Sunday, January 26, 2014

Isaiah 45:1-48:22


Isaiah 45:1 calls Cyrus of Persia the Messiah. The Septuagint renders the title as Christ. English translations like to render the word "anointed" which is, after all, its meaning. But don't miss the significance of this verse. Cyrus, a non-Israelite, is YHWH's chosen Messiah, his anointed Christ, who will liberate God's people.

Only Cyrus doesn't know it (Isaiah 45:4).

Still, there is no use arguing with YHWH (verses 9-10), who is, after all, Almighty (verses 11-12) and can do as he pleases, even making Cyrus his Messiah (verse 13).

Reading through this chapter I was unsure to whom verses 14 ff. were addressed. The Sabeans, Egyptians, and Cushites, (YHWH gave them as a ransom for Israel in Isaiah 43:3) are acknowledging that YHWH is God to someone. Israel? Cyrus? Apparently I'm not the only one confused. The New Interpreters Study Bible favors Israel. The Jewish Study Bible says Cyrus.

In Isaiah 45:23, YHWH swears by himself. As the only true God, who else can he swear by?

By myself I have sworn,
   my mouth has uttered in all integrity
   a word that will not be revoked:
Before me every knee will bow;
   by me every tongue will swear.
      (Isaiah 45:23)

In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul quotes the last part of that verse in his letter to the Romans 14:11 and alludes to it in Philippians 2:9-11.

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
   and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
   in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
   to the glory of God the Father.
      (Philippians 2:9-11)

Chapter 46 brings us yet another screed against idols, this one specifically targeting the God's of Babylon.

I find that Isaiah sounds very much like my Calvinist friends in these chapters, putting a heavy emphasis on YHWH's sovereignty.

I form the light and create darkness,
   I bring prosperity and create disaster;
   I, the LORD, do all these things.
      (Isaiah 45:7)

Remember the former things, those of long ago;
   I am God, and there is no other;
   I am God, and there is none like me. 
I make known the end from the beginning,
   from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say, ‘My purpose will stand,
   and I will do all that I please.’ 
      (Isaiah 46:9-10)

That last bit even hints of a doctrine of predestination, though I think it is better read as a statement that God can and will do what God has said he will do.

Chapter 47 declares that Babylon will be humiliated. Babylon was YHWH's instrument to punish Israel but now Babylon will be punished for it cruelty. (Doh! You did what I told you to do!) The image in this chapter is of a noble woman, a queen, living in reduced circumstances. Once proud Babylon is now mocked. Her wisdom and sorceries are useless.

Isaiah 48 is an oracle directed toward Israel. They have been stubborn, stiff-necked and hard-headed.

For I knew how stubborn you were;
   your neck muscles were iron,
   your forehead was bronze.
      (Isaiah 48:4)

They have been idolatrous.  And they have paid a price.

See, I have refined you, though not as silver;
   I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.
      (Isaiah 48:10)

Now YHWH is setting them free (verse 20). The image of water from a rock (verse 21) recalls the exodus ( Exodus 17:1-7, Numbers 20:2-13). The chapter ends with a verse that sounds suspiciously like something my grandmother used to say:

“There is no peace,” says the LORD, “for the wicked.”
       (Isaiah 48:22)

No rest for the wicked.

The verse seems a perfect non sequitur to me. Maybe you can make more sense of it. It will occur again in Isaiah 57:21 and may make more sense there.

Scripture quotes are from the New International Version. The picture of Cyrus of Persia came from this website. Next: Isaiah 49-53

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