- Second (and Third) Isaiah
- Second Isaiah (40-55) probably dates to the Babylonian exile
(ca 545 b.c.e.). The prophet brings a message of consolation:
- Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly
to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that
her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord's hand
double for all her sins. 40:1-2
- The basis for the consolation is theological. The oppression
that characterizes the political powers of this world is transitory
whereas God's word stands forever:
- All people are grass,
- their constancy is like the
- flower of the field.
- The grass withers, the flower
- when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
- surely the people are grass.
- The grass withers, the flower
- but the world of our God will
- stand forever. 40:6-8
- In order to reassure his audience, Isaiah employs a rhetoric
of focalization. The reader is invited to see the world as God
- Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand
- and marked off the heavens with a span,
- enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure,
- and weighed the mountains in scales
- and the hills in a balance? 40:12
- Even the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
- and are accounted as dust on the scales,
- see, he takes up the isles like fine dust. 40:15
- It is he who sits about the circle of the earth,
- and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
- who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
- and spread them like a tent to live in;
- who brings princes to naught,
- and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.
- Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
- scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
- when he blows upon the, and they wither.
- and the tempest carries them off like stubble.
- To whom then will you compare me,
- or who is my equal? says the Holy one.
- The Lord is the everlasting God,
- the Creator of the ends of the earth.
- he does not faint or grow weary;
- his understanding is unsearchable.
- He gives power to the fain,
- and strengthens the powerless.
- Even youths will faint and be weary,
- and the young will fall exhausted;
- but those who wait for the Lord
- shall renew their strength,
- they shall mount up with wins like eagles,
- they shall run and not be weary,
- they shall walk and not faint.
- Creation Theology in Second
Hymn 80 O Bless the Lord, my soul
The presence of the "Suffering Servant Psalms" in
2 Isaiah and their importance for New Testament Christology tends
to draw attention away from the theological content of the book.
According to Second Isaiah, Israel's exile in Babylon is not
the result of having forgotten her covenant with God, not that
they have worshiped other gods, but because they have forgotten
that God is their creator and that they are creatures (51:12 ff;
40:28 "Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth"; 44:6 "I am the
first and I am the last; besides me there is no god"; 45:22
"Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For
I am God, and there is no other."). The joke is on Babylon
(47:8 who says, "I am, and there is no one besides me")
who, caste in the role of the mother goddess of ANE, will be slain
by the creator God (51:9-11). God's redemptive acts are acts of
recreation (41:17-20 "When the poor and needy seek water,
and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I
the Lord will answer them, I the God of Israel will not forsake
them. I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in
the midst of the valleys ... I will put in the wilderness the
cedar ... so that all may see and know, all may consider and understand,
that the hand of the Lord has done this, the Holy One of Israel
has created it"). Creation is an act of charity, and Israel
will become a light to the nations by imitating God, by bringing
ethical order to chaos (42:6-7 "I am the Lord, I have called
you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from
the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness").
Bernard Och, "Creation and Redemption: Towards a Theology
of Creation, " Judaism 44 (1995) 226-244.
The following is an adaptation of Och's article applied to
2 Isaiah. No material should be quoted without first consulting
Och's original language. The full text for his article is available
on the Palni Data Base System in the IAC. Search for "creation."
The focus of the theology and the prophetic message of the
pre-exilic prophets is upon ethical monotheism and redemption
with the Exodus as the central event to which the prophet points
back. God is a redeemer. Nevertheless, when the canon takes shape
in the exilic and post-exilic community, it begins with creation
rather than the historical event of the Exodus. What has happened?
The creation theology of Second Isaiah may be the significant
factor in this choice. Creation is an ongoing dynamic reality
and the exodus is part of the unfolding of divine creation. The
restoration of Israel will be a second exodus. The People are
afflicted with sorrow and God is moved to assist and save his
people. Once again he redeems them from captivity, yet redemption
and a theology of creation are closely tied. The word bara
(create) appears 16 times in Second Isaiah.
- If we look at the Genesis story of creation, we recognize
a universalism of sorts.
- The God of the people of Israel is not limited by the boundaries
of a specific people. The universalism is expressed in clear
terms in Isaiah.
- Creation is world wide; God's sovereignty is world wide.
- Israel emerges as a light to the nations (42:6-7).
- God's redemptive act demonstrates God's power which all flesh
shall know (49:26).
- The covenant is extended to all who obey (56:1-8).
- Second Isaiah delivers the promise of universal worship (45:22-23).
- Och states, "Creation does not answer the question of
how the world began but rather from where did the history of
God's people derive its meaning."
- What are the significant themes of creation that inform our
lives? Once again, can we think in the terms of Paul Ricoeur
and ask what is the world in front of the text into which we
- According to Och:
- God's order offers security but with limitations which, when
violated, lead to chaos
- Order is an ethical order (Is 45:18-19)
- The world is made to be inhabited (Is 44:26; 45:12, 18-19)
- Humanity is created in God's image; we are meant to be in
relationship with God. The possibility of an I and Thou relationship
- Nevertheless, the distinction between God and humanity is
real; humanity is part of creation.
- Animals have no morality; their essence is their life and
- Adam's disobedience disrupts the order and harmony of creation
and unleashes an anti-creational force and creates alienation.
God then redeems through acts of reconciliation and restoration.
Restoration is not merely a second exodus but a new creation.
In Is 51:9-10, Isaiah uses a mythological account of creation
in his description of the Exodus. "A contrast is drawn between
the ANE world of struggling and conflicting wills capable of
lapsing into irrational fear and despair."
- Cf. also Is 65:17 and 66:22-23 for themes of creation and
- Isaiah's creation theology makes the distinction between
creator and creation absolute: "For my thoughts are not
your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways says the Lord. For as
the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher
than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (55:8-9,
cf. 40:21-23). God breaches this barrier by entering into the
world through God's involvement with humanity.
- Suffering Servant Psalms
- Kenneth R.R. Gros Louis "Isaiah: Chapters 40-55,"Literary
Interpretations of Biblical Narratives
| Isaiah 42:1-9
|| Isaiah 49:1-6
|| Isaiah 50:4-11
|| Isaiah 52:13-53:12
- Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
- my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
- I have put my spirit upon him;
- he will bring forth justice to the nations.
- He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in
- a bruised reed he will not break,
- and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
- he will not grow faint or be crushed
- I will give you as a covenant to the people,
- a light to the nations,
- to open the eyes that are blind,
- to bring out the prisoners form the dungeon,
- Listen to me, O coast lands, pay attention, you peoples
from far away!
- The Lord called me before I was born,
- while I was in my mother's womb he named me.
- He made my mouth like a sharp sword,
- the in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
- And he said to me, "You are my servant, Israel, in whom
I will be glorified."
- But I said, "I have labored in vain, I have spent my
strength for nothing and vanity
- he says, "It is too light a thing that you should be
my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the
survivors of Israel:
- I will give you as a light to the nations that my salvation
may reach to the end of the earth."
- The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher,
that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning
by morning he wakens -- wakens my ear to listen as those who
- I gave my back to those who struck me,
- and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard. I did not
hide my face from insult and spit.
- The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced;
- therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that
I shall not be put to shame;
- he who vindicates me is near.
- Who will contend with me?
- Let us stand up together
- Who are my adversaries?
- Let them confront me.
- It is the Lord God who helps me;
- who will declare me guilty?
- All of them will wear out like a garment;
- the moth will eat them up.
- See, my servant shall prosper;
- he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high.
- -- so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance,
- and his form beyond that of mortals,
- so he shall startle many nations;
- kings shall shut their mouths because of him;
- Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases;
- yet we accounted him strickened,
- struck down by God and afflicted
- But he was wounded for our transgressions,
- crushed for our iniquities;
- upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
- and by his bruises we are healed.
- like a lamb he was led to the slaughter...
- by a perversion of justice he was taken away. They made his
grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he
had done no violence and there was no deceit in his mouth ...
- The Psalms of Isaiah are important to the New Testament and
have been rendered christologically. Gros Louis suggests that
we place ourselves back in time -- try and stand in the original
position if possible -- to show continuity with the New Testament
and how our Christology develops from the Old Testament.
- Gros Louis also draws our attention to the gap between God
and this changing, transitory world, inhabited by humans.
- Chapter Forty
- 1) permanence of God ----- transitory nature of our lives
- 2) magnitude of God's activities ------- insignificance of
- 3) God as controller of history ------ rulers who fall before
their power matures
- Look at "telescoping images" 40:12
- The solution to the problem of our finitude is found in chapter
40:29-31 "He gives power to the faint and strengthens the
- God's servant is, therefore, not a mighty man of valour.
He is no Samson.
- God's servant stands in contrast to the erroneous view of
power expressed by the Babylonians 47:7-8.
- Look at 42:1-4 The Light to the Nations
- Does not attract attention
- dimly burning wick he will not quench
- 49:1-7 The Servant's Mission
- affirms once more that God is my strength
- But -- look at verse 4 -- he knows his mission from birth
by is not sure what his mission is.
- 50: 4-11 The Servant's Humiliation and Vindication
- 52:13-53:12 The Suffering Servant
- Service to God results in derision not glory.
- This small and invisible man bears our griefs and carries
- According to Gros Louis, the immense world of God and the
nothingness of humanity are poetically combined in the servant
(as well as the shepherd).
- Chapter 55 - the image of people as grass becomes the image
of the trees of the field clapping their hands.
- This is an invitation to abundant living.
- Perhaps the question of how the Jews who did not accept the
gospel of the early church could read these passages and not
see their fulfillment in Jesus still remains.
- First, we must recognize that the idea that an innocent person's
execution could atone for the guilt of another could be contrary
to the principles of justice articulated in the Old Testament.
Moreover, 53:5 indicates that the servant suffers as a result
of the people's sin not as a substitute for their punishment.
- Secondly, we must recognize that it is possible to treat
the servant as a collective, as Israel itself.
- In presenting God as transcendent and permanent and removed
from humanity, Isaiah implicitly raises the question or how humanity
can have communion with God. The solution to the problem of God's
transcendence is not to imitate or compete his power and glory.
Contrary to the wisdom of this world, those who are honored and
who have power, that is those who rule, are not the ones who
broach the distance between God and humanity. They are not God-like
but rather distant from God. Those who renounce worldly honor
and power and suffer affliction at the hands of that power, paradoxically,
are closest to God. Rather than humanity raising itself up and
counting equality with God a thing to be grasped, Isaiah presents
a God who suffers for his people and comforts them like a mother.
- Radical Images of God
- Cf. John R.A. Sawyer, "Radical Images of Yahweh in Isaiah
63," Philip R. Davies and David J.A. Clines, Among the
Prophets (Sheffield:JSOT, 1993) 72-82; Marc Zvi Brettler,
"Incompatible Metaphors for YHWH in Isaiah 40-66,"
JSOT 78 (1998) 97-120.
- Marc Brettler notes the ironic use of imagery in Isaiah 40-66.
God asks, "To whom can I be likened?" (40:25), and
the prophet proceeds to use a rich variety of images with which
to compare YHWH to human beings. Brettler concludes that "These
divine similes and metaphors which are central to Isaiah 40-66
are used to suggest YHWH's fundamental likeness to humans while
still fostering YHWH's incomparability." (p. 98)
- The following analysis is derived from John Sawyer's article.
In Isaiah 63, God is depicted as the bedraggled warrior king
with a blood stained garment (63:1-6) . Note that this image
is so radical that translators soften the language:
- chamutz begadim - the crimson garment is a blood stained
- (The second line, who is this robbed in splendor, may be
- tzo'eh - marching is translated elsewhere as cowering
- 'estomem - I stared (vs. 5) is translated elsewhere
as devastated (Is 59:16,
- astonished (Dan 8:27), and numbness (Ps 143:4).
When the Bible casts God into the role of the warrior, we find
a very different picture than that projected by other Ancient
Near Eastern Divine Warrior Hymns. I invite you to participate
in the visualization of a passage in Isaiah 63 in which God returns
from a battle waged against Israel's enemies, a battle that God
is forced to fight, not because Israel is a damsel in distress,
but because Israel's lack of fidelity to God has landed her in
bondage. She has consorted with the powerful military might of
her time, Babylon, despite Isaiah's warnings that she has made
a covenant with death (28:15), and Babylon has enslaved her people
to its will, carting them into exile.
In Isaiah 62: 11 we are encouraged to focalize the image of
God. God tells the prophet to say to daughter Zion, "see,
your salvation comes; his reward is with him, and his recompense
before him." The notes at the bottom of my Bible describe
what follows as the triumphant return of the divine warrior, but
look at what the prophet tells us we see.
Chapter 63 presents the voice
of Israel in this metaphoric drama. We stand waiting and watching
for God's return as the passive beneficiaries of God's heroic
Our eyes are turned to the South and from over the horizon
a figure comes into view, "Who is this that comes from Edom,
from Bozrah in garments stained crimson?"
Our first view of the returning divine warrior is of an unrecognizable,
solitary figure in a blood stained robe.
The translators of this passage seem to resist seeing the figure
presented by the Hebrew. In the second line, that typically parallels
the first, they write, "Who is this so splendidly robed,
marching in his great might?"
The Hebrew describes a figure of great strength trudging along,
bent over, with verbs used to describe the way a person in chains
cowers. The splendor is imposed upon the text by the translators.
Yet in spite of their attempt to overlook the failure of the
speaker to recognize the figure and to romanticize his return,
they cannot obscure the fact that he comes on foot.
When King Ninurta, a Babylonian warrior god, returns to Nippur
victorious from battle, he comes in full regalia, driving a chariot
and bearing the trophies of his victory.
He is greeted: "My sovereign, perfect warrior, heed yourself.
Ninurta, perfect warrior, heed
yourself. Your radiance has covered Enlil's temple like a cloak.
When you step into your chariot, whose creaking is a pleasant
sound, heaven and earth tremble. " The text goes on to describe
his booty: "directed his captive wild bulls into the temple.
He directed his captive cows, like the wild bulls, into the temple.
He laid out the booty of his plundered cities. The Anuna were
amazed....... Enlil the Great Mountain made obeisance to him,
and Acimbabbar prayed to him."
RETURN OF NINURTA TO NIPPUR Source: Black, J.A., Cunningham,
G., Robson, E., and Zólyomi, G., The Electronic Text Corpus
of Sumerian Literature, Oxford 1998-.
The God of Israel has to announce himself: "It is I, announcing
vindication, might to save."
Israel is incredulous, "Why are your robes red, and your
garments like those who tread the wine press?
God responds with a horrifying account of what he has had to
I have trodden the winepress alone,
And from the peoples not one was with me;
I trod them in my anger and trampled them in my wrath;
Their juice spattered on my garments and stained all my robes.
I looked, but there was no helper
I stared, but there was no one to sustain me;
So my own arm brought me victory, and my wrath sustained me.
I trampled down peoples in my anger,
I crushed them in my wrath,
And I poured out their lifeblood on the earth.
This depiction of the heroic feats of the victor stands in
sharp contrast with the sorts of battle hymns sung by the Egyptians.
In the Victory Hymn of Ramses II over the Hittites, Rhamses, depicted
as the son of the God Ammon, stands upon his chariot and takes
pleasure in the killing.
The Hymn narrates a similar circumstance. Ramses, in the midst
of battle, states:
Here I stand,
There is no one at my side,
My warriors and chariots afeared,
Have deserted me,
none heard My voice,
when to the cravens I, their king, for succor, cried.
But I find that Ammon's grace
Is better far to me
Than a million fighting men and ten thousand chariots be.
- Rather horror, Ramses describes the joy of the battle:
At my pleasure I made slaughter,
So that none
E'er had time to look behind, or backward fled;
Where he fell, did each one lay
On that day,
From the dust none ever lifted up his head.
- From the Internet
Ancient History Source Book .
Israel is not allowed to ignore the price that their God pays
for their redemption. His reward is not a splendid victory and
the trophies of conquest.
- God is
- a woman in labor (42:14)
- a pregnant or nursing mother (49:14-15)
- a woman comforting her child (66:13)
- a midwife (66:9)
- compassion (49:13)
- a remorseful husband (54:7-10)