The Holy One of Israel is Savior: Theological Themes in Isaiah

Larry M. Taylor  |  Southwestern Journal of Theology Vol. 34 - Fall 1991

The history of critical studies in Isaiah dem­onstrates the triumph of the historical-critical method of Bible study. At no point has a stronger consensus of scholarship been reached than in the division of Isaiah into three separate literary sections. In just one hundred years crit­ical opinion moved from regarding Isaiah as the unified work of a single writer to dividing the book into separate units characterized by marked difference in style, vocabulary, and ideas.[1]See Christopher R. Sietz, “The One Isaiah/The Three Isaiahs,” in Reading and Preaching the Book of Isaiah, ed. Christopher R. Seitz (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988), 14-16. See also John L. McKenzie, Second Isaiah, The Anchor Bible, ed. W. F. Albright and David Noel Freedman (Garden City: Doubleday Co., 1968), xv-xvi.

To be sure, as early as the twelfth century Ibn Ezra had voiced doubts that chapters 40-66 of Isaiah were written by the same mind that had produced chapters 1-39.[2]James Muilenburg, “The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40-66: Introduction and Exegesis,” in The Interpreter’s Bible, ed. George A. Buttrick (New York: Abingdon Press, 1956), 5:382. Readers from the pre­critical period were not unaware of changes in language and style as one crossed chapter 40, but these changes were regarded as necessitated by Isaiah’s change in subject matter from judg­ment to forgiveness.[3]Seitz, 16. Only in the modern period of biblical studies has the almost universal opin­ion emerged that Isaiah is the result of a long process of authorship and compilation. Ron Clements says that Isaiah is “one of the most complex literary structures of the entire Old Testament.”[4]Ronald Clements, “Beyond Tradition-History: Deutero-Isaianic Development of First Isaiah’s Themes,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 31 (February 1985), 98.

It is now commonplace to regard the book of Isaiah as an anthology, with chapters 1-39 deriving from the Assyrian period, chapters 40-55 from the Babylonian period, and chapters 50-66 from the Persian period. To these three distinct historical units are given the titles “First Isaiah,” “Second Isaiah,” and “Third Isaiah.”[5]Seitz notes that First Isaiah contains material from various historical periods, from the eighth to the sixth centuries (15, 18-19). Even the most conservative scholars acknowledge the di­versity of historical settings in Isaiah.[6]John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah 1-39 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1986), 26.

While something has been gained with critical scholarship’s careful identification of the various historical units in Isaiah, something else has been lost. Brevard Childs complains that the critical study of Isaiah has atomized the book into many fragments, each one anchored in its own historical setting. It has become difficult to see the message of Isaiah as a whole.[7]Brevard S. Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scrip­ture (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1979), 324. J. J. M. Roberts, “Isaiah in Old Testament Prophecy,” Interpretation 36 (April 1982): 130, observes that outside of very conservative circles, there has been little interest in seeking a unified theology in Isaiah until the recent work of Childs. What has been lost, obviously, is the unity of the book. This loss is due to the very nature of the historical-critical instrument. The method itself works against unity.[8]Walter Brueggemann, “Unity and Dynamic in the Isaiah Tradition,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 29 June 1984), 89. James Sanders notes increased dissatisfaction with the hermeneutics of the historical-critical method.[9]James S. Sanders, Canon and Community (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), 2. For a discussion of the text as text, see George A. Buttrick, ed., The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible Supplementary Volume (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1976), s.v. “The Bible as Literature,” by David Robertson.

In the work of Brevard Childs and Ronald Clements the present shape of Isaiah is taken seriously in its wholeness. It is the position of Childs that the placing of chapters 40-55 after chapters 1-39 is an important theological devel­opment. Childs contends that when the two sec­tions were united, Second Isaiah forfeited its real historical context, resulting in a fresh theological statement.[10]Childs, 325-26. It has again become possible, in­ deed necessary, to speak of the unity of Isaiah.[11]Brueggemann, 89.

Childs and Clements agree that it was the­matic and theological kinship which brought First Isaiah and Second Isaiah together. It is Clements’ contention that Second Isaiah was intended as a sequel and a supplement to First Isaiah.[12]Clements, 97-101. See also Ronald E. Clements, “The Unity of the Book of Isaiah,” Interpretation 36 (April 1982): 120-28. Childs says that First Isaiah was edited theologically so that its message would be inter­preted in the light of Second Isaiah.[13]Childs, 333. Scholarship in the past often attributed the similarity between the “Isaiahs” to a school of Isaiah’s disciples. Childs and Clements see no need for this device. Clements adds: ”The originating figure of this message was the unrivaled prophetic master, Isaiah of Jerusalem . . ..” See Ronald E. Clements, “The Prophecies of Isaiah and the Fall of Jerusalem,” Vetus Testamentum, 30 (October 1980): 434-36.

It seems as though studies in Isaiah have come from a precritical period, where one author was assumed, through a critical period, where mul­tiple authorship and setting were established, to a third period where it is once again possible to see the prophecy as one work. It is from this perspective that the present article attempts to address the theological themes of Isaiah as the connecting links between the “three Isaiahs.”[14]See James Fowler’s discussion of Paul Ricoeur’s concepts of precritical “first naivete” and postcritical “second naivete” in Stages of Faith (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1981), 187-88.

With its findings from the historical-critical period intact, scholarship can now ”come home” again to speak of Isaiah’s prophecy as a unified whole.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.[15]T. S. Eliot, ”Little Gidding,” in The New Oxford Book of English Verse, ed. Helen Gardner (New York: Oxford University Press, 1972), 897.


The Calling of the Prophet

The older critical scholarship had always noticed the signal role played by the account of the prophet’s call in chapter six.[16]See R. B. Y. Scott, “The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 1-39: Intro­ duction and Exegesis,” in The Interpreter’s Bible, ed. George A. Buttrick (New York: Abingdon Press, 1956), 155; Artur Weiser, The Old Testament: Its Formation and Development, trans. Dorothea M. Barton (New York: Association Press, 1961), 195; Edward J. Kissane, The Book of Isaiah (Dublin: Browne and Nolan, 1941), xliv; and Theodorus C. Vriezen, “Essentials of the Theology of Isaiah,” in Israel’s Prophetic Heritage, ed. Bernhard W. Anderson and Walter Harrelson (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), 131.

Here are found those recurrent themes in First Isaiah. God’s majesty and holiness resound throughout the prophecy (5:16; 17:7; 29:19). The prophet is made aware of his own sinfulness and the sinfulness of his people (6:5), a theme heard often in other chapters (5:1-4; 13:9-16). Here, too, is that forgiveness and cleansing of the prophet (6:6-7), expanded to include the whole nation (11:11-16; 12:1-3; 35:1-10).

Recent scholarship sees these same themes from the prophet’s call as part of the theological connection that binds together the entire book. Childs says that Second Isaiah actually begins in chapter one. The call experience of the prophet combines both words of judgment and of re­demption. These two movements of judgment and redemption are only played out fully over the entire sweep of the Isaianic   prophecy.[17]Childs, 331.

Ronald Clements calls attention to Second Isaiah’s theme of Israel’s blindness and deafness as one that looks back to First Isaiah (42:16, 18-19; 43:8; 44:18). Clements relates these passages to 6:9-10 and considers them a major theme of Second Isaiah. This language in Second Isaiah is not anticipated and can hardly be explained apart from its relation to the very similar language found in Isaiah’s call narrative.[18]Clements, “Beyond Tradition-History,” 101-3.

Roberts notes that the ethical dimension of Yahweh’s holiness seen in Isaiah’s call “remains a constant ingredient throughout all the stages of the Isaianic tradition.”[19]Robert, 134.

It seems that the calling of the prophet in chapter six is integral to the entire prophecy of Isaiah. In Isaiah’s call the reader is afforded a preview of that complete theological movement of sin, judgment, and forgiveness which is only appreciated by seeing the prophecy whole.


The Concept of God in Isaiah’s Prophecy

Isaiah is a book of magnificent theology. “Unless the book of Isaiah is a great theological document, it is nothing.”[20]Oswalt, 31.  First Isaiah was in­disputably one of the premier theologians of the Old Testament.[21]Elizabeth Achtemeier, “Isaiah of Jerusalem: Themes and Preaching Possibilities,” in Reading and Preaching the Book of Isaiah, ed. Christopher Seitz (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988), 23. His concept of God is basic to everything in the book. The vision of God in Isaiah’s call experience was preeminently a vision of God’s holiness (6:3). “Holy One of Israel” occurs twelve times in First Isaiah as a title for Yahweh, and thirteen times in chapters 40-66. There are additional references to “his Holy One” in 10:17, 49:7, and “the Holy One of Jacob” in 29:23, as well as “your Holy One” in 43:15. There are only a half dozen other references to Yahweh as the Holy One of Israel in all the rest of the Old Testament.[22]A. S. Herbert, The Book of the Prophet Isaiah (Cambridge: The University Press, 1973), 15. “If there is any one concept to the whole Book of Isaiah, it is the vision of Yahweh as the Holy One of Israel.”[23]Roberts, 131.

The term “holy” was not primarily an ethical term for Isaiah. It referred to God’s distinctiveness, his inaccessibility. But Herbert speaks of God’s “down-to-earth transcendence.  He who is unapproachable by men, approaches man in the daily affairs of life.”[24]Herbert, 15. God is other than man and the world, but the term “holy” is paradox­ical.[25]Ibid., 15-16. In using a term for God that was originally neutral, Isaiah expressed an idea of God which was implicitly ethical. The neutral aspect of the term made it possible for Isaiah to fill it with his own unique concept of the essentially ethical character of God.[26]George Buchanan Gray, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Isaiah I-XXXIX, The International Critical Commentary, ed. Charles A. Briggs, S. R. Driver and A. Plummer (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark, 1928), lxxxix.

Although the concept of God in Third Isaiah is not as lofty as that of Second Isaiah,[27]Weiser, 206. Third Isaiah does share with First and Second Isaiah the idea of God as the Holy One of Israel (60:9, 14). “We are to think of the eighth-century Isaiah as having created a tradition which continued to be a living and potent force for some three centuries.”[28]George A. Buttrick, ed., The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962), s.v. “Isaiah,” by C. R. North.

The Holy One of Israel is also the sov­ereign Lord of history. In First Isaiah he is the God who rebukes the nations and brings them down in judgment (chs. 13-23). Yahweh takes an active role in the affairs of the nation through his prophet (ch. 7), and uses Assyria as the instrument of his judgment (7:17-18; 5:26-30).[29]Gray, lxxviii. In chapter 10 Isaiah struggles with the enigma of history, and there gives classic voice to his concept of the God who bends events to his purpose.[30]Page H. Kelley, “Isaiah,” in The Broadman Bible Commentary, ed. Clifton J. Allen (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1971), 156-57.

Unlike Second Isaiah, First Isaiah does not say that there is no God but Yahweh.[31]North, “Isaiah,” 733. Cf. Gray, lxxxvi. Gray, how­ever, calls First Isaiah’s theism “virtual mono­theism.”[32]Gray, lxxxvi. In Second Isaiah, however, the sovereign God who is Lord of history is also the only God. This chapter hints at the “call” of Second Isaiah (40:3, 6), and leaves no doubt that Yahweh is again ready to intervene in Israel’s history and shake the pillars of nations. In Second Isaiah there are five references to Cyrus, and in all of them it is Yahweh who “stirs him up” so that he cane become the instrument of God to affect Israel, even as the king of Assyria had been used by God in the eighth century.[33]Claus Westermann, Isaiah 40-66, trans. D. M. G. Stalker, The Old Testament Library, ed. G. Ernest Wright et al. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1969), 16.

In Second Isaiah Yahweh reveals himself as the only God (44:6, 8; 45:5, 6, 21). The frequent formula “I am he” (43:11, 25) means “I am the only true God.” Since he is Lord over history, he alone can predict events, and this element of prediction is one of Second Isaiah’s supports for monotheism. While there was monotheism before Second Isaiah, his was distinctive.[34]Muilenburg, 403-4. Cf. Westermann, 26. The repeated question in chapter 40 is, “To whom then will you liken God?” (40:18, 25). It is the question that Second Isaiah presses as in his scathing attack on idols (46:1-7). He does not tire in pointing to the incomparability of Yahweh.[35]John Skinner, The Book of the Prophet Isaiah, Chapters XLLXVI, The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, ed. A. F. Kirkpatrick (Cambridge: University Press, 1963), Ii. Cf. Oswalt, 34: “Nowhere else in Scripture is the stupidity of idolatry subjected to such exquisite sarcasm as in the book of Isaiah.” What had been implicit before became explicit in Second Isaiah.[36]Norman H. Snaith, The Jews From Cyrus to Herod (New York: Abingdon Press), 63.

The most obvious theological link between First and Second Isaiah is the concept of the holiness of Yahweh. Yet even here the theology of Second Isaiah is expansive. His idea of God’s holiness is combined with that of God as re­deemer. There is frequent use of “redeemer” as a title for Yahweh (41:14; 43:14; 44:6; 49:7). God’s redemption of Israel will occur in an historical and physical sense with the return to Jerusalem (40: 3-11). But God also ministers inwardly and spiritually to his people by comforting them (40:1-2).[37]Muilenburg, 400-401. The central idea in Second Isaiah is God’s gracious intention to redeem Israel. This prophet is “the first prophet to whom the divine purpose wears an imme­diately gracious aspect towards Israel.”[38]Skinner, xlv.

While it may be accurate to characterize the message of First Isaiah as one of judgment and that of Second Isaiah as forgiveness, the matter is not that simple. Even in First Isaiah the doom is balanced by a hope which has its roots in the nature of God. First Isaiah never saw Israel as completely irredeemable.[39]John Bright, The Kingdom of God (New York: Abingdon Press, 1965), 12. He made use of two far-reaching ideas to embody his hope for Israel: the remnant and a future messiah.[40]Ibid., 89-94.

When the book of Isaiah is viewed as a unified prophecy, it is possible to see how writings that originated in different historical soils were later thought to belong together. Critical opinion sep­arated Second Isaiah from First Isaiah because of the gracious offer of God’s forgiveness to Israel in chapters 40-55. Why would such an offer be made to a nation who demonstrated no repentance before the exile, the period of First Isaiah? There can be no doubt that Isaiah’s cal­ ling was to speak a message of judgment, while the message in Second Isaiah was one of pardon. Canon criticism contends that the later redac­tion of the whole book assigned passages of promise and hope to First Isaiah, as well as judgment to Second and Third Isaiah.[41]Childs. 326-27. See Sanders, xvii, who notes that with the model of canonical criticism, the Holy Spirit is seen to be at work from the original speaker of a biblical text, through the editorial reshaping, and the contemporary reading. God was about the task of redemption in all three major sections of Isaiah. “Second Isaiah’s message of God’s. . . redemption of Israel is not qualitatively different from the prophecies of First Isaiah.”[42]Childs, 330.

Unlike any other prophet Second Isaiah mag­nified God as the creator. This was something new in prophecy and cannot be made to fit easily with material from First Isaiah. The verb for create is used sixteen times in chapters 40-55, and only once in chapters 1-39. It is best to see this emphasis as one that arose out of the exilic context in Babylon where creation stories were common. The exilic community needed reassurance that Yahweh was the real creator, rather than the gods of Babylon.[43]Kelly, 174. Cf. also McKenzie, lix.

While God the creator is a major theme in Second Isaiah, it is a part of his concept of God as redeemer. The beautiful poem of creation in 40:12-31 comes immediately after the announce­ment of deliverance and pardon for the exiles. It is the same God who both redeems and creates.[44]Muilenburg, 400-402. This is clear in 44:24, where Yahweh the creator is a sub-category of his role as re­deemer. Second Isaiah views creation as part of the saving event itself.[45]Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, trans. D. M. G. Stalker (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), 1:137. Cf. C. R. North, The Second Isaiah (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964), 13-14. North notes that the Hebrews first came to know God as their deliverer from Egypt. Creation was the first act in history and salvation is a new creation.

These, then, are some of the major theological themes concerning God in the prophecy of Isaiah. He is a holy God, a motif maintained throughout the entire book. Yahweh alone is God, implicitly in First Isaiah, explicitly in Second Isaiah. As sovereign Lord of history, Yahweh uses even pagan nations and rulers as his instruments. This sovereign God is both re­deemer and creator, with creation and redemp­tion as two great acts of a single drama. Today we are increasingly aware that there is a continuity in Isaiah’s teachings about God that no critical fragmentation of the prophecy can destroy.[46]A. Robert and A. Feuillet, Introduction to the Old Testament, trans. Patrick W. Skehen and others (New York: Desclee Co., 1968), 285.


The Idea of Salvation in Isaiah

The book of Isaiah is massive and so is its theology. This prophecy is about God and his ways with his people. All other theological concepts in Isaiah derive from its doctrine of God. The salvation God provides flows from his own nature. One way to organize the theological themes in Isaiah is around the two foci of who God is and what God does.

What God does in Isaiah is to redeem his people. Isaiah’s redemption concept is spelled out in a cluster of themes which overlap, touching each other at vital points. All these themes will be treated as salvation themes.

God’s election of Israel is everywhere as­sumed in Isaiah. Isaiah’s preaching was based on the Zion election tradition and the Davidic elec­tion tradition.[47]Von Rad, 2:174. See also John B. Hayes, “The Tradition of Zion’s Inviolability,” Journal of Biblical Literature 82 (December 1963): 420. In 1:23 it is Israel as God’s sons who have rebelled. Yahweh’s peculiar ownership of Israel, his vineyard, is expressed in the parable of chapter 5. The remnant that will return after desolation will be of the house of Jacob (10:20-22). First Isaiah speaks repeatedly in these general terms about God’s election of Israel.[48]Scott, 164. In Second Isaiah the concept is still present, only it has been greatly enlarged. Here the third election tradition is most prominent, the exo­dus. Second Isaiah makes use of all three election traditions which were supportive of prophecy as a whole.[49]Von Rad, 2:239.

The theme of judgment was the uncompro­mising constituent in the preaching of Isaiah of Jerusalem. Assyria would be Yahweh’s instru­ment for the destruction of a sinful Israel. God would merely “whistle” for Assyria to come (5:26). The judgment theme resounds through­ out the oracles to Israel which constitute the first twelve chapters of Isaiah. As soon as the nature of God was established for Isaiah in his vision, two inevitable consequences followed: the sin­fulness of the nation and the inevitability of judgment (6:5-12). “First Isaiah was commis­sioned to preach a message of relentless judg­ment to a hardened people.”[50]Childs, 327.

The reversal of the judgment theme in Second Isaiah could hardly be more complete. If First Isaiah’s message to pre-exilic Israel was one of judgment, Second Isaiah’s message to the exiles in Babylon was one of forgiveness.[51]Ibid. The judg­ment theme found in both First and Third Isaiah is conspicuously absent from Second Isaiah.[52]McKenzie, xvii. It is replaced by the forgiveness theme, and this “forgiveness is an essential component of sal­vation.”[53]Ibid., lxi. Second Isaiah’s message finds expres­sion in the oracle of salvation with its familiar cry, “Fear not.” In Second Isaiah’s preaching, salvation is announced as having already occur­red.[54]Westermann, 10-11. “Never before had Yahweh spoken in such a way by the lips of a prophet.”[55]Von Rad, 2:250.

It is imperative to see that Second Isaiah’s message of forgiveness grew organically out of First Isaiah’s message of judgment. Second Isaiah had himself lived the suffering of his fellow exiles. His message of hope and newness grew out of intimate knowledge of the prophecy of judgment in First Isaiah and its historical reali­zation. The theological connection between Second Isaiah and First Isaiah at this point is powerful and compelling. It was the complete embrace of suffering and the exhaustion of judgment that made it possible for Second Isaiah to announce his new word of hope.[56]Brueggemann, 96. Walter Brueggemann quotes from Amos Wilder’s poem “A Hard Death” to illustrate this confrontation of judgment completed with forgiveness prom­ised:[57]Ibid., 105, n. 26.

Accept no mitigation
but be instructed at the null point
the zero breeds new algebra.
It is not enough to say that Second Isaiah knew the oracles of judgment from First Isaiah. Rather, “he thought of himself as the continuation of Isaiah of Jerusalem.”[58]McKenzie, xxi.

The theology of Isaiah was shaped not only by historical events. It was also conditioned by space. Jerusalem was in some unique sense Yah­weh’s place. Belden Lane has noted certain axioms that govern the sacred place, and the first one is that sacred places are not chosen, but rather they choose. “Sacred place. . . affirms the independence of the holy. God chooses to reveal himself only where he wills.”[59]Belden C. Lane, Landscapes of the Sacred (New York: Paulist Press, 1988), 15.

For Isaiah God was identified closely with Jerusalem. Zion was the place of God’s abode. It was here in the temple that Isaiah had his life-changing vision and received his call. Here he saw Yahweh exalted on his throne. In Isaiah’s mind Yahweh was in some special sense the possession of Israel.[60]Gray, lxxxiv. T. C. Vriezen says that Isaiah concentrates the relation between God and Israel in the name of Zion. Of twenty-nine references to Zion in chapters 1-39, eleven of them are from the prophet himself. Zion was a sacred place with a religious character.[61]Vriezen, 130.

In 735-733 B.C. Isaiah clashed with the policy of king Ahaz, who intended to submit to Assyria and appeal for military assistance. Isaiah coun­seled non-cooperation with Assyria because the promises of Yahweh could be trusted to protect Jerusalem. Again, under Hezekiah’s rule, Isaiah opposed Judah’s revolt against Assyria. It was his position that God was the founder of Zion and was adequate to protect it.[62]Bright, History of Israel, 274-76.

In the light of such passages as 7:1ff. and 17:12ff. it would appear that Isaiah believed God would protect Jerusalem in any and all circum­stances. Yet there is ambiguity in his position. “Jahweh’s work for Zion is here given a remark­ able theological ambivalence: it judges and saves at one and the same time.”[63]Von Rad, 2:164. McKenzie concurs, and says that “Jerusalem is an important element in the theme of salvation in both First and Second Isaiah” (McKenzie, lxii). However, the idea of Jerusalem’s inviolability did not pass unchanged through the hands of Isaiah. Isaiah altered this idea in two respects. He tied Yah­weh’s protection to faith in God, and he related the attacks by Zion’s enemies to God’s purpose. Assyria was God’s rod to punish Israel (10:5-6).[64]Hayes, 42 5-26. The idea of Jerusalem’s safety later hardened into a dogma, but originally with Isaiah it was a hope based on the nature of God and his choice of Israel.[65]Bright, Kingdom of God, 86-87.

First Isaiah’s concentration on Jerusalem is repeated in Second and Third Isaiah. The Zion poems of Second Isaiah (chs. 49-52) and those of Third Isaiah (chs. 60-62) resemble each other.[66]McKenzie, xix. “Salvation is the particular theme of the Zion poems” in Third Isaiah.[67]Ibid., lxix. Salvation is promised but delayed and takes shape around a material element.[68]Ibid.

The significance of the remnant in First Isaiah as a salvation theme is debated. On the one hand von Rad seems to minimize it. He points to the symbolic name Isaiah gave his son, Shear-Jashub, “a remnant returns,” as the pri­mary reference to the remnant (7:3). But von Rad relates the remnant idea to politics, and denies that “Isaiah made the remnant concept a leading one where his concern was his procla­mation of salvation.[69]Von Rad, 2:165.

Others, including Bright, Kissane, and Driver find the remnant theme not only to be one of Isaiah’s major themes, but also one closely related to the salvation of the nation.[70]Bright, The Kingdom of God, 88-89; Kissane, xliii-xliv; S. R. Driver, Isaiah: His Life and Times (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1897), 21. John Bright calls the notion of the remnant ”one of the most characteristic of all the ideas of Isaiah,” and believes it was pushed by Isaiah into the future in the ideal form of the messiah and given its classic expression in that figure.[71]Bright, The Kingdom of God, 89.

If the remnant concept of First Isaiah narrows its focus to a faithful minority, Second Isaiah regards the exilic community in Babylon as that remnant, and in announcing its return to Zion, expands the scope of salvation to include all nations. This universalism is new within the body of prophecy. While the references to the recognition of Yahweh by the nations are few, the theme is nonetheless explicit. The clearest passage is 45:14-25.[72]McKenzie, lxv. Muilenburg speaks of a “widehearted universal­ism,” 405.

In Third Isaiah the conversion of the nations is the result of the splendor of the new Jerusalem (60:2-3).[73]Skinner, Ixiii-lxiv. This universal perspective in Second and Third Isaiah, however, ought not to be construed as a missionary idea. When Second Isaiah speaks of Israel as a witness to the nations, he is thinking only of Israel as a sign which the nations will see and thus be attracted to God.[74]Von Rad, 2:249. See also Joseph Blenkinsopp, “Yahweh and Other Deities,” Interpretation 40 (October 1986): 364.

Perhaps the theme-countertheme relation between the remnant of First Isaiah and the universalism of second Isaiah is one of the best illustrations of the theological unity of the book of Isaiah. Second Isaiah’s message is not merely a reference to historical events in the sixth cen­tury. It is a fulfillment of promises previously announced. This is why Childs insists that “the message of Second Isaiah cannot be properly understood apart from First Isaiah.”[75]Childs, 328.

Practically every Old Testament scholar rec­ognizes the messiah material in First Isaiah as a significant part of the prophet’s work, but there are numerous interpretations of its meaning. C. R. North regards Isaiah’s messianic teachings as perplexing and only incidental to his message. North sees a trilogy of passages in which the messiah is discussed (7:11-17; 9:2-7; and 11:1-9).[76]North, “Isaiah,” 734. S. R. Driver says that messiah is a frequent, if not constant, figure in Isaiah, and concludes that the picture of the messiah is essentially Isaiah’s creation and one not much expanded by later prophets.[77]Driver, 111-12. Mowinkel denies that any of the three passages is strictly messianic and calls them “preparatory” to messianic faith.[78]Sigmund Mowinkel, He That Cometh, trans. G. W. Anderson (New York: Abingdon Press, 1956),   17. Cf. H. Wheeler Robinson, The Religious Ideas of the Old Testament (London: Duckworth, 1938), 199.

The interpretation of the Immanuel prophecy in chapter seven has always seemed to dominate the discussions of Isaiah’s messianic material. The traditional interpretation that the Immanuel prophecy pertained originally to the birth of a prince, a royal child later to be king, probably Hezekiah, prevailed for many years. In recent studies, however, the Immanuel oracle of 7:13-17 has increasingly been interpreted as pointing to one of Isaiah’s own children.[79]George A. Buttrick, ed. The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Supplementary Volume (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1976), s.v. “Isaiah,” by J. M. Ward. For analysis and development of this position, see Marvin E. Tate, “King and Messiah in Isaiah of Jerusalem,” Review and Expositor 65 (Fall 1968): 409-21; Herbert M . Wolf, “Solution to the Immanuel Prophecy in Isaiah 7:14-8:22,” Journal of Biblical Literature 91 (December 1972): 449-56; Emil G. Kraeling, “The Immanuel Prophecy,” Journal of Biblical Prophecy 50 (1931): 277-97; and N. K. Gottwald, “Immanuel as the Prophet’s Son,” Vetus Testamentum 8 January 1958): 36-47. Von Rad seems to think that in 7:14 the “young woman” de­notes the prophet’s own wife. However, he goes on to note that the further mention of Immanuel in 8:8 suggests an actual ruler. Von Rad sees a later reinterpretation of the Immanuel prophecy in a messianic sense.[80]Von Rad, 2:173-74.

A perennial question in Isaianic studies is the relation between First Isaiah’s messiah and Second Isaiah’s servant. Since a separate article is devoted in this issue to the servant poems, we will not deal with them at any length here. However, brief attention is required for this question. The relation of the servant of the Lord in Second Isaiah (42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12) to the messiah of First Isaiah (9:1ff; 11:1ff; and perhaps 7:10ff) is an important ques­tion. Some scholars see a connection between the servant and the divine king as he appears in such royal psalms as Psalms 2, 18, and 89. But it is difficult to identify the Davidic messiah with Second Isaiah’s servant of the Lord because evidence of their identification before the Chris­tian period is absent.[81]Muilenberg, 412. “Messiah” itself is not an Old Testament term, but that figure is clear enough in Isaiah 9:1-6 and 11:1-9. However, John McKenzie says, ”The Servant is not the same figure as the Messiah, but a parallel figure which as it stands, cannot be reconciled with the mes­sianic king.[82]McKenzie, xlix-1.

Skinner believes the central position that the messianic king occupied in First Isaiah is as­sumed in Second Isaiah by the servant. However, the latter is a new creation, an idealization of the nation, whereas messiah was an idealization of the king.[83]Skinner, xxi. Brevard Childs agrees that no effort is made to identify the servant with some figure from First Isaiah.[84]Childs, 335.

For Christians, of course, both of these figures, the messiah and the servant, coalesced in a greater synthesis in Jesus Christ. The messiah idea arose out of its unique period in Israelite history when the king was the savior figure. The servant arose in the sixth century when the monarchy was gone and Israel’s exile required a figure of Israel as a nation to express salva­tion.[85]McKenzie, 1.

One final and significant salvation theme in Second Isaiah is that writer’s contrast of the “new things” with the “former things,” and their relation to the image of a “new exodus.” Second Isaiah portrays the event of the exiles’ return to Jerusalem as a second exodus. Israel will be delivered and will cross the Syrian desert on a great processional highway. The procession will be majestic and God himself will march at its head. The desert will be transformed and nature will cooperate with this stupendous sal­vation. Yahweh will enter Jerusalem again, the nations will be converted, and a new age of uni­versal salvation will begin.[86]Robert and Feuillet, 337-38.

The passages which speak of this new exodus are: 40:3-5; 41:17-20; 42:14-16; 43:1-3; 43:14-21; 48:20-21;   49:8-12;   51:9-10;   52:11-12; and 55:12-13. In Second Isaiah the exodus becomes a type for the deliverance from Babylon. Second Isaiah begins (40:3-5) and ends (55:12-13) with the theme of a new exodus.[87]Bernhard W. Anderson, “Exodus Typology in Second Isaiah,” in Israel’s Prophetic History, ed. Bernhard Anderson and Walter Harrelson (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), 180-85. On the exodus as a type, see also Brueggemann, 97.

In relation to the theme of salvation as a new exodus, Second Isaiah speaks ten times of “former and latter things” (41:22f; 42:9; 43:9; 43:16-19; 44:6-8; 46:9-11; and 48:3). Childs says that when Second Isaiah is severed from First Isaiah and treated as an independent work, the prophecies of new things and former things lose their meaning. When we regard the prophecy of Isaiah as a whole, the “former things” of Second Isaiah can be seen to refer to the pro­phecies of First Isaiah. Childs says this suggests that Second Isaiah may never have circulated apart from First Isaiah.[88]Childs, 329. Anderson goes further and insists that the “former things” refer pri­marily to the old exodus.[89]Anderson, 188. “It is significant that mention of the former things occurs in contexts dominated by the motif of the new exodus” (188). Brueggemann sug­gests that the “new thing” of God’s deliverance is intended in Second Isaiah as a countertheme to the judgment of God in First Isaiah.[90]Walter Brueggemann, Hopeful Imagination: Prophetic Voices in Exile (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986), 91. Cf. C. R. North, “The ‘Former Things’ and the ‘New Things’ in Deutero-Isaiah,” in Studies in Old Testament Prophecy, ed. H. H. Rowley (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1950), 111-26, especially 124.



Much in the prophecy of Isaiah will sound familiar to Christians. The teacher faces the challenge of helping people see the prophecy as a whole, while acknowledging the book’s various historical settings. It may prove helpful to arrange Isaiah’s theological themes under the two large headings of “God” and “salvation.” Readers may thus come to “know the place for the first time.”[91]Eliot, 897.


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