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Posts Tagged ‘Isaiah 6’

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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The final chapter of the book called Isaiah returns to basic matters.

The Generative Vision of chapter six—when the prophet Isaiah finds himself taken up into a vision of YHWH’s royal throne room—is the only prior moment in the book’s trajectory when YHWH’s throne is glimpsed. Until this:

Thus says the LORD: Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is my resting place?

All these things my hand has made, and so all these things are mine, says the LORD. But this is the one to whom I will look, to the humble and contrite in spirit, who trembles at my word.

Isaiah 66:1-2 (NRSV)

In that Generative Vision, as now in this glimpse of YHWH Enthroned, the prophet does not describe YHWH. Rather, in good, deflective, prophetic style, he describes all that is around YHWH so that we might deduce YHWH’s grandeur by comparison. Notwithstanding Isaiah’s claim that ‘I saw the LORD’, he does not enter into description of the deity himself. Rather, he occupies himself with flying seraphim, a creaturely voice so loud that the temple trembles on its foundation, the hem of YHWH’s robe which filled the temple’s entirety, and the like. Even the awesome descriptor that in time becomes for the prophet YHWH’s proper name—רם ונשׂא (high and lifted up)—is offered ambiguously. It is not clear whether it describes YHWH or ‘merely’ his throne.

It is fitting, then, that a book so tenaciously and allusively intertextual in its primary instinct, should return to YHWH’s throne room now, as at the beginning.

Just as YHWH’s presence was comprehensive and imperial vis-à-vis creation back in Isaiah 6, so here heaven and earth are merely his throne and footstool. In a different accent, this spatial metaphor of fulness places YHWH most emphatically ‘high and lifted up’.

Yet in context YHWH does not attend to those who would manipulate cultic matters at a different altitude in order to curry his favor (see verses 3-4). Rather, from his very high posture, YHWH looks ‘to the humble and contrite in spirit, who trembles at my word.’ YHWH stewards strange affections, odd habits of attentiveness, we are asked to believe and not for the first time. The same affirmation about YHWH’s bizarre predilection for those who lie low—those whom life has crushed—troubled the Septuagint translator with his preference for a more stately deity back in 57:15. There, the Hebrew text offers the visions of chapters six and sixty-six in its own accent and its own moment, though with unmistakable echoes and anticipations of the two glimpses of YHWH’s throne room currently under inspection.

For thus says the high and lofty one (רם ונשׁא) who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy (קדושׁ): I dwell in the high and holy place (מרום וקדושׂ), and also with those who are contrite and humble in spirit (דכא ושׁפל־רוח), to revive the spirit of the humble (רוח שׁפלים), and to revive the heart of the contrite (לב נדכאים).

Isaiah 57:15 (NRSV)

In the Isaianic vision, it seems almost superfluous to say, YHWH is very, very high. Yet he is also very low, whether in the coin of judgement and eventual redemption (chapter 6) or resident at his second home (chapter 57) or via his untiring attentiveness to those who find themselves way down there (chapter 66).

It seems transparent to the tradition’s curators that this divine habit is unexpected, otherwise there would be no need for them to insist that it is so. Yet it seems equally clear to the prophetic imagination that being in both places at the same time represents for YHWH neither a contradiction nor a challenge.

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