Posts Tagged ‘fulness’

Isaiah is relentless in his description of idols, idol-makers, and idol-worshippers as empty, void, and useless. If one expects pity or some softening of the rhetoric, one will not find it here. Idols, in the Isaianic vision of things, cannot be reformed. Even their makers and their worshippers dance very close to the existential cliff. Only a decisive turn away from the abyss will rescue them from what the prophet simultaneously scorns and dismisses as ‘the things they have chosen’.

A mouthful of such derision has poured onto the scroll by the time we come to YHWH’s redemptive posture at 44.21. The passage that begins there is too easy to frame up as an entirely new oracle. In my view, it must be seen as the counterpoise to the emptiness that is chronicled before it begins, in verses 1-20. YHWH, whose glory fills the whole earth by one reading Seraphim’s cry in the programmatic Generative Vision at 6.3, is now portrayed as a deity in constant, redemptive motion. When idols stand inert or lie helplessly tipped to the ground, YHWH acts and accomplishes.

Two details stand out in this rehearsal not only of YHWH’s attributes in the abstract, as later theologies would capture the presentation, but of his nature over against the idols. The first is the sudden deployment of creation imagery, anchored in the verbs יצר and ברא as well as the allusion to the iconic stretching out of the heavens and spreading out of the earth. The latter glance at creation ideology adds to the mix resonant verbs like נטה (to stretch out) and רקע (to pound out). The point is not so much a celebration of cosmic creation motifs as it is an argument from the greater to the comparative lesser: if YHWH can do that (creation of the cosmos), he can certainly do this (new creation of his moribund servant, Jacob/Israel).

The second is the surge of participles that increasingly structure the discourse as it finds its pace and moves towards its conclusion. Hebrew poetry displays an affinity for the possibilities of participle forms when the intent is to describe YHWH’s most tenacious qualities. The parade example of this practice may be Psalm 103, which does not acclaim a moment of divine mercies but rather the sustaining probability that they can be expected to appear again and again.

Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.

Bless the LORD, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits—

who forgives (הסלח) all your iniquity, who heals (הרפא) all your diseases,

who redeems (הגואל) your life from the Pit, who crowns you (המעטרכי) with steadfast love and mercy,

who satisfies (המשביע) you with good as long as you live so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Psalm 103:1-5 (NRSV)

The introduction of YHWH as the servant’s redeemer is structured, unsurprisingly, around qatal and yiqtol verb forms. These are complemented by imperatives directed to the servant as well as to the heavens, the depths of the earth, to mountains, forest, and trees. But soon enough the rhetoric migrates into the participle habit I have mentioned just above. It is instructive that the participles describe even those actions of YHWH that cannot be expected to recur, as though the divine majesty that was evident in them once and for all is now in present and in future deployed in the new creation that is the servant’s redemption.

Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer (גאלך), who formed you (ויצרך) in the womb: I am the LORD, who made (עשה) all things, who alone stretched out (נטה) the heavens, who by myself spread (רקע) out the earth; who frustrates (מפר) the omens of liars, and makes fools of diviners; who turns back (משיב) the wise, and makes their knowledge foolish; who confirms the word of his servant, and fulfills the prediction of his messengers; who says (האמר) of Jerusalem, ‘It shall be inhabited,’ and of the cities of Judah, ‘They shall be rebuilt, and I will raise up their ruins’; who says (האמר) to the deep, ‘Be dry— I will dry up your rivers; who says (האמר) of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd, and he shall carry out all my purpose’; and who says of Jerusalem, ‘It shall be rebuilt,’ and of the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid.’

Isaiah 44:24-28 (NRSV)

In its context, the breadth and constancy of this redemptive activity contrasts emphatically with the useless and inert emptiness of the idols, idol-makers, and idol-worshippers who are described just before this YHWH-descriptive rhetoric bursts onto the page.

Although without the artistry of the chapter’s textured discourse, the contrast can be captured in a simple antithesis: The idols do not. YHWH does.

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