January 4: Isaiah 9:3-4

Isaiah 9:3-4 [4-5]
Verse 3 [4]

“For (the) yoke of his carrying,
and (the) pole of his shoulder—
(the) rod of (the one) pressing on him—
you have broken, as (on the) day of Midyan!”

Again we have a pair of 3+3 couplets (cf. the previous note on vv. 1-2 [2-3]), though the rhythm is, in actuality, slightly irregular. The first three lines involve construct phrases, the first two of which are in synonymous parallelism:

    • “the yoke of his carrying” (olB=s% lu))
      “the pole of his shoulder” (omk=c! hF#m^)

The image is the same: that of a yoked animal serving as a beast of burden. The lu) (used also in 10:27; cf. 14:25) denotes the thrusting of the (animal’s) head into the yoke, while the hF@m^ (also in 10:24) refers to the extended pole, or bar, that rests upon the neck and shoulder. The root lbs denotes the carrying or dragging of a weight (i.e., load or burden). Human beings are being forced to act like beasts of burden, referring to a harsh and wearisome condition of servile labor. The construct phrase in the third line builds upon (and further expounds) this image:

    • “the rod of the one pressing [on him]” (cg@N)h^ fb#v@)

The rod or staff (fb#v@, also in 10:24) represents both the ruling (superior) position of the oppressor and the instrument used to oppress the slave. The verb cg~n` essentially refers to the pressing/driving of someone to do work; it can be used in the concrete sense (as here) of forcefully driving an animal (or human slave), or with the more generic meaning of making demands on someone.

The final like declares the dramatic reversal of this situation:

“…you have broken, as (on the) day of Midian!”

The allusion is presumably to the historical traditions narrated in Judges 6-7, and, if so, then the idea would doubtless be of an unexpected victory over a superior force, made possible through the power of YHWH. Indeed, God will have “broken” (tt^j*, Hiphil causative stem) the foreign oppression over Israel, as He did in the Exodus, and as described in the accounts of deliverance in the book of Judges.

The perfect tense here, as throughout verses 1-4, is an example of the prophetic perfect—i.e., events that will occur in the future (being prophesied) referred to as things that have already happened.

Verse 4 [5]

“For every shoe stomping with a quake,
and (every) garment rolled with blood,
indeed shall be for burning,
(for) being eaten up by fire.”

A 3-beat couplet is followed by a short/terse 2-beat (2+2) couplet. The overall imagery alludes to a military victory over Israel’s foreign oppressor.

In the first two lines, the reference is to the foot-gear and clothing of soldiers. Both parts of the cognate noun-verb pair (/oas=, and participle /a@s)) occur only here in the Old Testament, and likely are Assyrian (or Babylonian) loanwords (Akkadian š¢nu, “shoe, sandal”). This may well be intentional, given the context of the Assyrian conquest of the Israelite Northern Kingdom (cf. the prior note on 8:23 [9:1]). It is almost impossible to translate literally the cognate relationship between noun and verb; the verb is denominative from the noun (“shoe”), and thus would mean something like “use the shoe” or “shoe along” (i.e., step, stomp, tread). Since the feet of the soldiers are ‘stomping’ on the ground enough to make the ground “quake” (noun vu^r^), a large military force is implied.

That this force has been (i.e., will be) defeated, is indicated by the second line, with the image of clothing (singular [collective] noun, hl*m=c!) that is “rolled” (vb ll^G`) in blood. The plural form <ym!D* (lit. “bloods”) almost always refers to acts of bloodshed—that is, killing or violent action taken against someone. With the army of the foreign oppressor defeated, and (presumably) many of the soldiers dead, their shoes and garments will be used as fuel for the fire—which is the image in the final two lines.

We can see that the joy that will come to the oppressed Israelite people (vv. 1-2) will be, in large measure, due to the military defeat of their oppressors, which will thus result in deliverance for the people. The defeat of the oppressing nation could come from the action of another foreign nation; however, what follows in vv. 5-6 strongly indicates that it will be the Judean kingdom, led by God’s chosen ruler, which brings about the deliverance and restoration of Israel. This will be discussed in the next note.


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