Supplemental Note on Isaiah 24-27 (1): Isa 27:1

Isaiah 27:1

These notes are supplemental to the recent Saturday Series studies on the book of Isaiah, and the so-called Isaian “Apocalypse” of chaps. 24-27. The past three studies have offered a critical overview of these fascinating chapters, with introductory analysis of the main poems. As it was not possible to treat the material with detailed exegesis in those articles, I felt it would be good to devote several notes to a more in-depth critical examination of the last thirteen verses (27:1-13). This will allow for a demonstration of how critical methods and theories, for example, relate to a detailed verse-by-verse exegesis.

In the most recent study, I outlined the structure of 26:7-27:6, which I give again here:

    • Part 1—Contrast between the righteous and the wicked (26:7-11)
      • Exhortation for YHWH to act in judgment (vv. 12-13)
    • Part 2—Contrast between the fate of the righteous and wicked (vv. 14-19)
      • Exhortation for God’s people in the face of the coming judgment (vv. 20-21)
    • Stanza 1 on the Day of YHWH (“on that day…”, 27:1)
    • Stanza 2 on the Day of YHWH (“on that day…”, vv. 2-5)
    • Closing refrain—Israel’s restoration (v. 6)

The same pattern is found in 25:1-26:6 and the final section 27:7-13, and would seem to function as a thematic and poetic structuring principle for the composition as a whole.

Isa 27:1 is the first of the two “day of YHWH” stanzas, each of which involves the expression “in/on that day” (bayyôm hahû° aWhh^ <oYB^)—the “day” referring to  the Prophetic tradition of the “day of YHWH”, a time when God (YHWH) will bring judgment upon a particular nation or people. In the eschatological orientation of the Isaian “Apocalypse”, however, this day becomes a time when God will judge all of the nations together, at the end of the current Age. In this first stanza, the focus is on the judgment against the nations, while in the second, it is the people of Israel who are in view.

“On that day, YHWH will make a visit,
with His hard, great, and strong sword,
upon Liwyatan (the) fleeing snake,
even upon Liwyatan (the) twisting snake,
and He shall slay the monster that is in the Sea.”

This is one of the few examples in the Old Testament where ancient Semitic cosmological myth has been preserved. Stripped almost completely out of the Genesis Creation account, such language and imagery survives only in the older poetry, or in poems which intentionally draw upon ancient/archaic motifs. This use of cosmological myth can be glimpsed in the structure of the stanza here, in which the message is expressed through the joining of the last line to the first two:

“On that day, YHWH will make a visit,
with His hard, great, and strong sword…
and He shall slay the monster that is in the Sea.”

The first two lines, as a single poetic couplet, declare the coming Judgment, following the traditional “day” of YHWH motif (cf. above). The verb used here is p¹qa¼ (dq^P*), one of the most difficult in all the Old Testament to translate consistently, there being no viable English equivalent for its semantic range. It frequently connotes the activity of an authority figure functioning in a supervisory role—inspection, making appointments, administration of authority, rendering judgment/justice, and so forth; sometimes it is a specific military context (i.e. marshaling troops, etc) that is in view. Clearly, the context here is that of the (end-time) Judgment delivered by God upon humankind, with both its judicial and military aspects. For this purpose YHWH will “visit” the earth carrying his sword of Judgment—a sword characterized by three attributes: “hard” (q¹šeh), “great” (g¹¼ôl), and “strong” (µ¹z¹q). This indicates the severity and completeness of the Judgment. The same verb occurs a number of times elsewhere in the “Apocalypse”, and is a distinctive part of the vocabulary of the nation-oracle division of the book (chaps. 13-27)—cf. 13:4, 11; 23:17; 24:21-22; 26:14, 16, 21; 27:3.

This Judgment is expressed symbolically with the image of God slaying “the monster that is in the Sea”. The word rendered loosely as “monster” is t¹nnîn (/yN]T*), of uncertain derivation; the use of the word elsewhere in the Old Testament indicates a dangerous or powerful creature, typically in snake or serpentine form. The Egyptian setting in Ezek 29:3 suggests a crocodile; however, in passages such as Isa 27:1 (cp. Psalm 74:13), the reference is to a mythical sea-monster, drawn from ancient Near Eastern cosmological myth. This is confirmed by the two-fold mention of Liwyatan here in lines 3 and 4. Customarily transliterated in English as “Leviathan”, the Hebrew word liwy¹¾¹n (/t*y`w+l!) itself preserves a much older Semitic term, the exact meaning of which may well have been lost for Hebrew speakers in the 6th century B.C.

The reference here (and in Psalm 74:14; cf. also Job 40:25) would have remained obscure to us, if not for the discovery of the 14th century B.C. Canaanite texts from Ugarit. This same Liwy¹¾¹n (L£t¹n¥) is mentioned in the Ugaritic texts; in the cosmological Baal ‘Epic’ (III.3.41-42; V.1.1-2), it is the name of a “twisting” Snake-like figure (with seven heads) associated with the primeval Sea (personified, Yamm). The conflict between Baal and the Sea is narrated in the second tablet (II, CAT 1.2), though in III.3.38-40, the deity Anat (= Heb tn`u&) speaks as though she were the one who defeated the Sea (Yamm), contrary to what is narrated in II.4.11-31. This can perhaps be explained by the complex relationship between Baal and Anat, who are said to be brother and sister, and by Anat’s identity as a kind of personification of battle.

Along with the defeat of the Sea by Baal/Anat, mention is made of the defeat of other monstrous creatures which apparently were allies of the Sea. In III.3.38ff, these include a great serpentine Sea-monster (tnn), a similar being called “Twisting Serpent” (b¾n ±qltn), and another referred to as “the Ruler with seven heads” (šly‰ d šb±t rašm). The last two are also mentioned in V.1.1-3, along with Litan (ltn) also called “Fleeing Serpent” (b¾n brµ). All four of these mythic beings are mentioned in the Old Testament, but in conflict with YHWH, rather than Baal-Haddu. The same expressions “twisting serpent” and “fleeing serpent” occur here in Isa 27:1 (only with the root nµš instead of b¾n for “snake/serpent”). The same pairing of liwy¹¾¹n and t¹nnîn is also found in Isa 27:1 (and in Psalm 73:13-14). All of this confirms that the imagery in Isa 27:1 derives from ancient Near Eastern (Canaanite) cosmological myth.

In the ancient Near Eastern cosmology, the primeval waters (“Sea”) represented the state of the universe prior to the establishment of the created order (by God). It was viewed as a dark, watery mass, characterized by unformed chaos and confusion (cf. Gen 1:2). However, in cosmological myth, the (Creator) deity defeats or subdues this chaos, imagined as a battle against terrible monsters. In the case of the Canaanite deity Baal-Haddu, associated with the storm and rains, the “defeat” of the Sea meant that he had control over the life giving waters that surround the universe. The defeat of the Sea by El-Yahweh is not part of the Creation Account in Genesis, but it does feature at several points in the Psalms and other Old Testament poetry. For more on this “Conflict with the Sea” myth, cf. my earlier article in the “Ancient Parallels” series.

The imagery was also used to express God’s judgment against certain nations, especially those who brought destruction and chaos through their wickedness and violent conquests. This association (Sea—Nations) is best known from Jewish and early Christian apocalyptic (cf. throughout the book of Revelation, esp. chapters 12-18), but its roots are found in the nation-oracles of the 7th-6th century Prophets. The most common allusion connects the sea-monster (t¹nnîn) with Egypt—cf. Ezek 29:3; 32:2, and note also Isa 30:7 (raha», another name for the sea-monster, cp. 51:9; Psalm 87:4). The association with Egypt is probably due to the motif of crocodiles in the Nile river (cf. above). However, the mention of Egypt at the close of Isa 27 (vv. 12-13) raises the possibility that the mythical sea-monster (t¹nnîn) in v. 1 is also an allusion to Egypt (Roberts, p. 337f).

In my view, 27:1 is not to be connected directly with vv. 7-13, but with the earlier poem in 26:7ff, and the references here to the sea-monster (liwy¹¾¹n and t¹nnîn) are best understood as symbolic of all the wicked nations (together), and of the Judgment God brings upon them. I have already noted, in the prior studies, how chaps. 24-27 make use of imagery and motifs from the primeval history (including the Creation account), and that the “conflict with the Sea” myth here relates to the primeval condition of the universe in Gen 1:2 (note the use of the keyword tœhû in Isa 24:10). The end of the current Age will be like its beginning—dissolving into darkness and disorder. This is due to the wickedness of the nations, but also to the devastating Judgment God brings upon them. Only after the Judgment, can the New Age begin.


July 6: Romans 8:23, etc

These recent daily notes have dealt with the Old Testament traditions regarding the Spirit of God, and how they were developed by early Christians (as expressed within the New Testament). This study is a continuation of the series on “The Spirit of God in the Old Testament”, and has proceeded through the (Synoptic) Gospels, the book of Acts, and the letters of Paul (through Romans, c. 58 A.D.). These letters—1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans—provide the best evidence for Paul’s view of the Spirit, and his distinctive development of the early Christian tradition. The references to the Spirit in the remainder of the Pauline corpus generally follow along the same lines, and, for the most part, it is not necessary to examine them all in detail. Before proceeding with a survey, however, it is worth considering a particular aspect of his view of the Spirit, which is expressed primarily in Romans 8:18-23. I have discussed this passage in detail as part of the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”, and here focus on the concluding verses (22-23).

Romans 8:23

“For we have seen that all th(at has been) formed groans together and is in pain together, until th(is moment) now; and not only (this), but also (our)selves, holding the beginning (fruit) from (the harvest) of the Spirit, even we (our)selves groan in ourselves, looking out to receive (our) [placement as sons], (and) the loosing of our body from (bondage).” (vv. 22-23)

Two different images are employed here, both of which were traditionally used in an eschatological context: (1) the pain of giving birth, and (2) harvest imagery. Both images refer to the climax of a period (of growth and labor, etc), thus serving as suitable figure-types for the end of the current Age. The birth-pain imagery was used especially in reference to the end-time period of distress (cf. Mark 13:9, 17 par; Luke 23:28-29ff, etc), while the harvest tended to prefigure the end-time Judgment (Matt 3:12 par; 13:39-43; Mark 4:29; Rev 14:15ff; cf. also Luke 10:2; Jn 4:35). This judgment-motif involved the separation of the righteous from the wicked (i.e. the grain from the chaff), which was understood in terms of the gathering of believers to Jesus at the moment of his end-time return (Mk 13:26-27 par; Rev 14:15-16). Paul, at least, specifically included the resurrection of dead believers in this gathering (1 Thess 4:14-17), and clearly made use of harvest-imagery in his discussion on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 (vv. 20-23, 36ff). Jesus himself was the “beginning (fruit) from (the harvest)” (a)parxh/), and believers share this same status, through the Spirit, possessing the same life-giving power that raised Jesus from the dead. This is what Paul means when he says that as believers we hold “the beginning (fruit) from (the harvest) of the Spirit“; elsewhere the Spirit is described as a kind of deposit (2 Cor 1:22; 5:5), guaranteeing for us the promise of resurrection:

“And the (One) making us firm with you in (the) Anointed, (hav)ing anointed us, (is) God, the (One) also (hav)ing sealed us and (hav)ing given (us) the a)rrabw/n of the Spirit in our hearts.” (2 Cor 1:21-22)

The word a)rrabw/n is a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew (loanword) /obr*u@, and refers to a pledge or deposit as a guarantee of future payment. Paul’s use of it is eschatological—it is a promise of resurrection for believers, entailing transformation of the human person (body-soul-spirit) to share in the heavenly, eternal life of God. Our resurrection (as believers) is patterned after Jesus’ own, and is made possible by our union with him, realized through the Spirit. As we participate in his death, so also we participate in his resurrection. The motif of the seal (sfra/gi$, vb sfragi/zw) has two aspects of meaning: (1) marking the identity of the one making the promise (God), and (2) preserving the promise and keeping it intact for a period of time (until the end). The second aspect is particularly emphasized by Paul; on the first aspect, cf. 2 Tim 2:19 (and cp. Rev 7:1-8). The same imagery occurs in Ephesians:

“…in whom [i.e. Christ] also, (hav)ing trusted, you were sealed [e)sfragi/sqhte] with the holy Spirit of the e)paggeli/a [i.e. promise], which is the a)rrabw/n of our share (in) the lot (of God), unto (the) loosing from (bondage)…” (Eph 1:13-14)

“And you must not bring sorrow (to) the holy Spirit of God, in which you were sealed [e)sfragi/sqhte] unto (the) day of loosing from (bondage).” (Eph 4:30)

The “loosing from [bondage]” (a)polu/trwsi$) refers to human existence in the current Age, this present order of creation. Paul’s entire discussion in Romans 8:18-23ff relates to this idea that all of creation will be transformed in the Age to Come, and that believers in Christ are the “first fruits” of this transformation (cf. above). On the Holy Spirit as e)paggeli/a—that is, God’s announcement (or message, a)ggeli/a) regarding salvation and eternal life in Christ—cf. Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4; 2:33, 39; 13:23, 32, etc; it is identified specifically as such by Paul in Gal 3:14ff.

Because believers continue to live in the world, in the current created order, as human beings, we groan suffering along with all of creation, since our bodies (our “flesh”) remain, to some extent, under the old bondage to sin and death. We must still confront the impulse to sin in our flesh, and we all face the reality of physical death. Our deliverance from this bondage will not be complete until the transformation of our bodies, as stated here by Paul— “the loosing of our body from (bondage)”, using the noun a)polu/trwsi$. His temporal expression a&xri tou= nu=n is a shorthand for the tou= nu=n kairou= (“of the moment now”) in verse 18, another indication of the imminence of Paul’s eschatology—that is, it was about to happen now.

There is some textual uncertainty regarding the noun ui(oqesi/a (“placement as son[s]”) in verse 23, as it is omitted in a number of key manuscripts (Ë46 D F G 614). If secondary, then the text originally would have read: “…looking out to receive the loosing of our body from (bondage)” —i.e., the reference would be entirely to the resurrection, without any mention of the ‘adoption’ motif. However, as the sonship-theme was central to vv. 12-17, as also the expression “sons of God” in v. 19, the use of ui(oqesi/a would be entirely fitting here in v. 23. The resurrection serves to complete the realization of believers as the sons (children) of God. On the role of the Spirit in terms of our identity as “sons of God”, cf. the prior note on Gal 4:1-7 and Rom 8:12-17.

July 5: Romans 8:1-13

Romans 8:1-11

These verses immediately precede 8:12-17 (examined in the previous note, along with Gal 4:1-7), and represent the most extensive discussion of the Spirit by Paul in any single passage of his letters. It thus deserved to be examined closely as part of this series of notes.

Chapter 8 of Romans marks the climax of the main body of the letter (1:18-8:39), the last of four main sections of the probatio:

    • Rom 1:18-3:20: Announcement of God’s (impending) judgment, according to the Law (of God) (article)
    • Rom 3:21-5:21: Announcement of God’s justice/righteousness (in Christ), apart from the Law (Torah) (article)
    • Rom 6:1-7:25: Announcement of Freedom from the Law and Sin (article)
    • Rom 8:1-39: Announcement of Life in the Spirit (Exhortation) (article)
      The links in parentheses above are to articles in the series “Paul’s View of the Law” (part of “The Law and the New Testament”)

Chapter 8 may be further divided as follows:

    • 8:1-11: The conflict (for believers) between the Spirit and the Flesh
      8:12-17: Believers are sons (of God) and heirs (with Christ) through the Spirit
      8:18-25: Believers have the hope of future glory (new creation) through the Spirit
      8:26-30: Believers experience the work of salvation through the Spirit
    • Rom 8:31-39: Doxology: The Love of God (in Christ)

Having just worked intensively through the relation between Law and Sin (Rom 7:7-25), with the emphasis on the believer’s freedom (in Christ) from both, Paul now proceeds to discuss the life of the believer in the Spirit (of God and Christ). This thematic emphasis is, in some ways, parallel to the exhortation in Galatians 5:16-25—believers who are freed from the binding force of the Law (and Sin), now live according to the power and guidance of the Spirit. Two main themes which we have examined recently in these notes are present in the discussion on the Spirit here in Rom 8:1-11:

    • The presence of the Spirit marks the New Covenant for God’s people (believers), taking the place of the Old Covenant Law (Torah) as the guiding and governing principle
    • The Spirit is tied to believers’ union with Jesus Christ, as symbolized in the baptism ritual

Let us consider the references to the Spirit, and the line of argument, in this passage.

Verses 1-2

“(So) then, now (there is) not any judgment against the (one)s in (the) Anointed Yeshua. For the law of the Spirit of life in (the) Anointed Yeshua has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” (vv. 1-2)

The entirety of the old order of things—bondage of humankind under the power of sin, and the corresponding bondage under the power of the Torah (with its regulations regarding sin)—has been swept away for believers in Christ. We are truly set free from both—sin and the Torah. Paul plays on the word no/mo$, which typically in his letters refers to the Old Testment Law (Torah), though occasionally he uses the expression “the law [no/mo$] of God”, which has a wider meaning—i.e., the will of God for his people, as expressed (specifically) in the Torah. Paul uses the word in both of these ways here in vv. 1-11, but also in two specialized expressions:

    • the law [o( no/mo$] of the Spirit [tou= pneu/mato$] of life [th=$ zwh=$]
    • the law [o( no/mo$] of sin [th=$ a(marti/a$] and of death [kai\ tou= qana/tou]

The formal parallelism shows that here “the Spirit” is parallel with “sin”, and is meant as an absolute contrast; in light of the overall discussion in Romans, this would be defined as “bondage under sin” vs. “freedom in the Spirit”. Thus, in addition to the Torah itself, there is a “law of the Spirit” and a “law of sin” —two great guiding principles for all of humankind. Believers in Christ follow the law of the Spirit, while all other people are bound to continue following the law of sin. The Torah, which previously played a kind of intermediary role between these two principles, no longer applies for believers. Since it is sin that leads to a sentence of judgment (kri=ma) from God, and believers are freed from the power of sin (and all its effects), there is no longer occasion for any such sentence to be brought down (kata/) against us. Life is the opposite of death, which would be the ultimate punishment (judgment) for sin.

Verses 3-4

“For the powerless (thing) of the Law [i.e. what the Law lacked power to do], in which [i.e. in that] it was weak through the flesh, God (has done), sending his own Son in (the) likeness of flesh of sin [i.e. sinful flesh] and about [i.e. for the sake of] sin, judged against sin in the flesh, (so) that the just/right (thing) of the Law should be filled up [i.e. fulfilled] in us—the (one)s not walking about according to (the) flesh, but according to (the) Spirit.” (vv. 3-4)

These powerful verses are dense with key elements of Pauline theology, expressed in language that can be difficult to translate (as the glosses in brackets above indicate). There are two especially important ideas that define Paul’s line of thought:

    • it is in the “flesh” (sa/rc) that the power of sin is localized and manifest in human beings, evident by a universal impulse toward sinful thoughts and actions; even for believers, this impulse to sin remains in the flesh (to varying degrees), though we are no longer enslaved by its power—i.e. we have the ability not to respond to the impulse
    • it was the sacrificial death of Jesus that enables believers to be free from the power of sin (and the judgment of God against sin)

Paul uses the verb katakri/nw (“judge against, bring down judgment [against]”), which is cognate to the noun kata/krima in verse 1 (cf. above), to make the point that the judgment against sin was realized in the death of Jesus—not against the human beings who sinned, but against sin itself, stripping it of its death-yielding power over humankind. The matter of the relationship of Jesus’ death to sin is highly complex, and cannot be discussed in detail here (cf. my earlier note on these verses [along with 2 Cor 5:19-21]). The main point of emphasis here, in these notes on Paul’s view of the Spirit, is twofold:

    • Christ’s death freed humankind (believers) from the power of sin, located in the “flesh”
    • Believers are likewise freed from the Law—and we effectively fulfill the Law completely (and automatically) insofar as we “walk according to the Spirit” (cf. the prior note on Gal 5:16-25)

Verses 5-8

“For the (one)s being [i.e. who are] according to the flesh give mind (to) the (thing)s of the flesh, but the (one)s (who are) according to (the) Spirit (give mind to) the (thing)s of the Spirit. For the mindset of the flesh (leads to) death, but the mindset of the Spirit (leads to) life and peace, through (the fact) that the mindset of the flesh (means) hostility to God, for it is not put in order under the law of God, and (indeed) it is not able to be; and the (one)s being [i.e. who are] in (the) flesh are not able to please God.” (vv. 5-8)

These verses essentially expound the contrast between “walking according to the flesh” and “walking according to the Spirit”, the ethical and religious aspect being broadened to cover the anthropological (and ontological) dimension of humankind. We are dealing with two kinds of people: (1) faithful believers in Christ, and (2) all other human beings. The first group is guided by the Spirit, the second by the flesh (and the impulse to sin that resides in the flesh). This shows how deep the flesh vs. Spirit dichotomy (and dualism) was for Paul.

Verse 9

“And (yet) you are not in (the) flesh, but in (the) Spirit, if indeed (it is that the) Spirit of God houses [i.e. dwells] in you. And if any (one) does not hold (the) Spirit of (the) Anointed, that (person) is not his [i.e. does not belong to Christ].” (v. 9)

The condition of being and “walking” (i.e. living/acting) in the Spirit depends on the Spirit being in the believer. The reciprocity of this relationship is stressed by Paul no less than in the Johannine writings. What is striking is the way that this is expressed by the dual identification of the Spirit as both “the Spirit of God” and “the Spirit of Christ“. The latter expression is rare in Paul’s letters, but, as this verse indicates, “Spirit of Christ” is used interchangeably with “Spirit of God”, as though both refer equally to the same Spirit. For more on this point, see my discussion in the previous note (and the earlier note on 1 Cor 6:17ff; 15:44-46).

Verses 10-11

“And if (the) Anointed (One is) in you, (then on one hand) the body (is) dead through sin, but (on the other hand) the Spirit is life through justice/righteousness. And if the Spirit of the (One hav)ing raised Yeshua out of (the) dead houses [i.e. dwells] in you, (then) the (One hav)ing raised (the) Anointed out of (the) dead will also make alive your dying bodies, through His Spirit housing [i.e. dwelling] (with)in you.” (vv. 10-11)

Again, the Spirit dwelling in the believer means Christ dwells in the believer, since the Spirit of God is also the Spirit of Christ. As I have discussed previously, this theological point is based on the exaltation-Christology of the New Testament (which dominated Christian thought prior to c. 60 A.D.). Through the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus, his person (and spirit) was transformed, being united with God’s own Spirit, so that the two are one Spirit (cf. on 1 Cor 6:17; 15:44-46). This means that, when we are united with the exalted Jesus through faith (and symbolized by baptism), and his Spirit unites with our spirit, we are also united with the Spirit of God.

The baptismal symbolism involves our participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Paul only alludes to this here, having addressed the point earlier in 6:1-11; indeed, it is one of the most distinctive aspects of his theology. The power of Christ’s death and resurrection is communicated to us through our union with his divine Spirit. The power of his death puts to death the sin in our “flesh”, while the power of his resurrection transforms our entire being with divine life, so that even our decaying bodies will be raised to new life—just as his own body was raised by the power of God’s Spirit. The Spirit is literally to be understood as the very life of God.

Verses 12-13 are transitional to vv. 14-17ff (cf. the previous note), but they also serve to bring the discussion on the Spirit in vv. 1-11 to a close. Paul’s statement in v. 13 could not be more direct or to the point:

“for if you live according to the flesh, you are about to die away, but if, in (the) Spirit, you put to death the deeds of the body, you shall live.”

In the next note, I will begin a brief survey of the most relevant remaining references to the Spirit in the Pauline letters.