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Isaiah 63:7-9

Isaiah 63:7-9
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: xThe 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 63:7-9

We commented last week that Isa 60-62 is the centre of Isa 56-66 and speaks of a fully redeemed people back in Jerusalem. The emphasis in Isa 60-62 is on the consequences of God choosing to let his glory rest on Jerusalem. Surrounding these central chapters are verses describing appearances of God proclaiming judgement. The shock as one moves into Isa 63 is quite profound as we read the strong statement of judgement based on the statement that there was no-one to help: the people had all abandoned their God. The cry of God in vv.1-6 is that there was no-one who was being faithful to God. The description of God who can be angry and vengeful is not a pleasant one, and we need to remember this is a world view prior to the advent of Christ. On the other hand we have the incredible picture of God which is the complete opposite in Isa 63:7-9, which reminds the people of how Yahweh had redeemed them and cared for them. But the people had rebelled in spite of knowing God as the rescuer and leader in the wilderness (63:10-15). They even wanted to blame God for their apostasy and refused to take responsibility for their behaviour (63:15-19).

Insights/Message of Isa 63:7-9

Literary structure:Isa 63:7 begins with the prophet stating in the 1st person that he will remember God's love and it then moves into 1st person plural and speaks of the community. "Remember" is a better translation than "recount" because it carries with the sense of actually reliving the memories of God's love. The prophet then recounts what God says in v.8, in which God states how he became their Savior. V.9 declares the actions of this savior in images from their past history. We are reminded of the servant in Isa 53, and Moses in the wilderness, although we are unsure about the angel. It could be an illusion to the saving actions of God when he sent an angel came to save Hagar. The section can be divided into a structure in which the prophet appeals to God on behalf of the people (v.7) and to the people on behalf of God (vv.8-9). Isa 63:7-9 are the first verses of a community lament which goes through to Isa 64:11. It begins with this historical psalm in vv.7-14 before the lament proper begins in v.15.

Message / Theology. The repetition of the words 'steadfast love' in the first and last lines alert us to the focus of this verse. This 'hesed' (steadfast love) of God is what brings forth our praises. God who loves in this way chose to become the Saviour of Israel. In making that choice we know from other texts how God suffered because this people whom he chose went their own ways, ignored the cries of their God and even set up other gods to worship. The 'angel of his face' (v.9a) is only instance of this phrase in the Old Testament and appears to mean "the Lord himself as visibly present" (Oswalt:607). The people have experienced through their history many instances when the presence of God has saved them, whether in the wilderness or in battle. It is out of love and compassion that God acts to redeem the people (see Isa 40:31).

As Christians we experience this 'hesed' which gave us Jesus. We did nothing to deserve the total love God gave when became incarnate in the babe. As Jesus he suffered on earth and knows the pains and joys we experience as human beings. What the Israelites knew and experienced of God we know and experience through the revelation of Jesus Christ. The words they used to describe their experience of God are words that are ones we can use especially as we remember the events of Christmas and what it says to us about the immense love of God.

OT images/motifs used in the New Testament reading: Mth 2:13-23: contain five short pericopes about fulfilment of prophecies from different Old Testament prophets. Verses 13-15 refer back to Hosea 11:1, and the prophecy that, "Out of Egypt I have called my son". Matthew is keen to emphasis the close relationshiop between events which affected Moses as parallel to those affecting Jesus, therebye ensuring that people were constantly reminded of the close relationship between the two. The quote from Jeremiah 31:15 is a reference to the exile and the pain experienced by the people then and this parallels the grief of those mothers who lost their children in Herod's massacre. Again Matthew is drawing parallels and making connections between the Isralite experience and the present grief. Mth 2:19 forms an inclusio with Mth 1:20 and them leads into a prophecy in v.23 which has no parallel in the Old Testament. This is Matthew using writer's prerogative to make a point which is important for him.

Resources/Worship for Isa 63:7-9
Worship: Psalm 148 is a joyous psalm of praise which can be used as a Call to Worship.

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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