April 22: Isaiah 52:14-15 (continued)

Isaiah 52:15b-d

“Over him kings will close their mouth(s):
for that which is not recounted to them they will see,
and that which they have not heard they will discern.”

These three lines continue the scenario depicted in the first four lines of vv. 14-15 (cf. the previous note). For those commentators who would explain the verb hz`n` in v. 15a as having the meaning “spring/leap up,” which is questionable, it is possible to read v. 15ab as a parallel couplet:

“So he will cause (the) nations to leap (in amazement),
and over him (the) kings will close their mouth(s).”

However, in my view, it is better to view the first four lines of vv. 14-15 as a distinct poetic unit, followed the three lines here. These units do, indeed, have a parallel conceptual structure; note how the first line begins in each:

“…many were devastated over you [;yl#u*]
over him [wyl*u*] kings will shut their mouth”

In each case, there is a comparable reaction by the ‘many’ (i.e., the peoples/nations and their leaders), and it is “over” (lu^) the Servant. The sequence (reaction / result) may be outlined as follows:

    • The peoples devastated by the appearance of the Servant
      • He will sprinkle (i.e. purify) the nations
    • The kings shut their mouths in the presence of the Servant
      • (He will instruct the rulers), spec. they will see and understand

The act of purifying the nations is thus parallel with instructing their kings. The specific idea of instruction in v. 15cd has to inferred from the twin declaration that the kings will “see” (vb ha*r*) and “understand” (/yB!). In the prior note on v. 13, I mentioned how the verb lk^c*, in the Hiphil (causative) stem, can indicate that a person makes others to be wise and understanding, by instructing them (in the Torah of YHWH, etc). Here, the verb /yB!, which properly denotes discernment (i.e., separating/distinguishing), captures a similar idea—viz., the Servant gives wisdom and understanding to the rulers of the nations.

And it is Divine wisdom/understanding that is communicated, and which the Servant possesses. This is the significance of the negative phrases used here in v. 15cd:

    • “that which is not recounted to them”
    • “that which they have not heard”

In the Deutero-Isaian poems, the verb /yB! is used of understanding in the sense of the knowledge of God, both in a subjective (i.e., the knowledge God possesses) and objective sense (i.e., knowledge about God)—cf. 40:14, 21; 43:10. The lack of such knowledge is attributed to the nations—that is, to all who worship false deities (and idols) rather than YHWH (44:18-19). The Servant, it seems, will be instrumental in imparting this knowledge to the nations—to those who have never heard the truth of YHWH, His Torah, and His covenant with Israel.

It may also be that the negative phrases in v. 15cd relate specifically to the person of the Servant—his suffering and his role as YHWH’s chosen servant. His suffering, in particular, has struck the nations (and their rulers), and forms the basis of their initial instruction. This message of the Servant’s suffering, established in vv. 14-15a, will be presented in some detail in 53:2-10.

In the heavenly scene, this role of the Servant, with regard to the nations, is being set. Having been raised to an exalted position, the Servant is, in a sense, commissioned with this role; but it has to be authorized within the context of the heavenly Court/Council. It is thus a courtroom scene, of sorts, that is depicted here. Evidence is presented, regarding the nature and character of the Servant, and his worthiness to function as YHWH’s Servant, not to Israel alone, but to all the peoples.

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