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Isaiah: Chapter 56

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Text view alone

1Thus said the LORD: Observe what is right and do what is just; For soon My salvation shall come, And my deliverance be revealed.

2Happy is the man who does this, The man who holds fast to it: Who keeps the sabbath and does not profane it, And stays his hand from doing any evil. 3Let not the foreigner say, Who has attached himself to the LORD, “The LORD will keep me apart from His people”; And let not the eunuch say, “I am a withered tree.” 4For thus said the LORD: “As for the eunuchs who keep My sabbaths, Who have chosen what I desire And hold fast to My covenant— 5I will give them, in My House And within My walls, A monument and a name Better than sons or daughters. I will give them an everlasting name Which shall not perish. 6As for the foreigners Who attach themselves to the LORD, To minister to Him, And to love the name of the LORD, To be His servants— All who keep the sabbath and do not profane it, And who hold fast to My covenant— 7I will bring them to My sacred mount And let them rejoice in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices Shall be welcome on My altar; For My House shall be called A house of prayer for all peoples.” 8Thus declares the Lord GOD, Who gathers the dispersed of Israel: “I will gather still more to those already gathered.”

9All you wild beasts, come and devour, All you beasts of the forest! 10The a Heb. “his.”. watchmen are blind, all of them, They perceive nothing. They are all dumb dogs That cannot bark; They lie sprawling, a Meaning of Heb. uncertain. They love to drowse. 11Moreover, the dogs are greedy; They never know satiety. b‐ Meaning of Heb. uncertain. Emendation yields “Neither do the shepherds ever know sufficiency (hon).” Cf. hon in Prov. 30.15, 16 . As for the shepherds, they know not What it is to give heed. ‐b Meaning of Heb. uncertain. Emendation yields “Neither do the shepherds ever know sufficiency (hon).” Cf. hon in Prov. 30.15, 16 . Everyone has turned his own way, Every last one seeks his own advantage. 12‐“Come, I'll get some wine; Let us swill liquor. And tomorrow will be just the same, Or even much grander!”


a Heb. “his.”.

a Meaning of Heb. uncertain.

b‐b Meaning of Heb. uncertain. Emendation yields “Neither do the shepherds ever know sufficiency (hon).” Cf. hon in Prov. 30.15, 16 .

Text Commentary view alone

56.1–8 :

Covenant and community. The prophet addresses the role that observance of the commandments plays in forming Judean identity. Not only does it bring happiness for Judeans (v. 2 ), but it allows foreigners to become members of the community as well (vv. 6–7 ).

1–2 :

The importance of observing the law. The passage focuses in particular on the laws of the Sabbath. Cf. 58.13–14 .

3–6 :

Foreigners and eunuchs. The prophet responds to feelings of exclusion among these groups, emphasizing that Torah observance renders them complete members of the community. Foreigners. During the period of the exile and the return to Zion, some foreigners became attracted to the monotheism of the Judeans. Further, non‐Judeans mixed with the Judean population in the land of Israel (a topic that receives a great deal of attention in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah). Deutero‐Isaiah assures the foreigners that through full observance of the covenant they can become like members of the Judean community. This passage shows the beginnings of the religious institution that later came to be called conversion, and rabbinic commentators understand the passage as referring to converts. The rhetoric in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah seems less welcoming to foreigners (see Ezra ch 9 ), but the policy reflected by those books is in fact identical to that advocated by this prophet: Outsiders become insiders if they embrace the covenant (see Ezra 6.21 ). Eunuchs. Some officials at the Babylonian court (including some exiled Judeans) were castrated. Judeans subject to this fate (and also perhaps foreigners attracted to monotheism) felt cut off from the Judean people in the sense that they would have no descendants; the nation in the future would not include their seed. Further, Lev. 21.16–23 disqualified eunuchs from priestly service; see also Deut. 23.2 . Deutero‐Isaiah reassures eunuchs that they nonetheless have an enduring future in the sacred community.

5 :

A monument and a name, a memorial, lit. “a hand and a name” (Heb “yad vashem”).

7 :

According to the Torah, foreigners' offerings are welcome at the Temple; see Num. 15.14–16 ; Lev. 22.18–25 (cf. 1 Kings 8.41–43 ). This text goes a step further, moving toward the institution of conversion.

8 :

Ingathering of exiles. The first wave of exiles who returned to the land of Israel when the Persian king Cyrus allowed them to do so in the 530s was disappointingly small. The prophet looks forward to further, and more impressive, waves of “‘aliyah.”

56.9–57 21 :

Castigation and consolation. This section contains Deutero‐Isaiah's harshest denunciation of the Judeans' behavior, and in many ways it resembles the rebukes found in First Isaiah, Jeremiah, and other preexilic prophets more than the bulk of the prophecies in chs 40–66 . It ends, however, on a typically Deutero‐Isaianic note, assuring the faithful among the Judean population that peace and salvation will eventually arrive. The description of the Judeans' sins focuses on Canaanite‐influenced idolatry of the sort known from the preexilic era. Some suggest that idolatry became common in the period of the restoration as Judeans intermarried with the local population, a practice repeatedly condemned in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Others argue that this passage refers in fact to the sins of the exiles' ancestors and thus does not predict a new disaster but explains the reason for the exile that has already occurred. The whole passage is heavily allusive, borrowing vocabulary and literary motifs from 2.6–21; 6.1–10; 30.9–14 ; Jer. 2.23–25; 3.12–14; 6.13–14; 12.8–12 .

56.9–57.2 :

Denunciation of Israel's corrupt leaders. Wild beasts (v. 9 )—i.e., foreign nations—are invited to devour Israel. Some argue that dogs (v. 10 ) and shepherds (v. 11 ) refer to false prophets, while others view them as political leaders.

57.3–13a :

Idolatry. A condemnation of pagan practices among the Judeans, whether past or present. Sexual imagery pervades this passage, not be‐cause the idolatrous worship involved lewd practices but because idolatry among Israelites is compared to adultery: The LORD is Israel's husband, and thus any worship of other gods by Israelites is an act of marital infidelity.

5–7 :

Israelite pagan cult ceremonies are often depicted as taking place under leafy trees and on hilltops. Cf. 1 Kings 14.13 ; 2 Kings 17.10 ; Hos. 4.13 ; Jer. 2.20; 3.6–13 ; Ezek. 6.13 .

13b–21 :

Salvation. Not all Judeans are guilty of these crimes, however, and God recognizes the Judeans' weaknesses and will help them overcome them. The faithful and the penitent will enjoy well‐being, even as the inveterate sinners are punished.

14 :

Cf. 40.3–5 .

15 :

The highest of all beings desires to dwell among the lowest. Deutero‐Isaiah often portrays the LORD as voluntarily accept‐ ing human roles out of love for the people. Cf. 52.6; 58.9; 65.1 .

19–21 :

The prophet divides the nation into two groups: the true or faithful Israel for whom it shall be well (or, “there will be peace,” Heb “shalom,” v. 19 ), and the wicked, for whom there is no safety (or, “there will be no peace,” v. 21 ).

19 :

The far and the near, respectively, Israelites who remain in exile and those who already live in the land of Israel.

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