Larry Hunt's Bible Commentary


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Isaiah 26

Chapter Twenty-six

v. 1: I believe the phrase “on that day” links this chapter with the previous one.[1]

Vs. 9-10: These two verses emphasize the fact that humanity learns most directly about the righteousness of God when he moves to judge the wicked.  One reason for this is that at such times the righteous feel vindication as well as renewed conviction for their beliefs, which the indefinite prosperity of the wicked might eventually weaken or destroy. Another reason is that the wicked are made at last to see their own works as wicked works.  In fact, v. 10 seems to indicate that this is the only way the wicked are likely to learn about righteousness.  Of course the term “righteous” does not really belong to any human in this life except Jesus, but if someone obeys (even after much failure) the dictates of conscience and reason, then I believe he or she is “righteous” as these verses define the term.  If somebody brazenly disregards these dictates and can only be convinced to change by disaster, then he or she is “wicked” as these verses define the term.  The good news is that even for the wicked (a term which includes us all, ultimately) there is hope after such disaster.

Vs. 16-19: I think “they” of vs. 16 and 19 refers to the same people as “we” does in vs. 17 and 18, i.e. the Jews.  With this in mind, I would paraphrase the poetry of verses 16-19 as follows: we have turned to you [God] for help because our wickedness brought horrible suffering [like that of a woman in labor] to us, and we were unable to do anything to relieve ourselves of the suffering [like a pregnant woman who could only give birth to wind, not a living child].  Now we know you [God] will deliver us from our suffering because we have turned to you.

I believe that is an accurate paraphrase of the verses, but I would also like to dwell a little on their poetic imagery.  The image I am most certain of is that of the resurrection of the dead.  While the use of such imagery may ultimately allude to the literal resurrection of the dead (as, for example, the sign of Immanuel in chapter 7 ultimately alludes to the Messiah) I believe its immediate purpose here is to describe the release of the captive Jews from their captivity in Babylon, a symbolic resurrection from the dead.  Ezekiel’s famous vision of the valley of dry bones is a more obvious use of the image to describe the same historical event (Ezekiel 37).

Ezekiel’s vision also makes use of the image of wind in connection with the resurrection of the dead, and I wonder if its use there could give some insight into what Isaiah means here when he describes the Jews as giving birth to wind.  In Ezekiel’s vision, the wind represents the life-giving spirit of God.  In this chapter of Isaiah, it represents the vain efforts of humanity to produce life by its own power.  I suspect that Isaiah chose wind as his symbol because its associations with the life-giving spirit of God would give the symbol an additional layer of meaning here.  Literal wind is unsubstantial from a certain perspective and so is a good symbol of vain effort, but its associations with the life-giving spirit of God would also remind Isaiah’s readers that the Jews, in trying to redeem themselves, were trying to accomplish something that only God could do.  That is why their efforts were in vain.

I am less certain of the image of the dew in v. 19.  I believe it is another symbol of life and resurrection, but I am not exactly sure how it is supposed to work.  In other words, I am not sure what it is about dew that suggests life or resurrection.  Perhaps Isaiah means to allude to the manna.[2]

[1] I think the phrase links sections of the book together as a single unit, even if “that day” does not refer to same event (or “day”) in the various sections of the unit.  Of course, it may, in some (or all) cases actually refer to the same event, but I do not think one has to interpret it in this way.

[2] “[I]n the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp.  When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as the frost on the ground” (Exodus 16:13-14).  “When the dew fell on the camp in the night, the manna would fall with it” (Numbers 11:9).


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