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The Jewish Study Bible Contextualizes the Hebrew Bible with accompanying scholarly text on Jewish traditions and history.

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Commentary on Isaiah

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Chs 40–48 :

The first prophecies of Deutero‐Isaiah. On the authorship of chs 40–66 , see intro. The first of the three sections within chs 40–66 was written by the anonymous exilic prophet in Babylonia, shortly before or immediately after the fall of Babylonia to the Persians led by Cyrus, but before Cyrus issued his decree allowing the Judean exiles to return to Zion (see Ezra 6.3–5; 2 Chron. 36.22–23 ). Chs 40–48 consist of several long speeches. In each, Deutero‐Isaiah marshals evidence to show the depressed exiles that (1) God is genuinely powerful, and the Babylonian conquest does not indicate that God was defeated by some other alleged god or some other force; (2) God continues to love the nation Israel, and the Babylonian conquest does not indicate that God has abandoned Israel; (3) God is reliable, and what God promises God does; and therefore (4) the exiles can be sure that they will soon return to their land. The prophet frequently seems to be responding to specific complaints, doubts, and expressions of hopelessness among the exiles. A few of these statements made by Deutero‐Isaiah's listeners are cited explicitly (e.g., 40.27; 49.14; 50.1; 50.2 ). Each speech appearing in these chs moves through several types of reasoning to support these assertions; then the speech ends, and another one begins. It is often difficult (and, ultimately, unimportant) to delineate the precise beginning and end of each speech, since each one presents the same argument using the same types of evidence. This first section of Deutero‐Isaiah's prophecies focuses on several themes that are absent in chs 49–66 : They emphasize the uniqueness of the LORD, who is the only God; they identify the Persian king Cyrus as the individual through whom God brings salvation to Israel; and they compare “former things” that God had done with “new things” that God is about to do. Since the major message of this prophet is reconciliation and comfort, eight sections from these chapters are read as the haftarah, or prophetic readings, in the summer, on the Sabbaths following Tish‘ah be’av, which commemorates the destruction of the Temple.

40.1–11 :

An introduction to the prophecies of Deutero‐Isaiah. Vv. 1–11 introduce the main themes and motifs of the following chs: God comforts the nation, assures them that their term of punishment in the Babylonian exile has ended, and promises that they will soon return to Zion. This introductory passage echoes elements of the prophetic initiation scene (see n. to ch 6 ): God announces that God has a message that the prophet should convey to the nation Israel (vv. 1–5 ); the prophet objects and is reassured (vv. 6–9 ). This section also introduces a special feature of Deutero‐Isaiah's work: This prophet frequently borrows and revises material from older biblical texts. This tendency to allude to earlier compositions is especially evident in these eleven vv., which use terms and images from ch 6; 28.1–2; Jer. 16.16–18; 31.15; Ezek. 21.2–12; Exod. 32.14–15; Lam. 1.2, 9, 16, 21 .

1–2 :

God's initial message of consolation. These initial two vv. summarize the main themes of chs 40–66 in their entirety. The verbs (comfort, speak, declare) are in the plural, indicating that God addresses not only Deutero‐Isaiah but other messengers as well, probably angelic messengers in the heavenly court. As in ch 6 and 2 Kings ch 22 , the prophet overhears and to some extent participates in the deliberations of God's angelic staff.

3–5 :

God's highway. The Presence of God left the land of Israel along with the exiles (cf. Ezek. chs 8–11 ); now it will return with them (cf. Ezek. 43.1–5 ). On the motif of the road through the desert, see 35.1–10 n. (Chs 34 and 35 were written by Deutero‐Isaiah.) Double for all her sins: The exiles may feel that they deserve punishment, and therefore salvation is remote. The prophet assures them that the punishment they have suffered is enough—indeed, more than enough—and there is no impediment to their salvation. Cf. Jer. 16.18 and Isa. 61.7 .

6–8 :

Objection and reassurance. A heavenly voice gives an order to issue a proclamation; another voice (probably that of the prophet, especially if the alternate version in translators' note a‐a is correct) asks what should be proclaimed, and the first voice answers this question. According to the quotation marks added by the NJPS translation, the prophet's question is brief, and the answer takes up most of v. 6 and all of vv. 7–8 . Thus the prophet must proclaim that humans are weak (and therefore the Babylonian conquerors will disappear), but God's strength is enduring. It is also possible, however, that the prophet's question continues all the way through the end of v. 7 . In that case, these vv. are an objection to acting as conduit for the divine word: As a mere human, the prophet fears that he will be overcome by the powerful and destructive breath of the LORD (lit. “wind” or “Spirit” of the LORD, which is a technical term denoting the God‐given capability to serve as a prophet). V. 8 contains the divine response: Even though the task of conveying God's words is frightening, it must be completed.

6 :

Goodness, or, “loyalty, reliability.”

9–11 :

God's arrival in Jerusalem. Messengers are told to announce to Jerusalem that the LORD will soon arrive. Normally, a herald would inform a city that an army was arriving, but here God arrives as a gentle shepherd, not to destroy but to protect.

40.12–31 :

The incomparable God. In this speech, Deutero‐Isaiah focuses on God's unique power. Because the LORD is the only true God and the creator of the world, the LORD will be able to defeat the Babylonians and restore Zion. Some Judeans probably believed that Babylonia's gods defeated their God, but the prophet insists that in fact no other being in the universe could do so.

12–17 :

Divine grandeur. No entity in heaven or earth compares to God, and therefore none can prevent God from acting.

18–20 :

A brief argument against idolatry: Certainly the God who created the world is mightier than the gods worshipped by most humans. Those gods, after all, are created, not creators.

21–26 :

God's incomparable might as manifest in nature and in history.

27–31 :

Deutero‐Isaiah arrives at the point of the arguments marshalled in vv. 12–26 . The Judean exiles have lamented that God no longer pays attention to them (v. 27 ). But God is still able to listen to them, for God never grows tired (vv. 28–31 ).

31 :

Trust, or, “wait with patience and hope.”

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