December 28: Isaiah 8:1-4

Isaiah 8:1-4

This is the third of three oracles in the section, each of which involves a child with a symbolic name, relating to the Syro-Ephraimite crisis of 735-4 B.C., and the looming specter of an Assyrian invasion. The place and significance of the child in this particular oracle is extremely close to that of the oracle in 7:10-17. At the same time, there is a parallel with the first oracle (7:3-9), in that the child, in both oracles, belongs to Isaiah. This has led commentators to posit that all three children were Isaiah’s. I do not believe that this is correct, but the question will be discussed further, in the next daily note.

There is a short, but rather enigmatic, narrative introduction to the oracle; or, perhaps, it would be better to say that the oracle is embedded within the narrative itself. It begins as follows:

And YHWH said to me: “Take for yourself a great [i.e. large] clear tablet and write upon it with (the) engraving (tool) of an (ordinary) man, ‘(Belonging) to Mah¢r-Š¹l¹l-„¹š-Baz.'” (v. 1)

The noun /oyL*G] (from the root hl*G`, “uncover”) refers to a smooth, clear flat surface, as of a mirror or a blank tablet for writing. The latter is in view here, and thus the fr#j# (“engraving [tool]”) is a writing stylus (or pen). The precise meaning of the qualifying element (“[of] a man”) is not certain; it may simply connote “ordinary, common,” i.e., an ordinary writing tool.

On the tablet, Isaiah is commanded (by YHWH) to write the phrase “Belonging to [-l=] Mah¢r-Š¹l¹l-„¹š-Baz [zB^-vj*-ll*v*-rh@m^]”. The unusual compound phrase-name, given here untranslated, apparently means something like “(Be) quick (for) plunder, hurry (for) prey”. No one would name a child this way, under ordinary circumstances; but the name was intentionally chosen because of its prophetic significance, being tied to the oracle of judgment delivered by Isaiah. The names given to the child in the first two oracles—Š®°¹r Y¹šû» (“A-Remnant-will-Return”, 7:3) and ±Imm¹nû °E~l (“God-[is]-with-Us”, 7:14)—have a similar significance.

And I called as witnesses for me (con)firm(ing) witnesses, YHWH-(is)-my-Light {Uriyahu} the priest, and YHWH-has-Remembered {Zecharyahu}, son of YHWH-Blesses {Yeberekyahu}. (v. 2)

The verb dWu here is denominative, derived from the noun du@ (“witness”), carrying a specific nuance of the root dwu (“repeat, do again”) that appears to be unique to Hebrew. The verb /m^a* denotes “be/make firm”, here in the sense of the witnesses confirming (verifying) what it is that Isaiah has written (on the legal principle of two witnesses being present, cf. Deut 17:6; 19:15); the participle (verbal adjective) also connotes the character of the witnesses as trustworthy and reliable. The authenticity of the prophecy that Isaiah is committing to writing (cf. below) will be confirmed, for future reference, by these witnesses; cp. the situation in 30:8-11. The priest Uriah is presumably the high priest (2 Kings 16:10-16), while the Zechariah mentioned here may be the father-in-law of king Ahaz (2 Kings 18:2). Cf. Blenkinsopp, p. 238.

And I came near to the ha*yb!n=, and she became pregnant, and gave birth to a son. And (the) YHWH said to me: “Call his name ‘(Be) quick (for) plunder, hurry (for) prey'” (v. 3)

The concision of the narrative creates a certain confusion, in terms of the relationship between verses 1-2 and 3-4. The events described in vv. 3-4 almost certainly would have taken place prior to those in vv. 1-2. In other words, what Isaiah records (before witnesses) in vv. 1-2 is the prophecy given to him by YHWH in vv. 3-4, an oracle that relates to the unusual name assigned to the child.

Isaiah “came near” (vb br^q*) to a woman (designated as a female ayb!n`), which is a euphemistic expression for sexual intercourse. It is not clear that this woman was Isaiah’s wife; almost certainly, the wife of a ayb!n` would not have been called ha*yb!n=, unless she herself was a ayb!n` (such as Huldah, cf. 2 Kings 22:14). The fundamental meaning of the noun ayb!n` is of a spokesperson for YHWH—that is, one who functions as God’s representative, communicating His word and will to the people. When this child was born (i.e., sometime before the writing by Isaiah in vv. 1-2), YHWH commanded the prophet to give the child the unusual name Mah¢r-Š¹l¹l-„¹š-Baz [zB^-vj*-ll*v*-rh@m^], “(Be) quick (for) plunder, hurry (for) prey”.

“(For it is) that, in (the time) before the young (child) shall know to cry ‘My father’ and ‘My mother’, the strength of Damešek {Damascus} shall be carried (away), and the plunder of Šomrôn {Samaria}, before (the) face of (the) king of Aššûr {Assyria}.” (v. 4)

The substance of the oracle is presented in verse 4, explaining the name given to the child. The hastening for plunder/prey refers to the invasion of the northern kingdoms (of Aram-Damascus and Israel) and their conquest by the Assyrians (led by king Tiglath-Pileser III). The time-indicator for this will be discussed in the next note, along with a comparison of the three child-signs (and symbolic names) of these three oracles.

References above marked “Blenkinsopp” are to Joseph Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 1-39, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 19 (Yale University Press: 2000).

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