Archive for October, 2022

The famous Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52.13-53.12) is peppered with three rhetorical questions. In combination, they forcefully present the entirely unanticipated phenomenon that is the ‘Servant of YHWH’. Because the Song insistently personifies and individualizes the Servant figure, which has up to this point been clearly identified as Jacob/Israel, I will use the pronoun ‘he’ to represent the Servant in this context.

Although it is not the initial verse of the Song per se, the first verse of chapter 53 looses two of the three rhetorical questions to which I have referred.

Who has believed what we have heard?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

Isaiah 53:1 (NRSV)

This reflective duo accomplishes two objectives. First, it establishes the unanticipated nature of the Servant’s person and/or project. Curiously, the Servant’s identify is not the only conundrum presented in this song. That noteworthy ambiguity is complemented by the identity of the first-person plural protagonists represented here by we?

And then, the second of the two questions launched here appears to identify the Servant and/or his career with ‘the arm of the Lord’. There are other ways of reading the relationship between YHWH’s arm and the Servant himself, but this one is in my judgement the most coherent of the available options.

Somehow, the awful, YHWH-imposed suffering of the Servant seems to represent YHWH’s own powerful engagement with Jacob/Israel and perhaps even of the startled ‘kings’ and ‘nations’ of 52.15. This is perhaps paradox in its deepest form.

Verse 8 then serves up the third of the aforementioned rhetorical questions:

By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
Who could have imagined his future?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people.

Isaiah 53:8 (NRSV, emphasis added)

NRSV’s reference to ‘his future’ is rather speculative. The Hebrew text does not specify an object for the verb to imagine/consider (Hebrew polel, שיח), leaving the particle כי that follows immediately to be rendered either as providing the content of the referenced ‘imagining’ or as the beginning of an explanation of the strangeness of the Servant’s circumstances. The English Standard Version provides an example of the former approach:

By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?

Isaiah 53:8 (ESV, emphasis added)

The New King James Bible exemplifies the latter interpretation:

He was taken from prison and from judgment, And who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.

Isaiah 53:8 (NKJV, emphasis added)

By any reconfiguration of the syntax, the Fourth Servant Song affirms that YHWH accomplishes in the Servant a forceful and even militant achievement. At the same time, the Song suggests that the Servant embodies no foreseeable tactic on the part of YHWH himself. He is a complete and total, indeed a jaw-dropping surprise.

No one saw this coming, this battered and crushed survivor. This bearer of others’ guilt. This puzzling, redeeming Servant. This victim and accomplisher of YHWH’s purpose.


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In the majestic YHWH-speech that is chapter 45 of the book called Isaiah, the focus falls upon Cyrus and YHWH’s servant Jacob/Israel. Cyrus is daringly called ‘my anointed’, employing the Hebrew term משיח in a way that developing messianisms will find close to scandalous after the title ‘messiah’ becomes attached to messiahs of both short and long duration.

In the midst, the oracle that comprises the first seven verses the chapter plays artfully upon the theme of knowing and not knowing. The very ידע, to know, appears no fewer than four times, a phenomenon that I elucidate by italicizing and interposition of the Hebrew vocabulary in question:

Thus says the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped to subdue nations before him and strip kings of their robes, to open doors before him— and the gates shall not be closed:

I will go before you and level the mountains, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron, I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know (למען תדע) that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel, who call you by your name.

For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I surname you, though you do not know me (ולא ידעתני).

I am the LORD, and there is no other; besides me there is no god. I arm you, though you do not know me (ולא ידעתני), so that they may know (למען ידעו), from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is no one besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other.

I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe; I the LORD do all these things.”

Isaiah 45:1-7 (NRSV, emphasis and Hebrew text added)

Though the world’s most powerful figure comes across as rather clueless, Cyrus is respected for the dignity that falls to him as a redemptive tool in YHWH’s hand. Yet this elevation owes nothing to an awareness of the redemptive gravity of his liberation of Persia’s Jewish exiles. He remains ignorant, except for the hint of an eventual awakening of his calling by YHWH, the God of Israel:

…so that you may know that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel, who call you by your name.

Isaiah 45:3 (NRSV)

This fragment of illumination, however, seems to be a detail of a wider global awakening to YHWH’s incomparability in which the role Cyrus plays is dumbly instrumental rather than heroic.

I am the LORD, and there is no other; besides me there is no god. I arm you, though you do not know me, so that they may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is no one besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other.

Isaiah 45:5-6)

Momentarily, his knowledge is subordinated to the wider marvel that the nations will come to know YHWH’s uniqueness.

Cyrus is a pawn in YHWH’s redemptive game. He is not humiliated in assuming this unchosen role. He was, as it were, minding his own imperial business. Cyrus is no hard-hearted Pharaoh, standing up to YHWH by oppressing his first-born son and absorbing the cruel consequences in the loss of his own.

Rather, he is a somewhat bemused figure in the plot of Isaiah’s vision. He was called to a worthy task and he performed it in something of a haze as to the full import of his actions. Maybe, somehow, he came to ‘know’ that he was part of something larger than himself.

Maybe not.

There is honor in it all. Redemption for Israel. An awakening for the whole world.

Glory for YHWH alone.

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The oracle of redemption at Isaiah 41.17-20 deploys creation language in describing the provision of water and wood to the text’s ‘poor and needy’:

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 make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.

I will put in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive; I will set in the desert the cypress, the plane and the pine together, 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.

Isaiah 41:17-20 (NRSV)

Scholars debate whether the creation language of Isaianic passages like this one generates the creation discourse of Genesis 1-2 or whether, conversely, influence flows in the opposition direction.

Regardless of that discussion, the oracle before us has YHWH speaking emphatically in the first person as he declares his intent to provide the ‘poor and needy’ with water to slake their thirst as well as cultivated trees in the ‘wilderness’ that Babylonian exiles would need to cross in order to return home.

The notion of surplus and abundance is everywhere. In the first instance, YHWH’s provision of potable water for those poor and needy appears to irrigate the entire wilderness beyond the requirements of its human passersby. In the second, the repetition of species of trees that will populate ‘the wilderness’ suggests a remarkable plethora of fruit and shade. NRSV renders them as cedar, acadia, myrtle, olive, cypress, plane, and pine. This would be a diversified planting in any context. In that of the Fertile Crescent, the vision is all the more impressive.

The impressive response that the prophet anticipates on the part of human observers is understandable:

…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.

Isaiah 41:20 (NRSV)

The freshly secured and ostensibly wondering knowledge that humanity will have acquired will come by way of their contemplation of YHWH’s provisioning of his returning refugees. Significantly, they will understand this unforeseen return in the terms communicated by two Hebrew verbs that pair nicely and often in creation contexts: עסה, here deployed as ‘has done this’ and ברא, appearing here as ‘has created it’.

So does the oracle draw together the erstwhile disparate threads of redemption, provision, and creation.

YHWH, one might way, is up to his old habits: creating with a word.

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It is widely recognized that the prose chapters of Isaiah 36-39 prepare the way for a quite different posture from chapter 40 forward. The days when a facile division of the long book called Isaiah into three neatly divided and generally unrelated parts have passed. Yet the reality of the book’s two very different postures, if I may repeat the word so soon, is undeniable. Chapters 1-35 represent one and chapters 40-66 the other.

Chapters 36-39 mediate the difference.

One key element that appears on the roster of items to be mediated is the movement from the period of Assyrian domination to that of the exiling Babylonian overlord. Chapters 36-39 help to negotiate that passage, not least by way of the story of the visiting Babylonian emissaries in chapter 39.

If this is not King Hezekiah’s finest moment, we can perhaps recognize in the dynamic of Babylonian flattery and Hezekiah’s naiveté the operating principles of this dark moment, insinuating as it does that Babylonians will in time have more to say that flattering words.

At that time King Merodach-baladan son of Baladan of Babylon sent envoys with letters and a present to Hezekiah, for he heard that he had been sick and had recovered. Hezekiah welcomed them; he showed them his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil, his whole armory, all that was found in his storehouses. There was nothing in his house or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them. Then the prophet Isaiah came to King Hezekiah and said to him, ‘What did these men say? From where did they come to you?’ Hezekiah answered, ‘They have come to me from a far country, from Babylon.’ He said, ‘What have they seen in your house?’ Hezekiah answered, They have seen all that is in my house; there is nothing in my storehouses that I did not show them.’

Isaiah 39:1-4 (NRSV)

At the time, neither Merodach-baladan nor Babylon are imperial powers. Indeed, both are subject to Assyria, a common circumstance that the two nations likely experienced in different ways. However the text and its reader are aware that Babylon will become that suffocating empire, bent on the suppression of little Judah to whose king they now present flattering gifts upon the occasion of his recovery from illness.

Verse two captures Hezekiah’s response in terms of both sentiment and performance.

Hezekiah welcomed them; he showed them his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil, his whole armory, all that was found in his storehouses. There was nothing in his house or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them.

Isaiah 39:2 (NRSV, emphasis added)

NRSV veils the ostensible sentiment of Hezekiah’s welcome, perhaps correctly capturing an idiom or—less enviably—obscuring a key element of the description. The Hebrew expression—וישמח עליהם ישעיהו—reports that Hezekiah became delighted or happy because of them. It appears to this reader that the writer shines a light upon Hezekiah’s culpable penchant for flattery, a byproduct perhaps of a kind of negligent naiveté.

The king’s prophetic confidant will, of course, be unamused.

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In chapter 31 of the book called Isaiah, a sequence of oracles addresses the predicted downfall of Egypt and Assyria. The passage depicts Israel renouncing and indeed disposing of its ‘idols of silver and idols of gold’, which your hands have sinfully made for you.’ Further, besieged Jerusalem/Zion is the locale upon which the entire passage places its focus.

For thus the LORD said to me, As a lion or a young lion growls over its prey, and—when a band of shepherds is called out against it— is not terrified by their shouting or daunted at their noise, so the LORD of hosts will come down to fight upon Mount Zion and upon its hill.

Like birds hovering overhead, so the LORD of hosts will protect Jerusalem; he will protect and deliver it, he will spare and rescue it.

Turn back to him whom you have deeply betrayed, O people of Israel. For on that day all of you shall throw away your idols of silver and idols of gold, which your hands have sinfully made for you.

“Then the Assyrian shall fall by a sword, not of mortals; and a sword, not of humans, shall devour him; he shall flee from the sword, and his young men shall be put to forced labor.

His rock shall pass away in terror, and his officers desert the standard in panic,” says the LORD, whose fire is in Zion, and whose furnace is in Jerusalem.

Isaiah 31:4-9 (NRSV, emphasis added)

The passage’s three primary metaphors surge forth in rollicking fashion. I have italicized fragments of each in the preceding text.

First, YHWH’s determination to prevail in his ‘fight upon Mount Zion and upon its hill’ is portrayed as a fearless lion, recently fed and fearless in the face of a band of shepherds that attempts to drive it off. Here, YHWH stands as a singular lion facing down a plural ‘band of shepherds’.

Second, the Lord’s protection of Jerusalem is lined to ‘birds hovering overhead’. Here, the plural nature of the flock lies on YHWH’s side of the metaphor while the city stands in the singular. Although YHWH-as-bird metaphors are not unknown in the Hebrew Bible, one struggles to imagine another biblical text that dares to portray him as a flock of birds.

Then finally, at the oracle’s conclusion, we are told that YHWH has a ‘fire’ in Zion and a ‘furnace’ in Jerusalem. Now YHWH is referenced via a presumably human image, a man tending a flaming furnace that stands in or conceivably is Jerusalem. The context suggests that the fire’s heat is destructive of panicked Assyrians who show themselves unequal to the task of conquering a city so fearsomely defended.

Rarely do metaphors flow with such energy and diversity in Isaiah’s portrayal of YHWH. Each makes its point with brevity, then cedes to the next. Together, they touch multiple chords in their portrayal of the divine source of Zion’s security.

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If verses 1-5 hint that YHWH’s subjugation of ’strong peoples’ and ‘ruthless nations’ might in fact be for their own benefit, the wide embrace at which it hints becomes all but indisputable in verses 6-10.

In the text that follows, I have added emphasis to each reference to all (Hebrew כל), together with the nouns that are implicated by this descriptor.

On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.

And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever.

Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.

It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

 For the hand of the LORD will rest on this mountain.

Isaiah 25:6-10 (NRSV, emphasis added)

In spite of this broad redemptive result, the text does not loose its grip on a tenacious particularity. We see this in at least three respects.

First, Mount Zion remains the scene. YHWH will destroy ‘on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples…’ (7). The passage’s culminating declaration—if we see the immediately following and rather more sullen address against Moab as in some way separate—declares the YHWH’s hand will rest on this mountain’ (10).

Second, Jacob/Israel remains at the center of causality. The universal banquet that is here described is it seems contingent upon YHWH’s removal of ‘the disgrace of his people … from all the earth’. There is no reason to imagine that ‘his people’ bears a meaning different than its conventional one. Yet when he remove’s Jacob’s disgrace the wide world is the beneficiary. In parallel with surrounding clauses that are more explicit about the nations’ blessed fate, ‘from all the earth’ very likely refers to those people as well as to Jacob itself.

Finally, the refrain that is anticipated ‘on that day’ must describe Jacob/Israel’s experience retrospectively rather than the latter jubilant inclusion of ‘all peoples’:

It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

Isaiah 25:9 (NRSV)

As often and in so many ways across the long book called Isaiah, here Jacob’s restoration represents in some way the restoration of all the nations. Or perhaps, of all save one. Moab’s dire subjection follows in 10b-12. NRSV’s editorial separation of that darkness from the earlier light of this oracle is performed without support from the Masoretic Text. It may be that Isaiah’s Vision is viscerally resistant to utopias that avert their glance from a kind of final, dire, depressing resistance that can in the end be put down only by reluctant force.

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The polyvalent perspective of the book called Isaiah with respect to the nations raises its head again in the broad horizon celebrated by the hymn that is the book’s twenty-fifth chapter.

The first five verses appear to present a kind of conversion narrative in connection with ‘strong peoples’ and ‘cities of ruthless nations’ who seem to have been moved to their turning by YHWH’s care for the poor.

O LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you, I will praise your name; for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure.

For you have made the city a heap, the fortified city a ruin; the palace of aliens is a city no more, it will never be rebuilt.

Therefore strong peoples will glorify you; cities of ruthless nations will fear you.

For you have been a refuge to the poor, a refuge to the needy in their distress, a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat. When the blast of the ruthless was like a winter rainstorm, the noise of aliens like heat in a dry place, you subdued the heat with the shade of clouds; the song of the ruthless was stilled.

Isaiah 25:1-5 (NRSV, emphasis added)

The text does not leave in doubt the reality of the subjugation of ‘strong peoples’ and ‘ruthless nations’.

Indeed, they find themselves on ‘the mountain of the Lord’ (verse 6, just following) precisely because their city and palace have been leveled. Verse 5’s verbs conclude the first section of this oracle with divine activities that leave no doubt about the matter. YHWH subdued the short-lived heat of the peoples (תכניע) and stilled the song of the ruthless (יענה, rendered by NRSV somewhat lyrically by the passive ‘was stilled’ for the Masoretic Text’s 3ms active deployment of a verb often rendered more prosaically as to humiliate).

Clearly, these peoples are considered to be nations that YHWH has subjugated as the outworking of his ancient purpose (25.1).

Yet is not at all apparent that this outcome is one that the peoples themselves lament. Indeed, verse 3 could be read as the vocabulary of mere conquest, forced upon unwilling victims. But in context, particularly the context provided by the oracle from verse 6 forward, there seems to be yet again an element of willing participation in the deportment of the conquered.

Therefore strong peoples will glorify you; cities of ruthless nations will fear you.

Isaiah 25:3 NRSV)

Verses 6-10 will fill in the picture, if indeed those verses are to be read as a unity with verses 1-5, as appears to me to be the case. Its scattering of ‘all’ across the range of its protagonists insinuates a banquet where all—past historical enemies included—lift their cups together and tuck into the feast with the careless abandon of friends.

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In chapter nine the prophet denounces the pride of Jacob/Israel. In doing so, he affirms two common components of prophetic discourse and inverts another.

The people did not turn to him who struck them, or seek the LORD of hosts.

So the LORD cut off from Israel head and tail, palm branch and reed in one day—elders and dignitaries are the head, and prophets who teach lies are the tail; for those who led this people led them astray, and those who were led by them were left in confusion.

That is why the Lord did not have pity on their young people, or compassion on their orphans and widows; for everyone was godless and an evildoer, and every mouth spoke folly. For all this his anger has not turned away, his hand is stretched out still.

Isaiah 9:13-17 (NRSV, emphasis added)

We look first at the commonalities that are here affirmed. First, the oracle deploys the frequent pattern in which YHWH strikes and heals or perhaps strikes in order to heal. Here this frequent tripe is interrupted but is not aborted. The wider context of the Isaianic Vision will assure us that Jacob/Israel—or a portion of the nation—did posture itself for the healing portion of YHWH’s engagement with his people. Within this oracle, however, we have only a warning that this has not yet occurred.

Second, the aforementioned failure on YHWH’s part to relent is consolidated by what can only be described as a refrain in the early chapters of the book:

For all this his anger has not turned away, his hand is stretched out still.

Isaiah 9:17 (NRSV)

Insofar as these two components of the oracle are concerned, the passage is continuous rather than discontinuous with its surroundings.

However, the content of verse 17 (verse 16 in the Hebrew text) just prior to this refrain slightly modifies and then rather radically inverts a common prophetic concern:

That is why the Lord did not have pity on their young people, or compassion on their orphans and widows; for everyone was godless and an evildoer, and every mouth spoke folly.

Isaiah 9:17 (NRSV)

Isaiah and his prophetic counterparts frequently delineate the most vulnerable victims and therefore the first affected by injustice as the poor, orphans, and widows. Here, the latter two—orphans (יתומים) and widows (אלמנות)—make their customary appearance as those who receive more mercy. ‘The young people’ (בחוריו) stand where one might expect ‘the poor’, yet it must be admitted that they are the object of a different verb (לא ישמח, shall not rejoice over; NRSV follows 1QIsa/a’s לא יחמול, shall not have compassion upon).

The radical inversion, one that occurs with something of a prophetic bite, is that it is not the unjust who will show themselves hard-hearted against the plight of Israel’s young, widows, and orphans. It is YHWH himself, the one exalted in this book precisely for his justice, righteousness, and compassion!

The text provides a justification for its astounding declaration:

…for everyone was godless and an evildoer, and every mouth spoke folly.

Isaiah 9:17 (NRSV)

This is not the only moment in which the Vision of Isaiah presents a ‘strange work’ of YHWH, one to which he appears to have been driven by his people’s exasperating behavior but which does not flow from his nature.

For the LORD will rise up as on Mount Perazim, he will rage as in the valley of Gibeon; to do his deed—strange is his deed! and to work his work—alien is his work!

Now therefore do not scoff, or your bonds will be made stronger; for I have heard a decree of destruction from the Lord GOD of hosts upon the whole land.

Isaiah 28:21-22 (NRSV)

We also read that YHWH is the author of darkness, woe, and calamity (see 31.2, 42.23, 45.7, 50.3, 54.16). Yet the passage under scrutiny is no less jarring for the company of its friends.

YHWH, in the Isaianic vision, goes dark. He becomes unmoved by the plight of the victim, a collaborator in the deeply rooted injustice that is both cause and consequence of Israel’s deaf ears and blind eyes.

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One of the dominant motifs for Israel’s judgement in the book called Isaiah is the felling of the mighty tree that is Jacob/Israel. In fact, this notion occurs in the prophet’s Generative Encounter at Isaiah 6.13. There, restoration is hinted at—arguably—by the final clause, where ‘the holy seed’ and ‘its stump’ appear to refer to a remnant of the people that is eventually to be restored.

Even if a tenth part remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak whose stump remains standing when it is felled. The holy seed is its stump.

Isaiah 6:13 (NRSV, quotation marks removed)

The stirring oracle of regeneration that appears in the book’s fourth chapter does something quite similar.

On that day the branch of the LORD shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and glory of the survivors of Israel.

Isaiah 4:2 NRSV)

In a manner that anticipates several restoration motifs in this book, the ‘fruit of the land’ and quite possibly ‘the branch of the Lord … and the fruit of the land’ stand over against ‘the survivors of Israel’. The images are not, by appearances, coequal.

There exists a different interpretation of the syntax and the vocabulary that removes this ambiguity, reflected as early as the Septuagint and as recently as the Jewish Publication Society’s English translation of the Hebrew Bible:

Τῇ δὲ ἡμέρᾳ ἐκείνῃ ἐπιλάμψει ὁ θεὸς ἐν βουλῇ μετὰ δόξης ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς τοῦ ὑψῶσαι καὶ δοξάσαι τὸ καταλειφθὲν τοῦ Ισραηλ…

Isaiah 4:2 (LXX)

But on that day God will gloriously shine on the earth with counsel, to uplift and glorify what remains of Israel.

Isaiah 4:2 (NETS = New English Translation of the Septuagint)

In that day, The radiance of the LORD Will lend beauty and glory, And the splendor of the land [Will give] dignity and majesty, To the survivors of Israel.

Isaiah 4:1 (JPS)

It would probably be inaccurate to render this interpretive tradition as anti-messianic. Rather, it represents a non-messianic reading of a text that jostles uneasily with the Masoretic tradition. Targum Jonathan is an early voice that reads the text messianically in a way that reflects the path taken by most translation of Isaiah into modern languages, including English.

In that time the Messiah of the Lord will be for joy and for glory, and those who perform the Law for pride and for praise to the survivors of Israel.

Isaiah 4:2 (The Aramaic Bible)

For our purposes, it is important to note that the Masoretic presentation of 4.2 envisages a dual presence in the land inhabited by restored Israel, one that perhaps foreshadows the presence of the intensely personified servant over against a restored remnant population in the fourth servant song at 52.13-53.12. In each case, the people are there, alongside another presence that remains enigmatic that is at points a collective and at others a singular entity, yet always profoundly conjoined to the people.

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Isaiah’s Vision of Visions (2.1-5) is shared by the book of Micah in its fourth chapter. It is much disputed whether one borrowed from the other or whether both drew their visionary waters from a common well. In the book called Isaiah, this short glimpse of a prophetically imagined future becomes the deeply driven pillar of the entire adventure. It is Isaiah’s very Vision of Visions.

Both editions, that of Micah and that of Isaiah, speak identically of the nations’ animated conversation as they flow on their riverine course all the way up to recently elevated Zion. A feature of the exchange appears to bear out the wider impression that in Isaiah salvation is from the Jews and for the nations.

I refer to the combination of the verb ירה (to teach) with the preposition מן (conventionally, from) mediating the verb’s relationship with its direct object דרכיו (his ways). Nowhere else in the Hebrew Bible, outside of Micah’s and Isaiah’s shared vision, does this construction appear.

In my view, the preposition is best understood as partitive מן, an established manner of communicating ‘part of’, ‘some of’, or ‘a portion of’. If we apply what we know of the expression to its appearance in Isaiah’s Vision of Visions (and of course Micah’s version of the same), verse two comes to read as follows:

Many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us some of his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

Isaiah 2:3 (NRSV, adapted for partitive מן)

There is nothing in the ebullient eagerness of the nations that suggests a limited appetite for YHWH’s instruction. Rather, the limit seems to apply to their expectation.

In the turned-on-its-head world that the prophet glimpses, aliens stream to lowly Zion now elevated above the vastness of the world’s topography, hungering and thirsting after righteousness as a later prophet might have described them. Yet even they cannot imagine that the God of Jacob might slake their entire thirst, might lay out the full banquet for such unwashed late arrivals.

So, in a reading of the text that appears to me entirely defensible, they hedge their bets.

…that he may teach us some of his ways…

‘Perhaps we’ll be allowed some tasty crumbs’, one almost imagines them to hope.

Little do they know.

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