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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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Commentary spanning earlier chapters

7.1–8.23 :

Prophecies delivered during the Syro‐Ephraimite crisis. These passages, and perhaps some of the passages following them, deal with a series of events known from both biblical texts (2 Kings ch 16; 2 Chron. ch 28 ) and ancient Assyrian records. In 735 BCE the leaders of the kingdom of Damascus in Syria (or Aram) and of the northern Israelite kingdom (also known as Ephraim) attempted to create a coalition of small states to oppose the Assyrian empire. King Ahaz of Judah did not join their conspiracy, and the Arameans (Syrians) and Israelites (Ephraimites) marched against Judah, intending to depose Ahaz and replace him with an ally of their own, the son of Tabeel (his first name is not given, probably to slight him). Ahaz appealed to the Assyrian king, Tiglath‐Pileser, for help. The Arameans and Ephraimites did not succeed in their efforts; Damascus was conquered entirely in 732, while Israel lost considerable territory to Assyria. Judah was saved, but it became dependent on Assyria.

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.

8.1–22 :

Further predictions concerning the Syro‐Ephraimite crisis. In the oracles collected here, Isaiah refers to himself in the first person (unlike those in the previous ch, which refer to Isaiah in the third person). They consist of oracles dating from the beginning of the crisis through its aftermath.

1–4 :

A sign concerning the imminent destruction of Judah's enemies. The thrust of Isaiah's argument, as in ch 7 (with which it is likely to be contemporaneous) is that Ahaz need not rely on Assyrian aid.

5–8 :

Isaiah's reaction to Ahaz's lack of faith. Ahaz rejected the God of Zion (symbolized by the waters of the Siloam which flow from the Gihon spring immediately below the Temple Mount) and chose the Assyrians; therefore God will bring Assyrians (represented by the river Euphrates) to punish him. Alternatively, it is possible that v. 6b (printed in NJPS as part of v. 4 ) should be translated, “And because you rejoiced in Rezin and the son of Remaliah.” In this case, these vv. are addressed not to Ahaz but to Judeans who conspire against him on behalf of the Arameans and Israelites; God will punish their infidelity to the Davidic monarch by sending the Assyrians.

7–8 :

The comparison of the Assyrian king to a devastating flood appears in Assyrian documents. Multitude could be translated “glory,” a term also used in Assyrian descriptions of their king's terrifying power.

8 :

Isaiah expresses the doctrine of Zion's inviolability poetically: The Assyrians will decimate the land of Judah but not Judah's head, which is Jerusalem.

9–10 :

Failure awaits the plotters. The identity of the plotters is enigmatic: Are they (1) the Arameans and Israelites who attack Judah, (2) Judeans who support them against King Ahaz, (3) King Ahaz, who creates a conspiracy with the Assyrians against the Arameans and Israelites, or (4) the Assyrians who plan to take over the land of their new Judean ally—or all of these?

11–15 :

These vv. are linguistically and interpretively very difficult. They seem to reflect the fact that Isaiah's advice opposes all his contemporaries' perspectives: He advocates joining neither the anti‐Assyrian coalition nor the Assyrians themselves.

16–18 :

Another obscure passage, perhaps from the end of the crisis. Isaiah's predictions had not come true in the short run: The Assyrians did not invade Judah in Ahaz's day, and Ahaz's policy of turning to them for protection seems to have worked. Nonetheless, the prophet insists that his words would prove valid; he has them written down, bound up, and placed with his disciples for safekeeping. Ultimately it would become clear that the LORD's prophet spoke truly. During the Assyrian invasion three decades later (in the reign of Ahaz's son, Hezekiah), Isaiah's perspective was vindicated, since the Assyrians devastated Judah but did not capture Jerusalem.

19–21 :

A polemic against other forms of divination. It may date to the period of the Syro‐Ephraimite crisis, but it could also fit many other periods. Ghosts and familiar spirits are the demigods and deified ancestors to whom some Judeans, following Canaanite and Mesopotamian religious models, turned for guidance. Cf. Lev. 20.27; Deut. 18.9–15; 1 Sam. ch 28 .

8.23 :

An unusually obscure verse. The Assyrian king Tiglath‐pileser seized lands belonging to the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali, along with parts of Galilee and Transjordan, from the Israelite king Pekah son of Remaliah in the aftermath of the Syro‐Ephraimite crisis.

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