March 16: Isaiah 61:1-2

Isaiah 61:1b-2a

As mentioned in the previous note, there are six verbal phrases (infinitives) which summarize the mission of the Anointed Herald in Isa 61:1-3. God sent him (vb jl^v*), specifically, to do six things—and these six actions can be divided into three pairs. The first pair—

“to bring (good) news (for the) oppressed,
to bind (up wounds) for (the) broken of heart”

we examined in the previous note. Now we turn to the second pair:

“to call (out) freedom for (the one)s taken captive,
and (the) opening up for (the one)s bound (in prison);
to call (out) a year of favor for YHWH,
and a day of vengeance for our Mighty (One)”

Here both infinitives are identical: ar)q=l!, “to call (out)”, which is a fitting activity for a prophetic Herald. What he is to “call out” is two-fold: (1) freedom/release for those in bondage, and (2) a time dedicated to YHWH, when both blessing and judgment will occur. In each case, the verbal phrase is expanded to form a bicolon (couplet) of two lines. The first couplet is:

“to call (out)
freedom for (the one)s taken captive,
and (the) opening up for (the one)s bound (in prison)”

The term rorD= fundamentally refers to a freedom of movement, and thus to “freedom” in a general sense. One who is taken captive (vb hb*v*) has no such freedom. We should understand this ‘captivity’ here in a general and comprehensive sense—i.e., to any form of bondage. It can be taken figuratively, but must also include bondage and servitude in a real (socio-economic) sense. The idea has special resonance for Judeans in the post-exilic period, the generation(s) who had just recently returned from captivity. As Nehemiah 5:1-5 makes clear, economic conditions in Judah in the early post-exilic period (mid-5th century B.C.) were such that some peasants and lower-class families, facing burdensome debt, felt they had no choice but to sell off their children into slavery.

The second line refers more specifically to those who are actually bound (vb rs^a*) in prison. There is some difficulty involved in the curious compound form j^oq-jq^P*; it may be parsed as an expanded (q§taltal) form of the verb jq^P* (“open”), or as a scribal error for the verbal noun j^oqP* (“opening”). The duplicated portion may simply be stylistic, to fill out the rhythm of the line. In any case, this “opening” is equivalent to the “freedom” mentioned in the previous line—i.e., the opening of the prison doors (so to speak), and a release from captivity.

The LXX renders the second line as kai\ tufloi=$ a)na/bleyin, referring to the blind being able to see again. This almost certainly came about because the verb jq^P* typically is used in the Old Testament for the opening of eyes. However, as far as I am aware, there is no (surviving) Hebrew text that would support the LXX, which should probably be regarded here as an attempt to explain a difficult line (and likely influenced by the wording in Psalm 146:7-8). Even so, it had the interesting effect of introducing a miraculous-healing element into a passage which otherwise had none, and made Isa 61:1-3 more applicable to the ministry of Jesus (cf. also the same kind of emphasis, by way of association with Psalm 146:7-8, in the Qumran text 4Q521).

The second couplet in this pairing is:

“to call (out)
a year of favor for YHWH,
and a day of vengeance for our Mighty (One)”

This “year of favor” (/oxr* tn~v=) is a time when YHWH shows special favor (/oxr*) to His people. The root hx*r* refers to something being received favorably by a person, indicating that one is pleased with it and accepts it. The verb can also be used in the active sense of showing favor, and that is how the derived noun (/oxr*) is used here. The “year of favor” must be understood in terms of the Sabbatical (seventh) year, when debts were forgiven and people sold into indentured service were freed (cf. Exod 21:2; Deut 15:1-11; Jer 34:8-22). The same expression “to call (out) freedom” (rord= ar)q=l!, cf. above) was used in connection with the Sabbatical year (Jer 34:17). Cf. Blenkinsopp, p. 225.

The flip side of the favor shown to the oppressed is the vengeance (<q*n`) YHWH shows to the oppressors (i.e., the wicked). The term <q*n` may also be understood in the sense of “vindication”, when injustice is corrected, and the wicked punished, etc. The context of the first pairing (cf. the previous note)—viz., the injustice and oppression within Judean society at the time—is vital for a proper understanding of these lines here. The oppressed will be freed/released from their bondage (“year of favor”), while the oppressors will come under harsh judgment (“day of vengeance”). The specific expression “day of vengeance” is a reflex of the ancient “day of YHWH” motif in the Prophetic writings, emphasizing the time when God will judge and punish the wicked.

YHWH declares his hatred of injustice (v. 8a), a familiar theme in the Prophets; and there can be no such injustice or oppression in the New Age that is to come for His people. The Anointed Herald’s mission is to announce the coming of this New Age, when the current conditions will be reversed: the oppressed will find favor, and oppressors will experience suffering. This same reversal-of-fortune motif is used consistently by Jesus, in his Beatitudes, and in other teachings and parables as well.

In the next note, we will turn to the third (and final) verb pair (in vv. 2b-3ab), which brings the description of the Herald’s mission to a close.

References above marked “Blenkinsopp” are to Joseph Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 56-66, Anchor Bible [AB], vol. 19B (2003).


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