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Isaiah 8

Chapter 8

v. 3: Because of this verse, I believe that the first Immanuel must have been this child of Isaiah’s.  Even though the child’s name here is not identified specifically as “Immanuel,” his significance as a prophetic sign is so similar to Immanuel’s that I think it is reasonable to assume that the two names refer to the same child.  Immanuel and Maher-Schalal-Hash-Baz both serve as living timelines by which one could mark the destruction of Syria and Ephraim.  Before Immanuel (or Maher-Schalal-Hash-Baz) can tell the difference between right and wrong, the power of Syria and Ephraim will be vanquished.  (See notes on v. 4.)  It is not strange that somebody would have two names like this;  Peter was also called Simon, and Jesus himself is  named Immanuel in Matthew.

v. 4: Saying “before the child knows how to call ‘My father’ or ‘My mother’” might simply be idiomatic (rather than literal) and mean “before he knows the difference between right and wrong.”  I admit there does not seem to be much in the two phrases that would suggest this connection out of context, but the fact that this prophecy is so similar to the one concerning Immanuel in the previous chapter makes me inclined read the two prophecies as one.  (Besides, idiomatic expressions are often quite difficult to explain.  The natural connection between the two phrases above is certainly much closer than “break a leg” is to “have a good performance.”)  If, however, the phrase is meant to be taken literally, then it would have to refer (very roughly) to the age of two at the oldest.  If that is the case, and if this prophecy is synonymous with that of Immanuel, then Barnes’ idea that Immanuel’s age was two seems more credible. (See notes 7:14-16.)

v. 6: I believe the NRSV’s translation of this verse is the correct one (“melt in fear before Rezin and the son of Remaliah” rather than “rejoice in Rezin”) because the prophecy from v. 5 to v. 10 seems directed exclusively against Judah[1], not against Judah and Ephraim, and the phrase “rejoice in Rezin” could only apply to Ephraim.

It is difficult for me to understand exactly whom the prophetic pronouncements in this chapter are for and against, but here is my best attempt.

Vs. 1-4 – The pronouncement is against Syria and Ephraim.

Vs. 5-8 –  The pronouncement is against Judah.[2]

Vs. 9-10 – The pronouncement is against people in “far countries,” which I believe to be Syria and Ephraim.[3]

Vs. 11-15 – The pronouncement is meant to comfort Isaiah and the faithful[4] in the face of “this people.”  “This people” must be the wicked in “both houses” (v. 14) of Israel (i.e., Judah and Ephraim).  The pronouncement, therefore, is against the wicked in both Judah and Ephraim.

v. 12: “Conspiracy” might refer to…

1) Judah and Assyria against Syria and Ephraim

If this is the case, Isaiah might be saying, “Do not join in the conspiracy (plan) to unite with Assyria because you fear Syria and Ephraim.”  I do not believe this is correct, however, because it does not follow the parallelism of such constructions in Hebrew poetry.  I would expect the conspiracy to be synonymous with the fear in the second part of the verse.

2) Syria and Ephraim against Judah

If this is the case, Then Isaiah might be saying, “Do not whisper together with paranoia about the alliance between Syria and Ephraim, calling it a ‘conspiracy’ as though it were some potent menace.” This option seems most likely to me.

3) Isaiah against Ahaz

If this is the case, Isaiah might be dispelling rumors that he has been organizing a political conspiracy against Ahaz.  The audience, however, is the faithful of Judah, not Ahaz, so he if this is the case, Isaiah is not defending himself to the king.

4) Judeans (those opposed to an alliance with Assyria) against Ahaz

If this is the case, Isaiah might be saying, “Do not enter a conspiracy against Ahaz and ‘this people,’ nor fear their threats; God will soon deal with them in his own way.

Interestingly, the German translation uses the same term for “conspiracy” here as it does for “holy” in v. 13 (Verschwörung, “conspiracy,” in both places).    Perhaps Luther did this to reflect a paradoxical double meaning that he believed Isaiah intended for this verse and verse 13 to have when considered in the context of each other.  (The Hebrew terms in both verses are different qesher=conspiracy, qadash=to sanctify.)

Isaiah does create a similar paradoxical juxtaposition in v. 14 by calling God both a sanctuary (for the faithful) and a rock of offense, or stumbling (for the unfaithful), so the paradox that Luther wanted to reveal here could be, “let God be your ‘conspirator’ and the one that you dread, not Assyria” or whoever the conspirators are in v. 12.

Isaiah does seem to enjoy using irony, and paradox, and double meanings in his work.  The Oxford commentary even sees double meaning in the name Immanuel as it is used in v. 8, as if at that point “God is with us” no longer meant “God is with us to deliver us” but “God is with us to punish us.” [5]

Along these same lines, think how pleased Isaiah was (or would have been) if he knew of the future meaning the name Immanuel would take on as a sign of the messiah.  In Christ, “God is with us” means not only that he is our deliverer, but also that he is literally among us, walking around.

v. 18: “Here am I” reminds me of “Here am I! Send me,” in 6:8.


[1] I say it is directed against Judah because the waters of Shiloah, in Jerusalem, are juxtaposed with the waters of Assyria, which “pass through Judah” in v.8 and fill the breadth of the land of Immanuel.

[2] Barnes believes the pronouncement is against Judah and Ephraim (and Syria) because he believes v. 6 should be translated “rejoice in Rezin.”

[3] Barnes believes the far countries to be Assyria and its vassal nations (178-179).  I am not sure why he believes this, however, since Immanuel is specifically mentioned in v. 10, and Immanuel was meant to be a sign of deliverance from Syria and Ephraim.  These verses might be paraphrased to say, “You foreign powers that band together to destroy us (Judah) will be dismayed because God is with us.”

[4] The German translation is written in 2nd person plural.

[5] I disagree with the commentary on this point because such an interpretation does not seem to fit the context.  But Isaiah’s love of paradox and irony do make the interpretation plausible.

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6 Responses to “Isaiah 8”

  1. […] I suppose one might also distinguish between the age at which a child could know to choose between right and wrong and the age at which he or she would be considered an adult (and fully responsible for such decisions).  Barnes believes the age Isaiah intends here is 2 years.  “A capability to determine, in some degree, between good and evil, or between right and wrong, is usually manifest when the child is two or three years of age” (Barnes 161).  (See also notes 8:4.) […]

  2. […] I suppose one might also distinguish between the age at which a child could know to choose between right and wrong and the age at which he or she would be considered an adult (and fully responsible for such decisions).  Barnes believes the age Isaiah intends here is 2 years.  “A capability to determine, in some degree, between good and evil, or between right and wrong, is usually manifest when the child is two or three years of age” (Barnes 161).  (See also notes 8:4.) […]

  3. […] in Rezin”) because the prophecy from v. 5 to v. 10 seems directed exclusively against Judah[1], not against Judah and Ephraim, and the phrase “rejoice in Rezin” could only apply to […]

  4. […] in Rezin”) because the prophecy from v. 5 to v. 10 seems directed exclusively against Judah[1], not against Judah and Ephraim, and the phrase “rejoice in Rezin” could only apply to […]

  5. […] as well.  If it does refer to the first Immanuel, and the first Immanuel is Isaiah’s child (see notes on 8:3) it seems odd that the child in this prophecy would be called a prince in the line of David with […]

  6. […] as well.  If it does refer to the first Immanuel, and the first Immanuel is Isaiah’s child (see notes on 8:3) it seems odd that the child in this prophecy would be called a prince in the line of David with […]

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