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The Catholic Study Bible A special version of the New American Bible, with a wealth of background information useful to Catholics.

Isaiah of Jerusalem (First Isaiah)

Historical Background of First Isaiah

Why did the writing prophets, Hosea, Amos, and Isaiah, appear in the mid‐eighth century? Although a complete explanation is not possible, two significant ones are the emergence of Assyria as a superpower, and gross inequalities in the society of the time, especially concerning land tenure. Israel's enemies in the previous century, the ninth‐century Aramean city‐states to the north such as Damascus and Hamath, were more or less on a par with Israel; it was possible to mount a defense against them and go to war with some hope of victory. In the first half of the eighth century, the Arameans were in decline, which enabled the two halves of the divided kingdom, Israel in the north and Judah in the south, to flourish. The Neo‐Assyrian Empire revived in the mid‐eighth century, however, and turned its gaze to the eastern coastlands of the Mediterranean (the Levant). For the next two hundred years Assyria dominated the Levant, though the quality of its presence varied according to the strength of individual kings. Assyrian pressure destabilized the Northern Kingdom of Israel (a process recorded by Hosea). In 722 Shalmaneser V (728–722) conquered Samaria, the capital of the Northern Kingdom (Israel), though Sargon falsely claimed credit; and the Northern Kingdom was divided into Assyrian provinces (2 Kgs 17; 18, 1–12 ). Judah had to play thereafter the role of loyal vassal, although it did on occasion join with neighboring states and with Egypt against Assyria, most notably against Sennacherib in 701. Despite these occasional forays, the Southern Kingdom managed to retain its vassal status, chiefly by paying large tribute to the Assyrians.

For the prophet Isaiah, the Assyrian presence in the holy land of Israel provoked a major crisis. Unlike Egyptian and Aramean forays in Palestine in previous centuries, Assyria was a superpower against which no state in the Levant could possibly defend itself. So invincible was Assyria that its presence in the holy land called into question the sacred story that Israel lived by. In one version of that story, Israel had been rescued from Pharaoh's dominion in Egypt and led through the wilderness to the Lord's own land there to enjoy his protection and nurture (e.g., Pss 44, 78, 105, 136 ). Another version, used by Isaiah, focused on Zion (another name for Jerusalem), which was regarded as unconquerable as befitted the dwelling of the Lord. In Zion reigned the Lord's lieutenant on earth, the Davidic king, dispensing divine blessings and protection upon the land. Mighty Assyria bestriding the land seemed to invalidate the symbols of Zion and the king and the story told about them. In response to this crisis of meaning, Isaiah offered an interpretation of the tradition: far from being a violator of a holy place, he asserted, the Assyrian king had been invited by the Lord to punish Israel for its unjust behavior ( 10, 5–19 ). In due course, Assyria would be punished for its excesses, but now Judah must regard the Assyrian king as carrying out the judgment of the Lord. In putting forth this viewpoint to his contemporaries, Isaiah met strong resistance. To publicize his view and make it available to the next generation, Isaiah wrote his message down: “The record is to be folded and the sealed instruction kept among my disciples. For I will trust in the Lord, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob; yes, I will wait for him.… And when they say to you, ‘Inquire of mediums and fortune‐tellers (who chirp and mutter!); should not a people inquire of their gods, apply to the dead on behalf of the living?'—then this document will furnish its instruction” (Is 8, 16–20 ).

The second historical factor in the rise of writing prophets was the increase of cruel and violent behavior among the people, which was especially directed against the poor. Though direct evidence of the condition of Israelite society is scarce, the prophets speak with such a unified voice about the inequality and social abuses that one must conclude such behavior was rampant. Isaiah goes so far as to speak in God's name to reject sacrifice until justice is done for the poor ( 1, 12–16 ). He is scathing against those who form estates from land seized from the poor ( 5, 8–10 ) and against those whose wealth made them arrogant ( 5, 11–12 ). The people's unequal access to the land provoked a crisis in the ancient traditions no less troubling to faithful Israelites than that caused by the Assyrian threat. In both cases, the people were unable to enjoy the fruits of the land that, according to their sacred traditions, the Lord owned and had given them for their use. Leviticus 25, 23 stated the ideal with unmistakable clarity: “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity; for the land is mine, and you are but aliens who have become my tenants.” Isaiah's interpretation is that Zion (which in his thinking seems to stand for the holy land) would have to be purged to restore its original purity (e.g., 1, 21–28; 28, 1–8 ) and that Assyria was to be the instrument of purgation.

Several major interactions between Israel/ Judah and the Assyrian Empire are reflected in the book of Isaiah. In his first western campaign, 743–738, the Assyrian king Tiglath‐pileser III (745–728) crushed a coalition of Hamath and northern coastal cities led by King Uzziah of Judah. Subsequently, there were three important periods of conflict between the two states, the first being the Syro‐Ephraimite War (735–732) in which Damascus (“Syro‐”) and Israel (“Ephraimite”) attempted to force King Ahaz of Judah to join their coalition against Assyria. Ahaz refused (chapter 7 ), called in Assyria to defend Judah, being happy, it seems, to enjoy some of the privileges of being a vassal of a great empire. Damascus and Israel failed in their war against Assyria, and the Northern Kingdom regions of Megiddo, Dor, and Gilead became Assyrian provinces ( 8, 23–9, 6 ).

A second period of conflict between Assyria and Judah came in 715–705 when King Hezekiah of Judah made several attempts to join anti‐Assyrian alliances, notably a rebellion in the Philistine city of Ashdod in 713–711 (Is 20, 1–6; 18, 1–19, 15; 14, 28–32 ). The third period was in 701 when Hezekiah revolted against Sennacherib, assuming leadership of an alliance consisting of Phoenicia, Philistia, and Egypt. Sennacherib of Assyria marched west, pacified Phoenicia and Philistia without difficulty, and defeated Egyptian troops of Shabaka at Elteqeh. Hezekiah sued for peace ( 22, 9–11 ). Isaiah 36 through 38 refers to the same events, although it contains a legendary section that complicates interpretation. Most probably 2 Kings 18, 13–16 is a factual chronicle, to which a legendary account (2 Kgs 18, 17–19, 37 ) was appended.

Literary Structure

Most scholars regard chapter 1 as an introduction of the main themes of the whole book: imminent divine judgment, the necessity of social justice, and the painful process that transforms Zion into a holy and righteous city. Chapter 39 , at the other end, seems to be an editorial transition to chapters 40 through 55 , hinting at Judean arrogance that will eventually lead to the Babylonian captivity. Chapters 2 through 12 , mainly concerned with the Syro‐Ephraimite War (735–732), clearly form a unit. Built around a core, chapters 6 through 9 narrate the commission of Isaiah, King Ahaz's refusal to believe, and further threats and promises. This unit ends with a thanksgiving (chapter 12 ) that anticipates the salvation of Zion. Chapters 13 through 23 , containing oracles concerning foreign nations, conclude with the upholding of Zion and punishing of the city that is counter to Zion (24–27). Chapters 28 through 33 blend denunciations and promises concerning Zion; chapters 34–35 describe the Day of the Lord and healing of nature in the style of Second Isaiah; and chapters 36–38 are a third‐person narrative about the prophet and King Hezekiah in the Assyrian crisis of 701.

Lawrence Boadt has suggested that the editors arranged the three blocks, 2 to 12, 13 to 33, and 34 to 38, into three stages in order to make Isaiah's preaching applicable to later audiences. Each of the three stages displays a tripartite or ABC pattern: the Day of the Lord (appearance of the Lord as a warrior), human response, and divine act. The appearance of the Lord (A) invites a response by the people or the king (B), which is followed by (C) a divine intervention implementing justice. The pattern makes it possible for any reader of the Isaiah scroll to experience the powerful coming of the Lord and to respond accordingly. Thanks to the ABC structure, later readers of Isaiah are at no disadvantage compared to the original listeners or readers. The following four paragraphs suggest how the ABC pattern operates in chapters 2 through 38 .

The pattern is clearest in Stage 1 (2–12). It should be noted that the opening scene ( 2, 1–5 )—Jerusalem as the preeminent place of instruction and the goal of the nations' pilgrimage—falls outside the pattern. Its function in the book is to introduce the pilgrimage to Zion that is such an important motif in the book. The procession to Zion comes to a preliminary conclusion in chapter 12 and to a final conclusion in chapters 60 to 62 and 56 to 66 .

The tripartite pattern of 2, 6–22 actually begins with the Day of the Lord “against all that is proud and arrogant, all that is high” in v. 12 . The Day of the Lord section ends positively with a promise of glory for Zion ( 4, 2–6 ). The B section of the pattern ( 5, 1–9, 6 ) can be subtitled “rebelliousness and its royal example.” It indicts the people for unjust conduct, shows the commissioning of Isaiah and his condemnation of King Ahaz for refusing to trust in God's promises to defend Zion and thus protect the king. The chapters go on to promise a better king ( 8, 23–9, 6 ). Salvation is impeded, but not ended, by the king's disbelief. The C section ( 9, 7–12, 6 ) can be titled “sin, judgment, and restoration of Zion.” It begins with a condemnation of the people ( 9, 7–10, 4 ), tells of the choosing of Assyria as the punisher who will be punished later on ( 10, 5–34 ), gives a promise of a better king (11), and concludes with an anticipatory thanksgiving (12).

Stage 2 ( 13 through 33 ) also displays the tripartite pattern. It begins with the dramatic depiction of the Day of the Lord (against Babylon) in chapter 13 . Denunciations of other foreign nations follow; Assyria, Egypt, Moab, Damascus (and Jerusalem) are severely chastised for not accepting the sovereign design of the Lord. The mention of “Babylon” in chapter 13 raises difficulties to First Isaian authorship, for Babylon was Israel's enemy in the late seventh and sixth centuries, not the eighth century. The occurrences of “Babylon” elsewhere in the section ( 14, 2 and 22, and 21, 9 ) are not problematic, for 14, 2 and 22 are in the frame of the poem (where they could have been added later), not in the body of the poem; Isaiah 21, 9 (“fallen is Babylon, and all the images of her gods”) can refer to Assyria's documented destruction of Babylonian images in 689. To explain the occurrence of “Babylon” in chapter 13 , several solutions have been proposed: (1) Chapter 13 was written in the seventh or sixth century when Babylon was the world power and inserted when the entire scroll was edited in the sixth or fifth century (the majority view); (2) Babylon referred to in chapter 13 is turn‐of‐the‐eighth‐century Babylon under Merodach‐baladan, which rebelled against Assyria, and had to be recaptured at least four times (in 708, 703, 700, and 689); and (3) Isaiah 13, 1–14, 27 was originally written against Assyria by First Isaiah and later editors inserted Babylon in the sixth century. The last solution is the most probable since Assyria and Babylon, both great empires, became symbols of organized hostility to God; their names became virtually interchangeable as proverbial enemies of God.

Chapters 24 through 27 seem to stand apart from the rest of First Isaiah. Scholars sometimes entitle them “The Isaiah Apocalypse,” but the name is unsatisfactory. The chapters speak of universal destruction and then speak of two cities: one the city of God, and the other a city opposed to God. Lack of specific references make interpretation of these chapters tentative. The chapters are perhaps best understood as the conclusion to chapters 13 through 23 , generalizing the particular descriptions in the earlier chapters. Evidently, chapters 24 through 27 conclude the oracles against the foreign nations by showing the universal and timeless outreach of the Lord. The sovereignty of God encompasses the nations of the world. At any rate, in the tripartite editing, the chapters vividly portray the Day of the Lord.

The B section in Stage 2 appears in chapters 28 through 31 , which contain examples of sinful alliances (especially on the part of the Northern Kingdom, called Ephraim). Judah is no better than her northern sister, the text asserts, yet the promises concerning Zion invite the people to repent. Section C (32–33) gives assurances that Assyria will be destroyed in the end and that an obedient king will be part of the new order for Israel.

Stage 3 (34 through 38), like the other two stages, begins with the Day of the Lord that punishes the wicked (in this case Edom as the representative of Israel's enemies) and upholds the faithful who return to Zion (34 through 35). The latter chapters employ components familiar from the pattern: the inevitable defeat of Assyrian arrogance, the king who responds for the people (unlike Ahaz, Hezekiah trusts), and Zion's salvation. This time, however, salvation is immediate and not postponed to the future. Hezekiah turns to the Lord fully, and his trust makes him a model for all the people.

The Theology of First Isaiah: the Plan of the Lord

Of the many possible ways of approaching the theology of Isaiah of Jerusalem, one of the most fruitful is to examine his understanding of the Lord's “plan” or “work.” There are many synonyms for the divine plan or work in Isaiah and in Second Isaiah: “work, deeds” ( 5, 12; 41, 4; 45, 11 ) “thoughts (plans)” ( 55, 8–9 ), the phrase “the Lord was pleased to….” ( 42, 21; 53, 10 ), “deed” ( 5, 19 ; 28, 21 ), “word” (e.g., 2, 3; 5, 24; 30, 12; 44, 26 ). The most illuminating Isaian word, however, is “plan,” which the prophet uses both as a noun and a verb. The best illustration of “plan” is 5, 19 , which attacks those who deny the Lord is acting in the present crisis, “those who say, ‘Let [the Lord] make haste and speed his work, that we may see it; on with the plan of the Holy One of Israel! let it come to pass, that we may know it!'‐” In Isaiah, words for “plan” or “work” are used in two different contexts: (1) for God's plan that will inevitably be realized and (2) for human plans or works that will inevitably fail. An example of the second usage is 8, 10 , addressed to the hostile nations: “Form a plan, and it shall be thwarted; make a resolve, and it shall not be carried out, for ‘With us is God!'‐” (cf. 19, 3.11 ). The passage shows that the prophet believes, contrary to the people, that the Lord has a plan for Israel and the nations, and he, Isaiah, is to announce it and help the people respond positively to it. The divine plan is clear in Isaiah: Israel's social injustice has necessitated divine judgment with the goal of renewal, and it will be carried out by Assyria. Later, Assyria will be punished for its excesses and arrogance. Judah and Zion must respond with openness and trust in the Lord's promises concerning Zion and the Davidic king. The plan concerns divine judgment. “Judgment” is not a negative concept in the Bible; it is an intervention by which justice is brought about by punishing evildoers and upholding the righteous. In First Isaiah, the attack of Assyria is part of a process of restorative justice that will end with the renewal of Israel. Though “plan” in First Isaiah describes the punishment of Jerusalem and eventual destruction of Assyria (e.g., 14, 26 ), in Second Isaiah “plan” always has a positive sense, as in 44, 26 , where “I carry out the plan announced by my messengers; I say to Jerusalem: Be inhabited; to the cities of Judah: Be rebuilt; I will raise up their ruins” (cf. 46, 10–11 ). First Isaiah establishes clearly that God has a plan, a judgment that involves the Assyrians as a temporary agent. The plan requires a response from the people, and it will ultimately lead to the renewal of Israel. It will fall to Second Isaiah to elaborate the plan of Isaiah of Jerusalem.

The Traditions Isaiah Used

One cannot appreciate the First Isaian “plan of the Lord,” or indeed his entire message, without some idea of his use of traditions. Of the traditions he used, the most important were those celebrating the Lord as the king of heaven and earth (e.g., 6, 5; 33, 22 ) who chose Mount Zion as his dwelling (e.g., 1, 21–28; 2, 1–4; 4, 2–6; 28, 14–22; 31, 4–9; 33; 37, 22–29 ) and David as his client king (e.g., 7, 1–17; 32, 1–8; 17–24; 36–38 ). His favored title “Lord of Hosts” (sixty‐two times) implies kingship over heavenly beings, typically won by a victory that no other heavenly being could achieve. Behind the title and these traditions lies a worldview that generated the stories through which people explained reality, making it possible for them to answer basic questions concerning human existence. The stories and the answers found expression in cultural symbols, and they also inculcated a way of living. Zion and the Davidic king were cultural symbols in this profound sense.

From what story do the Isaian symbols of Zion (the divine dwelling) and Davidic kingship derive their meaning? The story is called the combat myth by modern scholars. Of the versions of the myth in the ancient Near East, the following version was the most widely known: a monstrous force (often Sea) threatens cosmic order, and the gods are at a loss how to respond. The gods finally commission a young god who defeats the monstrous threat and restores (or creates) order and fertility. The gods acclaim him king, and he constructs a palace to symbolize his kingship. The myth is also attested in the Bible. A good example of the Israelite adaptation of the myth is Ps 93 .

The Lord is king, robed with majesty; the Lord is robed, girded with might. The world will surely stand in place, never to be moved. Your throne stands firm from of old; you are from everlasting, Lord. The flood has raised up, Lord; the flood has raised up its roar; the flood has raised its pounding waves. More powerful than the roar of many waters, more powerful than the breakers of the sea, powerful in the heavens is the Lord. Your decrees are firmly established; holiness belongs to your house, Lord, for all the length of days. (Ps 93, 1–5 )

The psalm acclaims the Lord as king, robed with the glorious garments of a victorious warrior (v. 1a), ruling over a world that is now stable and safe from the cosmic threat personified by Sea (vv. 1b–2). Verses 3 and 4 tell of the great battle and the Lord's victory, and verse 5 describes the decrees the Lord speaks and the palace the Lord builds.

Such is the mythological background of Mount Zion, where the Lord rules as the incomparable Holy One and king of the universe. No wonder that the poets call Zion the highest mountain in the world (Ps 2, 2 ) and the dwelling of the Holy One (e.g., Pss 4, 3–5; 8, 18; 12, 6 ). The Davidic king was part of the same story. In some psalms, his commission as king was linked to the creation of the world. In Psalm 89 , David is appointed as the “Most High over the kings of the earth” ( 89, 28 ), just as the Lord is superior to all the gods ( 89, 6–15 ).

Isaiah employed the traditions of the Lord as the king of the universe, Mount Zion as the dwelling of the incomparable Holy One, and the Davidic king as the delegate of the Lord. Jeremiah preferred to work with the Exodus, and Ezekiel worked with the full range of traditions, those of the holy Temple and land, Exodus, and divine king. Though it is probable that these prophets were aware of the full range of Israel's traditions, they selected those traditions that best suited their own temperament and pastoral aims.

Messianic Passages in Isaiah

The English word messiah comes from a Hebrew word meaning “anointed one.” The Greek translation, christos (English “Christ”), appears in the New Testament. The Old Testament uses messiah of certain officials who were anointed with oil for their office—priests (e.g., Ex 40, 15 ) and especially the Davidic kings (e.g., 1 Sm 9, 10 ). Although the Davidic dynasty was regarded as everlasting in the sense that there would always be a son of David on the throne, the Old Testament never uses messiah of future kings. Only in the first century BC is a future son of David called a messiah, in the Dead Sea Scrolls and in the noncanonical Psalms of Solomon. The earliest New Testament books use “Christ” (Messiah) as the second name of Jesus (e.g., 1 Thes 1, 11 ). Paul inverts the order of words to “Christ Jesus” and announces that Jesus has fulfilled the expectations of the messiah, which are rooted in the Old Testament.

Popular usage is less exact, however. It often uses the term messianic of any Old Testament passage that speaks of a future son of David as in the above title, “Messianic Passages in Isaiah.” In this broad sense, there are several messianic passages in Isaiah, notably in chapters 7 through 9, and 11 , which have played an enormously important role in Christian reflection on Jesus. Isaiah 7, 1–17 is the most famous messianic passage in the entire Old Testament. The historical context is the attempt by the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and Damascus to force Ahab, king of Judah, to fight with them against Assyria. Isaiah, who opposed this alliance, challenges Ahab to place his trust in the promise of divine protection made to his ancestor David and not to fear “these two stumps of smoldering brands.” When Ahab refuses to ask for a sign confirming the promise, Isaiah gives him one: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel” (Is 7, 14 ). Most probably, Isaiah says to the king that the sign is the pregnancy of your wife whose son (and not you) will one day bear the happy name Immanuel (“God is with us”) and embody the divine protection of Jerusalem. A sign is a hint or foretaste of the divine power that will later appear in full. Such protection of Jerusalem is mentioned in such psalms as 46, 48, and 76 . The son mentioned in the Isaian oracle was evidently Hezekiah (king from 715–687/6 BC), who in fact turned out to be a faithful son of David. How can a word uttered in the eighth century have significance for later generations? The answer is that Isaiah's sign, being a word of God, was not fully realized in eighth‐century events to which it was originally addressed. Rather, the word retained its power so that, Christians believe, it was fulfilled completely only in the birth of Jesus. In Mt 1, 23 , Joseph is told that Mary's child is from the Holy Spirit. The assurance is explained by quoting Is 7, 14 , “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son.” Expansions to the promise in Is 7, 18–25 show that even in the very earliest times interpreters regarded the promise to the son of David as enormously significant.

Another important messianic oracle is Isaiah 8, 23–9, 6 (9, 1–7 in some versions): “First he degraded the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali; but in the end he has glorified the seaward road, the land west of the Jordan, the District of the Gentiles. Anguish has taken wing, dispelled is darkness: for there is no gloom where until now there was distress. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.… For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder‐Counselor, God‐Hero, Father‐Forever, Prince of Peace. His dominion is vast and forever peaceful, from David's throne, and over his kingdom, which he confirms and sustains by judgment and justice, both now and forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this!” Like Isaiah 7, 14 , this oracle arose in a specific historical circumstance—the coronation of a Davidic king of Judah, possibly Hezekiah. Whenever a new Davidic king was installed, people remembered the ancient Davidic promises (cf. 2 Sm 7 ) and hoped the promises of prosperity and protection would be realized under the new king. The old tribal areas (Zebulun and Naphtali) had become, in the Assyrian conquest of 722 BC, three Assyrian provinces: Galilee, Dor, and Gilead. For the unfortunate Israelites living in the conquered territories, light has dawned because the newly installed Davidic king will, the prophet hopes, replace Assyrian rule with the Lord's. Like Isaiah 7, 14 , an oracle uttered at a particular time and place (late eighth century, Jerusalem) retained its force after the eighth century to take further effect at a later day. In Luke 1, 32 , the angel alludes to the passage when he tells Mary that her son “will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

The last of the famous Isaian messianic prophecies is 11, 1–9 , “But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord. Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide, but he shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the land's afflicted. He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked. Justice shall be the band around his waist, and faithfulness a belt upon his hips. Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them. The cow and the bear shall be neighbors, together their young shall rest; the lion shall eat hay like the ox. The baby shall play by the cobra's den, and the child lay his hand on the adder's lair. There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord, as water covers the sea.”

Like the previous oracles, Isaiah 11, 1–9 has a very specific origin. It seems to have been the installation or the anniversary of the installation of the king. The “shoot” that shall sprout (verse 1 ) is a reference to the Davidic dynasty, which had seemed a mere stump to its enemies (Is 10, 33–34 ). As the agent of the Lord's justice, the king would surely be endowed with power and wisdom (verses 2–3a). Divine justice is not necessarily the same as human justice, so that the king will not judge by human standards (verses 3b–5). The result of the king's rule will usher in an idyllic age, free of violence, when all will be taught by God. The language of the oracle is influenced by “court style”—poems about the king used embellished and exaggerated speech. The king is the agent through whom the Lord will bring about the peaceable kingdom. The Septuagint translation adds another gift to the six mentioned in the Hebrew text—“piety”—providing the biblical basis for the traditional Christian seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. For Christians, this passage predicts the outpouring of the Spirit in the New Testament.

The Message of Isaiah of Jerusalem

Only when one knows Isaiah's traditions can one appreciate the originality of his interpretation and the pastoral program that he proposed. The traditions of Zion and David were pure reassurance. Knowing that the time of judgment had come, Isaiah had to alter the triumphant ideology of king and temple. He believed that the coming judgment would not end in destruction but in salvation if the people trusted the Lord's plan. Astonishingly, he teaches that the historical means of judgment is Assyria (“Woe to Assyria! My rod in anger, my staff in wrath” ( 10, 5 ). The people must allow the Assyrian king free reign as the agent of judgment. If Judah rebels by entering into alliances with Egypt and neighboring city‐states, Zion will be destroyed and the king cast aside, and salvation, if it comes at all, will be deferred to the far future. In Isaiah's radical thinking, Israel's refusal to believe in the Lord's “plan” is tantamount to political rebellion and idolatry ( 28, 14–22 ). With a kind of “political trust,” the people must believe in the Lord's plan and cooperate with it.

Isaiah interprets the sacred (and reassuring) traditions for a new historical context: social injustice had become rampant, and an unstoppable superpower (Assyria) loomed over the defenseless nation. For Isaiah, the triumphal traditions of Zion's inviolability and the Davidic king's universal rule can have no validity as long as injustice and idolatry are triumphant (chapters 2, 5, and 28 ) and the leaders refuse to accept Assyria as the divine instrument. Isaiah's pastoral strategy flows directly from his analysis of the situation. He exhorts the people to rely solely on the Lord, to accept his plan that Assyria will be his instrument of justice, and to give up trying to stop Assyria. He urges them to favor the poor and the dispossessed (the king has a special role here). Only then will their Temple offerings be accepted and God bless them. In Isaiah, interpretation and ethics are intrinsically linked: his theology is preaching and his preaching is theology.

In summary, Isaiah recognized that the relationship of the Lord and Israel had reached a critical point in the late eighth century. With a prophet's radical eye, he saw on the one hand the people's failure to live in accord with the dictates of the Holy One in their midst and, on the other, the presence of a new kind of enemy on their borders, the superpower Assyria. He recognized a connection between the two facts: Assyria was God's instrument to “judge” Israel, that is, to force Israel to go through a process of purgation. If they accepted in faith God's ruling in this difficult time, the people would emerge purified and pleasing to the Lord. There was no easy path to renewal; it involved judgment. Isaiah reminded the people that the institutions through which the Lord had met and governed them, the temple and the king, did not operate automatically but only if the people approached them in faith and trust. The king played an important role as the one chosen by the Lord and in some sense as a representative of the people. But the king had to trust in the Lord and would be reckoned as good or bad to the extent that he trusted in the promises about Zion and his kingship.

Isaiah's message remains powerful today, largely because his message has been written down in the threefold pattern described above under “Literary Structure”: (A) the appearance of the Lord in power (B) requiring a response by the people or their representative (C) followed by a divine intervention that implements justice. When one reads Isaiah today, one confronts the Lord who demands justice of human hearers and yet will inevitably bring about a just world. Isaiah never doubts that the Lord will remain faithful to the people and eventually bring about a renewed Israel (“I will restore your judges as at first, and your counselors as in the beginning; after that you shall be called city of justice, faithful city” 1, 26). Christians will revere Isaiah for his teaching about the Davidic king's major role in a renewed Israel, his insistence on embracing divine judgment for a renewed Israel, and his portrayal of all holy God who delights in living in the midst of Israel.

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