Isaiah Calls the People Back Home (Isaiah chs. 40-66)

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This video is part of a series of weekly lectures (“Orientation videos”) and other supplements for an online course called BIBL 100 Bible Survey, focused on understanding the totality of the Christian Bible from both academic and Christian perspectives.

The full YouTube playlist for this course is located at:

Brian R. Doak, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Biblical Studies
Faculty Fellow in the William Penn Honors Program
Director, GFU Summer Online Program

[email protected]

hello hello hello there my fine students I hope you're doing really well welcome to this video orientation lecture on the Book of Isaiah kind of like a part two we talked about Isaiah already in our previous unit or we're returning to Isaiah for some specific reasons which I will explain presently um at this point having finished the main basic plot of biblical Israel running from the book of Genesis in the creation of the world and the covenant with the ancestors all the way through the acquisition of the land in judges and Joshua Joshua judges all the way through Samuel and kings having gone through that narrative having seen that plot through to its tragic end in the year 586 BC with the destruction of the temple and the ruin of the monarchy and it would seem the ruin of the entire covenant one glaring question should be right at the top of our our heads here right in front of our minds namely the question is Israel dead is Israel's God dead I mean if the people can't hold up their into the Covenant if God can't hold up his end of the Covenant what I mean what just happened in the ancient Near Eastern world of biblical Israel deities were often connected with temples and connected with a nation so you're a nation you've got your temple you've got your ruling institution your monarchy your leader whatever you have the temple where that deity resides if your nation invaded by another nation who has their own God in their own temple in their own system it's kind of like a battle of the gods right kind of like my country and my god my language my politics against yours that dynamic still pertains in the contemporary world in many ways though it's not as intense perhaps as it used to be in the ancient world but in the ancient world in the Babylonians with their God Marduk and their system and their politics comes marching in and they destroy your temple of your God Lord Yahweh it just means that the Lord loses it means that Israel has lost its God has failed to protect it the whole thing has come crumbling down on normal political terms then we might say that we might say Israel is doomed Israel is dead Israel is gone and we see examples of this from throughout the ancient world I mean where today is the mode by God shamash where is the Church of key mosh the Moabite deity and who are the Moabites today well their nation was destroyed at some point they passed out of historical memory for periods you know nobody really followed them after the destruction of their gods and their temples and so on same thing with the Babylonians I mean what about their God Marduk where's Mark why doesn't anyone worship Marduk's today now you might say in terms of biblical Israel as a Christian at least that Israel's God survived because their God was real okay and their God persistent as a Christian I believe this to be true and you do too if you're a Christian um but something has to happen here at this point in the story okay at this point in the story Israel needs a way back into the game back into the narrative otherwise there is no narrative did the Covenant really truly fail between God in Israel or can it be revived in some way and if so how turn with me if you will if you have the Bible with you to the Book of Isaiah Isaiah chapter 40 in particular on page 500 if you have the bible abbé i just want to read from isaiah chapter 40 verses 1 through 11 Isaiah chapters 40 through 66 it is often thought pertain to this exact period in Israel's story where we now are they are directed at a nation in exile a nation that has been destroyed almost completely but not completely by the Babylonians some people majority of people half the people it's hard to say how many people but some of the Israelites have been taken into exile into Babylon and the land has been left largely desolate the book of second Kings mentioned that the Babylonians had left some some farmers and vine dressers back in the land in order to kind of keep you know keep the land producing you know and so on but by and large israel's ruling class whatever rulers that had laffs and intellectuals its priests and so on had been exiled to Babylon this period then from 586 onward for the next 50 60 70 years would be revert is referred to as the exilic period the exilic period okay and Isaiah chapters 40 through 40 to 55 and really 40 through 66 seemed to address Israel during this period so that's why we're going here today imagine these words imagine imagine you being in exile being one of those upper-class people who have been taken away from Jerusalem to Babylon imagine hearing these words Isaiah chapter 40 verses 1 through 11 comfort comfort my people says your God speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed that her sin has been paid for that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins a voice of one calling in the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord make straight in the desert a highway for our God every Valley shall be raised up every mountain and Hill made low the rough ground shall become level rugged places a plane and the glory of the Lord will be revealed and all people will see it together for the mouth of the Lord has spoken a voice says cry out and I said what shall I cry all people are like grass and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field the grass withers and the flowers fall because the breath of the Lord falls under surely the people are grass the grass withers and the flowers fall but the word of our God endures forever you bring good news to Zion go up on a high mountain you who bring good news to Jerusalem lift up your voice with a shout lift it up do not be afraid say to the towns of Judah here is your God see the sovereign Lord comes with power and he rules with a mighty arm see his reward is with him and his recompense accompanies him he tends his flock like a shepherd he gathers the Lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart he gently leads those that have young it's a rather beautiful poem just the beginning of really a series of poems that come in these chapters encouraging this community it seems who had experienced what the speaker there called hard service who had experienced the results of their sin who had received punishment from the Lord's hand what's the message here the message as the very first word indicates is comfort comfort comfort my people says your God so it's going to be a new message now there's going to be a new chapter in this history know this God is not dead know Israel's story is not over in many ways we might say in terms of the Bible's full story it's only just begun and after this great national failure a new thing is going to be forged some new ideas are going to come come up God is going to deal with the people in new ways and the Covenant with David is going to find new life but we're going to have to wait for it we're going to have to we're going to have to keep moving through the literature okay we now enter our next unit our next unit is called the Cassidy the Cassidy the word caffeine in Hebrew means writings the writings okay the writings as you can see here by this list of books in the screen is a sort of hodgepodge of materials of books notably the books that we're discussing today Isaiah as part of this unit the caffeine is not technically part of the caffeine okay I realize that's confusing it just just makes such a nice transition into the caffeine that I dragged it forward from the profits or from the nevian from the last unit books that are familiar to some Bible readers like the Psalms and proverbs and Esther and things like that are part of the caffeine as you can see here Psalms proverbs joke the Song of Songs there should be a common error between proverbs and job edits or separate books the Song of Songs Ruth lamentations Ecclesiastes and Esther Daniel in in the kind of Christian conception of the books as opposed to the Jewish division which I'm following here for the purpose of this course on the Book of Daniel is considered a prophet he's considered one of the writings in Judaism it's not a hundred percent clear why this is but the Book of Daniel contains in different kinds of material Ezra and Nehemiah which we'll be taking a look at soon here and first and second chronicles and and these books actually end the Jewish Bible the Hebrew Bible of course the Christian Bible continues on after the Old Testament on into the New Testament and that's where we're going here but the Jewish Bible actually ends with this unit so it has a trifold division in the Torah Nevi'im and Ketuvim so so the captain being here is just our third unit of four for the Christian Bible but this would be the end of the Jewish Bible the end of the story with these with these books Judaism continues on of course in different directions from Christianity the story of Judaism and the development of the Jewish people doesn't end with the story in the Hebrew Bible of course but continues on through many other documents and much more tradition many more have a chance to look at here at any rate in this unit and needs book so the cathode even these books will be our focus but this book that were on now Isaiah it's not not not an official part of the Catholic team but I've kind of dragged it into this unit could make some nice bridge okay I've already alluded to the fact that it's thought that these chapters and Isaiah chapters 40 through 66 address the exilic situation in the sixth century from from those years between 586 BC and onward um you know for the next say 50 60 70 years or so but I thought earlier in our previous unit we had included Isaiah with in the 8th century prophetic group which went 200 years earlier during the 700s so what the heck a couple of possibilities arise here everyone who though who reads chapters 40 through 66 has to agree that these chapters address the babylonian situation during the exile there's no way around that it's too obvious it's too clear and there are too many direct references to babylon and to the exile itself i mean here in this portion of the book the prophet is actually talking to the exilic group directly and encouraging them to make the journey home so this has to be directed toward the exhilarate but why would a book that's written in the 700s be addressing people that are living in the 500s so with a 200 year gap two possibilities arise number one perhaps what we might call it the traditional christian view would be that the prophet living in the eighth century had written all of this material and in fact had predicted um predicted that these things would happen and wrote half of the book pertaining to a situation that no one could have understood in the 700s BC but sort of just wrote cryptically in this weird way and people sort of treasured his writings and carried around with scrolls for a couple hundred years waiting for their fulfillment and then found the fulfillment in the exilic period okay um and there's and there's a kind of bridge if you flip a page backing Isaiah in chapter 38 and 39 which in fact alludes to this idea Isaiah 39 verse 5 Isaiah said that Hezekiah hear the word of the Lord the time will when everything will be destroyed when will be carried off to Babylon and so the book itself makes a kind of transition here okay and this speaking voice then in chapter 40 sort of comes out of nowhere like in the predictive prophetic future back to address these people and it's certainly possible that that Isaiah of Jerusalem wrote the entire thing most scholars who treat these passages however think that that chapters 40 through 55 and really chukkers 40 through 66 broadly were written by a different author perhaps authors who treasured and valued Isaiah's earlier writings from the eighth century and we're part of a kind of chain of prophetic tradition almost like a school that continued on for decades through a couple hundred years and who kept writing in this tradition under Isaiah's name or in his tradition and in fact the books that they wrote to in the chapters became part of the grand Isaiah mnek tradition as we now have it the reason that scholars think this are several in perhaps the first reason and maybe even the best reason at least in my view when considering this viewpoint to view this this Isaiah as as actually living during this later period not that the first Isaiah had predicted this is that prophets tended to speak to people around them in ways that people could understand okay it's not clear that people I mean we don't we don't know really it's hard to know what our evidence would be for people listening to cryptic words that some insane speaker was speaking and they had no idea what they meant just they sort of just held them under their arms like Scrolls and carried them around and we're waiting for that kind of fulfillment it doesn't really seem like in a lot of the prophetic books that's really what's going on except here right with this little reference to the Babylon saying in chapter 39 but rather prophets spoke very direct very sometimes as we know uncomfortable messages directly to people who are very well understood what those messages were so if if texts here seem to be written to people who are living in this in the 500s BC in Babylon and that's probably who was receiving this message into whom it was written first written and and someone living in that period spoke it out so that would be the most base assumption but there are several others as well I list a few issues up here on the screen for you very briefly I don't mean to get caught up on this authorship thing but I'm kind of getting just getting us into a scholarly issue here of authorship and and history number one the language in the tone changes dramatically starting in chapter 40 there's a lot of vocabulary and technical grammar and words that are used here in the second roughly the second half the book that don't appear anywhere in the first half the book there's a lot of wording and tone and tone and theme in the first half the book that doesn't appear anywhere in the second half book so this could indicate a new speaker a new writer number two these last 25 26 27 chapters of Isaiah and never mention the events of the eighth century BC and the character of Isaiah the moving speaking prophet that we had seen come up in that first part of the book never appears in the second half of the book not by name not there are no narratives nothing like that okay so clearly something's different here number three Isaiah's Isaiah chapters 40 through 66 refer to the events of 586 BC grammatically as a past event in the past tense to give a couple of references there and you can you can look that up of course tense in Hebrew is difficult it's not always as as simple as it seems in English the distinction between the past and the present tense it's a complicated issue that we can't get into now but at any rate the speaker here seems to assume that the Babylon events in 586 has occurred sometime in the past okay so those are stills are kind of three reasons built in the text itself and its wording that we might look at right away um they're even they're even more specific things though consider reason number four the specific reference to a guy named Cyrus King Cyrus who was a king of of an empire called Persia the Persians in the year 539 BC he's referred to a couple of times like in isaiah 45:1 1 through 4 you can see the text down there I know it's kind of a wordy sort of a wordy slide here up at the screen Isaiah 45 1 through 4 thus says the Lord to his anointed there we get our word Mashiach anointed to Cyrus so Cyrus is actually called a messiah which is a rather extravagant term for a foreign King I think Cyrus is the only foreign King to whom this term mashiac is applied that says the Lord who is anointed to Cyrus whose right hand I have grasped to subdue nations before him and stripped kings of their robes to open doors before him I will go before you in level mountains I call you by your name so Cyrus was a king of Persia we know about Cyrus we know who Cyrus is in history he was a Persian king who overthrew the Babylonians in the year 539 BC he even wrote about it and distributed Cyrus did and his Persians distributed propaganda documents across Babylon in order to convince people that he was a legitimate Conqueror one of these documents I put an excerpt of it here up on the screen it's called the Cyrus cylinder the Cyrus cylinder listen to what he says Marduk about me the Babylonian deity spoke the name of Cyrus king of on Shan declaring him ruler of all the world Marduk ordered Cyrus to march against his city of Babylon he marched with Cyrus to enter Babylon without a battle and delivered nabonidus the king who did not worship him into Cyrus's hands now the nidus was the last Babylonian king so you have here as part of his propaganda Cyrus himself saying that the Babylonian God came and found him and grabbed his right hand you know he doesn't say grab his right hand just says that he spoke his name and declared him ruler of the world it was kind of like Cyrus is saying yeah hey Babylon your God Marduk told me to overthrow your loser King nabonidus and come and be the ruler of your place that language seems echoed even in the book of isaiah 45:1 through 4 when isaiah says that the Lord Yahweh has grasped Cyrus his right hand okay and led him to go in there and do his thing so we see a kind of competition of religions and voices here we have Isaiah the biblical prophet saying it was the Lord we have Cyrus the king claiming it was Marduk okay and using this as a kind of ideology a kind of propaganda for describing why he was able to do what he did so at any rate the reference the very specific reference to Cyrus king of the Persians makes a lot of sense in the 6th century in the year 5 in or around or just before the year 539 BC okay it's not be another reason that scholars have seen on these Texas dating to that time period because of such specific references that would make sense to an audience in the 6th century um finally reason number 5 Isaiah 40 through 55 these chapters encourage the Exile to journey home and have a lot of polemics that is angry speech against Babylon ok and I give some examples there of where those polemics appear so anyway make it in what you will think of it on your own as a thinker as one moving through these materials how does this make sense historically how does this work how strong do you think the cases to see this these chapters as written by a different author living in a different time period from the first 39 chapters how does this make sense within the context of what the book seems to claim about itself in chapter 39 or even just the sense that the book opens with with with this claim that it's the words of Isaiah in chapter 1 or the vision of Isaiah chapter 1 verse 1 should that apply the whole book even if we recognize an historical layer of authorship that's different from Isaiah is it still beneficial within the grand narrative of the book to see it as as being part of this Isaiah moment in the prophet Isaiah I think this would happen to be something like my own view like there may be and I would acknowledge as a scholar there are historical layers within the book different times during which different things were written still I think the book encourages us very naturally as readers to read it all as the product of this singular author Isaiah and we're and were to imagine God's care for Israel God's providence over Israel as being so strong that in fact it bridges many different time periods so I think that's a good sort of way to read the book at least for beginners so I would encourage that but I raised the issue just to say these kind of problems are out there in the scholars often to deal with all right what about the text what about the actual words that we find here in Isaiah chapters 40 through 66 there's so many different teams we could look at here let's just jump right into chapter 43 and look at a couple of a couple of the key themes that we find in these chapters Isaiah 43 um I'll start at I'll start at verse 10 isaiah 43:10 page 503 in my Bible um two themes that I want to trace here are the themes of monotheism monotheism and the theme of the Exodus as well as the theme of creation so monotheism Exodus and creation are our three three themes that I want to look at here in fact I'll start with that third one with creation back in chapter 42 the theme of creation comes up a lot in in Isaiah here because when we're thinking about how can our story continue the focus on God as a creator becomes so important why and it's pretty simple in one sense if God could create the entire cosmos if God created Israel at the start and and and sort of birth to them as a nation out of just one couple Abraham and Sarah presumably he can do that again and the Prophet wants to tell the people yes God can do that again definitely so you see creation imagery all over the place like consider 42 verse 4 really the end of verse 3 here in faithfulness he will bring forth justice it's talking about God here he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on the earth in his teaching the islands will put their hope this is what the Lord God the Lord says the creator of the heavens who stretches them out who spreads out the earth with all that Springs from it who gives breath to its people in life to those who walk on it that God he said that very same God who can do that verse 6 of chapter 42 I the LORD have called you righteousness I will take hold of your hand so you see how the cosmic the huge the creative forces of God become very personal now for the Prophet and for his audience that same God who created the universe is going to take you by the hand it's going to lead you out of this place back and we see creation in many other places as well just kind of scanning for this creation theme it really is on all over the place in chapters 41 42 43 44 and I think as you read these chapters as part of the assigned reading for today you'll see some creation themes like this chapter 43 here's another theme monotheism the idea that Israel's God is the only God now you might say wasn't that theme already emphasized all over the place in the Bible up to this point not as much as you might think no there are a couple of moments but at many points you know the assumption seems to me that maybe there are other gods maybe these other gods are doing all kinds of things Israel's not to worship okay not to worship these other gods this is part of the Ten Commandments indeed the very first commandment I'm Lord your God had brought you out of Egypt you shall have no other gods before me but but that commandment doesn't get really detailed about whether other gods actually technically philosophically ontologically exist or not but Isaiah here these chapters is going to get very specific about that and when we think about this insistence on monotheism perhaps it helps Isaiah's audience understand that whatever's happening to them is not the result of some other God or some or some chaotic universe force ripping them out of their land but rather Israel is still under the care of its one God and indeed this God isn't just one force among others he's the only force he's the only game in town and Isaiah gets really explicit about this chapter 43 verse 10 you are my witnesses declares the Lord and my servant whom I have chosen so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he before me no God was formed nor will there be one after me I I am the Lord and apart from me there is no Savior okay so this is very explicit language where God saying I am it okay I am God before me there was no God after me there's no God the only one dealing with you is me says the Lord so this is very important theologically for the people to really understand this is God and God is with them okay we also find a lot of and this is yet another theme we find a lot of Exodus imagery in these chapters so this is another theme the theme of the Exodus that that that was really powerful for people living in this situation of Exile the same God who took Israel and brought them up out of the land of Egypt brought them through the wilderness that same God is going to take these people on the Exodus part too okay the Exodus part too he's going to bring them back from their place of slavery and Babylon and bring them back to the land so we see for example in 43 16 this is what the Lord says he who made a way through the sea a path through the mighty waters who drew out the chariots and horses the army and reinforcements together and they lay there never rise again extinguish snuffed out like a wick who what does this imagery sound like to you the idea of waters and drownings and chariots and killing this army it's the imagery of the exodus of exodus chapters 14 and 15 when god leave them out in the end and the reed sea comes crashing back and destroys Pharaoh's army see verse 19 see I'm doing a new thing now it springs up do you not perceive it I'm making a way in the wilderness remember the wilderness from the Book of Numbers were the people journey and streams in the wasteland remember God providing water out of the rock back in the Torah okay so Isaiah is very directly alluding to these earlier scenes um maybe one of the most powerful themes and I'll end with this one is the theme of the servant the servant the word here in Hebrew is is ended ended servant or really more accurately slave Isaiah keeps talking about a servant and talks about the servants in many different ways the servant is as at points identified that seems like an individual at other times the servant seems to be an entire community for example in Isaiah chapter 44 verse 1 but now listen Jacob my servant and in 4421 remember these things Jacob for you Israel are my servant so things like the whole community is personified as God Evan God's servant God's slave here that he's talking to so you get another resonance with the Exodus story where the people were slaves but God brought them out and said no you're not slaves of Pharaoh you're my servants you're my slaves I take you out I'm I'm your Lord okay at other times so there's a community identity here very clearly also in 45 for for the sake of Jacob my servant Israel my chosen one so Jacob in Israel they're being titles for the nation other times though the servant seems to have a very particular individual identity like in chapter 53 which is one of the most famous chapters and has a lot of meaning for Christians particularly during the Easter season when Christians celebrate Jesus's resurrection from front from the dead but Jesus was not resurrected from the dead to give a little plot spoiler here there'll be a character named Jesus and he will be resurrected from the dead okay now that's coming later in our story but the season also suffered was tortured was crucified was killed in a horrific action of fashion and Christians have seen in Isaiah's description of the servant here whether whether this original Isaiah was talking about the entire community or an individual Christians have seen in these passages descriptions of suffering that have a lot of meaning in terms of what suffering can do what it can produce so consider Isaiah 53 for example Isaiah 53 who has believed our message 53 1 and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed he grew up before him like a tender shoot and like a root out of dry ground he had no beauty or Majesty to attract us to him nothing in his appearance that we should desire him he was despised and rejected by mankind a man of suffering and familiar with pain like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised we held him in low esteem surely he took up our pain and bore our suffer yet we considered him punished by God stricken by him and afflicted but he was pierced for our transgressions he was crushed for our iniquities the punishment that brought us peace was on him and by his wounds we are healed such a fascinating idea an idea that really becomes powerfully introduced here in a major way in in the Bible the idea that one person can suffer and somehow their suffering means something for someone else indeed if this suffering is is suffered um not because of fault but but in a state of righteousness that that suffering can have a powerful effect for another person an idea we might call vicarious suffering vicarious suffering the idea that one person can suffer on behalf of another person Isaiah talks about this theme the idea that either all of Israel as a whole in the Exile or maybe this this individual here that he speaks of can suffer for others becomes really powerful the idea that how can the nation go forward except through suffering they're suffering horribly right now but the question becomes this does the suffering mean something can it be purifying this suffering kepp doesn't have to just be something that israel wallows in in the negative does it happy something that causes their desks or can it be a kind of a passageway to a new kind of life if you suffer because of something wrong that you did I mean you just see that as justice if I rob a bank and I get 20 years in prison you don't say that I'm suffering when I'm in prison I mean maybe I am but it's like I'm getting my punishment for the crime okay but what happens if I suffer too much what happens if i shoplift the candy bar from the grocery store and I get 20 years in prison you might say wow that's that's too much that's unjust suffering okay Isaiah sees in in the figure of this servant unjust suffering suffering that has gone beyond the bounds in fact in that opening passage I was reading in chapter 40 she has received verse 2 chapter 40 she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins why should she receive double why not just one for one well here we get one of Isaiah's most meaningful theological ideas the idea that one person can suffer on behalf of another or one community can suffer and this can bring a righteous benefit for others we'll see this theme coming up again in the New Testament but it's introduced in a really powerful way here in Isaiah 53 and elsewhere in these chapters so much more here that we can talk about so much more as always but we're going to have to let it go at this point thanks for tuning in see you next time bye-bye

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