Supplemental Note on Isaiah 24-27 (5): Isa 27:12-13

Isaiah 27:12-13

This is the last of five special notes supplemental to the recent Saturday Series studies on Isaiah 24-27 (see #1 on v. 1, #2 on vv. 2-5, #3 on v. 6, and #4 on vv. 7-11). The poem of vv. 7-13 concludes with two “day of YHWH” stanzas, as do the previous poems in 25:1-26:6 and 26:7-27:6. We will examine each of these stanzas in turn.

“And it will be, on that day [bayyôm hahû°]—
YHWH will beat out (the grain)
from (the) stream of (the great) River,
unto the river-bed of Egypt,
and you will be gathered up
from (there) one by one,
(you) sons of Yisrael.” (v. 12)

The harvest imagery of beating out (i.e. threshing) the grain and gathering it up (verbs µ¹»a‰ and l¹qa‰) follows the line of agricultural symbolism in these poems, and is entirely appropriate to the eschatological orientation of chaps. 24-27 as a whole. The harvest, marking the end of the growing season, came to be a popular motif for the end of the current Age, and the threshing—the separating of the grain from the chaff—was likewise suitable for the idea of separating the righteous from the wicked in the great Judgment.

It is a judgment on the nations, particularly those surrounding Israel, spanning the entire territory of the ancient Near East, using the “(great) River” (Euphrates) and “river of Egypt” (Nile) as the traditional boundary points. God’s Judgment on these nations means a return from exile for the people of Israel. They will be “gathered up” (by God) and returned to their land. The two-fold use of the numeral °eµ¹¼ (dj*a#, one), i.e. “one by one”, emphasizes both the restoration of the people, and that each person belonging to the restored people will return. This alludes again to the threshing-motif, with each single grain being gathered up as part of the harvest.

“And it will be, on that day [bayyôm hahû°]—
(the signal) will be struck on (the) great horn,
and they (all) will come,
the (one)s being lost in (the) land of Assur,
and the (one)s being cast off in (the) land of Egypt,
and they will bow down (in homage) to YHWH,
on the mountain of holiness in Yerushalaim.” (v. 13)

The second stanza, brings the return from exile more clearly into view. The time for returning is announced on the great horn, as would be used on festival occasions. The lands from which the people come correspond with the boundary markers mentioned in verse 12:

    • “the (great) river” (Euphrates) = the land of Assur (Assyria)
    • “the river of Egypt” (Nile) = the land of Egypt

The fact that Assyria is specifically mentioned (and not Babylon) raises the possibility that these lines stem from a period prior to the Babylonian conquest/exile, and that the “sons of Israel” refer primarily to the captives of the fallen northern kingdom of Israel. Parallels with the oracle in 11:11-16 are noteworthy; indeed, Assyria and Egypt are mentioned together there in v. 11. The prophecy in v. 12 declares that both Israel and Judah will be gathered from the nations where they have been exiled. The historical circumstances of such references can be difficult to determine with precision. The obvious explanation is that the lines in 11:12ff were composed following the Babylonian conquest, and yet there were certainly Judeans who had been taken captive (exiled) during the earlier Assyrian conquests as well. Roberts (First Isaiah, Hermeneia [Fortess Press: 2015], pp. 189-90) suggests the possibility that, in the case of the poem in 11:11-16, an earlier Isaian oracle (set in the Assyrian period) was adapted and reinterpreted by a later author/editor (in the Babylonian period).

There can be no real question that chapters 24-27 do make such use of earlier Isaian traditions (I have discussed the point in the prior notes and studies), and that the time-frame of the poems is fundamentally that of the Exilic period of the 6th century B.C. It may well be that here Assyria, as the territory marked by the Euphrates, serves equally for Babylon—both nation-states representing comparable powers from the east that conquered and exiled God’s people.

As far as Egypt is concerned, its significance here has multiple layers of meaning:

    • It is the ancient site of Israel’s first captivity
    • It played a (political) role in the events surrounding both the Assyrian and Babylonian conquests
    • Israelites and Judeans took refuge in Egypt in the wake of those invasions, and many remained there as ‘exiles’
    • The return from exile would follow the type-pattern of the Exodus, with Israel being gathered out of Egypt (Isa 11:15-16, etc)

That being said, the reference to Israelites/Judeans in Egypt, most likely reflects the historical circumstances of the fall of Jerusalem (587/6 B.C.), when large numbers of Judeans fled in its wake (to Egypt), particularly after the assassination of the governor Gedaliah (see 2 Kings 25:24-25; Jeremiah 41ff).

On the (eschatological) theme of Israel’s restoration centered on the “mountain” of God—that is, the city of Jerusalem (Zion), couched in the imagery of cosmological myth—see the earlier study on Isa 2:1-5.

May 17: Ezekiel 36:26-27; 37:14

Ezekiel 36:26-27; 37:14

Along with the book of Isaiah, it is the book of Ezekiel that contains the most extensive references to the spirit (j^Wr) of God. The key Isaian passages were discussed in the previous notes; today we turn to the references in Ezekiel, and we may divide the context where these occur into three categories:

    • The opening Theophany-vision of chapter 1—the manifestation of God on his chariot-throne. In verses 12 and 20 it is said that “the spirit” (j^Wrh*) moved and guided the wheels of this heavenly ‘chariot’; yet there is some ambiguity as to whether this refers to the spirit of God, or to the spirit of the “living beings” at work within the wheels (vv. 20-21). The use of the definite article, without any other qualification, suggests that it is a reference to the spirit of God.
    • References to the prophetic inspiration of Ezekiel himself—expressed in various ways:
      • the spirit coming on/in(to) him, using the preposition B=, beginning with the introductory scene (2:1-2), and repeated in 3:24
      • the spirit coming/falling “upon” (lu^) him—used in 11:5, this is the more traditional idiom for prophetic inspiration
      • the spirit lifting/carrying the prophet—as by a great wind (the more fundamental meaning of the word j^Wr); this is a development of the ancient idea of the divine spirit “rushing” (like a powerful wind) to a person, with inspired sayings/oracles uttered while the prophet is overtaken by the spirit. Used repeatedly (3:12, 14; 8:3; 11:1, 24; 37:1; 43:5), this idiom serves as a colorful way of describing the spirit-inspired character of visionary experience—the prophet feels like he is being transported to a new locale, part of a visionary landscape. The book of Revelation was almost certainly influenced by this wording in Ezekiel (cf. 1:10; 4:2; 17:3; 21:10)
    • Oracles/visions referring to Israel/Judah’s future restoration (return from Exile)

It is the last category that I will be discussing today, focusing on two main passages—36:26-27 and 37:14—each of which are from the great restoration oracles/visions in the latter part of the book. It must be remembered that Ezekiel’s prophecies were written/recorded in the midst of the Exile in Babylon, and the prophetic theme of Israel’s restoration is defined almost entirely in terms of a return from exile. This was also true of the Deutero-Isaian passages we have examined (cf. the prior note on 44:3 etc), while the oracles in Joel 2-3 (cf. the previous note) probably also derive from a 6th century context which, at the very least, anticipates the Babylonian conquest and exile.

Ezekiel 36:26-27

The oracle in 36:16-28 is one of several great restoration oracles (and visions) in the book; that is, as noted above, it prophesies the coming/future return of Judeans to their homeland. It follows the traditional prophetic (and Deuteronomic) pattern of attributing the conquest/exile to religious and moral failure by the people. This tradition itself is firmly rooted in the ancient Near Eastern idea of the binding agreement (covenant, cf. below), especially those patterned after the suzerain-vassal treaty format. When a vassal violates the terms of the agreement, the suzerain is no longer obligated to provide protection, leaving the vassal prey to military attack. Moreover, the binding agreement was understood as having been signed/ratified in the presence of God (or the gods)—and included built-in curse forumlas—so that divine judgment/punishment would result from any violation.

Typical of the prophetic message was a declaration that genuine, widespread repentance among the people (that is, a return to faithfulness and loyalty to YHWH) was necessary to avoid the judgment that would (otherwise) come through military conquest/exile, and was also a prerequisite for any future restoration once judgment had occurred. What is interesting in this oracle of Ezekiel, is the suggestion that true repentance/faithfulness may not even be possible for the people, in their current condition. After all, not only had they been unfaithful to God during their history in their own land (vv. 17-19), but their unfaithfulness continued even after they had been exiled into other lands (vv. 20-21ff). This is especially problematic, since YHWH’s own reputation (as God of Israel/Judah) now suffers and is disgraced among the nations. It is YHWH’s concern for His own “name” that prompts Him to act, not any sign of repentance or faithfulness among the people (vv. 22ff).

This is a striking shift in the prophetic message. God acts unilaterally to restore Israel, and their return to the land is no longer tied to any repentance on their part! However, this new model for Israel’s restoration does still require conversion of the people (back to faifthfulness); while this was impossible before, it will now be realized through a total transformation of their character and nature, performed miraculously by divine fiat. The primary idiom used to express this is that YHWH will give them “a new heart” (vd*j* bl@); interestingly, this only will occur after God has brought Israel/Judah back to the land (vv. 24-25). The transformation is described in verses 26-27:

“And I will give to you a new heart,
and a new spirit [hv*d*j& j^Wr] I will give [i.e. put] in your inner (parts);
and I will turn (aside) the heart of stone from your flesh,
and I will give to you a heart of flesh.
I will give [i.e. put] my spirit [yj!Wr] in your inner (parts),
and I will make you (so) that walk by my engraved (decrees)!”

The final line could not be more clear: God will make His people follow his decrees and precepts (i.e., written in the Torah). This motif of the “new heart” draws upon older prophetic tradition, especially key passages in the book of Deuteronomy which emphasize the need for Israel to be circumcised in their heart—that is, to be truly faithful to God in their heart, rather than in rote obedience to the requirements of the Torah (cf. 4:29; 5:29; 6:5; 8:2ff; 10:15-16; 11:16ff; 30:2, 6ff etc). The same idiom occurs frequently in the Deuteronomic books of Samuel-Kings, and, more generally, throughout the Psalms and Wisdom literature as well. It was in the message of the prophet Jeremiah, however, that this theme took on greater prominence (5:14; 9:26; 11:8 etc), in the context of the Babylonian conquest and exile. He introduces this idea of God giving a new “heart” to His people, and connects it with their future restoration (24:7; 32:37-41, and see further below). In all likelihood, Ezekiel was influenced by this use in Jeremiah

What is most important, from the standpoint of these studies, is how Ezekiel here makes a close connection between this “new heart” and a “new spirit” that God will also give—a spirit (j^Wr) that is a manifestation of God’s own. This identification is clear from the parallel in vv. 26-27:

and a new spirit I will give [i.e. put] in your inner (parts);
……..
I will give [i.e. put] my spirit in your inner (parts)

The same heart-spirit pairing is also found in two other passages (11:19 and 18:31). This is a development of the simpler idea of God “pouring out” His spirit on the land and its people (cf. the prior notes on Isa 44:3 and Joel 2:28-29); Ezekiel makes use of this idiom as well (39:29), but the idea of God putting His spirit into the innermost part (br#q#) of the people, suggests a more complete transformation of their entire nature and character. Indeed, that seems to be what the prophet is describing.

Ezekiel 37:14

The same theme of restoration is described in terms of resurrection in the famous vision of chapter 37. More properly, the image evokes that of a re-creation, a return to the original scene of creation, when God first breathed/blew life into humankind (Gen 2:7; Job 33:4, cf. the earlier note). This certainly is suggested by the wording here in verse 5:

“So says my Lord YHWH to these bones:
See! I am bringing in(to) you breath [j^Wr], and you will live!”

This does not simply refer to ordinary life-breath, however, as the climactic words of the vision make clear:

“And I will give [i.e. put] my spirit [yj!Wr] in(to) you, and you will live, and you will know that I have spoken, and have made (it so)…” (v. 14)

It is essentially the same message as in 36:26-27 (above)—once Israel has been restored to life and returns to the land, the people will be filled with God’s own Spirit, and will (finally) be able to remain entirely faithful to Him. The wordplay involving the meaning of j^Wr (“breath/spirit”), sadly lost in most translations, is vital to an understanding of the vision in chap. 37.

Jeremiah 31:31-34

Mention should also be made here of the famous “new covenant” passage in Jeremiah 31:31-34. It is very much part of the same “new heart / new spirit” theme discussed above. However, it defines this more precisely in terms of observing the Torah (hr*oT, instruction) of YHWH (v. 33). From the standpoint of Israelite/Jewish tradition, the Torah records and preserves the terms of the binding agreement (tyr!B=, ‘covenant’) between YHWH and Israel. It was Israel’s inability to live up to the terms of the agreement that led to their Exile, but now, as part of the future restoration (with their return from Exile), God is going to ensure that His people will be able to fulfill the terms of the agreement (the Torah) faithfully. This effectively will be a new agreement, and a new heart is required to fulfill it:

“I will give [i.e. put] my Instruction [hr*oT] in(to) their inner (parts), and I will inscribe it upon their heart, and I will be (the) Mightiest (One) [i.e. God] for them, and they will be (the) people for me” (v. 33)

The wording is quite similar to that of Ezek 36:26-27, only instead of God putting his Spirit into the innermost part of the people, he puts his Instruction (Torah) there. Being written on their heart, it will be fulfilled automatically, requiring no written precepts (or enforcement) to bring this about. This can only happen through the Spirit of God, and that association, introduced here in the later Prophets, would eventually develop into the idea that the Torah would be fulfilled (entirely) through the presence and work of the Spirit. It was the apostle Paul who first presented and expounded this teaching; sadly, even many Christians today still do not recognize the truth of it.

The association between the Torah and the Spirit will be discussed further in the next daily note.