Superscription. Like most prophetic books, this one begins with a title written by an editor indicating the author and the time during which
the author works; cf. Jer. 1.1–3, Hos. 1.1, Amos 1.1, Mic. 1.1
. Isaiah prophesied between about 740 and 700 BCE.
A poem of indictment and hope. Some view this ch as a single speech that is especially comprehensive in subject matter and biting in tone. Alternatively,
it may be a summary of the contents of the book as a whole, written specifically to be an introduction, probably to chs 1–33
, but perhaps to the final form of the book (cf. 1.28–31 with 66.24
). Much of this chapter (vv. 1–27
) is read as the haftarah, or prophetic reading, on the Sabbath preceding Tìsh‘ah be’av, which commemorates the destruction
of the Temple. This section is thus seen as offering theological justification for that event.
The indictment: complaint, threats, call for repentance. This section is framed by the words, “For the LORD has spoken,” which appear in vv. 2 and (with a slight variation) 20
. Such framing devices often indicate the extent of a literary unit in biblical literature.
The poem consists of a legal complaint concerning covenant violation by the Israelites, who are depicted as ungrateful and
also less intelligent than farm animals. In ancient Israelite thinking, heaven and earth serve as witnesses to the covenant
between God and Israel (see Deut. 4.26; 32.1
); hence God calls on them to hear the charges against Israel.
A metaphorical description of Israel's punishment (vv. 5–6
) leads to a more specific description (vv. 7–8
): Judah will be invaded and Jerusalem put under siege (indeed, Assyrians devastated Judah and surrounded Jerusalem in 701;
see introductory annotations to chs 36–37 and to ch 29
). The phrasing in v. 7
borrows quite precisely from the rhetoric of the Assyrian kings who invaded Judah, which is known from Akkadian documents.
Zion's inviolability. Here this topic, which will play a large role in chs 1–39
, is introduced: Though Judah will be devastated and Jerusalem (also known as Zion) threatened, the city will never fall,
according to Isaiah. The same idea also appears in several of the Psalms (e.g., 46, 48, 87
). Jeremiah, who lived in a later period, objected to this idea (see, e.g., Jer. 7.1–20
). Later biblical and Jewish writers respond in various ways to the failure of Isaiah's prophecies regarding Jerusalem's eternal
Rite and right. The sacrifices and prayers offered by Isaiah's contemporaries are useless because they are not accompanied by ethical action.
This is a frequent prophetic theme; see esp. Amos 5.21–25; Isa. 58.1–9
God's attitude toward ritual. According to the translation of vv. 12–13
above, God rejects sacrifice altogether; but according to the alternative in the translators' note, God rejects only the
vain rituals of unethical people. Both renderings are linguistically defensible; rabbinic commentators prefer the latter (cf. Prov. 21.27
Sodom…Gomorrah: Isaiah compares Jerusalem's inhabitants to those of the most notorious and sinful Canaanite cities, which were completely
destroyed, according to biblical tradition. See Gen. ch 19
Lift up your hands: People lifted their hands when praying in ancient Israel; cf. Exod. 9.29, 33; 1 Kings 8.38, 54
The unit does not confine itself to complaint but ends with an invitation to repentance and ethical action. Calls to repentance
are rare in Isaiah, especially compared with the work of other prophets; they never appear from ch 6 through 31.6
Lament and hope. Like the last unit, this unit is defined by a framing device involving repeated vocabulary. In both vv. 21 and 26–27
we hear faithful city, righteousness and the root “sh‐p‐t,” meaning justice (Heb “mishpat”) in v. 21
and both magistrates (better, “judges,” Heb “shofetayikh”) and justice in
In the ancient Near East, laments for a city typically mourn a destruction that has already occurred, but this lament mourns
the city's sinfulness, which will lead to a disaster in the future.
Having been punished, Zion will again know justice and faithfulness. A new name is given to the reformed Jerusalem; cf. 62.2–4; Ezek. 48.35
The fiery punishment. Are the sinners whose end is described contrasted with the reformed Zion described in the preceding vv., which will be spared
their fate? Or are residents of the sinful city as a whole the subject of these vv.? The prophet leaves the answer unclear,
perhaps intentionally; it will be given by the inhabitants of Jerusalem themselves; through their behavior, they will lead
God to decide whom to punish.
Another superscription (cf. 1.1
), whose presence suggests that the following texts (chs 2–4 or 2–5
) were once an independent collection of Isaiah's prophecies. The present book may be built from discrete documents, often
several chs long, which preserved Isaiah's speeches. These documents are not organized in chronological order, since the same
event is often treated in more than one document.
Your access is brought to you by: