December 30: Isaiah 8:5-10

Isaiah 8:5-10

“And YHWH proceeded to speak to me again, saying…” (v. 5)

Verse 5 begins a new oracle, though the references to Rezin and “the son of Remalyah” (i.e., Pekah) in v. 6 make clear that we are still dealing with the Syro-Ephraimite crisis (735-734 B.C.) which was the setting of the prior oracles. There are, indeed, a number of points of contact with the four previous oracles, including the river/canal imagery here, which may allude to the locale of the first oracle in 7:1-9, when Isaiah met Ahaz at the canal of the Siloam pool (v. 3).

“(In) response for (how) this people has refused (the) waters of the offshoot traveling softly, and having rejoiced with Rezin and (the) son of Remalyah, indeed for this (reason), see! My Lord is bringing up over them (the) waters of the (great) River, mighty and manifold—(the) king of Aššur {Assyria} and all his weight—and (they) shall come up over all its channels and travel over all its banks.” (vv. 6-7)

The basic contrast here is clear enough—between a soft/gently (fa^) moving stream and a powerful flood of water overflowing its banks. The noun j^l)v! literally means something like “offshoot”, or “branch”, but in context here certainly refers to a water-canal. It may be the name of a specific canal carrying water from the Gihon spring to the pool of Siloam (cf. the locale of the oracle in 7:3, mentioned above). This canal is contrasted with “the River” —that is, the Great River (Euphrates), with its mighty (<Wxu*) and many (br^) waters. Obviously, the Assyrian empire is being referenced, which would have been clear to the audience, even without the specific mention of the “king of Assyria”, which could conceivably be a secondary gloss.

Because “this people” refused (vb sa^m*, also in 7:15-16) the gentle-moving and beneficial waters of the canal, YHWH is bringing upon them instead the powerful and destructive waters of the Euphrates. This ‘refusal’ is defined in terms of “rejoicing” (vb cWc) with Rezin and Pekah, i.e., the kings of Aram-Damascus and Israel. There is some textual uncertainty regarding the form cwcm. The Masoretic Text (supported by the Qumran MSS 4QIsae-f) vocalizes it as a construct noun (vovm=), while the great Isaiah Scroll (1QIsaa) apparently reads a Hiphil participle (cyc!m*). In any case, a verbal noun (from the root cwc), would seem to be correct.

The idea of “rejoicing” with Rezin and Pekah surely means, in context, supporting the anti-Assyrian coalition of Aram-Damascus and Israel. Some commentators (e.g., Roberts, p. 133f) would identify “this people” as the people of the northern kingdom of Israel, but this does not seem to be correct. The overall context (of chaps. 7-8), in my view, overwhelmingly argues for the oracle addressing the people of the southern kingdom of Judah. There must have been a portion of the Judahite population (and its ruling class) that would have been in favor of joining the anti-Assyrian coalition, and, indeed, there is some evidence that Ahaz himself vacillated between the two positions. The thrust of the condemnation is that such people are relying upon the political/military forces of the coalition, rather than placing their trust on YHWH for protection.

“And it shall pass on in(to) Yehudah, shall wash (past) and (flood) over, (even) up to (the) neck it shall touch. And he shall be stretching out his wings, filling (the) breadth of your land, Mighty-with-Us!” (v. 8)

No specific mention is made of the judgment against Aram-Damascus and Israel. Rather, it is simply assumed that the floodwaters of the Assyrian army will (or has already) overrun the northern kingdoms, and will now reach all the way “into Judah”. The entire Judean kingdom will be flooded, using the image of a person standing in water up to his/her neck. The lone ‘head’ that is left above the waters certainly alludes to the city of Jerusalem and the ‘remnant’ of Judah that survives the Assyrian invasion (in 701 B.C.). Possibly, at the historical level, this oracle is to be dated to a time after the conquest of the northern kingdoms (at least after 733-732), and thus more clearly anticipating the coming invasion at the end of the 8th century. The survival of the Judean kingdom (and the city of Jerusalem) is alluded to by the mention of the name la@-WnM*u! (±Imm¹nû °E~l, “God [is] with us”); cf. the earlier notes on 7:14.

“Know (this), O peoples, and be shattered,
and give ear, all distant (part)s of (the) earth:
Gird yourselves and be shattered!
Gird yourselves and be shattered!
Devise a plan, and it shall be split (apart),
Speak a word, and it shall not stand—
for (the) Mighty (One is) with us!”

Commentators who view vv. 9-10 as a later poem, inspired by the Isaian oracles, are probably correct. It certainly fits the way the Isaian traditions (of the 8th and early 7th century) seem to have been utilized and developed, by the author/editor(s) of chapters 2-39 (not to mention the Deutero/Trito-Isaian poems of chaps. 40-66). The promise of divine protection for Judah/Jerusalem, in the context of the 8th century Assyrian invasions, is here expanded to encompass all the nations of the earth, anticipating the culmination of the Isaian nation-oracle traditions that we find in the so-called ‘Isaian Apocalypse’ of chapters 24-27. Attempts by the nations to attack or threaten God’s people are doomed to fail, because YHWH is with His people. Here, the sentence name la@-WnM*u! (±Imm¹nû °E~l) needs to be understood as a definitive statement, rather than a name: “The Mighty One [la@, i.e. God] is with us [WnM*u!]”.

These lines will be discussed in a bit more detail in the next daily note.

References above marked “Roberts” are to J. J. M. Roberts, First Isaiah, Hermeneia (Fortress Press: 2015).

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