RESOURCES FOR THIS STUDY OF THE BOOK OF ISAIAH:
Blenkinsopp, Joseph. Isaiah 1-39: A new translation with introduction and commentary. Volume 19 of the Anchor bible Commentary series edited by W. F Albright and David Noel Freedman. (Doubleday, New York, 2000). *Blenkinsopp A
______________ Isaiah 40-55: A new translation with introduction and commentary. Volume 19A of the Anchor Bible Commentary series edited by W.F. Albright and David Noel Freedman. (Doubleday, New York, 2002). *Blenkinsopp B
______________ Isaiah 56-66: A new translation with introduction and commentary. Volume 19B of the Anchor Bible Commentary series edited by W.F. Albright and David Noel Freedman. (Doubleday, New York, 2003). * Blenkinsopp C
Childs, Brevard S. Isaiah. Part of the Old Testament Library series edited by James Mays, Carol Newsom, and David Petersen. (Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, 2001).
Cook, Stephen L. Conversations with Scripture: 2 Isaiah. Part of the Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars Study Series edited by Frederick Schmidt. (Morehouse Press, Harrisburg, 2008).
Elliott, Mark W. Old Testament XI: Isaiah 40-66. Part of the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Thomas C. Oden General Editor. (Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove IL, 2007).
Goldingay, John and David Payne. Isaiah 40-55: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary, Volume I. Part of the International Critical Commentary series edited by G. I. Davies and C. M. Tuckett. (Bloomsbury, London, 2014). * Goldingay A
—————————————–. Isaiah 40-55: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary, Volume II. Part of the International Critical Commentary series edited by G. I. Davies and C. M. Tuckett. (Bloomsbury, London, 2014). *Goldingay B
Hanson, Paul D. Isaiah 40-66. Part of the Interpretation series edited by James L Mays and Patrick Miller. (John Knox Press, Louisville, 1995).
Hoppe, Leslie J. Isaiah. Volume 13 of the Old Testament Series within the New Collegeville Bible Commentary series edited by Daniel Durken O.S.B. (Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 2012).
McKinion, Steven A. Old Testament X: Isaiah 1-39. Part of the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Thomas C. Oden General Editor. (Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove IL, 2004).
Niskanen, Paul V.. Isaiah 56-66. Part of Berit Olam: Studies in Hebrew Narrative & Poetry edited by Chris Franke. (Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 2014).
Seitz, Christopher. Isaiah 1-39. Part of the Interpretation series edited by James L Mays and Patrick Miller. (John Knox Press, Louisville, 1993). *Seitz A
_______________ Book of Isaiah 40-66. Volume VI of the New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes whose Editorial Board was convened by Leander Keck. (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 2001). * Seitz B
TANACH. Artscroll series, Mesorah publications, The Stone Edition. The Torah / Prophets / Writings: The Twenty-Four Books of the Bible Newly Translated and Annotated. Contributing Editors: Rabbi Yaakov Bliner, Rabbi Avie Gold, and Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz. (Mesorah Publications, New York, 1996).
Tucker, Gene M. Book of Isaiah 1-39. Volume VI of the New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes whose Editorial Board was convened by Leander Keck. (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 2001).
Wildberger, Hans. Isaiah 1-12. Part of the Continental Commentary series. Translated by Thomas H. Trapp. (Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 1991). *Wildberger A
______________. Isaiah 13-27. Part of the Continental Commentary series. Translated by Thomas H. Trapp. (Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 1997). *Wildberger B
_______________. Isaiah 28-39. Part of the Continental Commentary series. Translated by Thomas H. Trapp. (Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 2002). *Wildberger C
Williamson, H. G. M. Isaiah 1-5: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary. Part of the International Critical Commentary series edited by G. I. Davies & C. M. Tuckett. (Bloomsbury, London, 2014).
- Welcome Jesus into our midst.
- What are we grateful for today?
- Where do I need help?
- Where do others need help?
Read the text aloud. Each person takes a ‘unit’, those who want to pass say “Pass”.
What strong images, symbols, and beautiful verses did you read / hear?
What insights have you come to in preparation, in hearing and reading?
We watch the video together.
We review additional notes if there is time
VIDEO NOTES FOR LESSON SEVEN: ISAIAH CHAPTERS 40 TO 43:8
Chapter 40 shifts to 150 years after the events of Chapter 39, and from Jerusalem after the threat of the Assyrians is resolved to captivity in Babylon. Clearly a different author.
- Chapters 1-39 Isaiah of Jerusalem
- Chapters 40-55 Second Isaiah
- Chapters 55-66 Third Isaiah
“The book’s purpose is to give Judah and Jerusalem hope for the future and the will to re-embrace their ancestral religious traditions”. Leslie Hoppe
Second Isaiah is a prophetic message of divine forgiveness and pardon.
Between 597 and 582 Judah was invaded 3 times by Babylon in an attempt to reduce Judah to full powerlessness and to secure its own empire. The elites were deported to Babylon – interned, not enslaved. Supported themselves and were relatively independent. Peasants were left to fend for themselves. By the return only 20,000 left and were not practicing.
The Exiles and the Law:
- Sabbath rest
- Food restrictions
- Set themselves apart from foreigners
The exiles were at risk for losing their identity and faith.
Division and discord rising.
Second Isaiah sees the need for restoration, for forgiveness and comfort. Applies to us as well – we are in some ways we are in exile.
Isaiah 40:1 “Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.”
- An active compassion
- The actual presence of God
First eleven verses announce their liberation, return – planned by God, part of cosmic plan
Tone then changes 12-31 sound gloomy (as do some later chapters)
The themes that are introduced in chapter 40 are often regarded as an overview to the entire piece.
Isaiah 40:12-14 (sounds like Job)
Who has measured with his palm the waters,
marked off the heavens with a span,
held in his fingers the dust of the earth,
weighed the mountains in scales
and the hills in a balance?
Who has directed the spirit of the LORD,
or instructed him as his counselor?
Whom did he consult to gain knowledge?
Who taught him the path of judgment,
or showed him the way of understanding?
18-26 has more rhetorical questions, mocking the idol-makers and those who believe in them.
At the end of the chapter – the LORD reminds them He is the creator.
Courtroom setting / city gates & elders
The LORD vs. foreign gods not only is God all-powerful, but personally concerned for Israel.
- Champion of justice
- Raised up the liberator for them
- Holding their hands
Has the first of the Servant Songs
Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one with whom I am pleased.
Upon him I have put my spirit;
he shall bring forth justice to the nations.
Mission – justice for all nations on earth, favored the oppressed and weak
A healer and liberator
Is a contrast between Suffering Servant and Cyrus who conquered through conflict and raw force. The servant is to bring the justice of God through gentleness and a quiet witness.
It will be done through the power of the spirit.
Who is the servant?
- An Idealized Israel
- Another OT prophet
- Jesus Christ
Chapter 42 is another trial scene – blind Israel. Israel was destroyed, due to refusal to accept earlier prophets.
God alone will save them from their sin.
But now, thus says the LORD,
who created you, Jacob, and formed you, Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name: you are mine.
Remember not the events of the past,
the things of long ago consider not;
See, I am doing something new!
Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
In the wilderness I make a way,
in the wasteland, rivers.
The LORD is ‘telling the exiles not to look back mournfully … like people who have no hope for the future. The LORD’s saving acts are not at an end. He is doing something new. God is “awakening them to the part they must play in making known his acts in history.” John Scullion
For us: God is ever active in our lives – even when we feel abandoned. There is hope in our own exiles – for a new hope, new exodus.
ADDITIONAL NOTES FOR LESSON SEVEN
CONTEXT FOR SECOND ISAIAH
Based on literary, historical, and other research the Book of Isaiah is normally divided into 3 distinct parts:
- Chapters 1-39 First Isaiah
- Chapters 40-55 Second Isaiah
- The text appears to be set during / at the end of the Babylonian exile, begun in 587 BC and lasting about 50 years, with Jerusalem destroyed and most inhabitants carried off.
- The language, style, and theology are strikingly different from the first 39 chapters.
- Despite our English language connection of prophecy with “predicting the future” the prophets of the bible were preoccupied with interpreting the present. It is not religiously correct or necessary to posit that someone in the 8th century BC could or did predict what would happen two centuries later. See Childs, page 290 and following for a thorough review of the numerous reasons to give these chapters, Second Isaiah, the later dating.
- Chapters 56-66 Third Isaiah
In addition there are at least 4 stages of editing of the material now comprising Isaiah that took place: eighth century BC, seventh century BC, during the exile (586-536BC), and post-exile.
Childs p. 291 suggests that “Second Isaiah” may not have ever had an oral oracle stage, it may have simply been a literary composition.
Childs makes a point that the text is now a whole entity and that the scholarly preoccupation with dividing it up into numerous authors and layers causes as much obscurity as it does enlightenment. There are strong connections (now) between first and last chapters and all in-between. Blenkinsopp thoroughly disagrees with Child’s approach of seeing so many linkages between the major sections – he strongly believes that each piece must be read against the known historical background of each time.
Hanson p. 1 identifies three overwhelming problems the text deals with:
- the shame of losing one’s homeland and temple, being carried off into captivity
- the threat of cultural and economic assimilation in Babylon where the captives did not have it too badly. In fact, when set free to go home many chose to stay put.
- the threat of religious assimilation. The extensive treatment of idols and idol-worship in this part of Isaiah is not a reflection on the problem which may have led to exile – but a current problem or temptation while living in Babylon.
CHAPTER 40 1-11
Hoppe p. 103: “Before the exile, the prophets had to overcome the people’s self-delusion fueled by the existence of the national state, the economic prosperity enjoyed by the powerful, and the active national cult in Jerusalem. The fall of that city made continued denials impossible. Judah’s religious, political, and social institutions were no more. The Davidic dynasty was no more, the temple was in ruins and its priesthood scattered, the national state ceased to exist, and Judah’s powerful and influential citizens were in exile. Cheap promises and vain expectations were no longer persuasive.” The people no longer needed to be kicked in the butt, now they needed to have their spirits lifted.
For 2 Isaiah the fall and exile were justified and divinely ordained punishment, BUT, a glorious future restoration is in store for the people
Childs p.295ff: Agreeing with Seitz he believes that there is a strong relationship between chapter 40 and chapter 6. In chapter 6 the prophet was called (woe to me, a man of unclean lips) and given a message of impending doom – but with also a promise of eventual redemption “until the LORD removes men far away, and the land is abandoned more and more.” (v. 12) Now, in chapter 40 that time is over. Both chapters have a variety of voices in the text. Understanding of the beginning of chapter 40 is greatly enhanced by seeing the setting of a conversation in the heavenly court of the LORD.
“she has received double for all her sins” means what???? Exodus 22:3: “If what he stole is found alive in his possession, be it an ox, an ass or a sheep, he shall restore two animals for each one stolen.” Or – could refer to amount owed plus interest. Or – could be a reference to two disasters – famine and military defeat (or defeat and exile).
How to punctuate?:
“A voice cries: In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD…
“A voice cries in the wilderness: prepare the way of the LORD.
Childs goes with the first and sees this as a voice from the heavenly council of the LORD. Our traditional interpretation is the second (in the NT, applied to John the Baptist) though the NAB Isaiah text is translated along with the first example above.
Blenkinsopp p. 183/4: The references to withered grass vs. Word of God is a reference to Babylonian power and might. Fierce as it might have once been – it is now reduced to nothing. Cyrus of Persia is now the big boy on the block.
When applied to our Christian situation – we see in Jesus that same redemptive role – bringing salvation to God’s people.
Hanson p. 20: “In contrast to the message of false prophets that Dietrich Bonhoeffer so aptly called “cheap grace”, we find here what another author has called “severe mercy”. The deliverance that God prepares is not promised to a people whose love is as fleeting as the morning mist and who would promptly nullify divine blessing through persistence in sin, but to a people brought to its senses by facing up to the gravity of its iniquity and thus preparing for true deliverance through repentance.”
CHAPTER 40: 12-31
This unit could be a modern campaign ad in which one party goes on the attack – lobbing additional charges on top of the last ones, filled with rhetorical questions, and closing with a feel-good message.
Blenkinsopp p. 190 sees this unit as intending to be persuasive (put aside your idols and return to the LORD) and does not find it hostile in tone.
Blenkinsopp p. 191: “The six questions following affirm the incomparability of the LORD in implicit contrast with the Babylonian imperial deity Marduk who, in creating the world, needed the advice of the wise god Ea.”
Childs p. 310: “The continual and detailed controversy with idolatry would seem to reflect an eyewitness account of Babylonian practices, which viewed the making of idols partly as a ridiculous folly, but partly still as a threat.”
Our God is LORD, creator of the universe. Would you really rather worship the wooden idol made by the guy down the street in his shop?
CHAPTER 41 – CHAPTER 42:13
Childs p. 317: A courtroom scene – the LORD calls the distant nations together for judgment, within this Israel is comforted.
Chapter 41 – a divine defense by the LORD in response to the charge by Israel made in 40:27 – “My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God”
41:2’s reference to “one from the east” is Abraham according to the rabbis. War against kings described in Genesis. Rashi, Tanach p. 1024
41:25 “someone from the north” Rabbis in Tanach p. 1026 “A savior will arise from the northeast. According to most commentators it was Cyrus, the benevolent king of Persia, who initiated the return to Zion in the days of Ezra. According to some, the reference is to the Messiah, who will gather together the exiled Ten Tribes, who had inhabited mostly the northeast of Israel.” (This is interesting, Galilee is to the north!)
The righteous servant in 42:1 is generally thought to be Cyrus – a Persian who has conquered the Babylonians (and much of the world in the region) and sets Israel free to return. 42:1-4 is the First Servant Song. Hence, chapter 42 is to be understood in light of chapter 41 and God’s rule over all creation – and chapter 41 makes sense only in that lays the groundwork for chapter 42. This historical layer (Cyrus) is then reinterpreted in later revisions to Isaiah and in the tradition. HOWEVER – Cyrus conquered these nations in brutal military fashion – this does not jive well with the content of the song. In chapter 41 hints are given that Israel is the servant.
Childs p. 326-7 considers the verses after the servant song – are they an exploration of the mission of Cyrus or of Israel? p. 327: “What has emerged with clarity from the introduction of the servant following chapter 41 is that the divine purpose in moving from former things to the new things involves at this juncture both the role of Cyrus and the servant.”
Hellenistic Judaism identified the servant as Israel. Palestinian Judaism tended toward identifying the servant as the Messiah – which the early Christians adopted. Not so much the suffering part but that he would not need to conquer – he would rely solely on the power of God.
TANACH p. 1026 – 42:1 refers to the Messiah.
Blenkinsopp p. 52 says that the priestly cult and writers used “servant” as the standard word for prophet – yielding yet another possibility.
Hoppe p. 112: “Understood in the light of the total argument made in this fourth section, it is most likely that the servant is Judah fulfilling its destiny to be the light to the nations, bringing about the victory of justice. Of course, this is an idealized picture of the potential of the restored community …”
Finally, Blenkinsopp notes pp. 70-82, especially the last three Servant songs may be very late additions to the text, coming from an apocalyptic time (Daniel, etc.) and might actually be related to extreme sects in opposition to the Temple cult such as the Essenes, who had been founded by a persecuted “Righteous Teacher”.
CHAPTER 42:14 – 43:21
The servant has a mission to the blind – but is blind itself! All of this forms a significant background to Jesus’ healing miracles of the blind, his argument with the Pharisees that they were blind etc…
Hanson p. 55: “But the message would not be an easy one to hear. Honest confrontation with the errors of one’s past is much more difficult than abiding in the protection of illusions that blame everyone else, including God, for one’s difficulties and failures. Necessary is the willingness to look deeply into one’s soul, even if that entails discovery of much that is shameful and reprehensible. If this is true in the case of the individual, it is equally true of a nation on a larger scale.”
Here the servant is Israel.
Blenkinsopp p. 227: “The point, in any case, is the author’s affirming that Cyrus has a historic mission to conquer Babylon (stated more directly in 45:1-3 and 48:14) and that the fall of the city is the opening act in the drama of Israel’s redemption.”
FOR NEXT WEEK
- Read Isaiah Chapters 43:9 through 46 in one sitting if possible.
- Read the commentary pages 116 to 127.
- Read the workbook questions pages 38 to 43. Which questions spark something in you?