Saturday, February 1, 2014

Isaiah 64:1-66:24


The communal prayer begun at Isaiah 63:7 continues through chapter 64. Israel asks YHWH to come down from heaven (v. 1) as he did at Sinai (v. 3). The community confesses its sinful unworthiness, comparing itself to a menstrual rag (v. 6) which reminds us of the typical Hebrew aversion to bodily fluids. The reason Israel seeks YHWH's help is that their cities are in ruins (v. 10) and the temple is in ruins (v. 11).

The Apostle Paul quotes Isaiah 65:1-2 in his letter to the Romans 10:20-21. As Paul applies this quote verse 1 refers to the Gentiles and verse 2 to the Jews. In their original context it is clear that these verses refer only to Israel. YHWH complains that he has revealed himself to Israel (vv. 1-2) but was annoyed with their idolatrous ways and pagan worship practices (vv. 3-5). YHWH will dump their sins into their own laps (vv. 6-7) but promises that a righteous remnant will be redeemed and restored (vv. 9-10). Verses 11-16 reiterate and reinforce these ideas.

Verses 17-25 YHWH states that his acts of restoration will fundamentally alter the fabric of reality. Heaven and earth will be made new. Jerusalem will become a new Eden.

Chapter 66 begins with YHWH once again declaring his sovereign transcendence (v. 1). Though he favors the humble and contrite (v. 2a), the sacrifices of the haughty are unacceptable, unclean, and abominable (vv. 2b-4) So, the people of Israel is told to do right regardless of the cost to their reputations. YHWH promises to put things right (vv. 5-6).

In verses 7 ff. Jerusalem is described as "mother Zion." She gives birth effortlessly and consoles her citizen children. Verse 13 applies the mother imagery to YHWH himself who comforts his people.

Isaiah 66:17 once again proclaims judgment against practitioners of pagan rites within Israel. Verses 18-21 are a prose oracle declaring that the nations will help Israel return.  Gentiles will come to worship YHWH at Jerusalem. Some of them, astoundingly, will even become priests and Levites (v. 21).

The last two verses of Isaiah return to the theme of the new heavens and new earth. In this new reality everyone will worship YHWH but the corpses of rebels will lie shamefully exposed. The image of their bodies beings consumed by worms and fire is used as an image of eternal judgment in Mark 9:48. Certainly Isaiah didn't imagine a hell of eternal, conscious torment. We will have to wait to see if that's what Mark had in mind.

Next: Jeremiah 1-3

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