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Posts Tagged ‘Isaiah 52’

The reversal of Zion’s fortunes is a theme so intensely passionate in the book called Isaiah that the prophet ransacks the full range of metaphor to make his case. Zion, the personification of a city that incarnates both the city’s deported-and-now-returned citizens and its own restored metropolitan glories, is about to learn that her God reigns.

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’

Isaiah 52:7 (ESV)

The issue in play is not so much theology proper or divine ontology. YHWH’s announced reign is not here a theoretical experience but rather an intensively lived experience. Zion is about to taste the power of her God in the form of restoration from the cataclysm that has leveled her walls, emptied her of her people, and snatched away her future. ‘Your God reigns’ must refer to the evidence that YHWH is not inert, but rather decisively present and active in the imminent turning of tables to Zion’s benefit.

The book’s fifty-second chapter presents the striking metaphor of the watchmen on the city’s walls breaking into song—or at the very least into noisy and joyous exclamation—as they leverage their privileged altitude to see the return of YHWH to Zion before their less elevated neighbors are so fortunate.

The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice; together they sing for joy; for eye to eye they see the return of the LORD to Zion.

 Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem, for the LORD has comforted his people; he has redeemed Jerusalem.

Isaiah 52:8–9 (ESV)

It is impossible to know whether the author intends actually singing. There is the lifting up of their collective voice, the double deployment of verb that can represent song but might also be a less melodic shout for joy (רנן), and a breaking forth into whatever that exuberant sound actually is. The Septuagint, in a show of translational modesty, underscores the joyousness of the sound and leaves its substance to the imagination. Translations ever since opt in roughly equal measure either for song or for joyful shouting.

Regardless, we have a somewhat odd image that nearly refuses to sound strange precisely because it is part of a metaphorical narrative where larger impossibilities are taking place within the ordinary space and time. We almost fail to register the entertaining spectacle of night watchmen giddy with shouted delight or bursting into manly song from atop their walled perches.

The smaller strangeness of the image fades before the brilliant impossibility of YHWH striding across Judah’s desolate terrain towards Zion with his rescued captives following just behind.

If YHWH has done all this, why strain at a cadre of watchmen who can’t stop laughing–or singing—as they take it all in?

It is tempting to see here a narrative playing-out of the new song that becomes the people’s boisterous response to YHWH’s improbable redemption in Isaiah and in several psalms.

Soon the whole city will be loud with grateful sound, redemptive surprise powering its decibels, raised above normal volume as watchmen stand atop high walls.

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