Posts Tagged ‘Genesis 1’

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.


Read Full Post »

The Hebrew Bible’s first verb rumbles with creative energy.

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth…

Genesis 1:1 (NRSV)

By virtue of its privilege of place and of the fact that what goes down here can never happen again—Israelite monotheism will allow only one all-creating deity—the verb ברא quickly acquires a particular resonance. In fact, the Hebrew Bible displays a deep reticence to deploying ברא with anyone other than YHWH as its subject and with anything other than a creation out of nothing as its effect. Strictly speaking, the subject of ברא in Genesis 1.1 is אלהים, but in context ‘God’ can be no other than YHWH.

Scholars debate whether this kind of creation discourse first takes shape in the earliest chapters of Genesis, in the second part of Isaiah, or elsewhere. For now, it is enough to observe the manner in which the verb ברא is all but reserved for spectacular and unanticipated acts of creation by YHWH himself.

In this light, it is not short of remarkable that ברא flourishes unreservedly in Isaiah 43, where a kind of creation ex nihilo is presaged. Here, YHWH is emphatically its subject. He is a Creator lifted above the capacity of all other deities, if it can even be imagined that these might exist. The object or effect of YHWH’s creative artistry is the rebirth of Israel out of the inert nothingness of Exile.

But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.

Isaiah 43:1 (NRSV)

For nearly the length of this chapter, its author weaves ברא into a rich tapestry of which the other components of creative production are יצר (commonly, to shape or mold) and עשׂה (to make). That this is not technically creation ex nihilo but rather ‘creativity with a history’ is betrayed in the verbal threads that bring in גאל (to redeem) and קרא (to call, name, or even re-name). The notion of redemption (גאל) in particular assumes a preexisting deficient state from which one is rescued.

This is redemption cum creation. The vocabulary places Israel’s rescue at YHWH’s hands in the category of creation in a stunning metaphorical dance that is sustained for verse after lyrical verse without a hint of tedium. The first tranche of this composition is delivered up with a resounding conclusion at verse 7.

I will say to the north, “Give them up,” and to the south, “Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth—everyone who is called by my name (כל הנקרא בשׁמי), whom I created for my glory (ולכבודי בראתיו), whom I formed (יצרתיו) and made (אף עשִֹיתיו).

Isaiah 43:6-7 (NRSV)

The whole enterprise is reinforced in the chapter’s nineteenth verse by the divine declaration of a new thing, albeit now having built allusions to a New Exodus upon the foundation of a New Creation:

I am about to do a new thing (הנה עשׂה חדשׁח); now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”

Isaiah 43:19 (NRSV)

After this, no careful student of the book called Isaiah can conceive of redemption across the trajectory of the entire biblical canon without viewing it against the backdrop of YHWH’s spectacular and unanticipated creative artistry. Yet his sovereign creative mastery somehow honors the unpromising clay which he now chooses to shape, remold, and name after himself.

Read Full Post »