KD Old Testament Lesson 36: Isaiah 1-6
Posted by Karl D. on September 19, 2010
Lesson: Isaiah (#36)
Reading: Isaiah 1-6
These represent the notes I made during my reading of the scriptural text for this lesson. It is not a lesson outline or a lesson plan but really notes about issues and questions that struck me as interesting during my reading. Consequently, the notes do not have a conclusion and very little mention of application. I like to let those things arise while I teach.
2.1 Isaiah, The Prophet
We can glean some information about Isaiah, the prophet, from the book of Isaiah. The first verse of Isaiah informs us that he prophesied during the reigns of four Judean Kings: Uzziah (785-733 BCE), Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah (727/715-698/687).
1 The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
Thus Isaiah’s prophetic career spanned the second half of the 8th century and the beginning of the 7th century BCE. Isaiah was married and his wife is called a prophetess (8:3):
3 And I went unto the prophetess; and she conceived, and bare a son. Then said the Lord to me, Call his name Maher-shalal-hash-baz.
The prophet and the prophetess had several children and they gave their children symbolic names (like Hosea and Gomer did).
Scholars point out that Isaiah had frequent encounters with the Kings of Judah (Ahaz and Hezekiah).1 Thus Isaiah may have had the same kind of prominence as a prophet as Nathan did during King David’s reign.
2.2 Isaiah in Outline
I adapted the following outline from Margaret Barker’s commentary on Isaiah and other sources:2
|2-12||Oracles against Judah and Jerusalem. These chapters refer to events related to|
|the political crises of the late 8th century BCE caused by the westward|
|expansion of Assyria.|
|13-23||Oracles against other nations|
|24-27||The Isaiah apocalypse|
|28-31||More oracles about the Assyrian crisis.|
|32-33||Oracles about Kingship|
|34||Oracles against Edom|
|36-39||Historical material: stories about Isaiah during the Assyrian crisis|
|40-55||Testimony of Isaiah addressing those in exile (near the end of exile)|
|55-66||Testimony of Isaiah addressing those returning from exile|
There are at least four important historical moments that the outline at least hints at (these descriptions are largely taken from the introduction to Isaiah found in the New Oxford Annotated Bible):
- The Syro-Ephramite War and Its Aftermath: Beginning in 735 BCE Syria and Israel try to enlist Judah (King Ahaz) in a alliance against Assyria (an emerging superpower). The failed enlistment leads to Syria and Israel attacking Judah. Ahaz turns to Assyria for help. Judah becomes a vassal of Assyria.
- The Assyrian Invasion: Assyria expanded their influence by conquering Syria and then attacking Israel which fell in 722 BCE. Hezekiah rebelled against Assyria in 705 (after death of Sargon II) and sought support of Egypt (the other superpower). The Assyrian king, Sennacherib responded by conquering everything but Jerusalem. Hezekiah pays tribute to avoid conquest of Jerusalem.
- The Conquest of Jerusalem: In 612 BCE the Babylonian Empire conquers Assyria. The superpowers in this time period are Egypt and Babylon. By 605 BCE Babylon controls Judah and it becomes more powerful than Egypt. King Zedekiah rebels and in 586 Babylon destroys Jerusalem.
- The Return. In 539 BCE Cyrus (Persia) defeated the Babylonians at the Battle of Opis. Cyrus (tolerant by the standards of the time) allowed the Jews to return to Judah.
2.3 What is the Book of Isaiah?
Peter Quinn-Miscall, in his commentary, explains the book as follows:3
The opening of the book of Isaiah announces that the book is a vision and not a narrative work or a collection of proverbs. We see and imagine it just as much as we hear and understand it. The vision that is the book of Isaiah is a grand poem that encompasses God, the entire universe, humanity, and the sweep of history from creation on. Within this panorama the poet focuses on the fortunes of one people, Israel, in two trying periods of their history: the Assyrian invasions of the late eighth century B.C.E. and the Babylonian invasions of the six century B.C.E. plus the following Persian period of reconstruction … He employs these events to present the vision of God and humanity, and what life lived in God’s presence, on God’s Holy mountain, is like.
- What do you think of the preceding description of the book of Isaiah? Do you like what is emphasizes about the book of Isaiah? Why or why not?
- What do you like about reading the book of Isaiah? What do you dislike about reading the book of Isaiah?
- In your experience what are the most important things to keep in mind as you read the book of Isaiah?
- John Watts, in his commentary on Isaiah, suggests that the book of Isaiah is like a play or drama in some sense.4. What do you think about that idea? Does Isaiah ever remind you of a dramatic play? Could this be a helpful way to approach reading the book? Why or why not?
3 A Disappointed Father
Read Isaiah 1:2-3:
(2) Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth:
for the LORD hath spoken,
I have nourished and brought up children,
and they have rebelled against me.
(3) The ox knoweth his owner,
and the ass his master’s crib:
but Israel doth not know,
my people doth not consider.
Virtually all of today’s reading (including these two versus) is poetry. Notice the parallelism, for example, in the second half of verse 2. In this case the parallelism is antithetical.
I have nourished and brought up children,
and they have rebelled against me.
3.1 Hear Heavens and Earth
- What do we learn from the phrase “Hear, O Heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the LORD hath spoken?”
- What does calling for both the heavens and the earth to listen suggest about the message from the Lord? Does calling both heaven and earth to attention have different implications than a call for earth or Israel alone to listen?
- Many commentators point out that the preceding is lawsuit language. The LORD is calling the heavens and earth as witnesses in the Lawsuit.
- Why does the LORD use language suitable for a lawsuit?
- If this is lawsuit language, then how do the heavens and the earth fit into the lawsuit?
What metaphors does the LORD use to describe Israel?
The first metaphor is that of the parent-child relationship. The LORD is a disappointed father. Israel is a rebellious child. Hosea, also uses this metaphor.
- Israel is compared to a rebellious child. What comes to mind when you think of a rebellious child? What about the word rebelled? Is rebelled/rebellion just another way to express apostasy?
- How serious of a charge is this? How would Isaiah’s ancient audience have understood this charge? Under the law, what was the punishment for a rebellious son?
- Read Deut 21:18-21:
(18) If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: (19) Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; (20) And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. (22) And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.
Israel is also compared to animals (an ox and an ass). What do these comparisons bring to your mind? Do they evoke other OT images?
- John Watts, in his commentary on Isaiah, makes the following statement about this metaphor:5.
Household animals learn and remember to whom they belong. They recognize their owners, their lords … Only mankind rebels, refusing the most elementary recognition of the one who owns him.
- What do you think about this quote? Do you think it is right? Does it capture the essence of the Lord’s complaint? Does it go too far?
- Do these images remind you of the story of Balaam? Does the second half of verse 3 reinforce the Balaam connection?
- Who is the LORD speaking to when he addresses Israel given the backdrop that Isaiah preached in Jerusalem and Israel was a separate kingdom during this time period?
4 Israel Plight
Read Isaiah 1:4-7
(4) Ah sinful nation,
a people laden with iniquity
a seed of evildoers,
children that are corrupters:
they have forsaken the LORD,
they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger,
they are gone away backward.
(5) Why should ye be stricken any more?
ye will revolt more and more:
the whole head is sick,
and the whole heart faint.
(6) From the sole of the foot even unto the head
there is no soundness in it;
but wounds, and bruises,
and putrifying sores:
they have not been closed, neither bound up,
neither mollified with ointment.
(7) Your country is desolate,
your cities are burned with fire:
your land, strangers devour it in your presence,
and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers.
4.1 Odds and Ends
- First, notice the extensive use of parallelism:
(4) Ah sinful nation,
a people laden with iniquity
- Second, some commentators believe that verse 4 is not the Lord speaking but rather a new voice. For example, it may be the heavens and the earth responding to the Lord’s lawsuit statement in verses 2-3 (it is this idea of multiple voices that has led some to compare Isaiah to a drama or play). Do you think this is a useful or insightful way to approach the text? Suppose this is right. How does it affect your understanding of these verses?
4.2 Cause and Effect?
In verse (4) the LORD describes the cause and metaphorically describes the effect in (5-7). What is the metaphor? What is Israel like?
Consider the NRSV translation of verse 5. Does it change your understanding of verses 5-6?
(5) Why do you seek further beatings?
Why do you continue to rebel?
The whole head is sick,
and the whole heart faint.
- How does verse 7 link with verse 5-6? Are verses 5-6 the same as 7? Is one figurative and general and one a bit more literal and much more rooted to the historical events? Is verse 7 describing a particular event?
- How are verses 4 and 7 linked? What is the relationship?
- The description in verse 4 evokes desolation and destruction. Israel forsaking the Lord is paralleled with the desolation of the country. The anger of the LORD is paralleled with the fire (burning cities).
5 The Remnant
Read Isaiah 1:8-9:
(8) And the daughter of Zion is left
as a cottage in a vineyard,
as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers,
as a besieged city.
(9) Except the LORD of hosts
had left unto us a very small remnant,
we should have been as Sodom,
and we should have been like unto Gomorrah.
5.1 Daughter Zion
Who is the daughter of Zion? Read Isaiah 1:8 (NRSV):
(8) And daughter Zion is left
Like a booth in a vineyard
like a shelter in a cucumber field
like a besieged city.
Scholars point out that even though Daughter of Zion is the traditional translation, Daughter Zion is probably a more correct translation.6
- Suppose Daughter Zion really is more correct. How does this change your understanding of the verse?
- Is it important that Zion is metaphorically a female and explicitly referred to as a daughter? How does that affect your understanding of the metaphor?
- Richard Coggins, in his commentary on Isaiah, reminds that
[i]n the social word of ancient Israel daughters were pictured as their father’s possessions, and to describe the city as ‘daughter’ implies that is was God’s possession.
What do you think about this as a social/cultural backdrop for this imagery?
5.2 Optimistic or Pessimistic
- Is verse 8 optimistic or pessimistic: Is “And daughter Zion is left” emphasizing the fall and destruction of Israel or is it sounding a notes of hope for tomorrow highlighted by the existence of a remnant?
- The cottage in a vineyard is a probably best understood as the watchman’s booth:7
The watchman’s booth is very common in the Ancient Near East. The ripening fruit need to be guarded and the guard need protection from the sun. So a booth of branches is made for him, elevated to enhance his field of vision. It will only last a season, but often remains long after the watchman is no longer needed.
- Why is the Watchmen’s booth paralleled with a besieged city?
5.3 Except the Lord of Hosts
- What is different about verse 9 compared to verses 2-8. Do we have a change of voice here? Is the remnant responding to the Lord?
- What does this new voice emphasize? Is the new voice optimistic?
- What does the explicit comparison to Sodom and Gomorrah emphasize or underscore?
- Notice how the Sodom and Gomorrah imagery is extended in verse 10:
10 Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.
Does the speaker change in verse 10? Is the speaker responding to the remnant? What does this speaker want the remnant to understand?
6 Redeeming Zion
The child, Daughter Zion, responds. The LORD is willing to talk. He does so in verses 10-23. He lectures her. Sacrifice and prayer is not enough. Her hands are dirty; she need to wash; to change her way; she needs to turn to the LORD. The LORD extends his mercy/grace. Read Isaiah 1:24-28:
Therefore saith the Lord, the LORD of hosts, the mighty One of Israel,
Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries,
and avenge me of mine enemies:
(25) And I will turn my hand upon thee,
and purely purge away thy dross,
and take away all thy tin:
(26) And I will restore thy judges as at the first,
and thy counsellors as at the beginning:
afterward thou shalt be called, The city of righteousness,
the faithful city.
(27) Zion shall be redeemed with judgment,
and her converts with righteousness.
(28) And the destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall be together,
and they that forsake the LORD shall be consumed.
6.1 No Response
In verse 24 the LORD starts to speak. What should have happened given that the LORD ended an address to Israel in verse (23)?
Jerusalem does not respond. The LORD wants a response. Jerusalem should have responded. Read Isaiah 1:18:
(18) Come now, and let us reason together,
saith the LORD:
though your sins be as scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they be red like crimson,
they shall be as wool.
6.2 The Lord’s Response to Silence
Jerusalem’s lack of response causes a response by the LORD (24-27). How does he respond?
- Interestingly, the Lord is called the “Mighty One of Israel” in verse 20 in contrast to the usually Isaianic phrase, “the Holy One of Israel.” What does this phrase emphasize? Does its usage make sense here in these verses?
- What does “turn my hand upon thee” mean?
- What does purge away the dross, and take away all thy tin mean? What is dross? What is tin? How can tin be an image of corruption in these verses? Why does it need to be taken away?
- Do you find these verses hopeful or pessimistic?
- I find them optimistic. The LORD is not giving up on the remnant: on Jerusalem or his covenant people. Even though they did not answer him. He will ensure that Zion is redeemed. Thus even in the midst of destruction and justice the LORD’s mercy shines through. He is changing Israel’s situation but he does so to allow them to really remain the Lord’s covenant people (more on this in the next section).
- What qualities does the LORD want Jerusalem/Zion to exemplify?
7 A Theme in Isaiah
I think one of themes of Isaiah is that Israel needs to learn how to be a servant.
- Do you agree? Do you see this as an important theme in the book? Why or why not?
- In what way is this a new role for Israel? In what way is this an old role?
- What are some possible reasons for why the Lord would let Israel become servants of empires?
- How does the fact that Israel can be the servant of great and powerful empires affect your understanding of what it means to a be a chosen people?
8 A Footnote: The Isaiah Problem
Many scholars believe that the book of Isaiah reflects multiple authors. Generally, scholars split Isaiah into three parts and believe different authors (or groups of authors) are responsible for each part. Additionally, scholars argue that the three parts where written during different time periods.
|1-39||Refers mostly to events in the 8th century BCE|
|40-55||Addresses concerns during the Babylonian exile (6th Century BCE)|
|56-66||May refer to events surrounding the return (late 5th century)|
In general multiple authorship or later redaction is hardly problematic for typical LDS approaches to scripture (although, not doubt many or most assume unity for most scriptural text). Isaiah is a bit different primarily because the Book of Mormon quotes extensively from both “first” and “second” Isaiah. Typically most LDS scholars and commentators have argued for for the unity and 8th century composition of Isaiah. For example, L. La Mar Adams argues for unity using stylometric analysis 8
On the other hand, Kevin Barney in a footnote to his article on the Documentary Hypothesis9 points out that the book of Mormon only quotes from first and second Isaiah and not third Isaiah so an early dating for second Isaiah would eliminate a collision between Book of Mormon historicity and multiple authorship in Isaiah. Finally, certain models of the Book of Mormon translation process, those fairly loose in nature such as Ostler’s expansion theory, also largely overcome the Isaiah problem and preserve Book of Mormon historicity (at least to supporters of such translation models).
1 For example, Coogan, Miichael D., 2006, The Old Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures, Oxford University Press, 312
2 Barker, Margaret, 2003, “Isaiah” in Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible, Wm, B. Eermans Publishing Co,, 490.
3 Quinn-Miscall, Peter D., 2001, Reading Isaiah: Poetry and Vision, John Know Press, 1.
4 Watts, John D.W., 1985, Isaiah 1-33, Word Books, XLV.
5 Watts, John D.W.,, Isaiah 1-33 Word Books, 17.
6 Coggins, R., 2001, “Isaiah” in The Oxford Bible Commentary, Oxford University Press, 438.
7 Watts, John D.W., 1985, Isaiah 1-33 in Word Books.
8 Adams, L. La Mar, 1984, “A Scientific analysis of the Book of Isaiah” in Isaiah and the Prophets: Inspired Voices from the Old Testament, Bookcraft, 151-163.
9 Barney, Kevin L, 2000, “Reflections on the Documentary Hypothesis”, Dialogue: a Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 33 57-99