Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Isaiah 3 and 4

(1-7) The LORD is about to take away supplies and leaders from Jerusalem and Judah

(8-9) for they brazenly deny the eyes of his glory and have stumbled and fallen

(10-11) the fate of the righteous will be good, but not so the wicked

(12-17) the LORD as judge and prosecutor of OPPRESSION and VANITY – the leaders of Zion, and of haughty women

(18-4:1) in that day the finey and the mighty men will be stripped away

(4:2-6) in that day the branch of the LORD shall be beautiful and glorious: the LORD will cleanse and protect…

The tenses blend present and future. ‘I will make boys and children rule’ (4) and ‘now youth and women rule’ (12). Does this make the future more vivid? Or is the LORD threatening to give them over (4) to what they already glory in (12), à la Romans 1:24?

To ponder:

Inadequate leadership is a major problem – not just inadequate but actively oppressive (14) at this period. The shocking thought is, however, is that one of God’s acts of judgement is to give crummy leaders to the people. He removes the good, what you might call the substantial citizens (1-3) along with the dodgy “clever enchanter” [Motyer; ESV, diviner] who is there, too. He replaces them with the bad (4,5, 12) and even with comedy leaders (6) – the people are so desperate they’ll accept anyone who owns a cloak…

These bad leaders oppress instead of tending the vineyard, especially oppressing the poor. They spend their time on consumption and on parading their wealth.

The chronology of the judgement is not clear but it is implied that judgement (18), hardship & degredation (4:1) and safety & cleansing (4:2-6) will come “at once”, as it were. [NB. The ESV reading of 4:4 suggests that at least some of the daughters of Zion will be cleansed and so will be among the survivors; Motyer and Dalzell argue that ‘the filth of the women’ = the sinful women themselves.]

But in that day who will be left in Zion? How do you get left in Zion?

We know they will be the righteous (3:10), to whom a specific message is given, but we don’t hear much more about them. Rather, we hear a lot about what the LORD will do…

The categories are bursting!
in Israel
in Zion
remain in Jerusalem
cleanse Jerusalem of bloodstains
cloud over all of Mount Zion

This suggests something much greater than just a mountain in Palestine! Like so much of the OT, these prophecies point beyond themselves – compare the sacrifices, the temple, the monarchy… To take them literally would mean a JW-style reading, with just enough physical space (in square metres) for a limited number of people (the JW’s annointed ones?), which is what many dispensationalists do. (1) Verses 5-6 pick up the Exodus imagery of God’s protection, which is clearly not to be understood literalistically. (2) What about all the faithful Jews who lived out in the sticks!? Clearly no original reader of the OT would have taken Mount Zion physically and literalistically, but as representative: Jerusalem/Zion, here = the faithful people of God. And represenatation is crucial to God’s dealings with humanity! (Adam represents YHWH to the earth, Jesus represents God to man and man to God, etc.)

To run for a moment with the dispy-style interpretation of this and similar prophecies… It’s very tempting, granted, especially since the recent history of the state of Israel is remarkable (militarily and economically), and partial literal readings of the OT prophecy are not completely incoherent. Maybe there is a literal return to the land foretold? Maybe there is privilege in being Jewish?

If so, only in a small way – the big thing is the faithful from every nation inheriting the earth (Beatitudes, Revelation)! Nevertheless, the broken-off branches will be grafted back on (Romans) IF…

…there is acknowledgement of the rule of God and his Christ – which there is not
…righteousness characterises the people, which it does not
…there is fair treatment of the alien – which there is not


So the dangers of the dispy-style reading are revealed in the uncritical support of Israelis, which multiplies injustice in Palestine today. Those Jews who return to the land while remaining unbelievers are theologically insignificant. As Walter Kaiser says, God can re-run AD70 if he has to. Sobering thought, and not one that US dispys would like to try to put in their systems! Instead, they participate in the classic ‘Armageddon Now!’ fervour, a self-centred approached to prophecy that sees it all happening to the interpreter’s generation. Oh please…

The Branch (4:2)

A person? The survivors themselves? The produce/supply of the refreshed land? (Calvin and modern liberals are agreed on the third reading!)

If the Branch is Messianic here – and it certainly is in chapter 11 – this fits the first two readings, given that they actually come from a theological understanding of Jesus, such that the Messiah is not merely a bloke, a single figure, but a corporate figure of blessing and rule. “Branch” will be broadened as we go through Isaiah, even if right now we hear only future echoes…