Posts Tagged ‘Isaiah 55’

David and Zion go together.

Such an affirmation might seem quite the yawn when describing the general outlook of those parts of the Hebrew Bible that are most concerned with Jerusalem. Yet here we have a book called Isaiah, passionately and stubbornly concerned with the fate of Zion, in which we find a sustained reticence to speak of the great man.

Leaving aside for the moment King David’s patent absence from most of the text of Isaiah and turning to its few mentions of him, where is David in the famous paradisiacal vision of a great anointed ruler in chapter 11? The figure is clearly ‘davidic’ in some meaningful sense. Yet the global ruler who emerges there, saturated with YHWH’s spirit, springs not from David’s loins but from ‘the stump of Jesse’, the great monarch’s father. This seems clearly to be a move intended to deflect attention from the historical David.

Then, in chapter 55, David appears by name. He figures here as a reassuring presence, a man whose legacy testifies to YHWH’s commitment to his people and his city. Indeed, David’s significance in this brief and bracing appearance in a chapter that fairly pleads with its readers not to settle for idolatrous transactions but rather to trust in YHWH’s far more compelling purpose, is global. Now he is not merely Judah’s monarch or remembered Israel’s king. Rather, he is a ‘witness to the peoples’, indeed ‘a leader and commander for the peoples’.

Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.

See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples.

See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.

Isaiah 55:3-5 (NRSV)

Yet strangely David is not called a king, not summoned as Israel’s מלך, a word that might have quite naturally flowed from the pen of the writer. Instead—even in connection with the nations—he is a witness (עד), a leader (נגיד), and a commander (מצוה). The text looks back to YHWH’s covenant with David, here seen as enduring and therefore affirming of new possibilities for Israel. The text looks forward to a moment when ‘nations that you do not know shall run to you (plural)’, a reality that is also linked with YHWH’s ‘steadfast, sure love for David’.

Yet he is not called king.

Is this a slip of the pen or perhaps a mere aesthetic preference for diversity of expression? This seems unlikely.

Rather, it appears that the book called Isaiah treasures the generative friendship that manifestly links YHWH and his purpose to his agent, to this ‘man after my own heart’, to his covenantal partner. Yet the re-start, the future that YHWH holds in store for ‘Zion’ if its daughters and sons will only shake off their collective depression and throw themselves into it, is not a mere retrieval of past forms and functions.

It is, in context, one of those new things to which the prophet summons his hearers to become alert. It is, in the words of another prophet, a matter of new wineskins.

Endzeit, it turns out is not merely Urzeit again.

It is more. Far more.

Nations shall run to you, the prophet challenge his audience to imagine in clear allusion to the Vision of Visions back in chapter two, where the people flow like a river up to elevated Zion. Here, Zion is not so much elevated, though that sense does not lie too remote. Rather, the peoples’ sudden appetite for Zion and eagerness to get there has a different cause, one that must have beggared belief:

…because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.


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There is no measured reciprocity in YHWH’s mercy as this is sketched out in the book of Isaiah. The logic of quid pro quo has no place here, in this landscape of abundant pardon.

Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:6–9 ESV)

The call not to let the opportunity of experiencing YHWH’s mercy—forgiving and restorative—is based in part on the perhaps limited window of its availability. One should seek him ‘while he may be found’ and call upon him ‘while he is near’. (more…)

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