. We know of a temple there a bit later, at Elephantine (modern Aswan) in the 6th or 5th centuries. He says the Lord will protect the Jews there.
The prophet foretells a highway between Egypt and Assyria. Actually there was such a road, from ancient times. The sense seems to be that in the future God will bring Assyrians, Egyptians and Jews into one people. This was most fully fulfilled later, cf. St. Paul in Ephesians 3:6.
Victory Over Egypt-Ethiopia. Summary and Comment. Chapter 20
In 711 Sargon II of Assyria sent his top commander to put down a revolt of Ashdod, which had broken out in 713. Egypt had supported the rebellion, and Assyrian inscriptions say Judah also supported it. But it seems Hezekiah withdrew from the rebellion rather early.
Three years before the fall of Ashdod, that is, in 714, God ordered Isaiah to take off the rough sackcloth garment he was wearing, usual for a prophet (cf. 2 Kings 1:8; Zech 13:4; Mark 1:6). He may have still kept a long woolen undergarment, or, some think, only a loincloth. Complete nudity was frowned on: cf. Gen 9:20-27.
This was a symbolic action, a forecast of what Assyria would do to Egypt, Ethiopia, and those who trusted in them: they would go into captivity.
Such symbolic actions were usual for Ezekiel (chapters 4-5 and 24:27), but not for Isaiah.
The Fall of Babylon. Summary and Comment. 21:1-10
This is marked as an oracle concerning the Desert by the Sea. Babylon will be a desert, and the southern part of it extended to the sea, the Persian Gulf.
A vision came to Isaiah like a whirlwind, such as he had seen come up to Judah through the Negeb, to the south. It was a frightening vision. Media and Elam (to the south of Media) would attack Babylon. All the groaning Babylon had caused would cease for Babylon would fall. Donkeys and camels would come with the army - they were used in large numbers in the army of Persia for transport and to confuse the enemy in battle.
When did this happen? Babylon was destroyed by Sennacherib of Assyria in 689 (Esarhaddon, son of Sennacherib rebuilt it). Babylon reached its greatest splendor after the fall of the Assyrian empire. It was captured by the Persians in 539, and destroyed by Xerxes in 478. (Alexander the Great planned to rebuild it, but died young). The capture by Cyrus of Persia was vividly described by Daniel, chapter 8. (It says that Darius the Mede captured it. Josephus (Antiquities 10. 245-49) does report that Darius made the actual capture. He was a kinsman of Cyrus the chief conqueror, who at times did use kinsmen for such purposes. As Daniel describes the event, Belshazzar and his nobles were having a great banquet (cf. 21:5) when the handwriting on the wall came. Herodotus says the capture was so swift that those feasting in the center of the city did not at first know the outer parts had been taken. Cyrus did not destroy the gods of Babylon, but that was done later on.
There is mention of oiling the shields -- perhaps to make the missiles of the enemy glance off, or it might mean the shield straps were oiled so they would not chafe.
Prophecy on Edom. Summary and Comments 21. 11-12
The heading says this is an oracle on Dumah. That seems to mean Edom. Arabian Dumah was east of Mt Seir, mentioned in the next line, and probably was linked with Edom for a time. But also, Dumah in Hebrew means silence -- perhaps the silence of death?
Edom is the same as Esau, twin brother of Jacob, and stands for rejection of the covenant. God threatened Edom more than once.
Someone calls from Mt. Seir, asking the Watchman: what is left of the night. It may mean the country is in distress, and ask show long it will last. The reply says morning, relief, is coming, but also night, meaning that the relief will not last.
Prophecy against Arabia. Summary and Comments. 21. 13-17
The Dedanite caravans, it seems have been driven off the usual caravan routes by a threat from Assyrians. The prophet tells them to take refuge in the steppe, a sort of barren plain, and asks the people of Tema to help them with food and water. Kedar is another tribe of the region, noted for their bowmen. But they are to be subjugated by Assyria under, probably, Sargon and Sennacherib.
"According to the years of a hired servant" means a time anxiously and carefully computed.
Prophecy against Frivolous Jerusalem. Summary and Comments. 22. 1-25.
The time and setting of this section is quite unclear. Some think it was just after the Lord had killed so many of the army of Sennacherib, who beseiged Jerusalem in 701. They were rejoicing then. But we would have to ask: Why would Isaiah object to that?
It is quite possible that the words "the Valley of Vision" refer to some place outside Jerusalem, and that the setting is that Sennacherib has been taking cities on his way to Jerusalem (cf 2 Kings 18:13). The people have heard of it, and in a spirit of "Eat drink and be merry: tomorrow we die" are becoming frivolous. Such a strange setting for revelry was seen during World War I and II.
Who are the slain who were not killed in battle? It may be those who were captured and surrendered, and executed after that.
Verse 5 speaks of a Day of the Lord. That expression has two meanings in general. It may refer to the day when at the end of the world God will set things right. Or it may refer to lesser occasions much before that time, which are evil for the enemies of God's people, but good for them, unless they had been unfaithful.
We are not sure why the references to Elam and Kir are given. Elam was East of Babylonia. Kir was subject to Assyria (2 Kings 16:9). They were probably auxiliaries of Assyria.
The Palace of the Forest was on Mount Zion, and served among other things as an arsenal for weapons. The City of David is a fortress also located on Zion. Isaiah means they were trusting in weapons more than in God. God, says the prophet, had planned the whole event long before. He is the absolute, all-powerful Master.
He speaks of a reservoir between the walls for water from the Old Pool, to hold water from the Pool of Siloam for use during a siege. Part of the south of the city was between two walls that enclosed the eastern and western hills. Hezekiah took such measure, as we see from 2 Chronicles 32:2-8.
Isaiah now insists on his usual policy: the chief defense is God, they should weep and wail and put on sackcloth for penance, and should go to the temple. Instead of that, they are going in for revelry: "Eat and drink, tomorrow we die".
The prophet adds that the Almighty Lord -- who controls the whole event - had told him: this sin will never be atoned for. It probably means that punishment will come for sure for their sins, no matter what.
Isaiah now speaks of a prominent individual, Shebna, who seems to have been ostentatious, showing off his power, having a fine tomb carved for himself in Jerusalem. But God says: he will be taken to a strange land in captivity, and will die there. His splendid chariots in which he paraded in Jerusalem will not help him at all.
Shebna seems to have been the steward, the custodian of the royal possessions, and so he had the keys. But God planned to depose the proud Shebna, and give his place to the lowly Eliakim. However, Eliakim is foretold as going to fall too, because of his nepotism. Eliakim was called "a driven peg", on which many things could be hung - his relatives depended on him, in his nepotism. But that peg too would be sheared off.
Prophecy against Phoenicia. Summary and Comments. Chapter 23
Isaiah asks the ships of Tarshish to wail for Tyre, where they might have come in, is destroyed. Tarshish is probably in Spain, part of the far flung mercantile empire of Phoenicia.
He says they learned of the ruin when they came top Cyprus on their return voyage. Grain from Egypt had come there on such ships. He calls the Nile Shihor. Tyre is called a fortress of the sea. Part of Tyre was built on a rocky island near the coast. Tyre had given crowns - that is, it seems that some of its settlers became kings or powerful rulers. So they should wail for Tyre.
Then he asks Tyre to till its land, to become agricultural instead of mercantile as it had been, The words "Daughter of Tarshish" and "Daughter of Sidon" mean merely those cities, called daughters. The word of is a usage like that in our expression the city of Washington. It does not mean Washington has a city, but merely the city that is Washington. Similarly we often find the words "Daughter of Zion", which means merely Zion.
The text of verse 13 is in poor condition. It could be translated: Look at the land of the Kittim [the people of Cyprus] he made it a heap of ruins". Or: "Look at the land of the Babylonians." which Assyria has struck. If we take the second translation given here, it would refer to the attack on Babylon by Sargon in 710 or by Sennacherib in 703, both of which came before Sennacherib struck Tyre in 701.
Then the prophet says Tyre will be desolate for 70 years, the span of a king's life. But then Tyre will return to her work as a prostitute, improper commerce with the nations. The profits of Tyre will go to Jerusalem.
The fulfillment of these prophecies began under Shalmaneser of Assyria. The seventy years probably means the period 700 to 630 when Assyria would not let Tyre engage in business activities. Nabuchadnezzar beseiged the new city of Tyre for 13 years. How much success he had is not clear: Ezek 29:17-18 seems to imply he took it, but Ezek 26 seems to imply the opposite. But neither passage is fully clear. Alexander the Great did take the city after a siege of seven months. Then 8000 inhabitants were killed outright, and 30, 000 were sold as slaves. Still later, Tyre again prospered, but not as before.
As for wealth coming to Jerusalem: David had arranged with King Hiram to supply materials and workers to build the great temple, constructed under his son Solomon. Still later, b y authorization of Cyrus, conqueror of Babylon, the people of Tyre and Sidon helped the rebuilding of the temple (Ezra 3:7).
The Final Judgment of the whole World. Summary and Comments. Chapter 24
After foretelling the doom of so many nations, not strangely Isaiah as it were sums it up, and speaks of the great Day of the Lord. The words "day of the Lord" could be used for lesser occasions, but especially meant the final reckoning. He says it will be the same for all classes of people, for it is time to reckon. Of course, the good will fare well in the long run, even if they may suffer from earthly cataclysms: the reckoning for them is favorable; not so for the wicked.
He says the earth will be totally laid waste. This is Semitic hyperbole and apocalyptic language. - Apocalyptic is a genre in which bizarre images are used, it foretells cataclysmic events and often secret things. The original readers knew well they needed to reduce the wording-- though it was not always clear how far. -- Some think apocalyptic was not known as early as Isaiah. We agree that full blown long passages are far in the future from Isaiah. But we did see touches of it in Isaiah 13:9-10 for the fall of Babylon. There the prophet said that the stars will not give their light, the sun will be dark at its rising. Similar language appears again in Isaiah 34:4 on the fall of Edom, and in Ezek 32:7-8 for the punishment of Egypt. There will be more of it in Matthew 24. And 2 Peter 3:12-13 says the heavens will be destroyed in fire and the elements will melt. But the fire is a purifying and refining one. Hence 2 Peter continues, saying that there will be a new heavens and a new earth.
He says that the reason is that people have defiled the earth and disobeyed the laws. This will be extensive, as we see later in Matthew 24:12: "Because sin will reach its peak, the love of most people will grow cold." And again in Luke 18:8: "When the Son of Man comes, do you think He will find faith on the earth?"
So a curse will strike, and very few will be left.
What is the city that will be left in ruins? Probably he has in mind Babylon, which stands for the world power opposed to God.
At first it may seem strange, but then in 24:14 Isaiah begins to speak of praise from the east and from the west for the Lord. They sing: "Glory to the righteous One." This is the same sense as a favorite title used by Isaiah for God: the Holy One. Holy means that He loves and observes all that is right. Perhaps in the background of his thought is the event of 2 Chronicles 32:23, when after the Lord's victory over Sennacherib in 701, many brought gifts to Jerusalem to the good king Hezekiah.
Then gloom comes again to the prophet's mind so that he says: I waste away. The floodgates of the heavens are opened - does he think of the language used for the deluge? -- and the earth reels like a drunkard.
The prophet next says in 24:21 that the Lord will punish even the powers in the heavens and the kings on the earth below. So it seems the powers are not the same as the kings - powers above, kings below. He must be thinking of the powers of evil spirits - we think of the words of St. Paul (Eph 2:2) about "the prince of the air". Then again comes more apocalyptic language: the moon will be confounded and the sun ashamed, before the Lord of Hosts.
The Kingdom of God and Salvation. Summary and Comments. Chapter 25
The whole of chapters 24-27 speak of the end times. They include an intermixture of dire prophecies and of praise of God.
Now Isaiah exalts God as doing marvelous things which He had planned long ago. For in His eyes, time is as nothing: a thousand years are as one day.
The city is reduced to rubble. It obviously stands for the forces opposed to God. Babylon as we have seen is often spoken of in that way.
Some people will honor God when they see His great works in destroying the proud city and protecting His own.
But later all people, including those a first punished are invited to a rich feast which the Lord prepares on Mount Zion. We naturally recall the words of the prophet about all people streaming to Jerusalem, in chapter 2. He will swallow up death forever - we think naturally of the imagery of the Apocalypse (21:4-5) at the end of the New Testament where death will be no more, and God will wipe away all tears.
Commentators are not in agreement as to the meaning of the covering, which some versions translate as shroud, that covers all nations. Some suggest it means spiritual blindness, which will be removed finally: cf. 2 Cor 3:15-18. Then there will be a song of praise for the victory of God, whose hand will rest on Mount Zion, while His feet will trample Moab - a symbol of the forces opposed to Him. (The plains of Moab could be clearly seen from Jerusalem).
Thanksgiving of Judah. Summary and Comments. Chapter 26
The redeemed, typified by the land of Judah, will sing then: we have a strong city. It does not mean Jerusalem, but God Himself is their Rock - a frequent name for Him in the OT -- and their strength. So they can open the gates without fear to let the righteous enter.
The righteous are those who keep faith. That means: who keep the covenant. It does not mean the unfortunate mistake of Luther who thought confidence that the merits of Christ applied to him was the needed faith. In the OT, fidelity always means fidelity to the covenant. We think of Hosea 6:6, so often mistranslated: "For I desire hesed, that is, fidelity to the covenant, not [the mere externals of] sacrifice, and love of God, rather than burnt offerings. " Hebrew hesed is often mistranslated as mercy, since the Septuagint used eleos, not having any real word for hesed, fidelity to the covenant bond. And we rendered Hebrew da'ath as love. For it is the same root as yada which means not only intellectual acknowledgement, but complete adherence in mind and will. Those who do this, God will keep in "perfect peace" --which is really shalom, which means general well-bring, not only peace.
So Isaiah tells them to trust in the Lord, for He is the Rock-- which we noted above. He levels the proud city to the dust, so that the feet of the poor can trample upon it.
Therefore the way on which the righteous walk is level, they walk in the way of God's laws - again, fidelity to the covenant.
He adds that even if favor or grace is shown to the wicked, they learn nothing - for they are hardened. The word we rendered by grace or favor - is Hebrew hen which has both meanings. But if we render it as favor, we must keep in mind that it does not mean only that God sits there and smiles on people, but gives them nothing, so that they would do good by their own power. That would be Pelagian heresy. So it is really better to say grace, which expresses what He gives. Isaiah adds that even when they live among the righteous, they still are evil - even though the kind of company one keeps tends to pull him in to the same level. These wicked people do not see that the hand of the Lord is raised on high, ready to strike them.
Then he prays that fire may consume them. We must not take this as a desire for revenge, which is immoral. No, he is asking that the objective order be observed, which calls for punishment of the wicked.
He even says: "All that we have done, you have done for us. " This expresses our total dependence upon God. A meditation on Philippians 2:13 would help here.
He adds that those who once ruled them - probably thinking of Assyria-- are dead, and they will not return, their very memory will be forgotten.
In enlarging the nation, the Lord has gained glory for Himself. We must not misunderstand this. The First Vatican Council defined that God created for His own glory. But the head of the theological committee there, Bishop Gasser, explained that those words did not mean God was seeking to gain something - He cannot gain anything, and glory does Him no good - but merely that the fact that He does good to His creatures, is a glory to him. We think of the saying of St. Irenaeus (4. 14. 1): "In the beginning God formed Adam, not because He stood in need of man, but that He might have someone to receive His benefits. "
The prophet says that we were in labor, like a woman about to give birth, but brought forth only wind, nothing worth while.
However he tells God: "Your dead [the righteous] will live, their bodies will rise. " He tells the dead to wake up and shot for joy, for the morning dew is upon them, and the earth will give birth to its dead. "
Some commentators here try to deny that Isaiah speaks of a resurrection of the dead, saying such a belief was not found that early in history of the Jews. But the argument is a vicious circle: it means we cannot find any early text, because this is not one. It is undeniable that Daniel 12:2 (much later, in all probability) also speaks of a resurrection. Much earlier, Psalm 17:15 seems to speak of being with God after death. Psalm 49:16 probably has the same sense, and perhaps Psalm 73:23. Isaiah 53:20 seems to speak of a resurrection of the suffering servant. And the debated text of Job 19:25-27 seems to mean survival too.
Finally in verses 20-21 he tells the people to hide in their rooms until God's wrath has passed by. This is remarkable: no one could really hide from God. That is only a poetic fancy. But it is like the poetic fancy found in Job 14:13 where Job wishes he could hide in Sheol until God's anger had passed - a passage which one unperceptive commentator thinks must mean a denial of survival.
Destruction of the wicked, salvation for God's people. Summary and Comments. Chapter 27.
God will punish three monsters, two of them called Leviathan, symbolically representing world powers. In Caananite mythology Leviathan was a sea monster, whom God conquered. The fact Isaiah uses the word need not mean he believes such mythology - we can use lines from Alice in Wonderland without believing the tale itself. The gliding serpent may stand for the Euphrates river, which is swift, the coiling serpent could stand for the Tigris, with all its windings. And together of course they stand for Assyria and Babylon. The monster of the sea could stand for another great power, Egypt.
God will punish them, and will protect Israel -- both north and south included -- which He calls a fruitful vineyard - that same imagery was used in Isaiah 5:5.
He says He is not angry with His vineyard -- so this stands for the future Israel, not that of Isaiah's day.
Finally Israel will bear much fruit. We think of the words of Jesus saying that he who abides in Him bears much fruit. Only in this sense is 27:6 true that Israel will fill all the world with fruit.
Before that time, however, He needs to strike His people. He will send the East wind - a hot desert wind, standing easily for the powers to the East, Assyria and Babylon. He destroyed them completely. He will leave a remnant in Israel, after their sin is atoned for, their debt paid (cf. on this concept our comments on chapter 1 above, as to sin as a debt, which the Holiness of God wants paid).
The destruction of the city, overcome by the enemies from Mesopotamia, is so great that cattle graze in what used to be a populous city. Israel has been a people without understanding of the will of the Creator.
But the prophet looks far into the future when the Lord will thresh and purify His people, from the lands towards Assyria, and the lands toward Egypt. Then all will come to worship on God's holy mountain. On this cf. our explanations in the commentary on chapter 2 above.
This is the completion of the chapters 14-27 that look far into the future, even into the last period.
Egypt, Assyria and Zion. Summary and Comments. Chapters 28-33
A) Judah and Samaria: one in sin, one in judgment. Chapter 28
Except for the first 6 verses, on Samaria, the prophecies of chapters 28-33 are likely to date from the period 705-701, just before the invasion of Sennacherib, in which, because of the piety of Hezekiah, God saved Jerusalem from being taken.
The first six verses foretell the destruction of Samaria, so they must belong to a period before the siege of 722-21. These lines may belong before 730 BC, and if so are the earliest prophecies of Isaiah we possess.
The imagery in this section is among the finest given us by Isaiah.
Samaria is called a wreath, and a flower with splendid color, which will soon fade. For it was a beautiful city crowning a hill that rose high above the valley beneath. But corruption was eating at its roots, the moral looseness and debauchery of its nobles. We are reminded of chapter 4 of Amos.
The Lord has prepared Assyria against them, which will come like a destructive wind and hailstorm. And just as any passerby is apt to pick an early fig (one that ripens early, in June) and eat it on the spot, so Assyria will gobble up Samaria.
Even then, the Lord will be a glorious crown and wreath for the remnant of Samaria, those that are faithful to Him.
B) Against Judah:28:7-13:
It seems that here the scene shifts form Samaria and its fall to Judah. Its leaders also stagger from wine, priests and prophets and others. It sounds like a drinking bout, according to some commentators held in the forecourt of the temple.
It is a foul scene: the tables are covered with vomit. Yet the drunks think they are seeing visions.
These same drunks object to the objection of Isaiah: "Who does he think he is trying to teach? Is it to children just weaned? He says: Do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule, a little here, a little there, ". The sense seems to be that Isaiah is berating them as one would children. So they imitate what his words sound like. In Hebrew the words have a strange sound: sav lasav, sav lasav, kav lakav, kav lakav.
The reply Isaiah makes picks up on their sad words. He tells them that God is saying: "I will speak to this people with foreign lips and a strange tongue". He means they will hear Assyrian spoken, which they will not understand. God had offered them rest and refuge. But they would not listen. Interestingly, St. Paul uses these words to object to the foolish attachment the Corinthians had to the gift of tongues (1 Cor 14:21:) "I will speak to this people by men of strange tongues. . . and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord. " St Paul seemed to mean: "You Corinthians think tongues are a sign of God's favor - it may be quite the opposite, the way Isaiah used these words to warn that the Assyrians were coming.
So the prophet continues: You scoffers who rule the people are boasting that you have made a covenant with death. The words are strange indeed. They seem to mean that the leaders have made a secret agreement with the Assyrians, so that even if an invasion comes, they themselves will be secure.
Isaiah replies in the name of God: Your pact with death will not stand up when the terrible scourge of Assyria comes.
Instead what they should notice is this: God says he has placed a tested corner stone in Zion as a secure foundation. God says: "I will make justice (mishpat) his measuring line, and righteousness (sedaqah) his plumb line."
There is a double meaning here, a kind of multiple fulfillment: 1) They really ought to trust in having the kingship that descends from David, instead of foreign alliances (a pact with death); 2) the real cornerstone, the righteous king is to come, the Messiah, which is Christ: Cf. Romans 9; 33 and 1 Peter 21:6ff. Jesus will be the cornerstone, on which some will rise, by placing their faith in Him, ; others, who should have been the builders, the leaders of the people, will reject this cornerstone, and so they themselves will stumble and fall: Psalm 118:22 and Isaiah 8:14, and Luke 2:34.
So, returning to the imagery of the pact with death from above: Hail (the Assyrian storm) will sweep away the refuge you thought you had made for yourself. Your pact with death will be annulled. It will sweep you away.
For the sake of something somewhat parallel: in 490 B. C. in the Peloponnesian War, Themistocles the Greek engaged in duplicity or double dealing with the Persian invaders. First, he told them to attack the Athenian fleet, which they gladly did- but it helped the Greeks, who otherwise might have fled and lost the best opportunity to defeat the Persian fleet. In 479 after Xerxes, King of Persia was beaten and on the way home, Themistocles wanted the Greeks to pursue. They refused. So he wrote to the king and said he stopped them from pursuing. Eventually it paid off for him when Athens later rejected him. A new Persian king, Artaxerxes, made him governor of Magnesia and gave him a fine pension.
They then will be like those who seek rest on a proverbial bed that is too short for them or warmth with only half a blanket. It seems Isaiah is here using a proverb known to his hearers.
God Himself will turn out to be not their protector, for they rejected Him, but their enemy. At Mount Perazim (the word means "breaking forth" and in the Valley of Gibeon (2 Sam 5:18-25 and 1 Chron 14:10-16) David defeated the Philistines when the Lord roused Himself. Now the Lord will rouse Himself against His own people, for they have deserted Him.
The multiple fulfillment of this prophecy came when Babylon, successor of Assyria, destroyed Jerusalem under Nebuchadnezzar, and again when the Romans in 70 AD destroyed Jerusalem again, for the leaders' rejection of the true Messiah, the true cornerstone.
Now Isaiah turns to speaking like a Wisdom teacher. Just as the farmer does not plow continually, nor thresh constantly, nor does he use a sledge on small things like Caraway or Cummin, so God will act - even though it will take time. The threatened fall of Samaria came in 722-21; the fall of Jerusalem to Nebuchadnezzar came more than a century later in two waves in 596 and 586 B. C. To God a century is as a day.
Also, the image showing that the farmer does not plant or thresh indefinitely long - all would be destroyed - so too God will leave a remnant after the destruction. We think of St. Paul in Romans 9:29: "If the Lord of Hosts had not left us a seed [a remnant] we would be like Sodom and like Gomorrah. "
Jerusalem Afflicted and Redeemed. Summary and Comments. Chapter 29
The Ariel to which Isaiah announces woe is clearly, from context, Jerusalem. The word itself is puzzling. It means altar hearth. We find it also in Ezek 43:15. The point is this: even the place where so many offerings are brought to God will not escape punishment. For there will be a siege. We are not sure if this is the one by Sennacherib in 701, when God prevented the Assyrians from actually taking the city, or the later one, 596- 586 by Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon, who really did wreck the city.
The prophet says: Add year to year- he seems to mean their constant celebration of religious feasts will not stop the punishment that is coming, which he describes with fine poetic figures: thunder, earthquake, noise, windstorm, tempest, flames, hordes.
And yet, if it refers to the unsuccessful siege by Sennacherib -- in divine prophecies, we may, as we have seen, have more than one fulfillment - the enemy who has dreamed of rich spoils from conquest will find it was all only a dream. For as we read more fully in Isaiah 37, God Himself rescued the city from Sennacherib, dramatically slaying so many of his army.
Isaiah not turns to the spiritual blindness of his people. We recall how in chapter 6, where the prophet described his inaugural vision, God told him to blind the people. Of course, as we explained there, it really meant they would blind themselves. But now the people including their leader, even especially they, are so blind and in such a stupor they remind one of the staggering of someone drunk with alcohol.
If we recall what we said about the two spirals, in chapter 6, here we have more on the descent into the evil spiral.
Then in 29:13 we meet a famous line, which we fear applies to many today: This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. ---Yes the Jews of that day were good at what we today call "participation". They loved to sing, to join in processions, all the externals. But a sacrifice needs the outward things only as a sign of the interior disposition, which is always that of obedience to God. The people of Isaiah's day were offering many sacrifices, but not obeying. Part of that disobedience, though not nearly the whole of it, was their pact with Egypt, when the prophet had warned them they must trust in God, not in foreign powers.
Then inverse 14 we meet a frightening thought: because they have not worshipped Him rightly, that is, using only the externals, not the interior obedience, therefore wisdom will perish from the wise. We are tempted to ask today: Has wisdom departed from many today who should know better, but who dissent from the teaching of the Church, and break God's laws, with the result that they fall into errors that really are foolish?
The blind men of that time said: Who sees us? Who will know? As if they could hide things from the Lord! God uses through Isaiah a comparison of a potter, who has made something that did not turn out well. Before firing the clay, he reshapes it. So God will reshape His people, even though only a remnant are open to follow Him.
What of free will? We explained in commenting on Isaiah 10:15 that there are two orders, the external and the internal. It is in the internal that God has committed Himself to freedom for us. But in the external order, which includes the way His providence governs even kingdoms, He may use nations as He wills, just as 10:15 said the axe should not boast against the hand that swung it. We cited too Proverbs, 21:16 saying the heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord: wheresoever He wills, He will turn it.
This chapter ends with a prediction of a better future. He first uses images from nature: Lebanon will become a fertile field, and the humble will rejoice in the Lord. It is evident he speaks of the remnant who are and will be devoted to the will of the Lord who will enjoy this. Then the Lord who redeemed Abraham will redeem His people, so they need no longer be ashamed. They will acknowledge the holiness of the Holy One of Israel- Isaiah's favorite title for God- the one who supremely observes all that is objectively right.
Those who do so will grow in understanding - we think again of the two spirals we described in commenting on chapter 6 above, but now of the good spiral.
Foolish Reliance on Egypt, Summary and Comments. Chapter 30
Judah has sent envoys to Egypt for help. This was probably part of the moves that led Sennacherib to invade in 701. But Isaiah says they should not do that, should instead trust in the Lord: Woe to the obstinate children, who heap sin upon sin. Egypt will not really help them, it will bring disgrace instead. Isaiah imagines the envoys have gone as far as Zoan, the first city in the NE part of the Delta, and then to Hanes, later Heracleopolis, in Middle Egypt, on an island in the Nile.
We are not sure which Pharaoh is in mind: it could be Tirhakah of the Ethiopian dynasty, or it could be a lesser Egyptian king in the Delta who by this time had regained some power. The envoys have rich presents for the Pharaoh, on donkeys and camels. But Isaiah calls Egypt "Rahab-do-nothing". As a proof to be seen later that he was right, he wants his word written on a scroll or tablet. In some other places also Egypt is called Rahab, cf 51:9.
So again, the prophet calls his people rebellious, who are unwilling to listen to the Lord. They tell the seers to stop having visions, just tell them pleasant things, like false prophets: cf. 1 Kings 22:12; Mic 112:11. And they want Isaiah to stop telling them of the Holy One of Israel. Therefore the prophet tells them this sin will be for them like a high wall that is cracked and will collapse suddenly, into so many pieces that one cannot even scoop up water with the larger fragments of the wall.
This seems like a total collapse. Yet he does not mean to deny what he has so often said: a faithful remnant will remain.
Their salvation will be in staying quiet and trusting. They wanted to say: We will flee upon horses. Isaiah tells them that then their pursuers will be swift, and a thousand will run away from just one. They probably had a fair number of horses at the time(cf. 2:7), b ut not enough to confront the Assyrians.
So, only a remnant will remain, like a flag planted on a mountain in the midst of ruin.
Even in this dire prediction, Isaiah says: "The Lord is so good that He actually longs to be gracious to them, if only they will let Him, by not breaking His covenant. He is a God of justice. That is, He will keep His promise to reward those who keep His covenant. Therefore blessed are those who wait for Him. If you turn right or left, His voice will be there assuring you. Then you will put aside your idols, with gold or silver inlay like a filthy cloth.
He will make your crops rich and plentiful, on the day when the towers of the strength of the enemy fall. Then the moon will be as bright as the sun, and the sun will be seven times brighter, when the Lord heals the wounds He had to inflict on them to bring them to their senses.
See the Name of the Lord - for in Hebrew thought the name as almost identical with the person will come with burning anger and clouds to shake the nations. He will lead them like animals, with a bit He puts into their mouths.
Then they will sing for joy as at a holy festival, praising the Rock, the mighty support of Israel. With a thunderous voice the Lord will shatter Assyria. He will strike them to the music of tambourines -- the instruments used at a sacrifice, for He is making the enemy like victims for sacrifice.
The burning place of Topheth - where the Hebrews sacrificed their infants by fire to Moloch - is prepared for Assyria. The pit is deep and wide to take in all the Assyrians.
Moloch means king, a name for a false god. Topheth was in the valley of Hinnom near Jerusalem, where they worshipped Moloch. From the name ge hinnom, valley of hinnom, we get the word gehenna. Later it came to mean the final punishment by fire for the wicked, and so it came to be a NT name for hell.
Follow not Egypt but the Lord. Chapter 31, summary and comments.
The diplomats of Judah have been dealing with the Egyptians, and probably. it seems, in secret, and are proud of their cleverness. Isaiah says the Lord too is wise: He can bring His plans to realization. The others do not. It is vain to trust in Egypt. Judah especially wanted the help of horses from Egypt, which had many. Judah too had many, but far to few for the Assyrian threat.
He makes a comparison: A lion that is holding and eating his prey will not be deterred by shouts. He will continue to eat. But the Almighty Lord will hover over Jerusalem and shield it, if only they trust in Him. So they should return to Him, and give up their idols. Assyria is doomed to fall by a sword that is no mere human sword. God will devour the Assyrians like a fire.
The Messianic State: true and false security. Chapter 32. Summary and Comments.
The prophet looks forward to an ideal king- who must be the Messiah. The king will rule in righteousness, like the king foretold in Isaiah 9:5-6 and 11. and his subordinate authorities will do the same - in contrast, to the corrupt government of Judah. God will be like the shade of a great rock in a thirsty land. In the sun-scorched places, such shade was very welcome.
At that time the eyes which were once failing to see will then really see; and the once deaf ears will hear. He thinks of the terrible prediction in his own chapter 6 which said that seeing they will not see, and hearing they will not understand.
In Isaiah's day, and in many other periods too, those who were base and foolish were called noble. Under the ideal king it will be otherwise.
But then Isaiah remembers the sad fact that the ideal King is not yet at hand, and God will punish those who are disobedient.
He singles out here one calls of sinners, the complacent and ostentatious women- he had spoken of them earlier in 3:16-4:1. These women are vain, and severely tempt men by their displays. He tells them that "in little more than a year" the harvests will fail. Of course, on God's time scale, one day is like 1000 years, and 1000 years like one day: cf. 2 Peter 3:8 and Isaiah 29:17-21.
He urges the women to do penance in sackcloth and to beat their breasts ford the fertile fields are going to turn into thorns and briers, and Jerusalem, the city of revelry will be a wasteland, where donkeys enjoy wandering.
Since the prophet sees all time on God's scale, this fulfillment came more than once. It began with Sennacherib in 701, who did not take the city, but afflicted it. The Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar II did sack the city in two waves, 596 and 486 BC. And the Romans did much worse in 70 A. D.
Peace through Justice. Chapter 32. Summary and Comments
As so often before, after predicting terrible woes, the prophet consoles himself - and the faithful remnant - with a promise of better things in the future. In place of the false security of the vain women, there will be real security when God's Spirit is poured out on the land. Then the desert - namely, the steppe land, which was not sand dunes, but a land that provided only scant grazing -- will be turned into a fertile field. And what was already a fertile field will be as rich as a forest.
Then "the fruit of righteousness will be peace. " For as St. Augustine observed (City of God 19. 13), "Peace is the tranquillity of order," which gives to each its proper place, and each readily and harmoniously accepts that place.
Then, even if hail would flatten the forest and level the city - not that he predicts that, it is only a hypothetical picture -- the faithful remnant will still be blessed. Isaiah uses earthly things to picture the blessedness. But as Augustine also noted in the same work (4. 33) material things promised by God were often the images of spiritual things to come in the future.
Traitorous Assyria. Chapter 33. Summary and Comments
Isaiah says woe to the destroyer, to the traitor. When he has finished destroying, he will be destroyed; when he has finished betraying, he will be betrayed. This seems to refer to the immoral action of Sennacherib of Assyria, who tried to take Jerusalem in 701. He had promised King Hezekiah he would not attack the city if Hezekiah gave tribute. He did, Sennacherib beseiged it anyway. As we will see in chapter 37, he was not able to take the city, only to get tribute. It is true Isaiah had complained against the embassies of Judah to Egypt for help, when they should have trusted in God anyway. But that does not excuse the acts of Sennacherib.
So Isaiah predicts that plunder from Assyria will be harvested as if by locusts. This came true when the Assyrians left the siege after so many of their army had been wiped out b God, and left spoils behind. Assyria actually fell in 612, with the fall of Nineveh, long after Isaiah. And Sennacherib was killed by his own sons as he worshipped in temple of a false god: 37:38.
So, the prophet said: The Lord is exalted, for He dwells on high, far above human affairs, the course of which He yet controls (cf. our comments on 10:5-15 above). He says the fear of the Lord will bring them a rich store of salvations - the plural means acts leading to salvation. The words save and salvation in Scripture could have three meanings: Rescue form temporal evils is usual in the OT. In the NT that is also possible. The only other meanings are: to enter the Church, to enter heaven. The silly infallible salvation about with fundamentalists brag is devoid of all scholarly foundation. The standard reference, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. G. Kittel, in its article on these words does not even mention that foolish notion, since intellectually it is worthless.
After this, Isaiah's thoughts return to the current situation: the envoys who thought they would bring peace are weeping bitterly at their failure. The whole land - poetical spoken -- mourns along with them: Lebanon's fine forests wither; the rich plain of Sharon turns into a steppe land.
Then the prophet uses a most remarkable bit of imagery, speaking of the Assyrian endeavor: You are pregnant with chaff, and will give birth to stubble. They will all be consumed by God's fire. Hence sinners in Zion will be terrified: Who can stand before a raging fire? Who can live with everlasting burning? Isaiah had spoken similarly in 10:17. Psalm 25 similarly asks who can dwell on God's holy mountain: only the righteous can do that. And Malachi 3:2, in the future was to write: "He is like a refiner's fire. Who can stand when he appears?" In passing we note this has an implication for purgatory, useful for those who reject 2 Mac 12: 39-46. Protestants claim that 2 Mac is not part of Scripture - though really they have no way of proving which books really are part. But all accept Malachi. If someone who is still totally corrupt, or who has committed fornication and murder a thousand times a day (Luther in Epistle of August 1, 1521 said even that would not separate us from Christ!": Luther's Works, American Edition 48. 182) tries to join himself to God i heaven, that fire will b urn out all the filth or even send him to everlasting fires if he is beyond repair.
But those who really do keep the covenant, the remnant, can stand before God, and their bread will be supplied, nor will water fail them.
Then Isaiah advances to add: Your eyes will see the king in his splendor. A bit earlier 32:1-8) we saw his vision of the ideal king, who is the Messiah. Surely this is that King, who is really God Himself. Hezekiah might be seen as a prefiguration of the Messiah -- for Isaiah 7:14 is apt to be a prophecy with multiple fulfillment, referring weakly to Hezekiah (as Hillel saw, according to B. Talmud (cited b y Jacob Neusner Messiah in Context, op. 173) the son promised to Achaz to continue the line of David, or to the divine Messiah Himself, foretold as divine in Isaiah 9:5-6.
The prophet said the land of the king would stretch afar. This is also spoken of in 9:7 and In Mic 5:3 and Zech 9:10.
Then in their joy the people of Judah will say: Where is that chief officer, who collected tribute? Where is the officer in charge of checking the towers? These arrogant people will be seen no more, nor will we again hear the obscure language of the Assyrians-- it was related to Hebrew, but too distant for the Hebrews to understand.
Jerusalem will be a peaceful place to dwell under that messianic king, it will be a "tent" not to be moved-- we notice the use of the imagery of nomads. No galley with oars will come against Judah on the broad rivers of that day.
Instead the riggings - apparently of the ships of the enemy- will hang loose, the mast will not be secure. But the devout remnant will see even the lame carrying of plunder. Sins will have been forgiven and so there will be no sickness (cf. Exodus 23:25).
The future of Edom, and of the Remnant. Chapters 34-35, Summary and Comments
The first four verses refer to God's anger with the whole world: The Lord Is angry with all nations. Then a wonderful piece of apocalyptic language in 4: "The stars of the heavens will be dissolved, and the sky will roll up as if a scroll, and the starry host will fall. " This is much like the language of Matthew 24:29-35. Much the same language is found also in Isaiah 13:9-10 on the fall of Babylon. We gather that although God could make these things happen at what seems to be face value, yet, considering that the genre is apocalyptic, it is more likely that the imagery is greatly exaggerated.
Then in the next verse, v. 6, the prophet turns to Edom, which often stands, like Babylon, for a power opposed to God's people, even though Edom descended from Esau, brother of Jacob, and even though God in Dt 2:1-7 had told Israel to treat Edom like a brother. Yet Edom was noted for much hostility against Judah. Edom had refused the Israelites permission to pass through the territory on their way to the Promised Land, so they had to go around. (cf. Obadiah-- all 21 verses of the book!) More trouble from Edom when Judah was returning from exile)
God's sword is ready in the heavens it has drunk its fill of wrath there, for he has made his judgment against Edom. His sword has as it were made Edom a victim for sacrifice. Edom's streams will become pitch and its dust like burning sulphur -- poetic hyperbole of course.
It will lie desolate for generations and the desert owl and screech owl will possess it. Of course, the animals could not live in pitch and burning sulphur - so again we see clearly this is apocalyptic with exaggeration.
He continues saying the nobles will have no kingdom left, princes will vanish, thorns will overrun the citadels. Wild animals will make their home there. V, 14 says the Lilith will be there. In later Jewish literature that was the name of a female demon who was supposed to abduct children - superstition of course. Without accepting the myth, Isaiah can use the imagery.
Isaiah tells later generations to look at the scroll in which he has written this, and see that it has been fulfilled. Of course, we still must consider the literary genre and the hyperbole. After the fall of Jerusalem in 596, 586, some Edomites moved into the southern part of Judah. Still more came during the Persian period. In the reign of John Hyrcanus (135-05) Edom was incorporated into the Jewish nation, and even accepted circumcision.
Next Isaiah speaks to Judah, which seems at the time to be in exile. He promises it will blossom again and have the glory of Lebanon. They will see the glory of the Lord. So strengthen feeble knees, do not fear, your God will come with vengeance to save you. He predicts that the blind, the deaf, the lame, and the dumb will be healed (cf. Mt 11:5), and streams will gush in the desert.
There will be a holy highway, called holy since the holy people will return from exile on it. No lion or other beast will threaten those who return. They will enter Zion singing, with everlasting joy on their heads.
Of course there is multiple fulfillment here. It was fulfilled in the return from exile, but not in so grand a fashion. The fullness awaits the redemption of all nature by the Messiah, of which St. Paul speaks in Romans 8:19-25.
Isaiah and Hezekiah. Chapters 36-39. Summary and Comments
Now the prophet turns to prose, and tells mere history. Remarkably, starting at 38:9 the text itself calls it a writing of King Hezekiah, which Isaiah must have incorporated.
36: Assyria demands surrender
Note: The story here is in parallel with 2 Kings 18:13-37. Each account has details the other has not, and vice versa.
When Sargon died in 705 a movement to shake off the yoke of Assyria broke out strongly. Sennacherib showed himself as strong as his father. He first defeated Chaldean King Merodach-Baladan, systematically devastated the territory of Chaldea in 703, and also struck nearby nations. Then he turned to the west against Eluli king of Tyre and Sidon. the king fled, his territory surrendered except for Tyre. Sennacherib left troops behind to press Tyre, and then he turned south. Fear and panic fell upon the people there. Many small city states came out and offered him gifts. Then Sennacherib invaded the Philistine land and struck Ashkalon and Ekron. South of Ekron, at Eltekeh he met an allied army of Philistines, Egyptians and Ethiopians. He won a victory although not a brilliant one there.
So the only rebel state that still defied him as Judah under Hezekiah. In the 14th year or Hezekiah, Sennacherib captured all the fortified cities of Judah.
Sennacherib then sent his field commander from Lachish to Hezekiah. The commander stopped at the aqueduct of the Upper Pool. Eliakim son of Hilkiah, palace administrator, Shebnah the secretary, and Joah son of Asaph the recorder went to meet him.
The field commander (rabshakeh) said: Tell Hezekiah he is helpless. Egypt is only a splintered reed (lean on it and you get no support, but it may pierce you). He says that Hezekiah had stopped worship at the high places -- illegal shrines to Yahweh, and commanded worship only at the Jerusalem temple. The field commander did not understand that Hezekiah had done as God ordered.
The commander proposed a test of strength: Sennacherib would provide 2000 horses if Hezekiah could furnish their riders -- Hezekiah could not do that. He had that many men, but not all could fight on horseback. He had been depending on the chariots and horsemen from Egypt.
Then the commander said: Do not trust in your God --He has sent me to conquer you. He, since he spoke Hebrew, may have known the thought of Isaiah 10:5-6 were Isaiah spoke of Assyria as a the rod of God's anger. That was true in that God had sent Assyria to punish Judah. (Later Cyrus of Persia would also be in a similar position). Eliakim, Shebna and Joan who went to meet the commander spoke Aramaic as well as Hebrew. The two languages are related, but the differences such that a speaker of one would not understand the other language. Aramaic at that time was a sort of language of international diplomacy, so the chancery of both nations would know it. Assyrian was also a semitic language, but again, too different for Hebrews to understand it.
The commander spoke Hebrew so he could frighten the people of Judah who were nearby. But they had been instructed not to answer him at all, and they did not reply.
The commander told them their god could not help them - look at the gods of other cities the Assyrians had taken: those gods could not help them. Most cities at that time had their own special god. If the city prospered, especially in war, the god was considered powerful; otherwise if the city was defeated.
He also told them that if they did not surrender they would have to eat their own filth and drink their own urine. But the Assyrian army would have had a greater shortage of water in a siege than Jerusalem, which had a good supply (cf. 2 Chron 32:2- 30 and 2 Kings 20:30. BAR of July-Aug. 1994, pp. 20-38 has a fine article on Hezekiah's tunnel which brought water into the city from the Gihon spring).
Then Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah went to Hezekiah and reported all that had happened.
37. Isaiah's Predictions and their fulfillment
The first prediction is also found in 2 Kings 19:1-7.
Hezekiah rent his garments and put on sackcloth when he heard the message from the commander of Sennacherib. He went to the temple, and sent Eliakim, Shebna and the leading priests, in sackcloth, who reported what had happened to Isaiah.
When they came to Isaiah, he at once answered, and it seems he did not first pray: Tell Hezekiah not to be afraid of Assyria. God would put a spirit into Sennacherib such that when he hears a certain report, he will leave, go back to his own country, and there will be cut down with the sword.
Sennacherib had heard a report (2 Kings 19: 8-13) that Tirhakah, of Ethiopia was coming against him. So he decided to send messengers to King Hezekiah - he calls him king this time - to say: Do not let your god deceive you when he says: Jerusalem will not be handed over. You have heard what the Kings of Assyria did to other countries and their gods.
Hezekiah (cf. 2 Kings 19:14-19) took the message, and went again to the Temple, and spread out the letter before God there. He prayed earnestly for help, saying: Hear, Lord, the insult Sennacherib has sent against the Living God. Yes, Sennacherib has destroyed other cities, and their gods did not help. But they were not living Gods, as you are. Help us.
Then Isaiah (2 Kings 19:20-32) answered Hezekiah: God has spoken against Sennacherib thus: The Virgin Daughter of Zion - it means the virgin daughter that is Zion - despises and mocks Sennacherib, who has blasphemed against the Holy One of Israel. God asks Sennacherib: Have you not heard it? I ordained it long ago and now I bring it to pass. I know where you stand and when you come or go, and how you rage against me. Because of this insolence I will put a hook into your nose and a bit into your mouth, and I will cause you to go back the way you came. You will be liked the grass that withers on the roof of houses (since not much soil was there, the growth could not stand long. Roofs of simple houses then were of logs and branches with some earth tamped on).
On the words "I have ordained it before it happened" cf. our comments on 10:7 above.
The divine message added: This will be a sign for Hezekiah: This year you will eat the crops that sprout by themselves, for you have not been able to plant. Similarly in the second year. But in the third year you should sow and reap and plant vineyards. A remnant of the house of Judah will take root and bear fruit, a remnant that will come out of Jerusalem. The zeal of the Almighty Lord will accomplish this.
It seems Sennacherib invaded shortly before the sowing season and stayed about a year, preventing sowing in the second year also. But he would be gone before the third year.
Therefore God said: He will not enter this city or shoot an arrow into it. He will return the way he came. God will defend the city and save it for His sake, and for the sake of David.
In 2 Kings 19:35-37 we learn that that night, apparently right after the prophecy of Isaiah, the angel of the Lord went out and slew 185, 000 of the men in the Assyrian camp. In the morning the survivors saw all the dead bodies.
Most likely a plague broke out in the camp of the Assyrians. Since it seems from 2 Kings 29:8 that Sennacherib himself was at Libnah, the plague may have hit chiefly there, or both there and in the army before Jerusalem. (Libnah is probably between Makkedah and Lachish near the Philistine border).
We gather from an inscription found at Nineveh that Sennacherib did not take Jerusalem. He boasted that he received tribute there, but does not say he took the city. Considering the boastfulness of such inscriptions, it is clear that he did not take Jerusalem.
So Sennacherib broke camp and left. He returned to Nineveh. Assyrian inscriptions say he reigned about another 20 years after this. For sacred history that point is not of importance. But after that when he was praying in the temple of an Assyrian god, Nisroch (we do not know that name from other sources) two of his sons killed him. Another son, Esarhaddon (691-68) ascended the throne.
Hezekiah's Illness and the Embassy from Babylon. Chapters 38-39. Summary and Comments
"In those days" Hezeziah became seriously ill, near to death. The time expression is vague. Since God promised him through Isaiah at this time that He would defend Jerusalem from Sennacherib, it is clear that these events belong before or during the invasion. More likely they are before the invasion.
Isaiah came to the king and told him to put his house in order, for he was going to die. Hezekiah then turned his face to the wall and prayed earnestly. He appealed to the fact that he had carried out the commands of the Lord. And he wept bitterly.
In what sense could he appeal to his own good conduct? It would be a mistake to say that eternal salvation is by faith not merits. That is true. But Hezekiah is not thinking of eternal salvation, but he seems to think of the covenant, in which God had said in Exodus 19:5: "If you really hearken to my voice and keep my covenant, you will be my special people. "
"That is, you will get special favor. It was reasonable then to appeal to this covenant. Some protestants say the covenant consisted primarily in the exercise of faith. They are preoccupied with Luther's misinterpretation of faith, and have not noted that the covenant originally referred to temporal blessings. Did Hezekiah know the later (cf. Galatians 3:15-22) reinterpretation of covenant that it would refer to eternal salvation? Not too likely. He probably took it to refer to temporal things.
Then the word of God came again to Isaiah: Go tell Hezekiah. God has heard his prayer. He will add 15 years to his life, and deliver him from the king of Assyria and defend the city.
What was the illness? We read in 2 Kings 20:7, that after God's promise, Isaiah ordered a poultice of figs to be put on the boil that Hezekiah had. Such a poultice is used even today in the Near East.
Then Hezekiah asked for a sign that these things would come true. We do not approve of such a lack of confidence when God has already spoken. Yet in Isaiah 7:10-16 God offered Achaz a sign to make him believe.
The sign was this: God made the sun go back the ten steps it had already gone down on the stairway.
It may have been some sort of a sundial - sundials had been known for some time among the Babylonians. In what way was this done? Did God actually change the course of the heavenly bodies? or just change the light on the dial? We do not know. He surely could act either way.
Next we find inserted in the text a sort of Psalm said to have been composed by Hezekiah. It is poetic in form, tells of his illness and recovery and praises God. In 38:17 Hezekiah says God put all his sins behind His back. This seems to reflect the common belief then that sickness came as a result of sin.
The psalm adds that those who go down into the pit, the grave, cannot hope for God's faithfulness, meaning that He would observe the covenant. That covenant applied only to the present life. It said that only the living praise God. He has in mind the grand liturgical praise in the Temple, which of course was absent from the realm of the dead. We must add that up to the time of the death of Christ, the just who had died, and had had all their bills paid, were still not admitted to the vision of God, they were in the Limbo of the Patriarchs. There they would not know what went on on earth, unless God decided to reveal something to them. And of course there would be no grand liturgical praise there, though they might praise God in a lesser way. Some of the Psalms show expectation that even in death they would not be totally cut off from association with God: cf. Ps 16:9-11; 17:15; 49:15 and Job 19:25-27.
When Merodach-Baladan king of Babylon heard of the illness and recovery of Hezekiah, he sent an embassy to him with gifts. 2 Chronicles 3:21 says that the ambassadors came from Babylon to investigate the sign. If this means the change on the sundial, it seems to imply that the change in the sun was visible in Babylon. Hezekiah received the envoys gladly, and showed them everything in his storehouses (cf. 2 Kings 20:12-19).
Isaiah came to Hezekiah and asked where the men came from and what did he show them. Hezekiah said he showed them everything in his palace. This looks a bit boastful. Isaiah then said: A time will come when everything in the palace will be carried to Babylon, and some of the descendants of Hezekiah will be carried there too to become members of the court of the King of Babylon (cf. Daniel 1).
Hezekiah seems to have picked up the implication that it would not happen in his own time. So he said: "There will be peace and security in my lifetime. "
INTRODUCTION TO THE SECOND PART OF ISAIAH
At the end of Chapter 39 we have come to what many consider a break point in Isaiah. They call the rest of the work Second Isaiah, and many even speak of a Third Isaiah (chapters 56-66). This tendency to split Isaiah first appeared in the 18th century, in the work of commentators like Koppe and Döderlein.
The fact that the whole book is inspired does not tell us anything about authorship. In ancient times it was not unusual to use a pen name, and to pick the name of a famous person. Also, rights of authorship were not respected as they are today: a later author might change or add to an existing work, leaving it under the name of the original author.
Arguments against unity are chiefly these: chapters 40-66 deal with a period later than the lifetime of Isaiah, including the time after the return from the great exile, in 539 B. C. There is even a mention by name of Cyrus of Persia who allowed them to return.
It is said too that First Isaiah is a prophet of judgment and punishment, while the rest of the book offers comfort to the exiles, and then advice for living in their land after the return. We do not know the date of the death of Isaiah himself. One old tradition says he was sawed apart by order of the wicked King Manasseh (687-42), but this is uncertain.
There is a difference in style after the end of chapter 39. The first chapters were strongly illustrative, now the style becomes lofty with a lot of rhetorical questions and even passages in which God argues His own case with His people.
Arguments for unity:
a) We can easily answer the above arguments. The fact that the later chapters deal with a time after the death of Isaiah are a problem only for those who deny on principle the possibility of supernatural prophecy. The only really specific point is the mention of the name of Cyrus.
Really the whole picture is the same as the so called Deuteronomic pattern: threats of punishment, arrival of punishment, repentance and deliverance. Any author following that could have confidently written the whole, except for the one point, the name of Cyrus. That would require revelation.
As for style: No one who has read the works of Tacitus, the great Roman historian, in the original Latin would think much of any argument from differences in style. The style of Tacitus in his 4 historical works is highly distinctive and pungent -- one needs to read the original language to get most of the flavor. But there is still another work by Tacitus, the Dialogue on Orators. There the style is day and night different, and really much like that of Quintilian, who also wrote on the same topic, but his work is lost. There is of course a temptation to say the manuscripts confused two works, and we really have that of Quintilian, that of Tacitus on orators is lost. Yet there are enough arguments of a different nature to convince almost everyone that the Dialogue we have is really by Tacitus. The differences of style found in Isaiah, or between early and later Epistles of St. Paul, are much smaller.
b) Positive arguments for unity: The ancient Jews accepted the whole as the work of Isaiah, well before the coming of Christ. Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) in 48:24 says that "By the spirit of power, Isaiah saw the last things and comforted those who mourned in Zion". The last clause points easily to Isaiah 61:3. But Sirach was probably written in the second century B. C.
The Isaiah scroll from Qumran has the complete text of Isaiah. A few lines of chapter 40 actually begin at the foot of a column in that scroll. Also, Josephus (Antiquities 11. 1. 1-2) says Cyrus read the prophecies about himself in Isaiah, and intended to fulfill them.
The arguments on both sides are really inconclusive, but we must say that those against unity are much too weak to make us certain that there were several Isaiahs.
Zion's King and God is coming. Chapter 40. Summary and Comments
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Isaiah speaks of a period about a century after his death, thanks to prophetic light. He says: Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. Her hard service, that is, her distress, brought on by sins, but atoned for by suffering, is at an end. For her sin has been paid for. She has received double for her sins.
Only the sufferings of Jesus paid the debt of sin fully. Yet it is the will of God that human should be like Him in this, and in that sense, pay. To speak of double payment is of course just poetic exaggeration: if taken at face value God would be unjust.
Now the prophet hears a voice in the desert calling for making the way of the Lord ready. Roads at that time were not so good, and when a King was to pass over them, his servants would go ahead to make the roads ready. The imagery seems to be that God Himself will lead them back from their exile. The desert could mean the Syrian desert which is between the promised land and Babylon. But those who traveled did not ordinarily go over that desert. So the desert here probably stands for the distress of Israel in exile.
The notion of atonement by suffering is common in the OT, Intertestamental literature, NT and Rabbis and Fathers in that sin is pictured as a debt which the Holiness of God wants to have paid. Rabbi Simeon ben Eleazar in Tosephta, Kiddushin 1. 14 wrote (thinking of a two pan scales): "He [anyone] has has committed a transgression. Woe to him. He has tipped the scale to the side of debt for himself and for the world. " Cf. Wm. Most, The Thought of St. Paul (Christendom Press, 1994, appendix, pp. 289-301.
Of course the Gospel applies these words to John the Baptist, who was to prepare the way for the Messiah, Jesus. Interestingly, in Malachi 3:1 God says He is sending His messenger before Him, that is before God, who is to come to His temple. To apply this passage to John coming before Jesus could suggest the divinity of Jesus. In Mt 11:10 Jesus does use these words about John. But he uses the words of Malachi in the adaptation common in His day, which happened by telescoping as it were the words of Malachi with those of Exodus 23:20 where God said He would send His messenger before Israel on their journey to prepare the way for them.
As part of the work of preparing the way for the Lord, valleys will be filled, mountains leveled - poetic exaggeration of course.
Then the glory (kabod Yahweh) of the Lord will be revealed. That phrase most commonly stood for the visible presence of God -as in the pillar of cloud at the Exodus -- to reveal the presence of God to help His people. Ezekiel in chapter 10 saw the glory of God leaving Jerusalem. (In chapter 43 Ezekiel saw it returning).
But then a remarkable addition; All mankind shall see it (His glory) together. This probably means that God plans to extend the privilege of being His special people to all. St. Paul in Eph 3:3-6 says that plan of God was not known to previous times. It is only dimly hinted at here in Isaiah, and it seems the Jews did not grasp it. Even when Jesus told the Apostles to teach all nations, they still did not understand, as we notice in Acts 10.
Then a voice, seemingly the voice of God, says to Isaiah: Cry out. He asks: What shall I cry out? The answer: All men are like grass, their glory is like that of the flowers of the field (Cf. Psalm 103:15-17). When the breath of the Lord blows on them -- thinking of the desert wind in May - they wither. Similarly the exile should not be afraid of the power of their oppressors, who seem so strong now. The breath of the Lord can make them collapse. Only the word of the Lord, what He decrees, shall stand forever.
The prophet is also to go up to a high mountain and say: Here is your God. He comes with power. His arm rules for him. His arm stands for his power - really, a poor image for the power of the mere word of the Almighty! He brings reward, and He tends His flock like a shepherd. There is an even more remarkable line in Ezek 34:11 in which God says: "Thus says the Lord God: Behold I, I will search out my sheep and seek them out. " We notice the repeated I, I. It seems to mean God will come in person. And in verse 23 of the same chapter He continues: "I will set one shepherd over them, my servant David. " So it seems to say God will come in person, but will come in the person of the Messiah, my servant David. There is apt to be a similar implication in Jeremiah 23:3: "And I myself shall gather the remnant of my sheep from all the lands to which I have driven them. But in verse 5: "I will raise up for David a righteous branch. " Here the Targum understands the word branch as the Messiah. (The Targums commonly take that word branch to stand for the Messiah). Cf. also Jeremiah 30:11: "I am with you to save you. " The Targum calls this messianic. Another hint, it seems, that the Messiah is to be God Himself.
Then to increase their confidence in the power of God who will save them: "Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand? Or with a breath has marked off the skies?"
In admiration Isaiah adds: "Who has understood the mind of the Lord, or whom did the Lord consult for wisdom". No, God is infinitely above all human designs and wisdom. At the end of the grand sketch of the Providence of God in Romans 11, St. Paul exclaims: "O the depth of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How incomprehensible are His judgements and untraceable His ways! . . . Who has been His counsellor?" Similarly in 1 Cor 1:26: [We paraphrase]: "That which seems stupid in God's work is really wiser than men, and what seems weak is stronger than men. " We will see a similar thought in Isaiah 55:9: "As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways. "
He continues saying that the nations are like a drop in the bucket to God's eye. The islands are mere dust. Lebanon with its great forests is not enough for a fire for His altar, nor are all its animals enough for a sacrifice. In His eyes all the nations are nothing, worthless and less than nothing.
Then to the Israelites who were so prone to worship idols: To whom could you compare God? A craftsman laboriously makes an idol, but the idol can do nothing at all. He asks the people: Have you not heard: He sits enthroned above the skies, people look like grasshoppers from that height. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy. He brings princes to nothing. He blows on them and they wither. He calls out the host of the stars - here we might think of some figures from astronomy. Antares in the southern sky seems like a dot, yet it is so huge that if the distance from the earth to the sun were tripled, it could not get in between them. The nearest of the countless spiral galaxies, Andromeda, is so far away that light racing at over 186, 000 miles per second takes 2. 2. million years to reach us. And yet He made all these, not with great planning or computers, but by merely saying: Let it be.
Israel is tempted to say: God does not know our woes. Yet His eye takes in all things, His understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary;, even young men in their great vigor may stumble, but those who hope in the Lord will see their strength renewed, they can soar like eagles.
God Sends Cyrus. Chapter 41. Summary and Comments
Solemnly the prophet bids the foreign lands to be silent, and to come to a place of judgment for a lawsuit to see if God is true or not.
Who has stirred up someone from the east and called him in righteousness to serve Him? Of course it is God, who has called Cyrus to serve Him by conquering Babylon and then releasing Israel from captivity and even encouraging them to rebuild the temple.
Isaiah says God has done this in righteousness. For God to observe the covenant was righteous, for He could not enter into a covenant, and then refuse to fulfill what He had promised. He promised to save Israel if they were faithful, to punish if they were not. They had deserved punishment, and by this point, had fully received it. So now it is time as righteousness says to rescue them. For that, He calls Cyrus of Persia.
The prophet says God hands over nations to Cyrus. On God's handling of things in the external economy cf. our comments on 10:5 ff. above. He subdues king before Cyrus. Then "he" turns them to dust with his sword. The he here is probably Cyrus. But soon: God asks: Who has done this? It is the Lord who has predicted it and has done it. In contrast, the idols have never predicted anything and brought it to fulfillment: they have done nothing at all.
But now that their debt has been paid by the exile, He calls Israel His servant and friend. He says He took them from the ends of the earth. This is probably a hyperbolic expression for the fact that God called Abraham, the beginning of the chosen people, from Ur of the Chaldees.
He then says He has chosen and not rejected them. We must ask: Why did He chose Israel for special favor? In Dt 7:7-8 we read that God did not chose them because they were the greatest of nations, but because He loved them, and was keeping the promise He swore to Abraham.
To love is to will good to another for the other's sake. When we humans love, we need a starter for that, seeing something fine in another. But God is the only one who can love without a starter. What good did He see in me when He first loved me? Nothing, for I was then nothing. And if he looked a bit farther up and saw me already in existence, what good did He see there that He had not put there? Nothing at all. 1 Cor 4:7: "What have you that you have not received?"
So Israel did nothing to earn the beginning of the favor they received - we speak of the beginning, since in Ex. 19:5: "If you really hearken to my voice and keep my covenant, you will be my special people. " If you obey, you get favor. They had done very badly in the matter of obeying, and had received their punishment. Now, gladly He says that is all over, and He can begin to give favor within that covenant, in righteousness as we said above.
But we ask further: Why did He make choice of that people for such special treatment? It seems the reason is the same as that for which He chooses people for the special favor of being full members of His Church, as He says in Romans 8:29ff and all though to the end of chapter 11. It was not for merits. What was it for then? Paul in Romans does not say what for. But at the end of 1 Cor 1 we notice that God has chosen the weak to confound the strong. In Ezek 5:6-7 God told the prophet: "I am not sending you to a people with obscure speech and difficult language. . . . If I were to send you to these, they would listen to you, but the house of Israel will refuse to listen to you, since they will not listen to me. For the whole house of Israel is hard of brow and obstinate in heart. " And Ezek 5:6: "She [Jerusalem] has changed my judgments into wickedness more than the gentiles. " And so when God sent Jonah to the pagan Nineveh, he found they welcomed him at once, in contrast to what happened to the prophets sent to the Holy People of Israel. The Mekilta de Rabbi Ishmael, a late 4th century work, a Midrash on Exodus, imagines Jonah as saying that since the gentiles are more inclined to repent, he might be bringing on the condemnation of Israel by going to Nineveh.
Similarly in the NT, the parable of the good Samaritan pictures two officials of the holy people passing by the wounded man, but a Samaritan takes good care of him. And in Luke 17:11-19 ten lepers are cured; the only one who came back to say thank you was an outsider, a Samaritan. Cf. also Matthew 11:21.
So we gather that the reason was not only not merits, but instead greater need: they were, as Ezek 3 and 5 said, more hard of heart than the gentiles.
This is quite uncomplimentary to Israel - but also to those chosen for full membership in the Church of Christ.
Isaiah continues saying that all who rage against them will be ashamed and disgraced and become as nothing. If they look for their erstwhile enemies, they will not even be able to find them.
But then, to try to keep Israel from pride: "Do not be afraid, O worm Jacob. . . . Your redeemer is the Holy One of Israel. " Redeemer here is goel the next of kin who has the right and the duty to rescue his kinsman who has fallen into captivity or terrible straits. So God by the covenant became their kinsman, as signified by the ceremony of the sprinkling of the blood at the foot of Sinai.
By His power they will thresh the mountains and winnow the hills. But you will rejoice in the Lord and glory in the Holy One of Israel. Holy One as we saw above refers to the fact that He is perfectly righteous, both in rewarding and in punishing. To be righteous in rewarding, He created a covenant, so that if they fulfilled their condition, He would owe it to Himself to do what He had said. He loves to have one thing in place to serve as the reason for granting a second thing, even though that first thing does not really move Him: St. Thomas I. 19. 5. c.
So if they are poor and needy and search for water and do not find it, the Lord will take care of them and turn the desert into pools of water. We filled in the word if on the ground that we could take the structure as paratactic, i. e. , one in which subordinate conjunctions are not expressed, but carried by the thought.
After all of this, He returns to the lawsuit: Who has predicted all these things and has brought them to pass? Not the idols, which do nothing at all. But the God of Israel.
So to help them He again says He has stirred up one from the north, Cyrus. Here He says from the north, before He had spoken of the East. Really Cyrus came from lands to the East, but came north around the upper bend of the fertile crescent. Only God predicted and brought to reality these things, not the dumb idols who cannot do anything at all.
First Servant Song. Chapter 42:1-7. Summary and Comments
This is the first of four such songs. The others, which will be marked as we go along are: 49:1-9a; 50:4-9; 52:13 - 54:12.
First, there is no special reason for calling these songs. We keep the word only since it has become usual.
The word servant or servant of God is frequent in Scripture in general. It is used of Moses, of Joshua, Job, David, Zerubabbel and often of prophets like Ahijah, Elijah, Jonah or the prophets in general.
Next we ask: Who is the Servant? There is no need to suppose the Servant is the same person in all four. The Targum marks the first and fourth as messianic, but not the others. The New Testament similarly indicates that the first and fourth are messianic, but does not do so for the other two.
Some have suggested the servant is a collective figure for Israel, or the faithful remnant. But the very personal terms used are against that view.
In Mt 12:17-21, after Jesus has worked some cures, we read that thus was fulfilled what Isaiah predicted. It then quotes substantially this first passage. We could still ask: Did the text of Isaiah refer directly to Christ, or only through a typological sense? Such combinations do occur at times. However, there is no good reason to suppose that happens here. Yet, we saw in commenting on 7:14 that it is quite possible that the Holy Spirit, the chief Author of Scripture, may have intended more in a given passage than what the human author saw. Such a thing is quite possible here especially with the first and fourth songs which definitely do look ahead to a Messiah.
In the first verse God says "I have put my spirit upon Him. " We naturally think of the Messiah of Isaiah 11, on whom the Spirit will rest.
Then verses 2-3 say he will not put out a smoldering wick: He will be kind and merciful to the weak. WE think of Jesus in Matthew 11:28: "Come to me all who find life burdensome. . . my yoke is easy. " The smoldering wick could also refer to Israel languishing in exile.
Then in v. 4 He will not stop until He establishes justice (mishpat) on the Lord, and in His teaching (torah) even the gentiles who are far off will have hope. They had walked in the darkness spoken of above in 9:1. Hebrew mishpat could be translated, that which is right. Before the coming of the Messiah the gentiles depended upon what the Spirit wrote upon their hearts(Jer 31:33 and Romans 2:15)t o know this. But the Messiah will spell out the will of God to the nations, that they may more easily know and fulfill it. So He will be like another Moses, who made the will of God known explicitly to the people.
Verse 6 says he will be a covenant for the people and a light for the gentiles. Even though the singular is used, people, which seems to refer primarily to Israel, yet the following words, a light to the gentiles, foreshadows in a way what St. Paul was to say in Eph 3:6, a thing not revealed before, that the gentiles are co-heirs with the Jews as members of the People of God in the new covenant. And He is surely a light for the gentiles: cf. Luke 2:32 in the canticle of Simeon who says He will be "a light for the gentiles. "
Finally: Thus says God the Lord who created the heavens and gives breath to all those who dwell on earth. This expresses His majestic power, which is also an assurance that the mission of the Servant will be fruitful. For God has called the Servant in righteousness (sedeq), He will free captives and those in the dungeon.
Thus ends the first Servant Song.
New things and a New Song. Chapter 42: 8-17. Summary and Comments
Now God speaks and says He is the Lord, and will not let idols take His glory. As proof; See the former things predicted have taken place-- this could be the fall of Damascus and the northern Kingdom, the frustration of Sennacherib. Since they have happened as predicted, Israel should trust in the further prediction that He will bring them out of exile.
therefore all the ends of the earth should sing a new song to the Lord. Even the desert and it towns --like Kedar in North Arabia, and Sela, capital of Edom -- should join in the song. The words "the ends of the earth" can easily refer to the gentiles-- and this idea is aided by the mention of Kedar and Sela. In time, all nations are to praise the Lord. Israel did not understand this, as we saw in the introduction to Isaiah, yet it s true that as St. Paul foretold in Eph. 3:6 the gentiles are to be part of the People of God, and to join in praising Him.
Therefore as to the future: The Lord will march as a mighty warrior and triumph over the enemies of Israel. He has kept silent for some time during the Exile. The time was not right, and the demands of justice to pay the debt of Israel's sin had not yet been met by their suffering.
God asks: Who is blind but my servant, and deaf like the messenger I send? This is remarkable, for in the first servant song, the servant is the Messiah. Now he calls Israel his servant and messenger. He intended them to bring the truth to the gentiles; but the have been blind, and instead have taken over the errors of the gentiles by worshipping false gods.
But now He is glad to hold back no longer. He announces the end of the exile, and, as he said in chapter 40, He will make the rough places plain. He will do all this for the sake of his righteousness (42:21: sedeq): This is the same as saying: His Holiness, for it is His Holiness that loves all that is right, and insists that if out of balance, it be restored. Now the suffering of the exile has restored the balance -- so far as mere humans could - the full rebalance is to come from the obedient sufferings of the Suffering Servant, Jesus, who thereby [daetho] will make many just: 53:11.
The Lord Redeems His unworthy People. Chapter 43. Summary and Comments
To restore the confidence of the exiles God says: I am the one who created you, and formed you. Do not be afraid. Even if you pass through waters or fire I am with you. I gave Egypt and Cush and Seba as your ransom. He means that these lands are the compensation to Cyrus for releasing Israel. (Not Cyrus in person, though he had planned it), but his son Cambyses actually took Egypt).
So, God says, I will bring your sons from afar from the east, from the north, from the south, from the ends of the earth. He speaks of all of them as His Sons. This is like what Hosea 11:1 has God saying at the Exodus: "Out of Egypt I have called my son", which St. Matthew, under inspiration, saw fulfilled a second time in the return of Jesus from Egypt.
Isaiah imagines all nations gathered together. They hear and see that what God had foretold has now come true. So again He calls Israel His servant whom He has chosen. There was no god before Him, nor will there be any other after Him. He is the Lord, the Savior. They are to be His witness that He is their Savior. He planned this from eternity, from ancient days, and when He acts, no one can reverse it. Again, as we saw in 41:14, He calls himself their goel the next of kin who was pledged to redeem them. For their sake He is sending Cyrus to Babylon and he will bring it down. Once He made for them a path through the Red Sea and drew the Egyptian army into the sea to destroy it there.
But He urges: Forget what is past. I am doing new things. He is making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland through which they will pass on the way out of exile. He had long ago provided water from the rock in the desert, so that they should praise Him.
He blots out their sins for His own sake -- for they have not earned it. So He asks: Review the past, as it were, come to court with me. Your first father sinned - probably referring to the sins of Jacob, and your spokesmen rebelled against me- perhaps thinking of the infidelity of Aaron and of the doubt of Moses, plus the infidelities of so many kings of theirs. So, He says, He will bring disgrace upon the officials of their temple, and hand over Israel to scorn -- the captivity.
God predicts restoration, Cyrus will accomplish it. Chapter 44. Summary and Comments
He tells Jacob to listen and calls him His servant - a tie to the first servant song perhaps? Then he even says that He is the one who formed them in the womb. Is this meant as an allusion to the sort of thing God was going to say to Jeremiah in 1. 5: "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. . . I dedicated you as a prophet to the nations. " God could call them prophets only in that they were destined to preserve the clear knowledge of the true God and eventually to give it to the gentiles. So He says; Do not be afraid. Then he calls Jacob Jesrun - a name that also is found in Dt 32:15; 33:5, 26. Meaning is uncertain, probably means upright, in contrast to the seeming etymology of Jacob, which may mean deceiver.
So to bring them back, He will pour water on the thirsty land and pour out His Spirit on their offspring, which will flourish like the grass in the meadow. Then verse 5 according to some means that gentiles will accept the God of Israel. The Jews did not at first see that this meant the Gentiles were to be accepted as part of God's people without becoming Jews. Cf. again St. Paul Eph. 3:6.
To try to keep them from going back into idolatry - into which so many had fallen before the exile -- he says: I am the first and the last, there is no God but me. In proof of that: The idols have never done anything, never foretold anything. The true God has done so.
Verse 7 speaks of what has happened since He established "My ancient people." This may refer to the whole human race.
But returning to idolatry,. He tells what is obvious: the craftsman makes an idol - an expensive one from fine wood, a cheaper one from lesser wood. But half of the wood he cut he uses to make a fire to warm himself and to cook food. What an implication of the worth of the idol! Their craftsmen who make them are only human - so they could not make a real god. If the craftsman works long he gets weak. When he has made a god -- out of half the material of which the one half served for cooking -- he bows down before it: Save me, my god! What nonsense! Shall anyone bow down to a block of wood? Anyone who does this is like a man who tries to make a meal of ashes.
So Israel should remember these things. God has made Israel, and has redeemed Israel. So the heavens should sing for joy.
The beginning of the actual restoration is God's choice of Cyrus. The Lord who made all things, who makes fools of diviners, called Cyrus, who is called His shepherd, who will do all God wills. Interestingly, the Hebrew form of Cyrus is Koresh.
We notice the diviners are called fools. Isaiah is thinking probably of the Babylonian pseudo- science of divination. They even made clay models of livers, and marked on them the significant spots to look for in the liver of sacrificed animals.
But their predictions are haphazard. Only God can predict and make His predictions come true. He will say of Jerusalem: Let it be rebuilt, and of the temple: Let its foundations be laid.
Continuation of the above thought. Chapter 45. Summary and Comments
The Lord speaks to Cyrus, His anointed, whose right hand He takes. He calls Cyrus the anointed. Kings were anointed. Cyrus has a special mission for God. So God will subdue nations and kings before him, and will level the mountains. We notice the same language as He used for preparing a way for the exiles to return. God will give Cyrus the treasures of darkness, that is, things that have been hidden away, so Cyrus may know God is the Lord. God will cut through bars of iron: Herodotus the Greek Historian (1. 179) said there were a hundred brass gates in the walls of Babylon.
God will do all this for the sake of Jacob, His servant. Again we see a connection to the Servant songs, in which the Servant sometimes seems to be Israel, sometimes the Messiah. Really, Hebrew writing often enough used an individual to stand for and in a sense be identified with a group. This was commonly done with the King of Israel.
God will honor Cyrus, even though Cyrus does not know or honor Him, so that from the rising to the setting of the sun man may know there is no Master but God. For Cyrus does all this only by commission of the Lord.
Then God says: I form light and create darkness. Amos 3:6 says: "Is there an evil in the city which God has not caused?" This was in accord with the Hebrew way of saying God positively did things that He really only permitted. We compare 1 Samuel 4:3, in which the Israelites exclaim (in the Hebrew, NAB disguises it) after being beaten by the Philistines: "Why has the Lord struck us today before the face of the Philistines?" They knew the Philistines did it, but that was their way of speaking. Again, during the plagues before the Exodus, the Pharaoh more than once was on the point of letting Israel go, but then became hardened. Exodus at times says that the Pharaoh hardened his own heart. More often it says God hardened his heart. -- Really, if we remember Aristotle's potency and actuality, even when some evil is done, it is the power of God, the First Cause, that actualizes the potency - though the evil orientation comes from the creature, not from God: cf. Phil 2:13. As a loose comparison, think of an electric outlet. The power company furnishes the power that makes things go, but the customer decides the way it will be used: cf. 2 Cor 6:1.
Poetically Isaiah exclaims: Let the heavens and the clouds shower down righteousness. Let the earth cause salvation to spring up. Salvation here means rescue from temporal danger, not eternal salvation.
Then: woe to him who quarrels with his master, as if a pot should tell the potter: why did you not make me into something nicer? (We think of the same comparison in Romans 9:20-24 -- where the comparison is to bring out the fact that God alone decides who will get the special added favor of full membership in the People of God. These verses do not at all refer to predestination to heaven or hell, as was once mistakenly thought.
But the Holy One of Israel, its Maker says: Why question me about what I am doing? It is I who made the earth, who gathered the stars. So if I will to use Cyrus for my purposes, who can speak against it?
After this is over, the gentile nations will bring gifts to Jerusalem, even Egypt, Cush, and Saba, wanting to attach themselves to Israel, for God is there. Basically a prediction of the time when the Gentiles would be invited to be part of the People of God, without becoming Jewish: cf. again Eph 3:6.
In wonder, Isaiah exclaims: Truly, you are a God who hides himself, Savior of Israel. He hides self in that His ways are cloaked in impenetrable mystery, even though we see some things, such as His use of Cyrus to end the exile. But this is the God who created the heavens. He fashioned the earth, wanting it to be inhabited. He did not tell Jacob to seek Him in vain. He said He has not spoken in secret from the land of darkness - may be an allusion to the practice, in Babylon and even in Israel, of necromancy, of consulting the dead.
He says: Was it not foolish of you gentiles who are fugitives from Cyrus to trust in idols instead of in me? They are gods who cannot save. They never did anything, never foretold anything. But Israel's God does all things, even creating darkness as well as righteousness. There is no other God. He is righteous. He wants all things to be done in accord with objective morality. And that same Holiness leads Him to keep His covenant when the people do what He has prescribed. So He says to the gentiles: Turn to me, and be saved. Every knee will bow to me. All the descendants of Israel will become righteous: this includes the gentiles who will join the People of God.
Babylon's Gods and the God of Israel. Chapter 46. Summary and Comments
The gods of Babylon, Bel and Nebo, bow before the God of Israel. Those idols have to be carried by beasts of burden, they cannot move by themselves. They themselves are led into captivity. In those times each city had its god. If the city was powerful in war, they thought their god must be powerful. If the city was defeated, the god was defeated. The idols are made by craftsmen who are paid a price. And when the idol is made, they bow down before it, though it cannot do anything.
So they should remember what He has done long ago. He makes known the end from the beginning, for all is in His hands. Now He summons Cyrus from the East. He promises salvation to Israel.
Fall of Babylon is Near. Chapter 47. Summary and Comments
Isaiah calls out: Daughter of Babylon (= the city), come down off your glorious throne and sit in the dusk, and do a slaves work of grinding flour. God will exact justice, sparing no one. (please recall our comments on chapter 1 where we explained the great difference between vengeance and rebalancing the objective order, Hebrew naqam). The Holy One of Israel, who loves all that is right, will bring this about.
In chapter 13 from the viewpoint of his own days before 700 B. C. Isaiah had foretold the fall of Babylon. Now in a vision (unless we think it a different author - please recall our comments before chapter 40) he sees the fall of Babylon as proximate).
He continues to speak to Virgin Babylon: No longer will you be called a queen. God was angry with Israel, and gave them into the hand of Babylon. Babylon was harsh, did no spare even feeble old people. Babylon thought it could never fall. But it will come, and all their spells and astrology cannot ward it off.
Then in mockery: Keep up your magic spells, and sorceries. Let your astrologers come forward. They will be burned like stubble. Not one of them can save Babylon.
The city fell to the forces of Cyrus in 539 B. C. It had been powerful since the time of Nabopolassar and Nebuchadnezzar II (who wrecked Jerusalem) in the period 605-562. It is interesting to read the account of the fall of Babylon in Daniel chapter 5 through 6:1. There it is said that Darius the Mede took Babylon. Many say there was no such person. But Josephus in Antiquities 10, 245-49 does report that Darius was a kinsman who could have ruled for Cyrus for a time while Cyrus was occupied with other things. This would be in accord with known policies of Cyrus.
Cyrus is at Hand. Chapter 48. Summary and Comments
There are abrupt alternations of mood in this chapter, but we have seen such things before, threats of punishment interspersed with hopeful passages.
God speaks to His people. He says they do take oaths in His name, but not in truth or righteousness. They still, in exile, speak of themselves as citizens of the holy city, Jerusalem. .
God reminds them again that He foretold things to them before. He says they were and are stubborn, with a stiff neck and a forehead of bronze. Already in Exodus 32 the people fell into idolatry while Moses was on the mountain with God for 40 days. Then God told Moses He wanted to destroy them, and make him into a great nation: Ex 32:10. Moses appealed to the memory of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and God relented. It is sad to see how often God Himself or Moses called them a stiff-necked people, or used similar terms: Exodus 33:3, 5; 34:9; Dt 9:6, 13; 31:27. Cf. also Ps 78:8; Jer 5:23; 16:12; Ezek 2:4; 3:7; Hos 4:16.
Because they were so rebellious, God has foretold things far in advance, so that when they happened they might not give the credit to their idols.
So, now He will tell them new things, that is, the coming victory of Cyrus. God will delay His wrath for His name's sake, that is, for His own sake (name is often about the same as the person). He has refined them in the fire of tribulation, yet they have not responded like silver which becomes fine in such a test. Yet He will do as He has said, He will not give His glory to another.
He repeats: I am the fist and the last. My hand laid the foundations of the earth. Tell me: Which of your idols foretold these things? Yes, I have called Cyrus, and will bring him.
God is the Lord who teaches them what is best for them. If only they had heeded His command, well-being (shalom) would be like a river for them.
Now the prophet imagines that Babylon is already fallen, and he tells them: Flee Babylon. This may mean so they will not be hurt in its destruction, or he could use Babylon as a symbol of evil, so this would mean: flee from evil.
Second Servant Song. 49:1-9a. Summary and Comments
Who is the Servant here? At times it seems like an individual, at times it is all Israel. This fits the Hebrew pattern we mentioned above, where an individual stands for and embodies a group. So at times, such as 49:6, the Servant has a mission to Jacob or Israel, at other times, he is individual.
The Targums do not mention this passage as messianic, nor does the NT. Yet since the servant is in close continuity with the servant of the first song, and especially because of the prediction of suffering by him, when he is despised and abhorred by the nation, the nation of Israel, it seems the same as the suffering servant of the 4th song.
The servant speaks to the far away lands, or islands. He says that before he was born the Lord called him from the womb of his mother - a thought like that of Jer 1:5 of or 44:2 above.
The servant says the Lord made his mouth like a sharpened sword, or he was a polished arrow. His words, it seems, are like the two-edged sword that the word of God is (Hebrews 4:12). God concealed Him, that is, did not make him known at first, like the Lord in His 30 years hidden life.
The servant groans: I have labored for no purpose - the people of Israel are stiff-necked, as we saw above, and as Jesus saw when He preached to them. But His reward is from the Lord -- like that of the suffering servant of the fourth song, in 53:10 - 11. So he is sent to bring back Jacob and gather Israel.
But that alone is not enough for his mission: he is to be a light to the gentiles. We saw this in 42:6, and in the canticle of Simeon in the NT, saying he will be a light to the gentiles. Through him salvation is to come to the ends of the earth, that is, to even the most distant places. Again, an indication of the universality of the mission of Jesus.
After he is despised and abhorred by the nation - which must be the Jewish people, as happened to Jesus. (Here the singular goy is used. When the gentiles are meant it is normally goyim, the plural) - after that Kings will see and bow down before Him - the later honor paid to Jesus too.
It is then that it is said that he will be a covenant for the people and will free captives - like the words of 42:7.
The Return from Exile: 49:9b - 50:3
On their return, they will find food even besides the roads, and on barren hills. There will be no hunger of thirst, nor will the desert heat strike them. In fact, God will turn the mountains into roads and raise up the highways -- we think of course of the opening words of chapter 40.
They will come from afar, some from the north, and some from the west, a nd some from the land of Syene. (We are not sure of this last name. The Hebrew has sinim. Some have thought it meant Chinese, but there were no Jews in China then. From Qumram, the old text of Isaiah, 1QIsa, reads: swnyym. That could mean Jews living at Aswan or Syene, the first cataract of the Nile in Egypt: cf. Ezek 29:9-11. Jeremiah 44:12-29 refers to Jews of his day living in this area of Lower Egypt.
So the Lord comforts His people.
Now, beginning at v. 14, Isaiah visualizes the people actually back in Jerusalem. First for contrast he paints the picture of Jerusalem during the time of exile. The people complain that the Lord has forsaken them. He replies: Sooner could a mother forget her own child. We think of the lament of Our Lord over Jerusalem in Mt 23:27 where He says He wanted to gather them as a hen gathers her chicks, but they refused. St. Augustine (Tract on John 15) makes a fine remark that the hen is the most motherly of animals. Even when the chicks are not following her, one can still see that she is a mother.
Then Isaiah changes the image, saying He has engraved them in the palms of His hands. This would be tattooing, which was prohibited in Israel: Lev 19:28.
After that: See, your sons are hurrying back, they will be like ornaments on a bride. Yes, Jerusalem was ruined, but now it will be too small for all those who come. Those there will marvel: Where did these come from? The Lord replies: I will call the gentiles. Kings shall be your foster fathers and queens your nursing mothers.
They will bow down before you. -- A prophecy of the conversion of the gentiles. At that time, and much later, the Jews thought it meant all gentiles would become Jews, not knowing that God intended to call the Gentiles (Eph 3:6) as gentiles to be part of His people.
Someone objects: Who can take plunder away from an armed warrior? He replies: Yes, the all powerful Lord can do all things. He will make your oppressors eat their own flesh, i.e., destroy one another in civil war.
Now, at the start of the next chapter (poor chapter division), He imagines them saying: Where is the bill of divorce, for He had renounced Israel. He replies: You were sold because of your sins. I called, and no one answered. I could have ransomed you, I can dry up the sea, but I needed to punish you.
3rd Servant Song. 50:4-11. Summary and Comments
The Servant speaks: The Lord has given me a tongue trained to help the weary. Every morning He wakens me to listen to His message. I have not been rebellious to His plans, even though I have suffered. Instead, I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled my beard. I did not hide from those who mocked and spat upon me.
Even though the Targum does not mark this song as messianic, we cannot help seeing the connection to the fourth song, which is surely messianic. The prophet had to suffer personally, and the same sort of sufferings as in the fourth song, and as in the Passion of Jesus. So there is really no obstacle to understanding all three songs thus far - and the fourth to come - as having a double sense: they refer to the servant individually, who at times seems like the Prophet, but with full fulfillment in Jesus -- and at times the servant is Israel, following the Hebrew pattern of using an individual to stand for and even embody a collectivity.
Did God really appear to Isaiah every day? Not necessarily. Perhaps at times, at other times it could be merely interior locution, or just part of the general commission: please recall the introduction to this text.
So the prophet does not lose confidence, he makes his own face like flint to stand up to those who torment him. The Lord defends me, he says, no one can accuse me. Does Isaiah ask for punishment of the offenders? If he did, it would not be in a tone of revenge, but of rebalancing the objective order, cf. our comments at chapter 1 on naqam. Is this different from Jesus praying: Father forgive them? Not entirely. Jesus did ask for forgiveness, and of course His prayer was granted. Yet as with any offer of forgiveness by God, it is not effective if the intended recipient rejects it. And so many did reject Jesus. He knew all too well both sides of the picture. Hence in Mt 23:27 He wept over Jerusalem, and He foretold what was going to happen in 70 A. D. He willed to offer forgiveness, yet He knew it would be in vain for most of them.
In v. 10 the prophet is the one who speaks, asking: Who obeys the message he gives? Even though the one who obeys is still walking in the dark, he must trust in the Lord.
In v. 11 God Himself speaks: They light fires, hoping to destroy the Servant. But God will turn even the fire against them, it will burn, not help them. Instead of walking, they will "lie down" in suffering.
More on Zion's Restoration. Chapter 51. Summary and Comments
God says: Listen to me, you who follow after what is right, i. e. , morally right, in accordance with God's law. Look to the rock from which you were cut. God Himself is often called the Rock. But here the term means: you are descended from Abraham and Sarah. He assures them: God will comfort Zion. He will turn her deserts into a paradise like Eden. Joy and gladness will be in her.
Then again: "Listen my people, my nation. The teaching on what is right, law (Torah) will come from me, and God's justice (mishpat) will be a light to the nations. God promises to bring justice (mishpat) to the nations, that is, even the gentiles. It means they will come to know what is right even by revelation. Anthropology shows that primitive people in general have a rather good knowledge of the basic moral code in their consciences. St. Paul echoes this in Romans 2:14-16, where he says that the gentiles who do not have a revealed law, still do what the law calls for, since that requirement is written on their hearts. Of course it is an advantage to have it spelled out in writing, for what is in the hearts may be misunderstood or dimmed by sin. Again, the result of all this is very similar to what St. Paul will say clearly in Eph 3:6 that the gentiles are called to be part of the people of God. Paul says this call was not known to previous generations. That is true, for it was in the prophecies, but was not clear enough. Most Jews took these prophecies of all nations coming to Jerusalem as meaning all would become Jews. They did not yet grasp God's intent. (Please recall comments given on chapter 2 above).
Then: the heavens will vanish like smoke. We spoke of this before, it is apocalyptic language. It means not that this creation will be destroyed, but renewed. It goes on to say "Its inhabitants will die like flies. " This probably does not mean there will be a large extermination of humans before the end. But Luke 18:8 says: "When the Son of Man comes, do you think He will find faith on the earth?" In other words, a great apostasy. 1 Thes 2. 3 also speaks of it. But no matter what happens, God says: His salvation (yeshua) and my righteousness (sedaqah) will last forever. (Yeshua does mean salvation. It may mean eternal salvation, or it may mean rescue from temporal dangers. Sedaqah means basically God's concern for what is morally right, but if people keep His covenant, then He has bound Himself to give favors to them, so sedaqah later develops the meaning of benefits. Cf. the appendix to Wm. Most, The Thought of St. Paul).
In verse 7 the thought of universality continues: "Hear me, you who know what is right, you people who have my law (Torah) in your hearts. " Know here is the verb yada, which is much broader than English know. It means not only know with the mind, but also act with the will, by love/obedience. The next words speaks of those who have his law in their hearts. Again we think of St. Paul, Romans 2:15: "They show the work of the law written on their hearts. " (That in turn is taken right out of Jeremiah 31:33, the prophecy of the new covenant). So not only Israel can know God's will and obey it. Even the gentiles can know what is written in their hearts, and obey it. And many of them did better than did Israel, cf. The book of Jonah which shows gentiles responding to a prophet with open arms, and Ezek 3:5-7, plus the terrible words of Ezek 5:6: "She [Jerusalem] has changed my judgments into wickedness more than the gentiles. " So those who obey the Lord should not be frightened at the insults they may meet. We think of 2 Timothy 3:12: "Anyone who wants to live devoutly in Christ will suffer persecution. " The same could happen to men who wanted to obey God even before Christ. Cf. Wisdom 2:12-20, especially the words of the wicked: "Simply to see him [the just man] is a hardship for us. "
Now the prophet cries to God: Awake, arm of the Lord. It was you who cut Rahab to pieces, and pierced the monster through. Rahab was thought of as a mythical sea monster: cf. Job 26:12. The monster may be Rahab too, or may be another creature of fancy: cf. Psalm 89:10. It continues, reminding God that He had dried the Red Sea. So He can easily ransom Israel from exile. Gladness will overtake them.
God responds: "I, yes I, am He who comforts you, sons of man who last no longer than the grass, but forget Him who made you, who made the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth. Prisoners who cringe will soon be free. " We do not know if some of the exiles were actually in prison, or if this is merely Semitic exaggeration again. God says He is the one who churns up the sea, who set the heavens in place. The same God says to Zion: You are my people. So no need to fear.
Then the prophet seems to see Jerusalem in a sleep of helplessness before him. He cries out: Awake, Jerusalem. You have drunk to the dregs the cup of the Lord's wrath. But that is over now. Your sons fainted away like an antelope that struggled long against the net that caught him, but in vain. So they were drunk, but not on wine. God says: See, I have taken out of your hand the cup of wrath that made you stagger. I will give that cup to your enemies. You may walk over them as they lie prostrate. In the Near East, sometimes conquerors literally did walk or ride over the backs of the conquered.
Fourth Servant Song. 52:13 - 53:12. Summary and Comments
Who is the Servant?. The Targum says it is the Messiah - though we will see presently how the Targum distorted it. The relation of this person to the previous songs is easy to see. We even saw mention of the sufferings of the servant in the third song. In the second, it seemed to be at times Israel, at times an individual. We explained the Hebrew pattern in which an individual stands for and embodies a collectivity. But here it could not be such a double though, for in no way is the Servant here Israel. Here the Servant suffers innocently; not so for the sufferings of Israel. Here the servant suffers for others; Israel did not suffer for the nations.
Some have foolishly tried to see this figure taken from Babylonian mythology, from Tammuz, a vegetation divinity that died in the heats of summer, returns again later, and is mourned. But Tammuz is not an innocent sufferer, nor does he atone for others.
The concept of atonement for others is strong here, as we shall see. Such an idea comes in many other places in Judaism, e. g., Job 42:7-8; 2 Mac 7. 37; Qumran Rule of Community 5:6; 8:3, 6; Simeon ben Eleazar citing R. Meir in Tosefta, Kiddushin 1. 14. Especially significant is 4 Mac 6:28-29 and 17:21-22. Cf. also H. J. Schoeps, Paul, the Theology of the Apostle, p. 129. This idea is part of the notion that sin is a debt, which the Holiness of God wants paid, that is, He wants the scales of the objective order to be rebalanced: cf. W. Most, The Thought of St. Paul, appendix. Cf. also Paul VI, doctrinal introduction to Indulgentiarum Doctrina.
The Targum, as we said, does consider this song to be messianic. Yet strangely it distorted it sadly. It turned the meek suffering servant of the Hebrew into an arrogant conqueror. There are several reasons why this happened. First, the idea that the Messiah would reign forever and never suffer was very strong at the time of Christ. This even led at times to a belief in two Messiahs. So there is a Messiah Son of David, who does not suffer, and another Messiah, son of Joseph who does: c. Talmud, Sukkah 52a, commenting on Zechariah 12:10(which said: "They will look upon me, whom they have pierced"). This second Messiah was to be the precursor of the Messiah, son of David. Secondly the Targum picture is influenced by hopes that Bar Kokhba (so of the star, thinking of Numbers 24:17) leader of the second Jewish revolt against Rome, 121-35. Thirdly, the Jews after a time, seeing the Christian use of this song, tried to distort it. This is admitted by several good Jewish scholars: H. J. Schoeps, Paul (Westminster 1961, p. 129) and Jacob Neusner, Messiah in Context, p. 190, and Samson Levey, The Messiah, An Aramaic Interpretation p. 152, note 10.
The NT takes this song as messianic: Mt 8:17; Lk 22:37; Acts 8:32-33; Romans 15:21.
To see the distortion, we give first the Hebrew, then the Targum of a few passages:
Verse 3: Hebrew: "He was despised and rejected by men. " Targum: "then the glory or all kingdoms will be despised and cease. "
Verse 5: Hebrew: "He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities. " Targum: "He will [re]build the sanctuary, polluted because of our sins, [and] handed over because of our iniquities. "
Verse 7: Hebrew: "He was like a lamb being led to the slaughter. " Targum: "He will hand over the mighty ones of the peoples, like a lamb to the slaughter. "
The word sprinkle in v. 15 has overtones of priestly sacrifice, and prepare the way for further sacrificial language later in this passage. Cf. Exodus 19:20-21 on the ordination of Aaron and his sons, in which they are sprinkled with the blood of sacrifice, and Leviticus 16:14-15 tells us of the sprinkling of the blood of the sin offering on the propitiatory. In Romans 3:25 Christ is spoken of as the new propitiatory. During the "time of passing over" of sins, in the OT, perfect rebalance for sins was not provided. But God's concern for the objective order wanted to supply that. (On this concept of Greek dikaiosyne in Romans, cf. Wm. Most, The Thought of St. Paul, appendix).
However in Romans and here we of course should not take the idea as being merely a liturgical ceremony - far too painful for that. Rather, it is the fact that the sufferings of Christ rebalanced the objective order, put out of line by sin. For the OT, intertestamental literature, the NT, rabbinic writings, and the Fathers view sin as a debt, which the Holiness of God wants repaid. Hence the image of a two pan scales, suggested by Simeon ben Eleazar (Tosefta, Kiddushin 1. 14. cited above in notes on chapter 1) is helpful. A sinner takes from one pan what he has no right to take: the scale is out of balance. It is the Holiness of God that wants it rebalanced. If the man stole property he begins to rebalance by giving it back; if he stole a pleasure, he begins to rebalance by giving up some pleasure of similar weight. But all this is only the beginning of rebalance, for the imbalance from even one mortal sin is infinite. So if the Father wanted a full rebalance, the only way was to send a divine Person, who by anything He did, could provide infinite rebalance, in the categories of both merit and satisfaction.
In fact, the mere fact of the Incarnation, without any death, would have been infinite in both ways. (The Greek Fathers with their theology of Physical-Mystical Solidarity saw this). But the love of the Father for us and for objective goodness led Him to go even to the stable and to the cross.
We said if, since contrary to St. Anselm, the Father was not obliged to do this or anything at all. We also stressed Holiness. There is a matter of justice too, but if we make justice central, then someone may object: if someone offends me I do not always demand justice: why cannot God just be nice about it? But if the center is Holiness, then Holiness will want full rebalance. By His terrible sufferings, Christ put back into the scale far more than all sinners taken together took away. We are reminded of the plaint of the Psalmist in 69:5: "I restore what I did not steal. "
It is evident that this explanation of the sufferings of Jesus is right, and surely more in accord with the Holiness, the Justice, and the Goodness of the Father than the notion put forth by some Protestants, that Jesus was our substitute, that the Father really punished Him. How could there be any justice in that? How could injustice make up for sin?
We said above that the love of the Father for objective goodness and for us led Him to go beyond an incarnation without death to the stable and the cross. Really, His attitude seems to be: if there is any way to make it all more rich, I do not want to pass it by. In that vein, we might imagine Him looking back on the fact that He could have used any ordinary human to do any religious action and could have called that a redemption, imperfect, but real. So the Father willed to add to the sufferings of Christ those of Blessed Mother. She knew all too well from the very day of the annunciation, that He would suffer. As soon as the angel said He would reign forever, any Jew would see He was the Messiah).
She understood our passage of Isaiah without the distortion the stiff-necked Jews put into it. She understood Psalm 22, "they have pierced my hands and my feet". She would have understood also Zechariah 12:10: "They will look upon me whom they have pierced."
At the annunciation in saying fiat she agreed to be the Mother of the Suffering Messiah. At the cross of course she did not retract that. Any soul that knows what the Father positively wills, must positively will it too. She knew too well the positive will of the Father, that He should suffer and die so terribly. So she was called upon to will that He die, die then, die so horribly - and that going counter to her love which was so great that, as Pius IX wrote (Ineffabilis Deus), "none greater under God can be thought of, and no one but God can comprehend it." (Pius IX was speaking directly of her holiness, but holiness and love of God are interchangeable terms). So Vatican II, twice in LG #56 and again in 61 spoke of her as sharing the sacrifice by obedience - the obedience we are speaking of. Of course, obedience was the essential condition of the New Covenant, and was the essential interior attitude of the Great Sacrifice and of any sacrifice, without which it would have no value. So she joined with Him in that which gave His sufferings all their value. Of course, her whole ability to do that, and anything, came entirely from Him. Yet is was real, painfully real, and beyond our comprehension as Pius IX said.
His appearance was so disfigured that he hardly looked like a man - from the hideous scourging, skin torn everywhere and with blood all over. Pilate brought Him out looking this way: :Behold the man". But not even that horrid sight could appease the fury of the priests and the mob.
He will sprinkle many nations - comment given above.
Who has believed our message, what we report about Him? He grew up like a tender shoot. He had no beauty of majesty. He was despised and rejected. St. Margaret Mary reports that He told her the rejection was worse than the physical pain.
He took on our suffering, that which was due to our sins, to rebalance the objective order. The Father did not really punish Him - a hideous thought. Yet people thought or Him as stricken by God. He was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our sins. All we (kulanu) had gone astray. But God laid upon Him the iniquity of us all(kulanu). The punishment that brought us well-being (shalom) was upon Him. We are healed by His wounds.
He was oppressed, yet did not open his mouth, He was like a lamb led to the slaughter. He was taken away, out of this life, by this oppression and by a wicked judgment of His people before Pilate. He was cut off from the land of the living, for the transgression of my people.
When he died they intended to give him a dishonorable burial, a shallow burial where wild dogs might eat his body. But God planned otherwise, had Him given a tomb by the rich Joseph of Arimathea.
It was the will of the Lord to crush him. The Lord made Him a guilt offering, a sacrifice. We saw above in commenting on Isaiah 29:13 that a sacrifice consists in two things: the outward sign, and the interior disposition. The outward sign was his physical suffering and death, which expressed His interior disposition, obedience to the Father. (On the night before, He had offered the same sacrifice, putting Himself under the appearance of death, body and blood separated. The outward sign then was that seeming separation, but the interior disposition was the same). Already on entering into the world (Hebrews 10:7) He had said: "Behold I come to do your will O God." He could do this at the moment of conception only because, as the Church teaches (Cf. Pius XII, Mystici Corporis, Sempiternus Rex, Haurietis aquas and W. Most, The Consciousness of Christ) His human soul at once saw the vision of God, in which all knowledge is present. So He saw and accepted even then the painful knowledge of all that was to come. During His life that bothered Him greatly: Cf. Luke 12:50 and John 12:27 On the cross He still had that attitude of obedience to the Father - we spoke of it above as the condition of the new covenant, as the interior disposition of His sacrifice.
But now after this, the prophet speaks of His resurrection, and says: "He will see his offspring, [that is, his spiritual descendants, and He will prolong His days." So, there was a resurrection. This is a remarkable line, for the doctrine of resurrection was not much developed in the day of Isaiah. (We saw a possibility of it at 14:9-22, which describes the king of Babylon coming down to the underworld - but this may well be only a literary fancy. Again 29:19 seems to speak of a resurrection, but it could mean merely the resurrection of Israel, in its restoration. Job 19:25 seems clearer, but is difficult to interpret).
Verse 11 says much the same: After the sufferings of His soul He will see the light of life, and be satisfied.
Next, most versions say something like this: By his knowledge. . . he will justify many." The word knowledge is the heart of the problem.
It makes Isaiah sound like a Christian scientist. Every version I have seen does use the word knowledge. What can we do with it? The Hebrew is be da'etho. Unfortunately the standard lexicons for that noun do not help here. But if we notice that the noun dath is the same root as the verb yada we can get an answer. That verb has a broad meaning, it is not narrow like English know Rather, Zorell, Lexicon Hebraicum et Aramaicum Veteris Testamenti lists among the meanings: colit, amat. He gives examples: Jer 31. 34: "Know the Lord"; Hos 8, 2: "Israel shall cry to me: My God, we know you"; Ps 36. 11: "continue your love to those who know you." 87. 4: "I will remember Rahab and Babylon among those acknowledging me."; Pr 3. 6: "In all your ways acknowledge him"; Job 24. 1: "Why are not times set by the Almighty and why do not those who know Him see His days?"; Dn 11. 32: "But a people who knows Him will be strong. "
It is evident that in all of these we could use the translation love or obey. This is especially suggested in the lines from Ps 36. 11 and 87. 4 as well as in Pr 3. 6, Job 24. l and Dn 11. 32.
Now although there is a technical difference between love and obeying God, in practice it all the same. In loving anyone else we will good to the other for the other's sake. Of course we cannot do that for God. So we turn to the analogical sense, partly different but adjusted. Scripture pictures Him as pleased when we obey, displeased when we do not. It is not that He gains anything by our obedience - He cannot gain at all. But still He wants it for two reasons: 1)He loves all that is good: but objective goodness says creatures must obey their Creator, children their Father; 2)He wants intensely to give us good: but that is vain if we are not open to receive. His commandments tell us how to be open, and at the same time, steer us away from the evil that lurk in the very nature of things, e.g., a hangover after too much to drink, or a high danger of a loveless marriage after a lot of premarital sex. Hence when we love God it really means we obey Him. Incidentally, the Hittite vassal treaties commonly required that the subject king "love" the great king. They meant obey.
Still more helpful is Hosea 6:6, so often mistranslated. It should be: "For hesed is my pleasure and not sacrifice; and knowledge [or love or obedience to] of God rather than burnt offerings." The Hebrew parallelism is useful here as so often. The first half says that God takes pleasure rather in observance of the covenant, obedience, than in external offerings; the second half says the same, so it must mean that to know or love or obey God is more than burnt offerings. The thought is the same as in Isaiah 23:19: "This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." That is, He does not desire the externals of sacrifice, but the interior disposition, which is obedience to Him.
We conclude, instead of knowledge we should read obedience to the Father, which gave the value to his sacrifice. The NAB reads suffering instead of knowledge. That is an improvement, but the direct meaning is not suffering, but obedience, which led the Servant to accept suffering.
But we notice also in verse 11, the word many. In Hebrew it is rabbim. The same word occurs two more times, in verse 12. It expresses the fact that His suffering was for all. We surely must not say He died only for some. 52:15 about sprinkling surely refers to all, for even gentile kings are sprinkled. The fact that its does mean all is clear from the context, and especially from 53:6: "All (kulanu) we had gone astray. . . . The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. There the Hebrew has kulanu, whose meaning is beyond all doubt. So by parallel, the rabbim here means all. The solution lies in the odd use of rabbim. If I were in a room with three people, I could say all, but I could not say many. Rabbim means the all who are many. Greek has no such word as rabbim. But a check of a Greek concordance reveals that every time St. Paul uses Greek polloi, which means many, he means all. There is no exception. For example Romans 5:19 speaks of original sin coming upon all. The word is polloi. Similarly in Mk 10:45 (=Mt 20:28) Jesus said He was to give His life for many [polloi]. Of course He did not die just for some. 1 Tim. 2:6 echoes Mk 10:25 and uses Greek panton, which is of course all. For further data cf. G. Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the NT s. v., polloi.
Verse 12 concludes this song: So I will give Him a portion among the rabbim, He will divide the spoils with the strong, because He poured out His life, was counted among transgressors, and bore the sin of rabbim.
The Eternal Covenant of Peace, Chapter 54. Summary and Comments
A remarkable comparison: Sing O barren woman who never had a child. More are the children of the desolate than of her who has a husband. The meaning: Jerusalem has been briefly abandoned, but now will have countless children. So they should enlarge their tents - even though they no longer lived in tents -- to hold all those who will come to Jerusalem.
Do not be afraid, God says, you will forget the shame of your youth. The Lord will call you back, as if you were a wife deserted, who married young, only to be deserted. God speaks of Himself as the husband of Israel. This theme is especially strong in the book of Hosea. Really, He has not permanently abandoned her. He will now call her back. He did abandon her briefly, during the exile, but with deep compassion He will bring her back. He hid his face only for a moment, but with everlasting fidelity to the covenant He will have compassion on her. He has sworn not to be angry with her again, an oath like He took to Noah not to bring another deluge. What then, we must ask, of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70? We reply: the prophet's vision spans long periods of time, and much that he says applies fully only to the really new covenant, that made by Christ. (We will see a special instance of that in comments on chapter 55 below).
So God says: O afflicted city, lashed by storms, I will rebuild you splendidly with precious stones. All your sons will be taught by the Lord. We think of Jeremiah 31. 31-33 where God says much the same, which applies to the new covenant which Jeremiah foretells, which is fulfilled in Christ. Your children will have great peace (shalom --general well-being). Terror will be far removed.
Exhortation to Accept the Promised Blessings. Chapter 55. Summary and Comments.
Isaiah encourages them to take up what God promises and return to their land. His fear was not in vain, for out of the 12 tribes, only 2 returned, Judah and Benjamin, and probably not every one out of them either. For many had put down roots in Babylon, had homes, and probably commercial interests too. To return to a ruined city was not inviting.
So God says: Those who are thirsty come to the waters, get bread with no cost. Of course they had bread and water in Babylon. This means accept all the good things God will give you.
God adds: Come, I will make an everlasting covenant with you, as I promised to David. I have made him a witness to the peoples. The he seems to be David, who is dead. It really means a future descendant of David, the Messiah. In 2 Samuel 7:12-17 God had promised David through Nathan: When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to rule. St. Augustine observes well (City of God 17. 8) that this could not really mean Solomon, who began to rule before, not after the death of David. Augustine points out well, in City of God 17. 3, that some prophecies refer only to OT persons and events, some to NT only, some to both. We get the clue of this extension when we see something that seems at first sight to refer to only OT things, but yet does not entirely fit, as in the case of Solomon just mentioned.
The prophecy given through Nathan continued saying: If he is wicked, I will punish him, but I will not take away the kingship as I did with Saul, whose dynasty came to an end. Yet the line of Davidic kings stopped with the great exile. Again, an indication to look further to the One of whom the Archangel Gabriel said: He will rule over the house of Jacob forever.
Isaiah added: See I have made him a witness to the peoples. That of course applies to the Messiah, only then would verse 5 come true: You will summon nations, and nations that do not know you will hasten to you. Israelites did not really understand this, they thought all gentiles were to become Jews. They did not yet know what St. Paul revealed in Eph 3:6 that the gentiles are called to be part of the people of God. On the problem of prophecies like this, please see again comments on chapter 2 above.
Therefore: Seek the Lord while He can be found. Let the wicked forsake his wicked way and come to God.
Now a most remarkable line in vv. 8-9: My thoughts are not your thoughts: as far as the heavens are above the earth, so far are my ways above your ways. -- Yes, we could not understand God, for He is transcendent, above all our categories (on transcendence, please see our comments on the first part of chapter 6 above), So we could not know what to expect form Him, if He would not tell us, which He did by the commandments and the covenant. Still more, He gave us His only Son, incarnate, and so having a human heart. We can understand a human heart. Further, so no one might say: Yes, but the human heart is the heart of a divine Person --He has added the Immaculate Heart of His Mother, which is perfectly attuned to His heart. We can surely understand her heart.
To encourage confidence: Just as rain and snow come down from the sky, and do not go back without accomplishing all that I send them to do, so my word will accomplish what I say. Trust it, go out in joy. The mountains and hills will burst into song before you. This will be an everlasting sign that will not be destroyed. In ancient times there was a common belief that a word spoken by a person in authority, of its own power, could bring things into being. So in an ancient Egyptian creation myth, the god Atum stood on a mud hillock that emerged from the primeval waters, and named the parts of his body. Thus the gods came into being. Much later, in early medieval lives of Irish Saints, one Saint had a quarrel with an Irish King. During it both said harsh things to each other. They made peace, but yet the text adds: Everything they said to each other came true.
Various Prophecies for Restored Israel. Chapter 56. Summary and Comments
We are now at the start of what many call Third Isaiah. They claim there are three Isaiahs. One for chapters 40-55 looking forward to exile; a second for chapters 40-55, in exile; third, chapters 56-66 for restored Israel. We have not found any convincing proof that there are three Isaiahs. Really the patterns described here are simply the so-called Deuteromomic pattern: sin and threat, punishment, repentance and restoration. Without knowing anything of the future Isaiah could have written all three except for the detail about Cyrus. Those who reject everything supernatural of course have to reject that. But we do not have to.
This new block of chapters has puzzled many commentators. For in the last block before this we saw the most glowing promises about the restoration. Now it looks a bit different. We have to remember the very strong Semitic hyperbole, of which we have spoken many times. We recall the apocalyptic language he used for the fall of Babylon, of Edom, and of Egypt, which sounds just like the last signs in nature of Matthew 24.
No, we must face the realities, as those who returned did. Their city had been ruined, they needed to rebuild it. The same for the temple. If we read the little Book of Haggai, only two chapters, we see they were sluggish in rebuilding it, and finally, in 520 (they returned in 539) God had to send them a strong message through Haggai. In the fist chapter He said: Look at the things you are doing, you are sowing much, reaping little, putting on clothes, but you do not get warm, etc. The message: No wonder things are not prosperous, you are not doing what you should do: rebuild the temple. They had had trouble and interference form neighboring people, which was finally resolved. So they did go ahead to rebuild. Haggai said the glory of this new house will be greater than that of the old. But that clearly did not match the reality:" The glory was to come when Christ entered the temple.
Haggai spoke of the coming of Christ in 2:6-7, if we adopt St. Jerome's translation: Just a little while and I will move heaven and earth, and the one desired by the nations will come in." (There has been a doubt because the Hebrew word hemdat which we translated as the desired one, is singular in ending, while the verb is plural. But such shifts are not unknown else where in the Old Testament). Jerome was following the tradition of the rabbis with whom he associated). We noticed Haggai spoke in 520, yet said "a little while" on the Lord's time scale, from 520 to the birth of Christ is really only a little time. One day is like 1000 years, and 1000 years like one day.
The books of Ezra and Nehemiah show conditions after the return were not ideal. There were religious faults, severe ones. The old administration needed to be rebuilt, for the line of Davidic kings had not survived the exile - though even after it they always had some kind of leader from the tribe of Judah - as Gen 49:10 foretold - until the time of the Messiah.
During the exile, the only religious thing they could still hold on to, lacking a temple, was the observance of the Sabbath.
Encouragement for those who keep the Law. 56:1-8. Summary and Comments
God tells them: Do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand. Salvation of course here means temporal benefits. So the foreigners who have bound themselves to the Lord by becoming proselytes, or nearly that, we should not think God would exclude them. No, He accepts them. Similarly eunuchs - formerly, as in Dt. 23:1 eunuchs were not allowed to be in the Lord's community - - should not say they are only a dry tree (no possible offspring), nor think God would reject them. No, He now is willing to accept even them. Also, many probably had been made eunuchs during the exile, while in the Babylonian royal court. Such courts had a use for them, for obvious reasons. So now God will let them in and if they keep the Sabbath, they can come to the temple, and their name will be continued, in that sense they will have a memorial in the temple.
Some think the lines about eunuchs were not to be taken at face value right after the return: that they referred to a later time, when Jesus would say (Mt 19:12) that some have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of His kingdom, or even the final eschatological time.
Sinful leaders and people. 56-9 - 57:21. Summary and Comments
But not all really did keep God's law. So now Isaiah says that Israel's watchmen, the leaders, are blind, like dogs that are mute and so do not warn of coming danger. Or they are like faithless shepherds, who just want to drink beer and wine.
As a result, the righteous are oppressed, and no one wonders about it. The righteous are taken away by death, to be spared from such evils. So those who live uprightly do enter into peace, at least with their deaths. This is remarkable if we interpret it as we have just done: it refers to future retribution in the next life, a concept that in general is not thought to have been known in the time of Isaiah or even the so-called third Isaiah.
So God calls the people sons of a sorceress, who mock Him, who burn with lust among the oak groves sacred to Baal (pagan rituals might involve ritual sex), who even sacrifice their children to the idol Moloch. 2 Kings 21:6 tells that King Achab immolated His son by fire (cf. Micah 6:7).
Instead of the Lord as their portion, they have chosen idols, and poured out drink offerings and brought grain offering to the idols. They have made their bed on a high hill- may refer to the high places of Canaanite idolatry.
They have put pagan symbols on their doorposts - instead of the text that God had ordered in Dt. 6:9 (which at least later became the Mezuza).
They went to their idol Molech (the word is another spelling of melech, king, a Canaanite deity). To him they brought offerings of olive oil and perfumes. They sent ambassadors far off. Does this mean embassies like those they formerly sent to Egypt? Possibly, more likely it meant embassies to the netherworld, by sacrificing to idols.
So He asks: Who did you fear and reverence so much that you have been false to me, your real God? (We do know that fear was one of the motives of the old idolatry: cf. Judges 6:10). So God will expose their "righteousness" an ironic use of the word. Properly it mean doing what God ordered; here it is use to mean what the pagan gods ordered. But when they cry for help, these idols will not save them.
Ezekiel in chapter 8 (dated in 592 when he was already in exile, between the first and second invasions of Nebuchadnezzar) saw in a vision, the abominations being done even in the temple. He saw images all over the walls, of animals, even creeping things, which 70 of the Elders were worshipping even in God's temple. He saw about 25 men with their backs to the temple, facing east and bowing down to the sun.
In contrast, the man who makes God his refuge will inherit the land and possess Mount Zion. A voice will be heard: Make straight the way on which the Lord will lead His people. God lives on high, but also with those who are lowly in spirit. God will not always be angry, if they repent. God was angry because of their sinful greed, and so punished them. But now He wants to heal them. and restore comfort to them. In contrast, the wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest. There is no peace for them.
True Fasting and True religion. Chapter 58. Summary and Comments
God speaks: Shout out to the people that they are rebellious. They seek God, and expect Him to hear. They want to know precisely the external things required: cf. Zech 7. Cf. also the distressing nit-picking they went in for in regard to Levitical Purity, as explained in J. Neusner, Invitation to the Talmud (Harper & Row, 1984, esp pp. 53-62) On p. 53 Neusner, a great Jew, calls such things "monumental nonsense." For example, on pp. 75-76 he tells of the debate between the Houses of Hillel and Shammai -- the chief schools at the time of Christ - over washing hands. Shammai said they wash hands before mixing the cup: the liquid on the outer surface of the cup might be made unclean on account of the hands, and then in turn that would make the cup unclean. But Hillel said that the outer surfaces of the cup are always considered unclean. Neusner explains that hands are presumed to be unclean, but they are only in "the second remove of uncleanness." So they would make the Heave-offering unclean but could not make vessels unclean. But they do make liquids unclean, and the liquids' uncleanness is in "the first remove." So liquids will make the cup unclean.
But now comes the real explanation why God does not hear them: On the very day on which they fast they commit uncharitable and unjust acts against workers and the poor. Their fasting ends in quarrels - excessive physical stress can weaken one, and make him quarrelsome.
Instead, God wants the corporal works of mercy. They should rend their hearts, not their garments: Cf. Joel 2:13. If they do this, then their light and their healing will come quickly. When the call, God will answer quickly. They will have the name of those who rebuild ancient walls -- apparently after the ruin of the destruction of Jerusalem in 596 and 586 BC.
They must also keep the Sabbath and instead of considering it a burden - cf. Amos 8:5, where the wicked are eager to see the end of the Sabbath so they can sell their grain, and use false measures.
Then they will find their joy in the Lord. They will ride triumphant over the heights of the land: cf. Dt. 21-13.
No redemption without conversion. Chapter 59. Summary and Comments
This chapter seems to refer again to the period after the exile. He says that the arm of the Lord is not unable to save them, but their iniquities have separated them from Him and have caused His face to be hidden from them. For their hands are stained with blood, their lips have spoken lies, probably including false accusations in court. There they use "empty arguments." It sounds like ancient Greece where in court invalid arguments often carried the day.
So the prophet says they are like those who hatch eggs of a viper. Whoever eats such eggs will die. When an egg is broken, an adder comes out. They spin spider's webs, useless for clothing. Their thoughts aim at evil, they turn into crooked paths. Interestingly, in Romans 3:15-17 St. Paul cites verses 7 and 8a as part of a sad litany of how low people have sunk. But commentators need to notice that Paul is not only using Semitic exaggeration, but also is making what can be called a focused picture, i.e., one in which the law is seen as making heavy demands, giving no help, and so everyone falls. We called it focused since the view is limited, as if one looked through a tube, and saw only what was framed by the circle of the tube. Yet, off to the side, outside the circle, was divine help even before Christ: if one used it, the result was the opposite (On focusing cf. Wm. Most The Thought of St. Paul esp. p. 186.
So the people say that justice is far from them. They look for light, but all is dark. They stumble and grope like the blind feeling their way along a wall. They look for God's just intervention (mishpat) but find none, and for deliverance (yoshua) in vain. For their offenses are many in the sight of God, and their sins are witnesses against them.
The next lines (15b to 18) are remarkable for the way words are used: "The Lord saw, and it was evil in His eyes, that there was no carrying out of right judgment (mishpat by His people), and He saw that there was no man [to help] and wondered that there was no one to intervene [on behalf of sedaqah]. So His own arm causes salvation for Him [tosh'a lo] and His moral rightness [sedaqah] it sustained Him. And He put on moral rightness [sedaqah] as a breastplate, and salvation [yeshua] as a helmet on His head. He clothed Himself with garments of executive vindication [naqam]. . . . According to deeds, accordingly He will repay. "
It is remarkable that in these lines we find three words - sedaqah -- yeshua (usually meaning salvation) - and naqam - which can turn in two directions, i.e., can mean favorable or unfavorable action by God. This is because the framework is the covenant. In Dt 11; 26 Moses told the people he was putting before them a blessing or a curse, according to whether they did or did not carry out the covenant. (Is 63:5 has a similar picture with similar wording. On this cf the appendix to Wm. Most The Thought of St. Paul).
When God makes things right (naqam - executive action to correct things) then people from East and West will fear the name of the Lord. Judgment will burst in like a flood that has been pent up. The Redeemer will come from Zion for those who repent. St. Paul in Romans 11:26 uses this line about the Redeemer from Zion to refer to the coming conversion of the Jews.
Redemption of Zion. Chapter 60, Summary and Comments
This is the theme of chapters 60-62.
Isaiah opens: Arise, shine, for your light has come . Darkness covers the earth, but the Lord rises upon you. --The words about the darkness recall 9:1-2, which say that a light has come to the people who walked in darkness, they have seen the great light - the Messiah.
So even the gentiles will come to your light. Here we need to recall our comments on chapter 2 above. Most Jews took this and similar texts to mean gentiles would all become Jews. The fulfillment was that all would be called to the kingdom of the Messiah.
So the prophet says: Lift up your eyes, and look. Your sons and daughters come from afar. The real fulfillment was that of the nations coming to join the kingdom of the Messiah.
Isaiah 60:5 says that the nations will bring their treasures to Zion. This is like Haggai 2. 6-9: "Yet one moment [this as said in 520 BC!], and I will shake heaven and earth, and the treasures of all nations will come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of Hosts. . . . the glory of this later house will be greater than that of the first, says the Lord of Hosts." -- We have followed in the above the more usual way of translating verse 7, by saying "the treasures." St. Jerome rendered: "the one desired" by the nations will come in. The problem is in the fact that the Hebrew hemdat, which can mean the desired is singular in form, yet the verb is plural. So translators feel authorized to change hemdat from the desired one to the desired things, wealth. But St. Jerome was following the interpretation of the rabbis. And clearly the prophecy is messianic, even if we treat hemdat as plural. For then we will have the same sense as 60:5. Further, Haggai said the glory of the new temple would be greater than that of the old. Physically that did not come true - but the glory was greater when Christ, the Messiah, came into it. Then really the house was filled with glory, even though the Jews did not recognize it.
So we have here as many times in Isaiah, a prophecy that seemed to refer to the restoration after the Exile, and did in part mean that, but the complete fulfillment was to come with Christ.
Next he says that herds of camels will come, all from Sheba will come with gold and incense. The liturgy for the feast of the Epiphany makes beautiful use of this verse, and of some of the preceding verses. He says the flocks of Kedar, probably standing for all Arabian tribes, and Nebaioth, a Midianite tribe, and Sheba in SW Arabia will come to Jerusalem and bring sheep to offer in the temple.
Then Isaiah in his vision looks to the sea, and exclaims: Who are these that fly along the clouds, like doves to their nests? The far away nations are coming, and the ships of Tarshish trading ships from the remote part of the Mediterranean.
Foreigners, he says, will rebuild your walls and kings will serve you. There was a partial fulfillment of this in the work of Cyrus, who in 44:28 is foretold as saying: Let Jerusalem be rebuilt, let the foundations of the temple be laid: cf. 2 Chron 36:22-23.
So the glory of Lebanon, the precious wood, will come to adorn the sanctuary. Even more, instead of bronze they will get gold for the temple, and silver in place of iron.
Then Isaiah becomes more fully eschatological in saying that the sun will no longer be their light by day or the moon at night: the Lord Himself will be their everlasting light: cf. Apoc/Revel 21. 23.
Then the people will be righteous, and possess the land forever - that is, unless they become unfaithful. Cf. the warnings in 1 Kings 9. 1-9 and Jer 22. 4-9.
Because they did not know the day of their visitation, Jesus wept over Jerusalem, in Luke 19. 41-44.
Messenger of Good News. Chapter 61, Summary and Comments
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. - Who is it? A partial fulfillment may have been in the prophet himself. But the great fulfillment came when Jesus Himself said it was fulfilled in Him, in Luke 4. 16-19. He was anointed by the Holy Spirit. He was to aid those who were oppressed. This is much like the work of the Servant of the Lord in 42. 3 and 50. 4.
He is to proclaim a year of the Lord's favor, but also a day of setting things right -- the word here is naqam which means action by the one in charge of the community to put things right. It is often translated vengeance, but improperly, for vengeance is immoral. Rather, it is rectifying the objective moral order.
There is an allusion here to the Year of Jubilee, every 50th year, when those who had defaulted on debts and been sold into slavery had to be set free: Lev 25. 39ff. It as also called the Year of freedom: Ezek 46. 17. Then there would be a beautiful crown, a fine turban, for all who grieved in Zion, instead of ashes, put on the bare head in sign of mourning. They will be called oaks of righteousness, planted by the Lord.
They will rebuild ancient ruins, most likely those left from the Babylonian invasion of 596 and 586. But now outsiders will shepherd their flocks for them, for the people of Israel will be called priests of the Lord: cf. Exodus 19. 6. They will feed on the wealth that the nations will bring - cf. 60. 6ff above.
In his faithfulness the Lord will reward them with a double portion, and make an everlasting covenant with them, to compensate them for all the suffering of the exile.
So he - Isaiah or the Messiah - says: I delight greatly in the Lord, He has clothed me with garments of salvation. - These lines are given as optional readings for the common of Masses of the Blessed Virgin, there to be understood as referring to her. This is not mere accommodation, for because of her close union with Him in all His mysteries (as chapter 8 of Lumen gentium, brings out) what is said of Him, applies in a way to her also. As Pius XII said, in Munificentissimus Deus she is "always sharing His lot. "
As the soil makes plants sprout and come up, so the almighty Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.
Persistent Prophet. Chapter 62. Summary and Comments
Isaiah himself speaks, it seems: For the sake of Zion I will not be silent, I will call out until her righteousness and salvation shine like the dawn. Righteousness and salvation here are - sedaqah and jeshua. In context, they mean here, well- being. Nations and kings will see this. You will have a new name- recall that in Hebrew thought the name was often almost equivalent to the person. So to give a new name is to change the character. They will no longer call your land Deserted and Desolate. Rather, you will be called Hepzibah ("My delight is in her") and Beulah ("married"). The sense is that Israel is the bride of God (Cf. the marriage imagery in Hosea). He now takes her back. Her will delight in you as a young man delights in his bride.
So watchmen are posted on the walls to call on the name of the Lord without rest until He establishes Jerusalem again. He has sworn He will not again give your grain to an enemy. Rather, you who harvest it will eat it, and then praise the Lord.
So he exclaims: Pass through the gates, prepare the way for the people to return. Say to the Daughter of Zion (that is Zion): See, your Savior comes, and His reward is with him. They will be called a Holy People, and the city will be Sought-after (derushah), and No-Longer-deserted.
Day of retribution. 63:1-6. Summary and Comments
Isaiah asks: Who is this coming from Edom, from Bozrah with garments stained red. Bozrah was the capital of Edom, often used to stand for nations opposed to the Lord - especially since Edom had refused Israel passage on its return from Egypt, and had taken advantage of the weakness of Judah when the Babylonians took Jerusalem. Edom seems to have been understood to mean red: Genesis 25. 30. The figure coming however in spite of the blood is robed in splendor. He replies, in righteousness (sedaqah), mighty to save.
He is asked why his garments are red. He replies that He has trodden the winepress alone, no one from the nations helped. Here treading the winepress stands for executing the wrath of God (Apoc/Rev. 19. 15). He says that the day of naqam was in his heart. Naqam sands for executive action of the authority to set things right, whether favorable or unfavorable effect is required. It does not really mean vengeance, as versions commonly put it, for that word stands for immoral hate. Hence here he adds: the year of redemption has come. Naqam means benefit to God's friends, punishment for His enemies.
Then he said: I looked, and there was no one to help - the very wording is much the same as that which we saw above in 59. 15. God in His wrath made them drunk, on the wine of His wrath.
Prayer and Lament. 63. 7 - 64. 12. Summary and Comments
The prophet says; I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord- - really, the plural of hesed, the ways in which He observes what He has pledged in the covenant, according to His compassion (rahamah) and many kindnesses (hesed again). In all their distress, He was so compassionate that even He was distressed seeing their suffering. So an angel of His presence saved them and carried them as in days of old. Some think the angel of His presence is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. But this is unclear, though we grant that in Malachi 3. 1 the messenger of the Covenant is probably the Lord Himself. He carried them, recalls Exodus 19. 4, in which He said He carried them in leaving Egypt as on eagle's wings.
In spite of this they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit. Does this mean the Third Person of the Holy Trinity? Not impossible, but less likely so early as this in history. As a result of this rebellion, instead of helping them, He actually fought against them.
Then the people recalled the days of Moses when He brought them out of Egypt and through the sea.
So Isaiah begs: Look down from heaven and see. Where are your zeal (qinah intense love, like that of a jealous lover) and your might? Your compassion is withheld from us.
But you, Lord, are our Father. Even if Abraham did not know us, or Jacob did not acknowledge us: you are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name. Redeemer is goel, that next of kin who had the right and duty to rescue his kinsmen in great distress. In the covenant, as the blood sprinkling suggested, God pledged to act as though their kinsman and goel.
Therefore: Why, O Lord, do you cause us to wander from your ways and harden our hearts? This is a common Hebrew way of speaking, which attributes to direct action of God that which He really only permits. Cf. Amos 3. 6: "Is there an evil in the city which the Lord has not caused"? Or 1 Samuel 4. 3.
So he pleads: Return for your servants, for your inheritance. We are yours from of old.
Now the prophet exclaims: O, I wish you would break open the heavens and come down, while the mountains would tremble before you. Since ancient times no one has heard nor has any ear perceived, no eye has seen any God but you who acts on behalf of those who wait for Him. -- St. Paul modified this considerably in 1 Cor 2. 9 to make it read: "Eye has not seen nor has ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what things God has prepared for those who love Him." Paul is not quoting Isaiah closely at all. Some early writers -- Origen, Ambrosiaster and St. Jerome, thought he was quoting from The Apocalypse of Elijah. But this text is not found in any copy we possess of that intertestamental writing. Most likely Paul was acting much as the rabbis often did: he is free in his use of Scripture, and does not normally take into account the original setting of the words. (Similarly today, the line is often used to speak of Heaven: Neither Paul nor Isaiah had that in mind).
So he goes on saying: All of us have become like one who is unclean. Everything we have done to be righteous is like the rags of a menstruating woman. Some Protestants here have tried to use these words to say we are so totally corrupt that all our best works are evil. They forget several things: 1)64. 7 says: "There is no one who calls on your name." But Isaiah and his followers did. 2)40. 2 said that Israel "has received double for all her sins." But that would be unjust. So we see strong, and common Semitic exaggeration here. We compare 13:9-10 on the fall of Babylon, and 34. 4 on the fall of Edom, and Ezek 7-8 on the punishment of Egypt - all three use language much in line with Matthew 24. 29 in which the sun is darkened, and the moon does not give its light, and the stars fall from the sky. In the seeming face value of these texts nothing like it happened in reality: more Semitic exaggeration.
Furthermore, Luther did not really say what these objectors think. In what he considered his major work, The Bondage of the Will (Tr. J. J. Packer, and O. R. Johnston, Revell Co., Old Tappan NJ, 1957) Luther said on p. 273 that we have no free will. On pp. 103-04 he said man's will is like a beast. If God rides, it does good. If satan rides, it does evil. A man has nothing to say about which rider gets on. So he goes to heaven or hell without any control over it. And God damns most people: p. 101. So on p. 314 he said that in this God is "damning the undeserving". Few Lutherans or other Protestants know what Luther really held!
Then, in a more consoling tone he says that the Lord is their Father (cf. 63. 16), ?We are the clay, and He is the potter. Of course Isaiah does not mean, like Luther, that we have no free will. He means that God can guide us and affect our actions in many ways without violating our free will. Cf. our comments on chapter 10. 5 above. St. Paul used the comparison of a potter i in Romans 9. 20-25 to teach that God gives or omits to give full membership in the People of God as He wills, independently of human merit. Cf. comments on those verses in Wm. Most, The Thought of St. Paul.
Isaiah continues pleading: Your sacred cities have become a desert, our glorious temple has been burned. O Lord will you hold back? Will you punish us beyond measure?
Contrast of the Obstinate and the Lord's Servants. Chapter 65. Summary and Comments
God says: "I revealed myself to those who did not call on me. I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on me, I said: Here I am."
St. Paul in Romans 10. 20 uses this verse to mean God has called the gentiles. And as Ephesians 3. 6 tells us, God did call the gentiles to be part of His people. Paul adds in 10. 21: "to Israel He says: All day I stretched out my hands to a people that did not believe, but contradicted." Yes. Jesus did stretch out His hands to Israel all day, but on the whole, they contradicted, rejected, and nailed those hands to the cross.
In Romans 3. 29 St. Paul asks: "Is He the God of the Jews only? No, He is also God of the gentiles." He means that if God had made eternal salvation depend on keeping the Mosaic law, He would act as if He did not care for any people but the Jews. Then He would not be the God of the others. But God has actually made provision for the others, by means of justification by faith. Faith in St. Paul's sense includes: 1)believe what God says; 2)Have confidence; 3) obey:cf. Romans 1:5, "the obedience of faith", i. e, the obedience that faith is.
So Paul in Romans 4 explains that Abraham was justified, not by the law, but by faith. This is evident. 1)Abraham believed God; 2) Had confidence in His word; 3)he obeyed, so as to believe in the coming birth of Isaac, and to be willing to sacrifice Isaac.
We can see how the gentiles, as Isaiah predicts here, could be justified by faith.
St. Justin Martyr, c. 145 A. D. in Apology 1. 46, said that in the past some who were thought to be atheists, such as Socrates and Heraclitus, were really Christians, for they followed the Divine Logos, the Divine Word. Thus Socrates 1)believed what the Spirit of Christ wrote on his heart (Rom 2:15 citing Jer 31. 33) ' 2) He had confidence in it; 3) He obeyed what the Spirit of Christ wrote on his heart. Hence Socrates fulfilled the Pauline definition of faith, and could be called Christian, for He followed the Spirit of Christ, even though He did not know it was the Spirit of Christ that wrote this on his heart.
Further Socrates in following that Spirit of Christ was accepting and following the Spirit of Christ. Now in Romans 8:9 we learn that if one does have and follow the Spirit of Christ, he belongs to Christ. So Socrates did belong to Christ. But then, in Paul's terms: to belong to Christ means to be a member of Christ, which in turn means to be a member of the Church. So Socrates had a substantial, even though not formal, membership in the Church. (Not formal, since there was no visible adherence).
In accord with this, in Lumen gentium 8. Vatican II said that the Church "subsists" in the Catholic Church. For persons like Socrates could be substantially members, by following what the Spirit wrote on their hearts.
Socrates followed a pagan religion. That religion was not a component part of the Church. Yet Socrates personally was a member. The same is true of those who follow a Protestant religion. That Protestant church is not a component part of the Catholic Church, yet its adherents can be members of the Catholic Church, as Socrates was.
So one reason we can call the Church a mystery with LG 3 is that there is more to it than what meets the eye, it can include those who are in this way substantial members.
In saying there can be members without visible adherence, we are not contradicting the documents of the Church, but adding to them:
a) Pius IX, in Quanto conficiamur moerore of August 10, 1863 said "God. . . in His supreme goodness and clemency, by no means allows anyone to be punished with eternal punishments who does not have the guilt of voluntary fault." But some who do not visibly adhere meet this description. Pius IX in the very next sentence repeats the necessity of the Church for salvation, so those who meet thee requirement must in some way be members of the Church.
b) On August 9, 1949, the Holy Office, by order of Pius XII, condemned the interpretation given by L. Feeney of "no salvation outside the Church" and said, citing the same Pope's Mystical Body Encyclical: "It is not always required that one be actually incorporated, but this at least is required that one adhere to it in wish and desire" which can be "a desire of which he is not aware" contained in the good dispositions mentioned.
c) Vatican II in LG #16 explicitly said the same: "Those who without their own fault do not know of the Gospel of Christ and His Church, but yet seek God with sincere heart, and try, under the influence of grace, to carry out His will in practice, known to them through the dictate of conscience, can attain eternal salvation." To attain that, one needs to be in some way a member of the Church. Socrates was, so are many others, even without visible adherence.
d) John Paul II, in Redemptoris missio, 10 affirms the same thing: "The universality of salvation means that it is granted not only to those who explicitly believe in Christ and have entered the Church. . . . For such people [those who do not know of the Church] salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace which, while having a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make them formally part of the Church. . . ." We are proposing to fill-in on that "mysterious relationship", and agree that those we have described are not 'formally" part of the Church, since they do not explicitly and externally adhere, but yet in some sense are members, for they could not otherwise be saved.
In contrast, the prophet complains of those who are unfaithful to God, who offer sacrifice in gardens, and keep vigil at night (probably for necromancy) and eat the flesh of pigs, and even say they are thereby made holy and sacred: "Keep away from me. I am holy." We think again of What Ezekiel saw in his vision in his chapter 8.
So God says: Such people are like smoke in my nostrils, a fire that keeps on burning. So I will not be silent, but will repay them with full payment for their deeds.
Then the prophet thinks of the others, the remnant who are faithful: Just as when a cluster of grapes still has some juice in it, and so we do not destroy it, so God will not destroy all, but will save the remnant. He will bring forth descendants from Jacob and Judah. From the plain of Sharon (In the west by the sea) to the Valley of Achor (in the east by Jericho) will be pasture for their flocks.
But the others, the unfaithful, who spread a table for Fortune and mix bowls of wine for Destiny -- He will "destine" them for the sword. He called (as in verse 1 above) but they did not hear. Yet His servants will eat and not go hungry. They will sing, and He will give them a new name (cf. Apoc/Rev. 2. 17) - a new name stands or a new role). They will be so blessed that people invoking a blessing will say: "May you be blessed like these. "
Behold, I am creating a new heaven and a new earth(cf. 2 Peter 3. 13 and Apoc. /Rev. 21. 1). The former things will be forgotten. I will make Jerusalem a delight, its people a joy. The sound of weeping will no longer he heard there. There will be in it no infant who lives only a few days. If a man dies at age 100 he will be thought to be cursed, for not living out his lifespan. I will answer them even before they call. The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw, while the serpent eats dust. -- A recollection of the idyllic image given above in 11:6-9 and of the serpent in Genesis 3. 14 condemned to eat dust.
The end of all things: Chapter 66. Summary and Comments
God points out that the heaven is His throne, so nothing on earth can contain Him, even if He wills to dwell in the old temple -- unless and until the people are unfaithful, after which it was to be destroyed, as indeed it was. Cf. again, mentioned above, 1 Kings 9. 1-19 and Jer 17. 27. So an external temple is not enough: God wants the interior, as in the those who are humble in heart: cf. again God's complaint against empty sacrifices in 1. 11-31; 29:13.
A strange saying: He who sacrifices a bull is like one who kills a man, and he who offers a lamb is like on who breaks a dog's neck, or he who makes a grain offering is like one who presents a pig's blood. There are two possibilities for these sayings. They are against 1) Those who have only the exterior of sacrifice, but not in the interior; 2) against those who offer sacrifices but also kill. The first in context seems to be the right sense.
God then says: Those who have chosen their own ways will receive harsh treatment from God. He called, but no one answered. They did evil in His sight.
Therefore: Hear what the Lord says, and tremble at His word. God mocks those who ridicule the faithful Jews because they honor the name of the Lord, and even say in mockery: "Let the Lord be glorified, so we may see the joy you promise will come from Him!
So the prophet tells them to listen. There is a noise from the temple, it is the Lord repaying His enemies. But for His friends. It will be as if a woman gives birth without any labor, so will Zion bring forth so many children without labor.
Therefore: Rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad for her. You will nurse at her breasts. God will extend well-being (shalom) to them like a flooding stream or river. He will be as kind as mother comforting her child.
Then the faithful will flourish like grass. But those who seem to flourish without God will be burned down by the Lord.
Such wicked persons go into the garden and do what they call "purifying' themselves to worship false gods, and they follow a leader who even eats the flesh of pigs and rats and does other abominable things.
So because of this, God is going to come to gather all nations for judgment. He will show their punishment to all, this will be a sign of God's justice. Some of the survivors, the faithful remnant, will go far, to Tarshish, to Libya, and Lydia that have not heard of the Lord and they will proclaim His glory among the nations. They will bring other to the holy mountain in Jerusalem, and bring them to the temple. The image again is like that of chapter 2, in which God brings the nations to Jerusalem. Please recall our comments there.
To close the entire book: There will be new heavens and a new earth, which will last. So too will the descendants of those faithful to Him last - this includes those brought to Jerusalem, which will include gentiles. Isaiah seems to say they will worship according to Jewish rituals, from one New Moon to another, from one Sabbath to another. But here he is using almost material images to stand for a future which he does not clearly see. This is much like the vision of Ezekiel 40-48 of a new temple, which at first sight sounds like a restored Judaism with animal sacrifices. Actually, just as many older things, such as the Sinai covenant, promised in the first place material blessings, which were later understood to really stand for spiritual things, so it will be in the actual future.
Then those who received final salvation, in heaven, will look upon the dead bodies of those who rebelled against God. Not in vengeance, which would be willing evil to another so it might be evil to them (or delighting to see it). No, the sense is rebalancing of the objective order. The sense of Hebrew naqam, as we saw it above.
Then God will even chose some to be priests and Levites - it seems He will chose priests for Himself even from the gentiles. Of course, this has happened in the new covenant made by the Messiah.