Lecture 17. Literary Prophecy: Hosea and Isaiah

Professor Christine
Hayes: We’re going to move on now to our second literary
prophet and this is the prophet Hosea.
He was a native of the northern kingdom.
So Amos and Hosea you’re going to associate with the Assyrian
crisis and they are prophets of the northern kingdom of Israel.
He’s prophesying in the time of
Jeroboam II. Jeroboam reigned until about
747. And then he continues to the
last king who is, confusingly,
named Hosea. So he prophesies in the 740s,
’30s, ’20s, somewhere in there. He doesn’t seem to have seen
the fall of Israel though. Now, Hosea is considered by
many to be the most difficult of the prophetic books.
The Hebrew is very difficult
and it sometimes seems rather garbled.
It’s very hard to render it intelligibly.
But structurally, we can divide the book into two
main sections. Chapters 1 to 3 have a certain
coherence to them, and then chapters 4 through 14.
1 to 3 tells of the prophet’s
marriage to a promiscuous woman named Gomer.
His marriage is a metaphor for Israel’s relationship with God.
And these chapters also contain
an indictment or a lawsuit. Remember this riv form,
lawsuit form. We’re going to see it both in
Hosea and Isaiah today. Then chapters 4 through 14
contain oracles primarily, oracles against the nations but
also against the Kingdom of Israel.
We’re going to be focusing primarily on chapters 1 to 3
since these are so distinctive to Hosea and we’ll refer
occasionally to some of the other chapters where they might
pronounce an important theme for Hosea.
So again, the historical background for the Book of Hosea
is the Assyrian threat. The Assyrians are wiping out a
number of the smaller states in the Ancient Near East in the
middle of the eighth century. And Israel obviously could not
be far behind. The line that was taken by
Hosea was to condemn the attempts that were made by
various kings, by Israel’s kings,
to withstand defeat or to avoid defeat at the hands of Assyria.
If Assyria was going to conquer
Israel, Hosea said, then it was God’s just
punishment. And to fight against it,
to fight against the inevitable was simply another kind of
rejection of God, another rejection of his plans
and purpose. It demonstrated a lack of trust
or faith in the power of God. Hosea 10:13 spells out the
disastrous consequences of trusting in human power or
foreign alliances rather than trusting in God.
And this is a theme that we’ll see occurring again and again.
Hosea 10:13,
“You have plowed wickedness, / you have reaped iniquity– /
you shall eat the fruits of treachery– / Because you relied
on your way, / On your host of warriors.”
He was suggesting inaction.
Now, that surely would have
been viewed by the king and the court as against all reason.
But this was Hosea’s insistence.
Israel was faced with a choice.
In whom should she place her
trust? In God, or in human leaders and
their armies? Hosea 1:7 goes so far as to
suggest that actually the moment of decision has past for the
northern kingdom. There’s still some hope for the
southern kingdom, but the northern kingdom has
obviously made its choice and it was the wrong choice.
Hosea says that God says,
“…I will no longer accept the house of Israel or
pardon them. (But I will accept the House of
Judah. And I will give them victory
through the Lord their God;” — a victory through the Lord
their God. “I will not give them victory
with bow and sword and battle, by horses and riders.”
If you think that’s what gives you victory you’re mistaken.
Some see that verse as perhaps
a later interpolation into Hosea;
it has such a positive assessment of the southern
kingdom. But there is this sense of
impending disaster that resonates throughout the Book of
Hosea. Chapter 8:7,
“They sow wind, / And they shall reap
whirlwind– / Standing stalks devoid of ears / And yielding no
flour. / If they do yield any,
Strangers shall devour it. / Israel is bewildered;”
So the catastrophe is unavoidable, and Hosea’s often
been described as painting a portrait of unrelieved gloom.
He’s very grim.
He seems to hold out no real hope for Israel.
She has to pay the price for her infidelity to God.
But we need to look a little
more closely at some of the themes of the book before we
accept that evaluation entirely. And I think the one overarching
theme that helps us organize most of the material in the Book
of Hosea, and one that shows its deep
indebtedness to or interconnectedness with the Book
of Deuteronomy, is the theme of covenant,
particularly Deuteronomy’s notion of covenant.
So I put covenant at the top
there and we see this theme being played out in several
different ways. The first I’ve just discussed:
as Yahweh’s covenant partner–as the vassal of the
covenant partner, Yahweh, the sovereign–Israel
should be placing her confidence entirely in Yahweh.
Any foreign alliance,
any alliance with Egypt against Assyria for example,
is against the terms of that covenant,
that exclusive treaty between God and Israel.
And she should not be relying on her military might,
but relying on the sovereign, the suzerain.
So anything short of complete trust in Yahweh’s power to save
the vassal Israel is a violation of the terms of the covenant.
So we see it in the notion of
its confidence, exclusive confidence and trust
in God and his power. A second way in which the theme
of covenant is expressed is found in Hosea’s denunciation of
social injustice and moral decay,
and of course this is a theme that’s common to the prophets.
Here he follows Amos.
But he’s now the first to couch
his charge in the form of this formal riv,
or lawsuit, in which God is said to bring a charge against
Israel for violating the terms of the covenant,
for breach of covenant. This happens in chapter 4,
the first three verses of chapter 4–Israel is charged.
And Hosea employs language that
deliberately invokes the Decalogue:
Hear the word of the Lord, O people of Israel!
For the Lord has a case [=a
lawsuit] against the inhabitants of this
land, Because there is no honesty and
no goodness And no obedience to God in the
land. [False]
swearing, dishonesty, and murder,
And theft and adultery are rife.
Picking out key terms from the Decalogue: false swearing;
murder, theft and adultery, which of course occur in a
threesome in the Decalogue. These things are rife.
“Crime follows upon crime!
/ For that, the earth is
withered: / Everything that dwells on it languishes– /
Beasts of the field and birds of the sky– / Even the fish of the
sea perish.” Unlike Amos,
Hosea also engages in a prolonged or sustained
condemnation of Israel’s religious faithlessness,
which is figured in terms of adultery.
And so here again, the theme of covenant is
dominant and organizes the prophet’s presentation.
To represent Israel’s
faithlessness he invokes other types of covenantal
relationships as metaphors, most notably the metaphor of
marriage. Marriage can be referred to as
a brit, as a covenant between a husband
and wife, and so it’s an appropriate metaphor.
And we see it primarily in
chapters 1 through 3. He addresses the relationship
between Yahweh and Israel through the metaphor of
marriage, and Israel is the unfaithful adulterous wife.
He describes,
in lurid terms, her lecherous addiction to
images and idols, her adulterous worship of Baal.
He points to the nation’s
leaders and their failures, the kings and the priests,
their failure to prevent the peoples’ waywardness,
their debauchery. The first chapter is reported
in the third person. And this contains God’s command
to Hosea to marry a promiscuous woman as a symbol of God’s own
marriage with a faithless wife, Israel.
“Go, get yourself a wife of whoredom and children of
whoredom; for the land will stray from
following the Lord.” (1:2) So he marries this woman
named Gomer and she bears three children who have very
inauspicious names. These names are symbolic of
God’s anger over Israel’s religious infidelity:
(1) Jezreel. Jezreel because God plans to
punish Jehu for his slaughter of the house of Ahab.
Even though Ahab was no
favorite of God, you still should not raise your
hand against the Lord’s anointed.
And so Jehu will have to be–Ahab will have to be
avenged. Jehu will have to be punished
at Jezreel, which is where the murder happened.
(2) Lo-ruhamah, which means “not loved,
not forgiven,” because God will no longer love or forgive or
pardon the House of Israel and (3) the third child’s name is
Lo-ammi , “not my people,” a sign that
God has dissolved the covenant bond.
He’s rejected Israel as his people–divorced Israel.
There really could be no more
stark and shocking denial of the covenant than this.
Chapter 3 contains a first
person (Hosea’s first-person) account of God’s command to him.
There it’s said that God
commands him to befriend, although he seems to hire,
a woman on condition that she not consort with others.
The woman, again,
symbolizes Israel, who’s brought into an exclusive
relationship that requires her to remain faithful to one party
in contrast to her customary behavior.
And then sandwiched between chapter 1 and chapter 3,
both of which have the accounts of these relationships that are
metaphors for God and Israel’s relationship–sandwiched between
them is the almost schizophrenic chapter 2.
It contains, again, this sustained violent,
very violent account of the faithless wife,
of faithless Israel and God’s formal declaration of divorce.
“She is not my wife and I am
not her husband.” This would effect a divorce,
this statement uttered by a husband.
We have that in verse 4. And yet, this chapter also
contains a very gentle, very loving portrait of
reconciliation. And it’s in that portrait of
reconciliation that we see another aspect of the covenant
concept emerge. An aspect that was,
again, most pronounced in the Book of Deuteronomy.
As Israel’s covenant partner
God loves Israel and he actually longs for her faithfulness.
This steadfast covenantal love
— one of the words that’s used repeatedly is hesed,
but it refers to a special kind of steadfast love,
loyal love — this covenantal love will reconcile God to
wayward Israel just as Hosea is reunited or reconciled with his
faithless wife. And the prophet imagines a
return to the wilderness. God is imagining — it would be
wonderful if we could return to the wilderness and covenant
again, and this time it would even be
a permanent, an eternal marriage.
And the three children who were cast off at birth,
they will be redeemed and accepted by their father.
Those are some of the ideas
contained in this passage. This is Hosea 2:16-25,
the reconciliation: Assuredly,
I will speak coaxingly to her And lead her through the
wilderness And speak to her tenderly.
I will give her her vineyards
from there And the Valley of Achor as a
plowland of hope. There she shall respond as in
the days of her youth, When she came up from the land
of Egypt. (So the period of the Exodus
and wandering is romantically imagined as,
this time, of a very good and close relationship between God
and Israel.) “And in that day you will call me Ishi and
no more will you call me Baali.”
(This is a pun. Both of these words can mean my
husband. Ishi is “my man,” a male.
And Baali is “my Lord.”
Women would have used both for
their husbands. But Baal, obviously,
has connotations with the god Baal.
So instead of calling me Baali, “my Baal,” you will call me
Ishi, “my husband” using a word that’s free of Baal
connotations.) “For I will remove the
names of the Baalim from her mouth,
And they shall nevermore be mentioned by name.
In that day I will make a
covenant for them with the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the creeping things of the
ground; I will banish bow,
sword, and war from the land. Thus I will let them lie down
in safety. And I will espouse you forever:”
(back to the marriage metaphor.) …
“I will espouse you with righteousness and justice,
And with goodness and mercy, And I will espouse you with
faithfulness; Then you shall be devoted to
the Lord. In that day,
I will respond — declares the Lord —
I will respond to the sky, And it shall respond to the
earth; And the earth shall respond
With new grain and wine and oil, And they shall respond to
Jezreel.” [the first of the children].
“I will sow her in the land as
My own;” (Jezreel was a fertile valley
not just a place of war and death.)
“And [I will] take Lo-ruhamah [not loved]
back in favor; And I will say to Lo-ammi,
[not my people], “You are my people”
And he will respond,” [You are] my God.”
So Hosea isn’t unrelievedly gloomy and grim.
It does provide these images, these very stirring images of
hope and consolation and reconciliation.
Amos also held out hope in the form of a remnant that would
survive the inevitable destruction.
So we need to think about the two traditions that prophets
like Amos and Hosea are drawing on in this combined message of
doom on the one hand, and hope on the other.
Really, what the prophets are
doing is drawing on two conceptions of covenant:
the two conceptions that we saw in our study of the Pentateuchal
material and on into Samuel. On the one hand they recognize
the unconditional and eternal, irrevocable covenant that God
established with the patriarchs as well as the eternal covenant
with David, with the House of David.
Those covenants were the basis
for the belief that God would never forsake his people.
But on the other hand,
of course, they place emphasis on the covenant at Sinai.
It’s a conditional covenant.
It requires the people’s
obedience to moral, religious and civil laws in the
covenant code. And it threatens punishment for
their violation. So the prophets are playing
with both of these themes. Israel has violated the
Sinaitic Covenant and the curses that are stipulated by the
covenant must follow: national destruction and even
exile. They will follow;
they have to. But alienation from God is not,
and never will be, complete and irreparable
because of the unconditional covenant,
the covenant with the patriarchs, the covenant with
the House of David. So Israel will be God’s people
forever despite temporary alienation.
The notion of election, an act of purely undeserved or
unmerited favor and love on God’s part not due in any way to
a special merit of the people undergirds the prophetic message
of consolation. And Hosea paints a very
poignant and moving portrait of this special and indissoluble
love that God bears for Israel. And in doing so,
he draws on a second metaphor. So we’ve had the metaphor of
husband and wife, which is a kind of covenantal
relationship. We also have the metaphor of
parent-son, which can also be understood in terms of a
covenant with obligations. The parent-son relationship
entails loyalty and love, but also obligation.
One of the obligations that is
understood to fall on the parent is the obligation of
disciplining a rebellious or ungrateful child,
while never forsaking that child.
So that’s a model that works very well with the prophetic
message. Hosea 11:1-4,
and then skipping to verses 8 through 9,
I fell in love with Israel When he was still a child;
And I have called [him] My son Ever since Egypt.
Thus were they called,
But they went their own way; They sacrifice to Baalim
And offer to carved images. I have pampered Ephraim,
–another name for Israel, right?
Ephraim– Taking them in My arms;
But they have ignored My healing care.
I drew them with human ties, With cords of love;
But I seemed to them as one Who imposed a yoke on their
jaws, Though I was offering them
food… How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
How surrender you, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah,
Render you like Zeboiim? [other foreign places].
I have had a change of heart,
All my tenderness is stirred. I will not act on My wrath,
Will not turn to destroy Ephraim.
For I am God, not man, The Holy One in your midst:
I will not come in fury. You have these alternating
passages of violent rejection and tender, tender love and
reconciliation. And with these alternating
passages, the prophet is able to capture or convey a passionate
struggle taking place in the heart of God.
They’re giving us that passionate, emotional portrait
of God. It’s the struggle of a lover
who’s torn between his jealous wrath and his undying love.
And it’s a struggle that is won
ultimately by love because God cannot let Israel go.
We’re going to see that each of
the prophets we’ll look at holds these two covenantal ideas in
tension, and they will emphasize one or
the other depending on the particular situation,
the particular historical situation.
Sometimes when it’s a time of relative ease or comfort,
then the prophet emphasizes the violations of the Sinaitic
covenant, the punishment that will
inevitably come for these violations, and they’ll downplay
God’s eternal commitment to his people.
But in times of despair and suffering and destruction then
the prophet may point out that violations of the covenant were
the cause of the distress but they will emphasize God’s
undying love for Israel and hold out hope therefore for a better
future. Now, we’re going to leave the
northern prophets and move to southern prophets.
Isaiah is the longest prophetic
book. The interpretation of many
passages in the book of Isaiah as symbolic references to Jesus
make it one of the most quoted books of the Bible by
Christians. Isaiah was a contemporary of
Amos and Hosea. Second half of the eighth
century. He was active for a little bit
longer period. He was active into about the
690s, somewhere in there. But he prophesied in the
southern kingdom of Judah when the Assyrian empire threatened
and destroyed the northern kingdom (the northern kingdom
falls in 722) and then of course was threatening Judah.
So he’s active for over 50
years and he counseled Judah’s kings.
He counsels them through two sieges.
I’ve listed these for you: The siege of 734,
where he counsels King Ahaz, and then the siege of 701,
where he counsels his son, Hezekiah or Hizkiah,
Hezekiah. I’ll give you a little bit of
historical background to these sieges so you understand them,
but those are the main dates that can help orient your
approach to Isaiah. We have excellent evidence,
by the way, for all of these events in the Assyrian sources,
and also archaeological finds. The archaeological finds show
destruction by the Assyrians at the places that we believe were
destroyed at the times they were destroyed.
But this is what happened.
In 734, you have the Assyrians,
who at this time are under Tiglath-Pileser,
and they’re extending their control through the region.
So they’re coming from the
northeast. First they’re going to hit Aram
in Syria, and then advance on the northern kingdom of Israel.
So Aram and Israel join
together in an alliance. They were trying to resist the
advancing Assyrians. Judah refused to join the
alliance. The southern kingdom refused.
So in anger,
Aram and Israel moved south and lay siege to Jerusalem.
So the first siege,
the siege of 734 was actually a siege of Jerusalem by the
northern kingdom of Israel in alliance with the Aramaeans.
They were trying to force
Judah’s cooperation in standing against Assyria.
King Ahaz of Judah decided to appeal to Assyria for help,
to Tiglath-Pileser for help. He submits to the Assyrians as
a vassal. He pays tribute.
We have a record of the tribute that was paid in the Assyrian
records, in 734. And this action is condemned by
the biblical writers. The Deuteronomistic historian
in Second Kings 16 condemns this action.
Isaiah also condemns it. So, Judah has made itself
vassal to Assyria. And this is the case until
Ahaz’s son Hezekiah decides that he will assert the nation’s
independence. The Assyrians are angry about
this. This is now after the fall of
the northern kingdom of Israel. The Assyrians are angry and
under Sennecharib they attack. They devastate many of the
cities in the countryside (and again archaeology confirms what
we know from the Assyrian records) and they advance on
Jerusalem and lay siege to Jerusalem in 701.
And just as he had counseled
King Ahaz, Isaiah now counsels Hezekiah.
In the end Jerusalem wasn’t destroyed.
Heavy tribute was paid to the Assyrians but eventually the
Assyrians did withdraw. They were overextended to a
large degree. That’s the general historic
background. We’ll come back to some of the
details in a minute. But let me first give you a
sense of the general structure of this very large book.
The claim that the prophetic
books are anthologies, anthologies of oracles and
other materials compiled by the prophet or by his disciples,
that is to say, schools that kept a set of
prophecies and then added to those core prophecies because of
their firm belief in their continuing relevance–that
portrait of the anthological nature of prophetic books is
really demonstrable in the Book of Isaiah.
I’ve put the basic structure up there for you.
The first 11 chapters contain memoirs.
Chapter 1 sets out some of the basic themes of Isaiah but we
have a lot of first-person narrative.
Then we have various oracles against Israel.
Some of this material refers to the attacks on Jerusalem,
especially the siege of 701. And there seems to be a kind of
concluding hymn in chapter 12. We then have about 11 chapters
of oracles against foreign nations (that’s a form that we
also saw in Amos and Hosea — denouncing foreign nations) from
chapters 13 to 23. I’m skipping over chapters 24
to 27. They are a little apocalypse,
a sort of mythological vision of the end of days,
and that probably dates to a much later time,
the sixth century. That was the time in which the
apocalyptic genre was really developing.
So we skip over that (we don’t think of that as associated with
the historical Isaiah) and move on to chapters 28 to 33.
Here, we turn from oracles
against foreign nations to oracles against Judah and Israel
and the relationship with Egypt. This is a time when we’re
caught between these two powers — Egypt and Assyria.
Judah is trying to figure out
with whom to make alliances. Should she cast her lot with
Egypt, and so on. And these are from a slightly
later period down towards the siege of 701 and they include
accounts of Isaiah’s counsel to Hezekiah in 701.
34 and 35 we’ll kind of skip over for now.
These also are post-exilic insertions.
And then chapters 36 to 39 — this is third-person,
historical narrative and it is, in fact, 2 Kings chapters 18 to
20. That material has simply been
inserted here. So, those three chapters appear
here in Isaiah. It’s the story of the invasion
of Sennecharib and the interactions of Isaiah and
Hezekiah during the siege in 701.
So I’m stopping at chapter 39 even though there are 66
chapters in the Book of Isaiah because most scholars agree,
I think this is really a very strong consensus,
that the remaining material is not the work of Isaiah of
Jerusalem. It dates to a period long after
Isaiah’s lifetime. I’ve already mentioned the
apocalypse which we think is probably from the sixth century.
That’s embedded in there,
chapters 24 to 27. But the remaining material we
speak of in two main sections. We refer to these as Second
Isaiah and Third Isaiah. Chapters 40 to 55,
which we refer to as Second Isaiah, assume a historical
setting in which Babylon is dominant, not Assyria.
And so we see that as coming at
a much later time. Chapters 56 to 66,
we refer to as Third Isaiah. This material contains oracles
that are spread throughout the eighth to the fifth centuries.
So we’ll consider those on
another occasion, in their proper historical
context. Right now we’re looking at the
material that is most likely attributable to First Isaiah,
to Isaiah of Jerusalem. The book also contains material
that is a repetition of material found elsewhere.
I’ve already noted 2 Kings 18 to 20 appears here.
But in addition,
you have snatches of verses that appear in other places.
So Isaiah 2:2-4,
are found in Micah, the Book of Micah 4:1-4.
Jeremiah 48 is essentially
equivalent to Isaiah 15 and 16. So this kind of repetition
among or between different books illustrates, again,
the anthological nature of the prophetic corpus–that these
were works that were compiled from material that sometimes
circulated in more than one school.
So if we turn now to the major themes of Isaiah,
let’s note first the common ground between Isaiah and the
prophets Amos and Hosea that we’ve already discussed.
Isaiah is consistent with Amos
and Hosea in denouncing again the social injustice and moral
decay, which is the cause of God’s
just and inevitable punishment. Isaiah 5 extracting from verses
8 through 24: Ah,
Those who add house to house And join field to field,
Till there is room for none but you
To dwell in the land!… Ah,
Those who chase liquor From early in the morning,
And till late in the evening Are inflamed by wine… Ah,
Those who… vindicate him who is in the wrong
In return for a bribe, And withhold vindication
From him who is in the right.
He joins Amos in the assertion that cultic practice without
just behavior is anathema to God.
Isaiah 1:10-17, “Hear the word of the Lord,
/ You chieftains of Sodom; / Give ear to our God’s
instruction, You folk of Gomorrah!”
(So he’s referring to his fellow countrymen as Sodomites,
or people of Sodom and Gomorrah, who,
of course, were the paragons of immoral behavior).
“What need have I of all
your sacrifices?” Says the Lord.
“I am sated with burnt offering of rams,
And suet of fatlings, And blood of bulls;
And I have no delight In lambs and he-goats… Your
new moons and fixed seasons Fill me with loathing;
They are become a burden to Me, I cannot endure them.
And when you lift up your hands,
I will turn My eyes away from you;
Though you pray at length, I will not listen.
Your hands are stained with
crime– Wash yourselves clean;
Put your evil doings Away from my sight.
Cease to do evil;
Learn to do good. Devote yourselves to justice;
Aid the wronged. Uphold the rights of the orphan;
Defend the cause of the widow.
These are harsh and shocking words: I’m sick of sacrifices.
I’m sick of your festivals and
holidays as long as you are, of course, committing these
terrible acts. And like Amos and Hosea,
Isaiah asserts that morality is a decisive factor in the fate of
the nation. Again, the passage that begins,
Ah, Those who add house to house
And join field to field, …In my hearing [said]
the Lord of hosts; Surely, great houses
Shall lie forlorn, Spacious and splendid ones
Without occupants. …Assuredly,
My people will suffer exile For not giving heed,
Its multitude victims of hunger And its masses parched with
thirst. So there are,
of course, commonalties but Isaiah differs from Amos and
Hosea in this. He places far greater emphasis
on the Davidic Covenant than on the Mosaic Covenant.
This is a key feature of Isaiah.
The wilderness tradition,
the Exodus tradition, the covenant at Sinai,
these are so important to Amos and Hosea and are referred to by
Amos and Hosea, but they have less of an
explicit influence on Isaiah’s prophecy.
They’re not not there. But they have less of an
explicit influence. Instead, Isaiah has an
overriding interest in Davidic theology, the royal ideology
that centers on Zion, an ideology that we discussed
earlier. So we see this in his
riv, his covenant lawsuit, which focuses a little
less on the violations of the nation than it does on the
failure of the kings and the leaders who have misled the
nation and who will now have to be punished as was stipulated in
the Davidic Covenant. We also see it in his firm
belief in the inviolability of Zion.
This is a clear doctrine with Isaiah: the inviolability of
Zion. Yahweh has a special
relationship with the Davidic royal line and the Davidic
capitol, Jerusalem or Zion, and he will not let either
perish. And that belief undergirds and
informs his consistent advice to the kings of Judah.
Times of great danger are
opportunities to demonstrate absolute trust in Yahweh’s
covenant with the line of David, with the House of David.
The king must rely exclusively
on Yahweh and Yahweh’s promises to David and his city,
and not on military might or diplomatic strategies.
So if we look at Isaiah’s
dealings with King Ahaz — the first siege in 734 — this is
described in Isaiah, chapter 7 and 8.
Isaiah, who also has children with portentous names (this is a
fad I guess among the prophets — his children’s names are:
“only a remnant will survive,” and “hasten for spoil,
hurry for plunder” which indicates the destruction and
exile) — he goes to visit the king.
And his advice to the king is: be quiet and do not fear
(chapter 7:4). The crisis will pass.
7:9: “If you will not believe,
surely you shall not be established.”
This is an evocation of Zion theology.
God is in the midst of the city. That means the Lord of Hosts is
with the people. Isaiah then offers Ahaz a sign
of the truth of his prophecy. And that is,
namely, that a young woman who has conceived will bear a son
and will call him Immanuel.
It’s Hebrew Immanu el,
“God is with us.” Immanu=”is with us”, El.
So this woman who has conceived
will bear a son and will call him Immanuel.
This is in 7:14. Now, in the New Testament,
Matthew, in chapter 1:22-23, takes this verse as a prophecy
of the birth of Jesus. This is based on a Greek
mistranslation of the word “young woman” as “virgin.”
The Hebrew term that’s used is
not in fact the term for virgin, but it was translated into the
Greek with a term that can mean virgin.
And moreover, the verb that’s used in the
Hebrew is in the past tense. A woman has already conceived.
The birth is pending.
It is imminent.
This child will be born. God will be with us.
The identity of the woman that
Isaiah is speaking about is a matter of some dispute.
So some scholars take the verse
as a reference to Isaiah’s own wife.
She’s already had two children with portentous names and now
she’s pregnant with a third. But the others take the verse
as a reference to the king’s own wife, who will bear his son
Hezekiah, King Hezekiah. There are some problems with
chronology. It doesn’t quite work out that
he would be the right age. But the fact is Hezekiah was a
celebrated king. He did in fact manage to keep
Judah intact against the Assyrian threat and kept
Jerusalem from falling in the siege of 701.
And 2 Kings, the Book of 2 Kings,
chapter 18:7, says of Hezekiah,
“The Lord was with him.” God was with him.
Connecting it to the name
Immanuel — God is with us. God is with him.
Very similar, very, very similar in the
Hebrew. In fact, sounds the same.
So in keeping with this
interpretation — the idea that the child (who he says will be
able, in a sense, to save Judah) is
the child of the king to be born, Hezekiah — in keeping
with that, scholars see the famous verses
in Isaiah 9 as praise of King Hezekiah.
These verses are verses that announce, “for unto us a child
is born” — a wonderful counselor,
a mighty God, an everlasting father,
a prince of peace, referring then to an unending
peace in which David’s throne and kingdom are firmly
established. And again, these verses have
also been decontextualized and are utilized in Christian
liturgies to this day, again, as if they refer to the
future birth of Jesus. In any event,
Ahaz doesn’t heed Isaiah’s call for inaction.
He says he should be doing nothing.
How could any king really follow such advice,
to seek no political or military solution?
And so he appeals to Assyria
for help against Aram and the northern kingdom of Israel who
are laying siege to him. And this is a disastrous
development in Isaiah’s eyes. If we move to the second siege
in 701, we see that Isaiah really takes a similar stance.
Hezekiah tries to form an
alliance with Egypt now to stave off the Assyrian threat.
And Isaiah castigates the king
and he castigates the king’s men for abandoning Yahweh and
relying on the frail read of Egypt.
And we find here an example of the bizarre and demonstrative
behavior of the prophet. We’ll see this in many of the
prophets. We’ll see it particularly in
the prophet Ezekiel, but we see it with others,
where they would engage in these symbolic acts that were
meant to shock and attract attention.
Isaiah paraded naked through the streets of Jerusalem to
illustrate the exile and the slavery that would follow from
this mistaken reliance on Egypt. He denounces the political
advisors who counsel the king to form an alliance with Egypt
because they are simply trusting in horses and chariots rather
than God. And Isaiah counsels differently.
He says, “For the Egyptians are
man, not God, / And their horses are flesh,
not spirit” (31:3). The king should simply trust in
God. In the narrative account that
we have of the siege of 701 that’s found in chapters 36 and
38 — it’s also duplicated in 2 Kings — Isaiah counsels
Hezekiah when the siege is underway not to capitulate to
the Assyrians. This might seem to contradict
his earlier message that Assyria was the rod of God’s anger and
that Hezekiah should not resist. But in fact,
there’s a basic consistency to Isaiah’s counsel.
Just as his earlier counsel to
trust in God rather than Egypt was based on his trust in God’s
promises to David, and the inviolability of the
royal city, so now his counsel to resist, not to open the doors
of the city to the Assyrians, is based on his belief that
Yahweh could not possibility intend to destroy his royal
city. Isaiah 37:33-35:
Assuredly, thus said the Lord concerning
the king of Assyria: He shall not enter this city;
He shall not shoot an arrow at it,
Or advance upon it with a shield,
Or pile up a siege mound against it.
He shall go back By the way he came,
He shall not enter this city–declares the Lord;
I will protect and save the city for My sake
And for the sake of my servant David.
Again, for the sake of the Davidic Covenant.
And the fact that Jerusalem did
in fact escape destruction after this terrifying siege by the
Assyrians only fueled the belief–fueled the belief in the
inviolability of David’s city, Zion.
Isaiah 6 contains a striking account of the call of Isaiah.
Many of the prophetic books
will feature some passage which refers to the prophet’s initial
call. And it’s something we might
expect to find at the beginning of the book.
So obviously, chronology is not the
organizing principle in the Book of Isaiah.
But I want to draw your attention to God’s extraordinary
message to Isaiah at the time of his call or commission:
Go, say to that people: “Hear, indeed,
but do not understand; See, indeed, but do not grasp.”
Dull that people’s mind,
Stop its ears, And seal its eyes–
Lest, seeing with its eyes And hearing with its ears,
It also grasp with its mind, And repent and save
itself. Well, there’s a nice literary
chiasm (before we get to the substance of it) in the last
line: you have “heart,” “ears,” and “eyes” and then
these are repeated but in reverse order,
eyes, ears and heart. But in this passage we return
to the kind of bleakness that we saw in Hosea.
Destruction is inevitable. God’s message via his prophet
will not be understood. And indeed, God will see to it
that the people do not understand the message.
They do not heed the call to
repent, do not save themselves, and so do not escape God’s just
punishment. It’s a fascinating,
if theologically difficult, passage.
God tells Isaiah to prevent the people from understanding,
lest through their understanding they turn back to
God and save themselves. And again, we see God,
or perhaps his prophet, caught in the tension between
God’s justice and God’s mercy. As a God of justice he must
punish the sins of Israel with destruction.
He indicated he would do so in the covenant and he must be
faithful to those terms. But as a God of mercy he wishes
to bring his people back. He wishes to send them a
prophet to warn them of the impending doom and urge them to
repent so that he can forgive them and announce his plan of
destruction. Yet, how can he both punish
Israel and so fulfill the demands of justice,
and yet save Israel and so fulfill the demands of mercy and
love? Verses 12 and 13 in chapter 6
answer this question with an idea that we’ve seen a little in
Amos and Hosea. When Isaiah asks how long the
people will fail to hear, fail to understand,
to turn back to God and save themselves, God replies,
Till towns lie waste without inhabitants
And houses without people, And the ground lies waste and
desolate– For the Lord will banish the
population– And deserted sites are many
In the midst of the land. But while a tenth part yet
remains in it, it shall repent.
It shall be ravaged like the terebinth and the oak,
of which stumps are left even when they are felled:
its stump shall be a holy seed.
So God will punish. God cannot not punish
Israel. And so the demands of justice
will be met, and God will have upheld the terms of the
conditional Mosaic Covenant. But God will at the same time
effect the salvation of his people in the future.
He has sent a prophet with a
call to return and in due time a remnant of the people — a tenth
Isaiah says — will understand and heed that call.
They will receive God’s mercy
and the covenant will be reestablished.
And in this way the demands of love and mercy will be met,
and God will have been faithful to his covenantal promise to the
patriarchs and the royal House of David.
The people’s delayed comprehension of the prophet’s
message guarantees the operation of God’s just punishment now and
his merciful salvation later. While the notion of a remnant
leads to the idea of a future hope, it wasn’t a very consoling
message at the time. Because the prophets were
essentially saying that the current generation would all but
cease to exist. Isaiah 10:21-23,
Only a remnant shall return,
Only a remnant of Jacob, To Mighty God.
Even if your people, O Israel Should be as the sands of the
sea, Only a remnant of it shall
return. Destruction is decreed;
Retribution comes like a flood! For my Lord God of Hosts is
carrying out A decree of destruction upon
all the land. Well, we’ve seen that the
prophet’s message of destruction and punishment and doom is very
often accompanied by, often alternates with,
a message of consolation and a promise of restoration,
restoration of a purged or purified remnant in the land of
Israel. This is where the prophets
differ from the Deuteronomistic historian.
The Deuteronomistic historian is more concerned with the
justification of God’s actions against Israel than with
painting a vivid portrait of the time of a future restoration.
But this period of restoration
is elaborately envisioned in some prophetic writings.
And it even takes on an
eschatological tenor. The word “eschatology” means an
account of the end. So in some of them,
this becomes an eschatological vision: that the restoration
will happen at the end of days. And the restoration will bring
about some sort of perfect end time.
So in Isaiah, for example,
the return will be a genuine, whole-hearted and permanent
return to God. It will be the end of sin.
It will be the end of idolatry.
All the nations of the earth
will recognize the Lord of history.
A new epoch will open in world history.
It’s an enormous transformation. And Isaiah is the first to
envisage this kind of transformation,
the end of the dominion of idolatrous nations.
When God comes to Jerusalem to
save the remnant of Israel and gather in the dispersed exiles
it will be a theophany, a self-revelation of God,
of worldwide scope. Isaiah 2:2-4,
“In the days to come, / The Mount of the Lord’s House
/ Shall stand firm above the mountains / And tower above the
hills;” So this little hill — if
you’ve ever been there, it’s really not very big —
that the temple stood on, will tower like some large
impregnable mountain, over all other hills and
mountains, And all the nations
Shall gaze on it with joy. And the many peoples shall go
and say: “Come,
Let us go up to the Mount of the Lord,
To the House of the God of Jacob;
That He may instruct us in His ways,
And that we may walk in His paths.”
For instruction, [torah]
will come forth from Zion, The word of the Lord from
Jerusalem. Thus He will judge among the
nations And arbitrate for the many
peoples, And they shall beat their
swords into plowshares And their spears into pruning
hooks: Nation shall not take up
Sword against nation; They shall never again know
war. Note the direction that
Israelite thought is taking. The J source in Genesis assumed
that all humans had knowledge of Yahweh from the time of
creation. And remember that that was one
of the distinctive traits of J as opposed to P for example.
They assume,
however, that humans turned from Yahweh.
So Yahweh selected one nation to know him and covenant with
him. The Book of Deuteronomy accepts
that Yahweh is Israel’s God. Other nations have been
assigned to the worship of other gods and that’s just fine.
But in classical prophecy,
universal claims are made on behalf of Yahweh.
According to the prophets,
God will make himself known to all the nations,
as he once did to Israel, and the universal worship or
recognition of Yahweh will be established at the end of days.
This is very different idea.
And so as a consequence of this
idea, the very notion of Israel’s election is transformed
by the prophets. In the Torah books,
the election of Israel means simply God’s undeserved choice
of Israel as the nation to know him and bind itself in covenant
to him. But in the prophetic
literature, Israel’s election is an election to a mission.
Israel was chosen so as to be
the instrument of universal redemption, universal
recognition of Yahweh. When God comes finally to
rescue the Israelites he will simultaneously reveal himself to
all of humankind. They’ll abandon their idols,
they’ll return to him. A messianic period of peace
will follow. And eventually,
we’re going to see the idea that the mission for which
Israel was elected was to become a “light unto the nations.”
This is a phrase that we’re
going to see in other parts of Isaiah, Isaiah 49,
Isaiah 51, later. The royal ideology of Judah
plays an important role in the eschatological vision of Isaiah
because this new peaceful righteous kingdom is going to be
restored by a Davidide. It’s going to be restored by a
king from the Branch of Jesse. David’s father name was Jesse.
So when you say the branch,
or from the stump of Jesse, then you are referring to a
Davidide. Isaiah 11 refers to the
restoration of the Davidic line, which implies that it had been
temporarily interrupted. So Isaiah 11 may be post-exilic.
It may date from a time when
people were hoping for a messiah to arise and restore the line of
David. Isaiah 11:1-12,16:
But a shoot shall grow out of the stump of Jesse,
A twig shall sprout from his stock.
The spirit of the Lord shall alight upon him:
A spirit of wisdom and insight, A spirit of counsel and valor,
A spirit of devotion and reverence for the Lord.
He shall sense the truth by his
reverence for the Lord: He shall not judge… by what
his ears perceive. Thus he shall judge the poor
with equit And decide with justice for the
lowly of the land. He shall strike down a land
with the rod of his mouth And slay the wicked with the
breath of his lips. Justice shall be the girdle of
his loins, And faithfulness the girdle of
his waist. The wolf shall dwell with the
lamb, The leopard lie down with the
kid; The calf, the beast of prey,
and the fatling together, With a little boy to herd them.
The cow and the bear shall
graze. (I think the bear is
vegetarian, not killing the cow but eating the grass with the
cow.) Their young shall lie
down together; And the lion,
like the ox, shall eat straw.
A babe shall play Over a viper’s hole,
And an infant pass his hand Over an adder’s den.
The hostility, the animosity between humans
and serpents or snakes which was decreed at the fall,
the expulsion from Eden, is reversed in this end-time.
This is a return to the
situation in paradise. In all of My sacred mount
Nothing evil or vile shall be done;
For the land shall be filled with devotion to the Lord
As water covers the sea. In that day,
The stock of Jesse that has remained standing
Shall become a standard to peoples–
Nations shall seek his counsel And his abode shall be honored.
In that day,
my Lord will apply his hand again to redeeming the other
part of his peoples from Assyria– as also from Egypt.
Pathros, Nubia,
Elam, Shinar, Hamath and the
coastlands…Thus there shall be a highway for the other part of
his people out of Assyria, such as there was for Israel
when it left the land of Egypt.
So this new ideal Davidic king will rule by wisdom and insight
and the spirit of the Lord will “alight on him.”
That’s a phrase that we saw being used in the case of judges
and in the case of Saul or David.
It doesn’t refer to military might and strength here.
It refers to counsel and a
spirit of devotion to God. And this king’s reign will
begin an ingathering of the exiles of the nation and a
transformed world order. So to conclude:
Isaiah is typical of the prophetic reinterpretation of
the ancient covenant promises, giving Israel a hope for a
better, ideal future. And like the other prophets,
he declared that the nation was in distress not because the
promises weren’t true but because they hadn’t been
believed. The nation’s punishment was
just a chastisement. It wasn’t a revocation of the
promises. The prophets pushed the
fulfillment of the promises beyond the existing nation
however. So only after suffering the
punishment for the present failure would a future
redemption be possible. So the national hope was
maintained but pushed off to a future day.
Alright, we’ll deal with some more prophetic books when we
come back. Please be sure to take the
handouts in the box at the side of the room.

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