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Isaiah 60:1-5

Isaiah 60:1-6

Background to the Book of Isaiah

The last eleven chapters of the book of Isaiah, after a period of neglect by scholars, are now the focus of renewed interest. B.Duhm in 1892 first focused attention of Old Testament commentators on Isa 56-66 when he proposed that these chapters were written by a different hand and at a different time from the material in Isaiah 40-55. Duhm believed that the author of Isa 56-66 had two emphases which were very important: Sabbath worship and fasting.

Isa 56-66 contains radical proposals for an inclusive community based on faithfulness rather than on blood line. The composition of the community described in Isa 56-66 has changed from that previously accepted in the Hebrew Scriptures. We note two important differences: foreigners and eunuchs are included in the worshipping community; and the nation of Israel no longer can regard itself automatically as the ' chosen people'. Instead, inclusion as part of God's chosen people is dependent on a person's faithfulness and response to Yahweh rather than on biological descent.

Isa 56-66 has been used as the basis for a number of discussions on the genesis of certain groups within Judaism: for example, Pharisees, Samaritans, a Levitical Prophetic group and others. One notable scholar who explores the issue of diverse groups/parties within post-exilic Judah is Hanson. However, a secondary issue evolved in which Hanson uses Isa 56-66 to prove a conflict between two parties, one of which is epitomised in chapters 56-66. This proclamation may confront the exclusive theology expounded in Ezek 40-48 and Nehemiah. Whether this is the precise historical setting of the reader or not, Isa 56-66 is constructed to defend an inclusive group against the actions of those who want a 'pure' Israelite community. This does not necessarily imply that there is a cohesive unity in Isa 56-66, but that the author has used different genres from various periods and allowed them to stand side by side. We take seriously the final literary form, without denying that the material may have come from many different sources and historical situations.

The creation of the book probably took place around the time of Ezra/Nehemiah (400 BCE).

Literary Comments: The whole book of Isaiah has been divided up into three main sections which appear to reflect preaching from different historical periods. Chapters 1-39 are often referred to as the prophecies from Isaiah of Jerusalem and cover the periods shown in the table in last week's background Section. Chapters 40-55 speak to the exiles, offering forgiveness and a strong encouragement to move back to Jerusalem. It contains some of the most beautiful language and a comprehensive theology of God as creator and redeemer. The remaining chapters 56-66 speak to a later post-exilic situation addressing quite different concerns to those expressed in Isa 40-55.

A literary Structure which is quite helpful is that first proposed by N.K. Gottwald, The Hebrew Bible: A Socio-Litery Introduction. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985.

56:1-8 - Proclamation of salvation for foreigners
       56:9-57:13 - Indictment of wicked leaders
                  57:14-21 - Salvation for the people
                      58:1-4 - Indictment of corrupt  worship
                             58:1-15a - Lament/confession over sins
                                    59:15b-20 - Theophany judge/redemption

                                                                       60-62  - Fully redeemed people

                                    63:1-6 - Theophany judge/redemption
                              63:7-64:12 - Lament/confession over sins
                        65:1-16 - Indictment of corrupt worship
                 65:17-25 - Salvation for the people
           66:1-6 - Indictment of wicked leaders
66:7-24 - Proclamation of salvation for foreigners

Context of Isa 60:1-6
After the inclusive message of Isa 56:1-8 an immediate impact is made by the use of stark pictures to describe the situation as perceived by the writer. Isa 57 spells out in detail the idolatrous behaviour of the people: judgement will befall them and their adopted idols will not rescue them. Isa 58 expounds the sins of the people even further. Moreover, the chapter combines two major areas of sinful behaviour in the eyes of God: cultic impropriety and unethical behaviour (vv.1-7, 9b-10a, 13). If these behaviours are reversed the people will be saved (v.8-9a, 10b-12, 14). The separation from Yahweh is blamed on the people's sinfulness which is described in graphic pictures in Isa 59:1-8 and reiterated by the people who acknowledge their sins in Isa 59:9-15. In response the Lord will put on righteousness, with the result his enemies will suffer his anger and those who turn from their sins will be redeemed. The separation between the ungodly and the righteous which is detailed in chapters 65-66 is pre-figured in both Isa 57 and 58. Isa 60-62 contains a strong emphasis on the role and place of Zion. The proclamation is unconditional and states how God will act towards Zion and his people. Images of light and glory rest on Zion which attract the foreigners. In response the foreigners are wholly subordinate to Israel. A situation which gives honour to Yahweh. God will make an everlasting covenant and their descendants will be known among the nations. The people respond with their acknowledgment of what God will do, which includes the recognition of God's righteousness. The final verses of Isa 62 affirm the special relationship between Yahweh, his people and the city. We move from God's promise of renewal and restoration in chapters 60-62 to the portrait of a God who is angry and vengeful in Isa 63:1-6 . When God looks there is no one to save. Here is one of many contradictions which the writer of Isaiah 56-66 seems to have retained in these chapters (Isa 63:5, I looked, but there was no one to uphold versus a promise of renewal and restoration to the people, Isa 65:17). Isa 63:7-64:12 is a lament by the people acknowledging their unfaithfulness and seeking God's forgiveness which is immediately followed by a response from God who asks why did they never answer when God called. After giving details of their heinous crimes God promises a new heaven and new earth in which God is described as a comforting mother.

Insights/Message of Isa 60:1-6

Literary structure: Isa 60 takes up the prophecy from Isa 59:20 which proclaims that Yawheh will come to Zion as Redeemer and we read of the consequences which begin with the imperative voice speaking to Jerusalem directly - 'Arise, shine' . The play on the word 'arise' is apparent in vv.1-2. Jerusalem will 'arise' and the nations will see this 'rising' together with the glory which has come because the Lord has 'arisen' x2 on Jerusalem. The imperative commands to Jerusalem continue, and the consequence of Jerusalem 'lifting up her eyes' (v.4) will be the sight of nations and exiles returning in glorious acclaim to Jerusalem. Wealth and abundance will accompany these returnees, both Israelites and the nations. A description of this wealth is further expanded using images from the middle East in vv.6-7. Indeed, the unit continues until the end of v.9. In v.2b, the glory can be interpreted as God's presence which has returned to Jerusalem. InEzekiel 8, we are told the glory has left Jerusalem and is present with the exiles in Babylon. Now that presence has returned and has the same intent as when David brought the ark into Jerusalem when he became King - God's presence is here with us. Isa 60-62 comes in the centre of Isa 56-66 and proclaims a picture of the rebuilt glorious Zion who will draw all people to her splendour. The nations will be subservient to Israel bringing their wealth and themselves as builders to be used by Israel. As God addresses Jerusalem in Isa 60, using the femine pronouns to confirm that it is indeed Jerusalem, the voice in Isa 61 is that of the prophet speaking in the first person before the chapter moves to Yahweh speaking in the first person. It is likely that Isa 60-62 came from a tradition spoken to the exiles soon after their return from Babylon and later was incorporated into its present position in Isa 56-66 at a much later time (circa 400 BCE).

Message / Theology:  The implied audience is the group of people who have returned to Jerusalem inspired by the message of Isa 40-55. Indeed, the people would have needed the hope of a glorious renewed Zion to keep their spirits alive after the trek back from Babylon and seeing a ruined Jerusalem which their forbears had left 50-60 years earlier. The darkness which had descended when Nebuchadrezzar invaded and took Jerusalem will now be lifted and the light, which is God's glory/presence is now shining out and apparent to all peoples. This glorious rebuilt Jerusalem with God's presence has been a picture of hope and salvation throughout all the history of the Jewish people which is been echoed in the liturgy at the end of the Passover meal, 'Next year in Jerusalem'.

For Christian readers it is part of the story retold in the liturgy which commemorates the Magi following the light (star) to Bethlehem and worshipping the new born Christ. God's presence is now that light which has come into the world. In the history of God's people God's presence was with Moses on Mt Sinai, with the people, symbolised in the Ark, as they travelled the wilderness, that presence/Ark brought into Jerusalem by David, the glory/presence leaving Jerusalem to abide with the exiles in Babylon and returning in Isa 60. The light of God now present in Christ which the Magi saw in the heavens and followed. The Magi are symbolic of the nations/gentiles who come to the Jerusalem/Bethlehem attracted by the light. The worship of gentiles is accepted by the Christ and are fully included within the gospel of Jesus Christ as indeed the foreigners are accepted fully into the worshipping community in Isa 56:1-8.

Resources/Worship Isaiah 60:1-6


Resources: Commentaries

The Old Testament Guides (OTG) by Sheffield Academic Press are an excellent small resource which give many suggestions for readings on particular aspects in the book.

The New Interpreter's Bible is another very helpful resource and published in the late 1990's - 2002 is more up to date than some earlier works.

Brueggemann, Walter. Isaiah 40-66. Westminster BC. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, c1998.
Childs, Brevard S. Isaiah. OTL. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.
Emmerson,Grace I. Isaiah 56-66. OTG. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1992.
Hanson, Paul D. Isaiah 40-66. Int. Louisville, Ky.: John Knox, 1995.
Muilenburg, James, and Henry Sloan Coffin. "The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 40-66." In The Interpreter's Bible. 5:381-773. New York: Abingdon Press, 1956.
Oswalt, John. The Book of Isaiah. Chapters 40-66. NICOT. Grand Rapids, Mich. W. B. Eerdmans, 1998.
Scullion, John J. Isaiah 40-66. OTM. Wilmington, Del. Michael Glazier, 1982.
Thompson, Michael. Isaiah Chapters 40-66. Epworth Commentaries. Peterborough: Epworth Press, 2001.
Tucker, Gene. "The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 40-66." In The Interpreter's Bible. 6:307-552: Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001.
Watts, John. Isaiah 34-66. WBC. Waco, Tex.: Word Book, 1987.
Westermann, Claus. Isaiah 40-66: A Commentary. OTL. London: SCM Press, 1966.b
Whybray, R. N. Isaiah 40-66. NCB. London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott; Grand Rapids, Mich. W. B. Eerdmans, 1981, c1975.
Young, E. J. The Book of Isaiah: The English Text, with Introduction, Exposition, and Notes. NICOT. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 1972.

Web sites with helpful lectionary resources: 

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