Sunday, February 27, 2011

Isaiah 47-52: The Antepunultimate Isaiah Post!

Isaiah, Duccio Di Buoninsegna, c. 1310

Isaiah 47: More prophesy from Isaiah, of course, this time an extended metaphor predicting the fall of Babylon. The mighty empire to the east is characterized as a young woman who dabbles in the supernatural, and Isaiah gives her what-for for 15 verses to let her know that, though she’s had a good run up to now, she’s due for big trouble ahead.

Two points of detail, though. At the beginning of the – shall we call it a rant? – the anthropomorphized Babylon is described as a “Virgin Daughter,” yet by the midpoint she is being threatened with widowhood and the death of her children. Well, I have learned not to look for consistency in Isaiah. More interesting, perhaps, is a footnote to the effect that the word “Babylonians” might actually refer to the Chaldeans. Apparently we’re not sure. But somebody was doomed, that’s for sure.

Isaiah 48: Isaiah the Prophet speaks on behalf of God about how stubborn the Israelites are for not listening to prophets, and about how his prophets are always right. God has refined the Israelites, he says, through affliction.

In the second part of the passage, there are odd things going on with the quotation marks, and I’m unsure what is the Book of Isaiah reporting on events, Isaiah talking, Isaiah reporting what God is saying, and what is God quoting things he said in the past. The upshot seems to be that God is going to destroy the Babylonians (or Chaldeans), and also that the Israelites should flee from the Babylonians. If this is confusing, there is also some tension between the notion that God has intentionally refined the Israelites through affliction in order to demonstrate his might and glory, as has just been announced in verse 10, and a long passage (verses 17-19) that the Israelites would have had an awesome deal, if they’d just followed instructions.

The chapter ends with a stand-alone verse, the awesome and familiar quote “There is no peace,” says the Lord, “for the wicked” (22).

Isaiah 49: A longish chapter in full-bore Israel-triumphant mode, prophesying that Israel will become a nation of enormous prosperity, an example and inspiration to other peoples, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth. (7) The dominance of Israel shown here gets a little over-the-top, as the kings and queens of the Gentiles prostrate themselves before Israelites to lick the dust at their feet (23) and the enemies of Israel are forced to drink their own blood and drink their own wine. (26) Well, it’s the Bible! It’s a violent book!

Isaiah 50: This short chapter begins with a couple of odd metaphors about suffering. The gist is, if I’m reading this right, that God is capable of saving you from any mishap, but may choose not to do so if you are proud or sinful; ergo, if you are in trouble it’s your own damn fault. From Verses 4 to 9, Isaiah the Prophet talks about how awesome he is for continuing to pass on the messages that God gives him every morning, despite that people don’t always believe him and often make fun of him for it. In Verses 10 and 11, he closes with another metaphor to the effect that anybody who makes decisions based on anything except the will of God – as expressed by Isaiah the Prophet, naturally – will suffer eternal torment.

Isaiah 51: Another chapter in full Israel-triumphant mode, promising imminent and everlasting peace, prosperity, and political dominance for Israel. Never again, Isaiah says that God says, will the Israelites drink from the goblet of my wrath…. I will put it into the hands of your tormentors. (22-23) Again – because I think this is a really important point in evaluating Isaiah’s cred as a prophet -- The Lord will surely comfort Zion… he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the Lord. No more troubles for the Israelites, says Isaiah. Sometime in the late 700s B.C.

Isaiah 52: A puzzling chapter, in which Isaiah predicts the triumph of Israel, then suddenly encourages the people to Depart, depart, go out from there! (11), without really making clear why it’s important to leave or where everybody’s going.

The chapter closes with three verses about a servant who will act wisely, who will be exalted, who will be physically disfigured, but who will be very influential to many nations and many important people. I’m guessing that much will be made of this passage down the road.

NEXT -- the Penultimate Isaiah Post

1 comment:

Nichim said...

So Babylon is a Virgin Mother too? Oh, the foreshadowing!