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Old Testament I - Research Topic: Second Isaiah.

Updated: Jan 11

 

 

Introduction


The purpose of this paper is to examine the structure and themes of Second Isaiah. In particular, I will study the rhetorical style of writing, used by the author, known as "Opposition".  This method was used to contrast the differences between Yahweh and the gods of the other nations. By doing this, I hope to show that through the Prophet, the exiled Jewish community in Babylon came to understand that their God possessed power to create and re-create.

 

Through the "Fourth Opposition", the Servant and Israel, I will demonstrate that communication with Yahweh is not closed but opened, to all who believe in Him, through the Servant Songs. I will also show that the Prophet and Israel come to a new understanding of Yahweh as the sole creator of the whole earth. Thus introducing to both the Jewish people and the whole world Monotheism. I will conclude by synthesising the major elements of Second Isaiah and contending that the prophet is a messenger of Hope by introducing a God that humanity can relate with.

 

Structure of Second Isaiah

 

Structurally, the Prophet wrote poetry and used fundamental opposition. Opposition is a method of using polarities to develop a message that clearly defines what is and isn't. It was used with intent of helping the exiled community differentiate themselves from their captors. It is more or less saying, "If the Babylonians are this, than we are, naturally that: 'That', being superior because of our unique relationship with Yahweh."   

 

This kind of message would insulate the exiles from the pain and loneliness of being strangers in a new land. It would help keep them united in a common cause, along with knowing that they have the ultimate power to guide them through to the end. The end, being a return to Palestine and Jerusalem.


According to American Theologian Dr. Frank S. Frick (1938-2011) in his book, A Journey through the Hebrew Scriptures, there are five major oppositions in Second Isaiah. They are (1) First and Last; (2) Babylon and Zion; (3) Yahweh and the gods; (4) Israel and the Nations; (5) The Servant and Israel.

 

First and Last Things


Opposition is used to predict the deeds of Yahweh in the future, symbolised by the "last" and based on what He did in the past; that being 'The First'. (41:22-23; 42:9; 43:9-13; 44:6-8; 45:21; 48) The opposition of First and Last things is used in several different ways throughout Second Isaiah. "I, the Lord, am first, and will be the last". (41:4b)

 

Another use of this polarity is by describing the first and second exodus: linking the promised conquests'. It is clearly shown in 43:16-21. It is demonstrated as in the way Yahweh created a clear path through the sea for Moses and the Israelites from Egypt (46:16); so to will he return Israel to Palestine in the new exodus. (43:19). This connection between the destruction of the past and the re-construction of future Israel is a central theme in Second Isaiah.

 

Babylon and Zion


Related to the First and Last Opposition is the contrast between Babylon and Zion. The prophet portrays Jerusalem as the focus and personification of the whole people of God.

 

In contrast, Babylon represents all that is detestable. It truly is the 'enemy nation'. Isaiah 45:14-25 emphasises the rebuilding of Zion as a counterpoint to the ruins of Babylon in chapter 47.

 

In chapter 46, the gods are carried away from a decaying Babylon. However, God carries Israel to safety. Zion is given back her husband Yahweh and her children in 46:14-26 and 50:1-3. Conversely, in chapter 47, Babylon loses both. The message is plain to see, Israel will depart from a cursed Babylon and return to a revitalised Jerusalem.  With the help of her husband, Yahweh, Israel with her children shall return home.

 

 Israel and the Nations  

The use of 'other nations' is used in Second Isaiah to represent their deities. This is especially effective to draw a sharp contrast between Israel and the other nations. In trial scenes (41:1-20; 41:21-42:9) the nations present images that represent their gods in the courtroom to testify on their behalf.

 

Second Isaiah, with full sarcasm, describes the process by which the images of gods are presented. (44:12-17) The Prophet brilliantly presents a contrast between the idols and Yahweh. Their deities can do nothing and say nothing, but Israel's God has power that is ever present and constant.

 

The Servant and Israel

The Servant represents what Israel should be ideally. It is God's desire for His people. Israel would be obedient and thus receive the benefits of a proper relationship with Yahweh. The word 'Servant' occurs twenty times in Second Isaiah. In thirteen of these times, Israel is directly referred to as the 'Servant'. The other seven are what is called the "Servant Songs".

 

According to Frick, four of these Servant Songs have been identified. They are the best known and most examined parts of Second Isaiah. The four Servant Songs are (1) 42:1-4; (2) 49:1-6; (3) 50:4-9; (4) 52-13-53:12. Some scholars contend that the Servant Songs most likely came from another author other than Second Isaiah and were inserted into the text. This was first recognised by German Lutheran Theologian Bernard Duhm (1847-1928) in 1892 when he commented on the awkward and intrusive nature of the Songs.

 

However, Old Testament Scholar and Baptist Minister Rev. Dr. Norman K. Gottwald (1926-2022) maintains that the Servant Songs can be harmonised and that the identities of the Servant can not be separated. He contends that the Servant Songs should be read as an integral part of Second Isaiah. Gottwald recommends that one should interpret each song in its own context if one is to fully understand it. The Servant Songs provides knowledge about the Servant central to the overall message of Second Isaiah.

 

Servant Song 1 (42:1-4)

 

In this song, the speaker is Yahweh, who tells the Servant that He has chosen him and now he possesses Yahweh’s Spirit. Because of this, the Servant will bring forth truth and justice. He will accomplish his mission non-violently and his strength will not fail until he has established true justice on earth.

 

Servant Song 2 (49 1-6)


In this song, the Servant speaks, describing his call: Yahweh called him even before he was born. His mouth was to be a weapon for God. God would be glorified through what the Servant does. He than expresses disappointment in his results. The Servants first job was to restore Israel to God with an expanded mission to be a light to the nations and to make God available to all the earth.


Servant Song 3 (50:4-11)


The Servant speaks again with a song of trust in God. He speaks faithfully to sustain the emotionally tired, yet is the target of people's abuse. Using legal terminology, the Servant expresses absolute confidence that God will vindicate him. He is assured by knowing that in the past God has lead His servants safely through the faithless people's rejection. In essence, Victory will go to those who carry on in Faith.

 

Servant Song 4 (52:13-53:12)


This is the longest and most complex Servant Song, which can be divided into three parts. In the first part of the fourth song the speaker is Yahweh: Who affirms that His Servant will prosper. However, before he prospers, the Servant will become disfigured so that he will no longer resemble a human being. The Servants words will than astonish the world leaders.

 

The second part of the fourth song, the speaker is Israel or a Congregation: The Servant will have an undistinguished background and does not have an overpowering physical presence. He will be despised and rejected by the people. Israel will think the Servant's punishment was a fitting retribution for his past deeds until they discovered he was suffering for them. The Servant, who suffered quietly and innocently, was unjustly executed and shamefully buried.

 

In the last part of the fourth song the speaker is again Yahweh: The Servant because of his actions will make many righteous vicariously. He will be rewarded for his work by taking for himself the sins of many and interceding for their wrongdoings. In all these song, the Servant acts as the prophetic mediator of the world. These songs don't refer to the Servant in the past tense, but talks of the future coming of the Servant.

 

Gottwald raises the question of the identity of the Servant. The Servant can be seen as a way of speaking about Israel. It presents a figure that will act as a Servant to Israel, perhaps a Prophet. Certainly, the early Christians took the Servant figure and identified Jesus in this role. This is especially done very well in the Gospel of Saint Mark, where Jesus is highlighted as the 'Suffering Servant' and where His suffering and death is stressed, even over His Majesty and Power.

 

Beginning with the early Church, Biblical interpreters have used the Servant Songs as predictive of Jesus, his death and resurrection. It has been used as a way to explain how they perceived Jesus and His Mission. However, this removes us away from the original interpretation of the text, as it relates to the Jewish Community in Babylon during the sixth century B.C..

Creation


Creation is also an important theme in Second Isaiah. As previously noted, God is viewed as a Redeemer with plans for a New Exodus and a New Jerusalem. Because of this, God is re-affirmed as the Creator.

 

Creation and Redemption language is used throughout the text. Much like the Book of Genesis, a mythological understanding of Creation as arising out of Chaos and Conflict is used along with God's struggle to rescue an oppressed Israel.

  Monotheism is introduced as Yahweh is regarded as Lord and Creator of the entire world. Second Isaiah contains the earliest statement of theoretical or philosophical Monotheism, that is belief in one God.


Yahweh is the one and only Creator of the whole world (40:12-31), and the gods of the other nations are simply human creations. (41:21-24; 44:9-20; 46:1-13) Second Isaiah anticipated a time when all nations would acknowledge the concept of Monotheism, thus becoming the source of Universalism.


Conclusion

 

It is through the polarities, that the author expresses the mighty power of Yahweh. By comparing their God to the gods of the other nations, the Prophet shows Israel, especially the Community in Babylon, that as a Nation it was held apart from others. By choosing Yahweh and what He offers, Israel would be saved yet again.

 

The Message of the Prophet in Second Isaiah is a Proclamation of Hope. He announces that the exile is coming to an end and the time of judgement has long been over. In fact, the time of deliverance for Israel is at hand. Their God, Yahweh, is above the god's of the other nations. He has won the day and proves to be the re-creator of a New World and a New Jerusalem.

 

Yahweh controls history and because of this, Israel will be saved and a New Covenant will be drawn up between God and His people. Israel is redeemed because it knows God's intention and respects His plan for His people. It knows that to mock Yahweh is to incur His wrath in the future, as it had in the past. Israel understands also understands that the present moment is the time to choose Yahweh's Will. If they are loyal to Yahweh they will receive all that is Righteous in the world.

 

In Second Isaiah, Israel and Yahweh interact. A bonding process is in motion. The Prophet tells Israel that it is the Servant whose time has come, that it has suffered enough and that in its pain, many will be redeemed. Israel is the Suffering Servant who brings Hope to those who believe in Yahweh.


End.

 


Bibliography


(1) The Harper Collins Study Bible

New Revised Standard Version

Harper Collins, San Francisco.

1993.

 

(2) The New Oxford Annotated Bible

New Revised Standard Version

Oxford University Press. New York,

1989.

 

(3) The Interpreter’s Bible- A Commentary in Twelve Volumes

Volume V. Isaiah 40-46

George Arthur Buttrick, Commentary Editor

Abingdon Press, New York,

1957.


(4) A Journey through the Hebrew Scriptures

Frank S. Frick

Harcourt Brace College Publishers

Fort Worth Texas

1995.

 

Originally entitled: Second Isaiah Research Topic Overview submitted to Dr. Mike Cheney as a Master of Theological Studies course requirement for 501E - Introduction to Hebrew Scriptures St. Stephen's Theological College University of Alberta Published on February 24th, 2002 {Revised December 17th, 2023}


© Dr. Charles Warner 2023


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