Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Isaiah 8

(1-4) narrative
(1-2) the LORD commands Isaiah reagarding a tablet, a name and reliable witnesses
(3) narrative of conception and birth of Isaiah’s son
(4) the LORD tells of imminent judgement on Syria and Israel, related to this son’s name

(5-10) prophecy of near-destruction of Judah
(5-8) Judah trusts in Syria and Israel, so a river is coming
(9-10) addressed to Judah as an epilogue of hope? Or to a remnant? Or by a remnant?

(11-22) narrative and prophecy mixed

The LORD speaks and Isaiah also speaks to his disciples (16-18, “biographical note”). The focus is on how God is to be trusted, so don’t listen to the whisperings and occult dealings around you.

(6) Rejoicing over: in the sense that Ahaz’s folly in linking himself with Assyria might have appeared to be a cause for rejoicing as Samaria and Damascus fell. But Assyria did not stop there, and in the reign of Ahaz’s own son (Hezekiah) the cruel empire turned its devastating attention to Judah (look at the understated way this horror is narrated in Isaiah 36ff.).

Isaiah’s children, and even Isaiah himself are signs and portents in Israel from the Lord of hosts (18), that’s why they are to have funny names. But of course, the names are not ‘funny’, they are both terrible and wonderful. Maher-shalal-hashbaz is all about imminent destruction, and Immanuel (see discussion of Isaiah 7) is all about God’s presence with the faithful. This child Immanuel is alluded to (vv. 8d, 10d) just before and at the end of the mysterious epilogue to the destruction (verses 9-10).

The reason why this is a little mysterious is that vv.5-8 are talking about Judah, and the thrust of the passage is ‘you have trusted in Assyrian men , and they will betray you once they have destroyed your other enemies’. So, why is Judah called ‘O Immanuel’ (God-with-us) at the end of verse 8, a title that seems to speak not of judgement but protection? And who are the peoples and far countries who are taking counsel in verses 9 and 10? Why this change of tone? – such that the Immanuel of v.10b is clearly a positive invocation of the name…

Recall chapter 7, in which the sign of the child Immanuel is a sign first of judgement on Syria and Israel (7:16) and then on Judah herself (7:17). The name of the child is, proximately, a rebuke to Ahaz and his cronies, a reminder of their failure to trust that God was indeed with them. But the actual meaning of the name is that God is with us. With whom? With at least some of the people of Judah – perhaps a ‘remnant’, whose existence is hinted at in the name of another of Isaiah’s sons, Shear-Jashub (a remnant shall return) whom we met in chapter 7 before the arrival of Immanuel.

We will of course hear a lot more about this remnant in chapter 10, but my concern is with what we know so far…

So, Immanuel is all about the remnant, and this is how the prophecies can both threaten and comfort Judah at the same time. And of course, the remnant is in some ways a type of the whole [faithful, if only] nation, so this shifting ‘us’/‘people’/etc. is not linguistic equivocation but rich theology.

Thus, verses 9 and 10 seem to be the words of the remnant as they speak to the nations – Israel, Syria, Assyria and even to apostate Judah (Ahaz’s administration and the sinful nation as a whole, since v.17 says that God is hiding his face from the [whole] house of Jacob) about successive waves of physical calamity: “Do your worst militarily. God is with us!”

(12) so-called conspiracy: Aram and Samaria plotting against Judah. God’s message is clear – as it happens you don’t need to worry about these trifling kings, you need to worry about me (HOLY and the rest of verse 13) and about judgement coming on both houses of Israel (14-15).

(14-15) are terrifying in the Hebrew [see Grogan in Expositor’s Bible Commentary]: just seven words, five concatenating verbs, four of which alliterate.

(16-18) the biographical note from the prophet himself, to underscore the importance of this testimony, a testimony that contradicts all the chatter of the politicians and their plots and manoueverings. (19-22) yet more on the importance of that testimony, in combination with God’s instruction [=the Law?] as people are surrounded by the temptation to look for wisdom from occult sources, something not unheard of today.

In fact, speaking in accord with this testimony turns out to be the litmus test (20b): either you curse God angrily in darkness, or you enjoy light and relief from distress (9:1)…