Darren L. Slider
In Praise of Yahweh for Yeshua
In Praise of Yahweh for Yeshua
The passage itself (Isaiah 52:7-10) does not seem to have any absolutely clear historical context. The reference to Assyria's “oppression without cause” in v. 4 seems to indicate that Judah’s deliverance as recorded in chapters 36 and 37 had already taken place, for at that time Sennacherib is said to have taken all the fortified cities in Judah except for Jerusalem. The passage speaks of deliverance from captivity, and if the authorship of Isaiah ben-Amoz is accepted for the entire book, seems to point forward to Judah's return from the Babylonian captivity in particular.
If the above possibility (that the passage points forward) is accepted, the local application of the passage was actually for Israelites who lived after the time during which the passage was written. Nonetheless, meaning may be pulled out of the text which has useful and relevant applications for the “Israelites” (spiritual) of today, as will be shown later.
HISTORICAL FOREGROUND/LITERARY FUNCTION
Within the context of the text itself, the passage is followed immediately by an exhortation to depart from captivity (v. 11) with the promise of God’s protection in so doing (v. 12), reminiscent of the exodus from Egypt. This is followed by a longer passage (52:13-53:12) which deals with the Lord’s “Servant,” the Messiah. Thus the passage transitions into a section which points forward to that apotheosis of deliverers from captivity, the Son of God.
The references to geography in this passage are threefold: (1) the mountains upon which the feet of the bringer of good news are seen, (2) Zion, or the hill upon which Jerusalem sits, and Jerusalem itself, and (3) “all the nations”/“the ends of the earth,” which witness the salvation of Jerusalem by God. (2) seems largely incidental to theme of the passage (i.e., “Jerusalem”/“Zion” is that which will be delivered); (1) and (3) seem mostly related to the poetic imagery of the passage.
There are two principal theories concerning the authorship and the date of the book of Isaiah: that the entire book was written by Isaiah ben-Amoz in about the 8th century B.C.; and that chapters 1-39 were written by the aforementioned author at the aforementioned time, whereas chapters 40-66 were written by a later Isaiah who is often dated in the 2nd or 3rd century B.C. The former theory was almost universally accepted until the latter theory emerged among German higher critics of the 19th century A.D., and has since gained widespread acceptance. Since this passage (which cannot be dated anything like precisely, as it is not primarily historical) falls in the latter half of the book, which of these theories is accepted will determine the rough date of the passage.
The latter theory is based primarily on two ideas: (1) that prophetic foreknowledge is impossible, so chapters 40ff. must have been written at a much later date, because they mention Cyrus of Persia, who did not become prominent until the 6th century B.C.; and (2) the subject matter of chapters 40-66 is entirely different from that of chapters 1-39. As to the first argument, there does not exist one shred of evidence for the factuality of the assumption upon which it is based; the second argument is irrelevant, as the same author is quite capable of (and free to) spend the latter half of his work on a different subject matter from that of the former half. Furthermore, there are at least as many similarities in style between the two halves as there are differences (e. g., the expression referring to God which is translated “the Holy One of Israel” appears an almost exactly equal number of times in each “half” of the book, and this expression is favored by Isaiah more than any other prophet). Thus, the idea that Isaiah ben-Amoz wrote the entire book will be adopted.
Since the invasion of Judah by Sennacherib, to which the chapter in which the passage lies seems to make allusion, occurred toward the end of Isaiah's ministry (c. 775-c. 695 B.C.), a reasonable date for the passage would seem to be c. 720-710 B.C.
The theme of the passage is one that occurs many times before in this section of the book (beginning chapter 40), which dwells largely upon the demise of Babylon, the power of God over the idols of the nations, and God’s favor to Israel and plans to restore her even as from Egypt (see the reference to the crossing of the Red Sea, 51:10,11, and such passages as 50:24,25). The way it transitions into Messianic prophecy is discussed above.
The passage takes the perspective of the deliverance of Israel as an absolute certainty, almost an accomplished fact, and calls for uninhibited rejoicing, even from the inanimate “waste places”; this is where its poetic nature contributes to it most. The detail in the verses prior to the passage and its possible significance to dating the passage are discussed above.
GENRE, FORM AND SUBCATEGORY
Isaiah 52:7-10 is a song, more specifically a song of praise to Yahweh, and most specifically a song of praise to God for the deliverance of His people.
LIFE SETTING OF FORM
The form may have been used in Israel’s national festivals or other religious convocations, primarily recalling Yahweh’s former deliverance of Israel from the Egyptian bondage, but also for other occasions of deliverance (e.g., the miraculous deliverance of Israel from confederate enemies in the days of Jehoshaphat, II Chronicles 20:27,28).
COMPLETENESS AND COMPARISON OF FORM
By far the largest passages elsewhere in Scripture in this form are the Song of Moses (Exodus 15:1-18) and the Song of Deborah and Barak (Judges 5), which were sung on specific occasions of deliverance, from the Egyptians and the Canaanites, respectively. In the Song of Moses, the praise of Yahweh is more elaborate than in the Isaiah passage, and some space is given to a description of the deliverance at the Red Sea. In the Song of Deborah and Barak, considerably more space is given to praising the bravery of those whom God used in the victory (which is not done in the Song of Moses because God was the sole agent of victory on that occasion). The Isaiah passage is located in a chapter which is more a promise and a vision of a deliverance yet to come (if my conclusions above are correct, the return from the Babylonian exile definitely hadn’t happened yet) than an account of a deliverance which had just occurred, thus explaining its difference in focus from the above songs. It should be noted, however, that some specific details of the deliverance are given (prophetically, in advance) in Isaiah 45.
Another passage of particular interest is Psalm 98, as Isaiah 52:10 seems to be a paraphrase of Psalm 98:3,4; these two emphasize that all the nations will be made aware of God's deliverance of Israel. Like the Isaiah passage, the psalm is a celebration of victory (v. 1); it ends with a reference to the coming of Yahweh to judge the nations. It also shares with the Isaiah passage an emphasis upon praise through song and music (vv. 1a,4-6) and a call upon inanimate nature to rejoice (vv. 7,8; cf. Isaiah 52:8a).
Although this latter element is of course largely figurative (i.e., the beauty of God’s creation, although it does not speak literally, praises God because of what it is), it is particularly intriguing in the light of Jesus’ statement in Luke 19:40 (“the stones would immediately cry out”), which evokes a very real image of the praise of stones actually becoming literal.
The main emphasis in this passage is upon the good news of Yahweh’s deliverance of His people (personified by Jerusalem). Attention is first focused upon the messenger (the aspect of the proclamation of good news), then the watchmen and the waste places (the aspect of rejoicing over the good news), then upon Yahweh (the aspect of the cause of the good news). The good news as good news (v. 7) and as the redemption of Jerusalem in particular (vv. 9b,10) are emphasized by poetic parallelism, as are the subordinate emphases of the rejoicing of the watchmen and waste places (vv. 8,9a) and the universal witness of Yahweh’s deliverance (v. 10).
PARALLEL ARRANGEMENT OF STRUCTURE
There is only one significantly problematic grammatical construction in Isaiah 52:7-10. The phrase at the end of verse 8 which I have translated “when Yahweh brings back Zion” is often also rendered “when Yahweh returns to Zion.” The reason for the discrepancy is the word translated “brings back” or “returns to,” the Hebrew word shuv, literally, to turn. Shuv is used in both the transitive and intransitive senses in the Old Testament; the choice of rendering in a given case needs therefore to be decided upon on the basis of the context. The most obvious sense of the word here is that which takes into account earlier verses in the same chapter (i.e., vv. 2,3) which speak of Zion being captive, and therefore needing to be “brought back,” and I have rendered shuv accordingly.
There are a number of words in this passage upon which it would be both interesting and profitable to do word studies; however, since an exhaustive lexical analysis is beyond the scope of this assignment, I have decided to concentrate upon those words most pertinent to the tone of this passage (rejoicing) and to that which generates the tone of this passage (the salvation or deliverance of Yahweh).
Henceforth, “translated” should be understood as referring to the King James Version.
Yeshua: translated “salvation” in vv. 7,10.
This word occurs 77 times in the Old Testament, and 63 of those times is translated “salvation” (18 times in Isaiah). It is rendered “deliverance” three times and “help” three times.
The word itself is a passive participle of the primary root yasha, which means literally “to be open, wide, free.” A fair literal translation of yeshua would therefore be “that which is freed,” or saved (from a state of non-freedom, or captivity), which fits excellently into the context of this passage.
Ranan: translated “sing” in vv. 8,9.
This word occurs 53 times in the Old Testament and is translated “sing” 27 times, “rejoice” 10 times, and “shout” 8 times. It occurs most frequently in Psalms and Isaiah, usually in poetic passages.
Ranan is a primary root meaning literally “to creak” (emit a stridulous sound), and (by usage) taken to mean “to shout” when applied to humans. The unifying element in its uses is that it is associated with Yahweh or His actions, and it is used in parallel poetry with almost every other word for joy, rejoicing and praise. Only once (Lamentations 2:19) is it used in connection with desolation. The strongest connotation of this word is therefore that of joy or rejoicing.
Patsach: translated “break forth into joy” in v. 8.
This word occurs but 8 times in the Old Testament, 6 of these times (including the present verse) in Isaiah. Every other time it is used in Isaiah it is translated “break forth into singing.” Micah 3:3 is the only inconsistent use of the word (the rulers of Israel are said to “break” the bones of Yahweh’s people). In the other instance in which it is used, Psalm 98:4, it is used in parallel-poetic connection with “sing praises.”
Patsach is a primary root meaning literally, in fact, “to break forth.” In the above-mentioned passages, it is almost always used in connection with joy, praise and singing. Combining this connotation with the literal meaning, we have the sense of the spontaneous eruption of the whole being into a song of praise to Yahweh, which, in connection with the emphasis upon Yahweh’s salvation expresses the sense of this passage as a whole.
Isaiah 52:7-10 is quoted fragmentally at two different places in the New Testament, giving rise to a Messianic interpretation of the passage in addition to its obvious historical application. First of all, a slightly condensed version of verse 7 is quoted by Paul in Romans 10:15, worded in order to emphasize “the gospel of peace,” which is in this context the good news about Jesus Christ and the salvation which has become actualized through His life and death. Those who proclaim this good news (gospel) are interpreted as being the messengers in the Isaiah passage. Furthermore, in Luke 3:5,6, the gospel writer quotes Isaiah 40:3,4, interpreting it as referring to John the Baptist as the forerunner of Christ's mission. He then tacks “all flesh shall see the salvation of our God,” a slightly varied form of the end of Isaiah 52:10, onto the end of the quotation, giving it a definite correlation with the mission of the Messiah, Jesus. The logical extension of the interpretation of Isaiah given by Luke and Paul leads to an association between captivity/exile and the bondage of sin, an association which is profoundly in agreement with the tenor of Isaiah 52:3 (“For thus says Yahweh: ‘You have sold yourselves for nothing, and you shall be redeemed without money.’ ”). The appropriateness, beauty and power of the way in which this passage is interpreted by Luke and Paul become strikingly apparent when one realizes that it is almost immediately followed by what is perhaps the most direct of all the “suffering Servant” passages, Isaiah 52:13-53:12. This fact is not lost on Paul, who, after quoting 52:7, immediately quotes 53:1 in the next verse (Romans 10:16).
The Isaiah passage itself, as has been mentioned previously, conveys the command to let the joy at having been wonderfully delivered overflow into loud praise of the Deliverer, who so richly deserves it.
The passage’s tie-in with the doctrine most central to Christianity, salvation from sin through Jesus Christ, has been explored above in some detail.
The immediate context of the passage allows for a further insight into the nature of Yahweh in the Old Testament: even though Israel has slighted and rejected Him and thus will bring upon herself a second captivity (the first having been in Egypt), Yahweh will still deliver her yet again and grant her yet another opportunity to fulfill His purpose for her.
For comparison with relatively conservative scholarship on the book of Isaiah, I have made use of the two sources listed in the bibliography below, which are henceforth referred to as Young and Delitzsch. Detailed comparison with relatively liberal scholarship on the book of Isaiah is, on account of the premises with which these scholars begin, largely irrelevant. Arguments regarding the authorship and time frame of the latter part of Isaiah (chapters 40-66) have been dealt with to some extent above.
Both Young and Delitzsch have seen considerable significance in Paul’s treatment of elements of this passage in Romans 10, and with the soteriologically associative interpretation which arises therefrom, which I have discussed above. Young is so convinced that this interpretation is the real sense of the passage that he goes so far as to say, “There is no reason to assume that the announcement [referred to in verse 7] has to do with the return of exiles from Babylon.” In his comments on verse 10, he makes reference to the fact that Israel was under the Roman occupation at the time of the actual Messianic deliverance to which this passage points, implying that the political circumstances of the nation of Israel are relatively inconsequential to the meaning of this passage. I agree with the main thrust of his argument, i.e., that the relationship of this passage to the Messianic deliverance from the bondage of sin is the most important element in this passage. Nonetheless, in the larger Scriptural context of this passage, the references to Cyrus in chapter 45 must not be forgotten. Furthermore, at the time the prophecies were given, the political fate of Israel was an important issue to the people to whom the prophecies were given, and to the One who gave them. His purpose (as seen clearly in almost all the Messianic prophecies) was that the political exaltation of the nation of Israel should be bound up inextricably with the Messiah’s deliverance from the bondage of sin, chiefly in order that Israel might fulfill its calling of proclaiming and demonstrating the love of Yahweh. This exaltation did not happen because Israel rejected her Messiah and thus failed to fulfill its calling. Paul, in his discussion in Romans 9-11, goes through considerable pains to deal with this, concluding that the responsibility to fulfill this calling has now in fact fallen on “spiritual Israel” the church. Thus, the historical/political aspect of this passage should not be downplayed merely because of hindsight.
The grammatical difficulty in verse 8 mentioned earlier, that of whether shuv is to be rendered transitively or intransitively (i. e., “brings back Zion” or “returns to Zion,” respectively) is resolved differently by Young (who prefers intransitive) and Delitzsch (who prefers transitive). This serves to illustrate the fact that there is no definite answer to this difficulty that can be determined from the nature of shuv itself. There are reasonable arguments for both; I tend to side with Delitzsch, for reasons given previously.
From my study of both commentators, I gleaned insights into several Hebrew metaphors of whose exact meaning I was unaware. Referring to verse 8, Young points out that the phrase “they will see eye to eye” does not, in Hebrew, have the modern English connotation of perfect agreement; rather, it refers to the watchmen witnessing the Lord’s deliverance of Zion at eye-contact distance, with the connotation being of perfect clarity. Also, Delitzsch indicates that “made bare His holy arm” in verse 10, refers to the battlefield practice, in those days, of the literal baring of the arm by warriors going into battle. In the context of the passage, the holiness (equated with power) of God, which had seemed so long hidden, is here seen in action. Delitzsch goes further with this notion, giving an active sense to his interpretation of verse 9 (“Break forth together! Sing, you waste places of Jerusalem”): the restoration of the ruins of Jerusalem is a dynamic effect of Yahweh’s deliverance, and the former “are to break out into jubilant shouting as they rise from the ground,” a powerful metaphor indeed.
The principal application of this passage, as pointed out earlier, was given by the apostle Paul in Romans 10. What it amounts to, is the following: The good news proclaimed in this passage is our deliverance from exile, namely, the bondage of sin, by the suffering-Servant Messiah, Jesus Christ. We should always be lifting up our voices (particularly, in song, in the context of this passage) and praising Yahweh for this deliverance, and helping proclaim the good news thereof to “all the ends of the earth,” that they may share in it. In other words, we assume the roles of the messengers (who proclaim), the watchmen (who rejoice and praise) and those of Zion who are delivered.
The secondary application of this passage has specifically to do with praise, particularly as it relates to music, and touches upon the contemporary issues surrounding it. In a nutshell, I have concluded that: (1) In the expression of praise in music (as in its other forms), the most important element is the attitude of the heart which prompts the expression; Yahweh makes it abundantly clear throughout Isaiah that the form of service to Him without the substance simply will not do, and in fact is often found in connection with the most odious forms of sinful degradation. (2) Though the attitude of the heart (and the actions to which it leads in everyday living) is primary, the forms are important to Yahweh, who went to considerable length to give and explain them in the Old Testament. In recent musical expression, it cannot be clearly determined with objectivity that classical forms (e.g., the hymn, the Protestant chorale, the Te Deum, etc.) were “given” directly by Yahweh as His approved forms. Nonetheless, I believe that to most anyone who takes the trouble to become familiar with these forms and their potential, as opposed to that of the modern popular idioms (e.g., “contemporary Christian music,” “Christian rock,” etc.), will find that a relatively large percentage of the former (that is not to say, all) and that a relatively small percentage of the latter (that is not to say, none), express the praise of Yahweh with the depth of meaning (both musical and textual) and power that it so richly deserves. I plan to develop these arguments at greater length in my summary paper, since the subjective nature of the issue requires a more delicate treatment. The primary application, while most important and intensely relevant, is (in the context of the Bible as a whole) much more objectively straightforward to those who are convinced that Christianity is true.
Author’s Note: This exegesis of Isaiah 52:7-10, a paean of rejoicing for God’s deliverance of Israel from captivity, discusses the text’s immediate exilic context, its Messianic overtones, and its insight into the notion of praising God generally, with an application to the contemporary music scene.