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Isaiah 61:10-62:3

Isaiah 61:10-62:3

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 61:10-62:3

The lectionary verses for Old Testament come in the middle of the section Isa 60-62. Note above that this is the centre of Isa 56-66 and speaks of a fully redeemed people back in Jerusalem. Surrounding these central chapters are verses describing appearances of God proclaiming judgment, however Isa 59:21 is a transition verse in which "my Spirit" and "my covenant" are pointers to what will be spoken of in Isa 60-62. The emphasis in these chapters is on the consequences of God choosing to let his glory rest on Jerusalem. The images of light and radiance permeate these chapters which combined with the descriptions of wealth leave us in no doubt about the restored splendour of Jerusalem. Even foreigners will come, bring their wealth and be subjugated to the Israelites. God is the provider in control of creation, history and their redemption. The relationship is described "as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you." The shock as one moves into Isa 63 is quite profound because here we have another strong statement of judgment because there was no-one to help; the people had all abandoned their God. Isa 63:7ff reminds the people of how Yahweh had redeemed them and cared for them but the people had rebelled. The people even want to blame God for their apostasy.

Insights/Message of Isa 61:10-62:3
Literary:  While these lectionary verses come from the central block of material Isa 60-62, it is unusual to have verses from the end of one chapter and three verses from the following because each chapter is carefully composed as progressive units. Verses 10-11 are a first person response acknowledging God's redemptive purposes. As suggested in a previous discussion about Isa 61 in Advent it reads as though it is the prophet, but in the context Jerusalem is responding to what God has bestowed in Isa 60 (Oswalt: 574). God speaks through the prophet declaring that Jerusalem will be restored to such glory that the nations will see she is no longer desolate and forgotten by God. The use of the word "until" in vv.1b and 7 confirm this aim of God. The focus of these chapters is the glorification of Jerusalem and the people are incidental, only mentioned at the end of the chapter in v.12. Even the image of bride and groom which has been used of Yahweh and the people is now applied to Jerusalem and the people - the people are the sons and Jerusalem the virgin whom they will marry (Isa 62:5). As we have suggested previously that while Isa 56-66 contains traditions from many areas of Israel's life the final composition is quite brilliant with its literary integration and new challenging message. For example, the phrase in Isa 62:1 - "I will not keep silent" is a positive affirmation of Yahweh's intended action re Jerusalem. However, in Isa 64:11 it appears that God is silent and the people believe this silence is causing their affliction. In Isa 65:6 the phrase is used in the context that when God breaks the silence it is for the purpose of punishing the wicked (isa 65:6-7). By using the phrase in different contexts the people are confronted by a new idea- what they thought in one time is no longer the cas at a different time. Although a new name is decreed in Isa 62:2, the city has never been called "Hephzibah" (my delight is in her). Isa 62:2b forecasts a new name which is stated in Isa 62:4 and v.3 could easily fit straight after Isa 62:2a which continues the glorious description of the new Jerusalem.
Message:  The implied audience in Isa 60-62 is the returned exiles in Jerusalem who have become despondent at the sad picture of Jerusalem. The prophet is presenting a picture of hope and encouragement in order that they will rebuild Jerusalem (v.4) in response to the glad tidings which the prophet is proclaiming. Westermann suggests that Isa 40-55 has a focus on the people returning to Jerusalem, while Isa 56-66 has a focus on the people rebuilding Jerusalem (Westermann: 370). In response to the rebuilding of Jerusalem he promises the people that foreigners and aliens will come and be servants bringing their wealth to help to restore the city to its previous splendour. T he focus of the last three verses and the whole of Isa 62 on the city gives a new hope and impetus for the returned exiles to believe that God's promises will prevail. God wants the nations to see Jerusalem in all it restored glory - it is the place from which God's teaching and knowledge will go forth. Indeed, this has come true in that both the Christian and Muslim faiths which have come from Judaism. It is also true that all three groups fight about the various parts of the Old city and this is not the way God wants it. Jerusalem as restored now is the place where different faiths live and work together. It is almost ironic that the people from across the world come to Jerusalem but not in the way foreseen in Isa 62.
Resources/Worship Isaiah 61:10-62:3


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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