Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Isaiah 54:1-58:14


In Isaiah 54 the prophet uses a new metaphor for Jerusalem. The city is like a woman, widowed at a young age, now remarried, I guess. The point of the metaphor is found in verses 7-8:

“For a brief moment I abandoned you,
   but with deep compassion I will bring you back.
In a surge of anger
   I hid my face from you for a moment,
but with everlasting kindness
   I will have compassion on you,”
   says the LORD your Redeemer.

In verses 9-10 YHWH tells Jerusalem what he told Noah after the flood, "Never again."

Verses 11-17 describe the city restored, glorified, perfected, and protected. There is probably a little hyperbole in this passage.

Chapter 55 invites the thirsty to come to YHWH's free banquet. It seems that Second Isaiah believed the restoration of Jerusalem would usher in a golden age.

Verses 8-9 are another declaration of YHWH's transcendence:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
   neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
   so are my ways higher than your ways...”

YHWH's word is effective (vv.10-1). Return to Jerusalem will bring joy (vv. 12-13).

Chapter 56 begins the section known as Third Isaiah, a collection of oracles addressed to the former exiles, returned to Jerusalem, and facing the daunting tasks of rebuilding. Third Isaiah shares with his predecessors an ongoing concern for social justice, an abhorrence of idolatry, a commitment to the notion of YHWH's sovereignty, and a universalistic idea of  salvation.

Chapter 56 tells the Jerusalemites that if they "maintain justice" salvation, that is the restoration of the community, will come to them. Devout foreigners and even eunuchs will be welcome in the temple which will be "a house of prayer for all nations" (v. 7). This universalism is a stark contrast to the ideas of ethnic purity found in Ezra and Nehemiah.

Isaiah 65:9-57:2 are an oracle condemning the "watchmen" and "shepherds" of Israel as blind drunkards. Apparently bad leadership in Jerusalem was still a problem in the postexilic period.

Chapter 57:3-13 condemn idolatry and pagan worship practices. The Harper Collins Study Bible notes that "Pagan practices still threaten the struggling postexilic community in Judah." The prophet describes those practices in sexual terms. It's a simple equation. Going after other gods is like cheating on YHWH. Idolatry = Adultery.Verses

Verses 14-21 promise peace for the righteous. Not so much for the wicked.

Chapter 58 returns to the theme of justice. Fasting without doing justice is displeasing to YHWH.

‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
   ‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
   and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
   and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
   and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
   and expect your voice to be heard on high.”
      (Isaiah 58:3-4)

Do what is right, the prophet says, and YHWH will come to your aid.

Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
   you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
      (Isaiah 58:9a)

Prosperity will follow justice:

Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
   and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
   Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
      (Isaiah 58:12)

Scripture quotes are from the New International Version. Next: Isaiah 59-62

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