Notes on Isaiah – Part II March , 2001


  1. Background

    1. The rise of the Persian empire under Cyrus I and the fall (539/538 B.C.) of the Babylonian hegemony
      1. Exiled peoples would be allowed to return to their homelands and to govern themselves. This activity makes Cyrus a messianic figure (Is 45:1)
      2. Text from the ancient near east. Note that Cyrus’ gods are Bel and Nebo (see Is 46:1):

      "I am Cyrus, king of the world, great king, legitimate king, king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four rims (of the earth), son of Cambyses…of a family (which) always (exercised) kingship; whose rule Bel and Nebo love, whom they want as king to please their hearts."

      Pritchard Vol I p. 207

    2. The go’el (redeemer; 41:14; 43:14; 44:6, 24; 47:4; 48:17; 49:7, 26; 54:5, 8) and ga’al (to redeem; 43:1; 44:22, 23; 48:20; 52:3)
      1. In human terms, this was the closest kin of a man who had been forced to sell his property or himself into slavery. The job of the go’el was to buy back the property or the man in order to preserve his family. If a more distant relative wanted to redeem, that person would have to ask permission and it would be considered shameful if the closest relative did not fulfill their right/duty.
      2. Ruth 2:20; 3:9-13. Note that Ruth, a Moabite, is included in Jesus’ ancestry according to the Gospel of Matthew (1:5).

    3. Ritual sacrifice
      1. The Passover (Ex 11:-12:13ff)
      2. Atonement for sin (Lev 4:32)

  2. Second Isaiah
    1. The text addresses those in exile in Babylon. It is primarily GOOD news; it proclaims comfort. John the Baptist is introduced in Matt 3, Mk 1, Lk 3, Jn 1 as the one who prepared the way for Jesus with the words of Is 40:3ff. The notion of God’s spoken word as powerful and sure is also seen in this first chapter of II Is. Jn 1:36 has John the Baptist calling Jesus the "Lamb of God". Also see the quote from Is 40 used in I Pet 1:13-25.
    2. The four servant poems
      1. The first poem (Is 42:1-4). The structure is ABB’A’, this poetic convention leads to a paradoxical notion: the servant of God brings forth justice without the usual methods of a king, an iron rod and the spoken word. His main characteristic is his silence. In addition, this justice is not simply to Israel, but to the coastlands – i.e. the whole world. (See Matt 36:63 and Mk 14:61).
      2. The second poem (Is 49:1-6). Basic message, again, to the coastlands. Still, this message is placed in the context of the servant’s mission to Israel. Note verse 5 in which the servant’s strength is spent in vain, ultimately leaving all hope in God!
      3. The third poem (Is 50:4-9). The servant is one who teaches (v. 4). As such, he must be one who learns (v. 5). This learning is prophetic in the sense that the teaching is continuous (morning by morning). There is not a fixed amount of material which is then mastered. Instead, the servant has to wait each day to hear the word of God (like mana from heaven, see Jn 6). Furthermore, this teaching has to be borne out in the flesh of the servant (v.6). Ultimately, this dishonored servant is vindicated by God (which is only fitting since it was God’s will to strike him).
      4. The fourth servant poem (Is 52:13 – 53:12). The structure of this poem is chiastic (ABCB’A’). As such, the central or most important point is the one in the middle.
      5. A/52:13-15: the servant is glorified before kings;

        B/53:1-3: the servant suffers and is humiliated;

        C/vv.4-6: the servant’s suffering is for the sin of his fellows;

        B’/vv.7-9: the servant’s humiliation and suffering are unto death;

        A’/vv.10-12: the servant is glorified before the great and the strong.

        Thus, we see that the heavy curse laid on Israel in I Is has been reversed by the actions of God as realized in the servant. God’s anger has been turned away!

      6. Further connection to the New Testament
        1. Acts 8:32-33. Note the proclamation of good news (‘messenger of good news’ and ‘to bear good news ‘ have their origin in Isaiah. See 40:1, 9; 49:13, 51:3, 12, 19; 52:7, 9)
        2. Phil 2:1-13 is also a chiastic poem along the lines of the fourth servant poem.
        3. Jesus reverses the curse of Is 6 – Matt 11:2-7 parallels Is 29:18-19; 35 ;1-6, 61:1.
        4. Ep 2:11-22. Note that Christ’s blood is key and that the gentiles (nations) are called through this sacrifice, just as in the servant poems.
        5. Rev 5:6-14. Jesus is the "Lamb that was slain".
        6. Rom 5. Notice the use of blood as the reconciliation from the wrath of God. The terror and righteous wrath of God from I Is has been reversed according to the will of the Father as expressed in the sacrifice of the Son (II Is).

    May the grace of our lord Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Have a blessed lent and a glorious resurrection!

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