May 12: Isaiah 32:15; 44:3

Isaiah 32:15; 44:3

Mention was made in the prior notes of the continuation of the ancient tradition of charismatic, spirit-inspired leadership, through the image of anointing. By this symbolism, the Prophets can speak of the spirit (j^Wr) of God being “poured out” onto people. This may be contrasted with the older, and more dynamic, concept of the spirit “coming upon” or “rushing to” the leader (Prophet/King/Judge), i.e. like a powerful wind (which would be the fundamental meaning of j^Wr). The image of pouring, however, relates not only to anointing, but to the idiom of a libation-offering (cf. below), as well as to a range of water-imagery. The association of the Spirit of God with water is well-established, both in the Old Testament, and in other religious traditions worldwide.

The book of Isaiah makes use of this symbolism in a number of passages; in today’s note I single out two key references—one in the first half of the book (32:15), and the other in the so-called Deutero-Isaiah (44:3). The same idiom is present, though expressed with different vocabulary, and with a different religious/theological emphasis.

Isaiah 32:15

“For (the) high (citadel)s are forsaken,
and (the) noise of (the) city left (a) distant (echo)… [v. 14]
until (the) spirit [j^Wr] is emptied (out) upon us from a high place,
and (the) desolate (land) be(comes) as a planted field,
and (the) planted field counted as a thick growth (of trees).”

This portion of the judgment-oracle (32:9-20) reflects a frequent theme in the Isaian oracles of chaps. 1-39—that the devastation caused by the Assyrian invasions (both on the northern Kingdom and Judah) will be replaced by a time of renewal for the survivors. Given certain similarities of the message in vv. 15-18 with that of Deutero-Isaiah (cf. below), some commentators would judge those verses as a later addition, meant to balance the judgment-oracle with a future promise of hope. In any case, if one retains a late 8th-century (Isaian) context for verse 15, then it would seem to represent something of a new way of considering the role of the spirit of God. The Spirit comes upon the land (and its people) as a whole, rather than on specific chosen/gifted individuals.

There are other indications of an increasing use of such water-imagery—that is, of the spirit being poured/emptied out—in the Isaian oracles. We have, for example, in 19:3, the negative sense of a person’s own “spirit” being emptied out (vb qq^B*, similar to hr*u* in 32:15), to be replaced/changed by a “spirit of distortion” from YHWH (v. 14). This is comparable to the spirit of God departing from Saul, to be replaced by an “evil spirit” sent by YHWH (1 Sam 16:14). Similarly, in 29:10, YHWH speaks of pouring out (vb Es^n`) a “spirit of (deep) sleep” upon the people of Jerusalem, as part of the coming judgment on Judah; the people have already gone astray in spirit (j^Wr-yu@t), v. 24).

In 30:1, God’s spirit is mentioned in the context of a covenant-setting—referring to the Judean king’s attempt to form a treaty-agreement with Egypt. In these oracles, the prophet strongly opposes such alliances, characterizing them as a misguided attempt to stave off the Assyrian threat, rather than turning to YHWH in repentance and trusting in Him for deliverance. The use of the verb Es^n` (“pour out”, as in 29:10), and the related noun hk*S@m^, suggest the pouring out of drink/libation offerings as part of a covenant ceremony, i.e. to ratify the binding agreement. The oracle makes clear that YHWH’s spirit (j^Wr) is no part of this agreement, meaning that it does not correspond with His will, and is not blessed by His presence.

Isaiah 44:3

In the Deutero-Isaian poem-drama of 44:1-5, the basic motif from 32:15 is similarly expressed, though now (presumably) in the context of Israel’s return from exile. One senses a significant religious and theological development in the idea of the Spirit’s role:

“For I will pour water upon (the) thirsty (land),
and flowing (stream)s upon (the) dry (ground);
(and so) I will pour my spirit [j^Wr] upon your seed,
and my blessing upon (those) coming forth (out) of you.”

There is a clear conceptual parallel between the natural idiom of rain- and flood-water making the land fertile, and the spirit of God giving similar life-growth and blessing to the people themselves. This dual-concept of land/people is a common emphasis throughout the Deutero-Isaian oracles. It also reflects a developing theme found at several points in the Prophetic writings. One might refer to it as a “democratization” of the ancient tradition of spirit-inspired leadership. Instead of the divine spirit coming only upon the gifted leader (king/prophet), it now comes upon all the people, upon the entire land and its citizens. I will be discussing this point further, in the next daily note (on Joel 2:28-29).

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