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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.

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