John Goldingay, in The Theology of the Book of Isaiah, continues to consider the contents of Isaiah. I am still reading his section on Isaiah 1-12.
Probably the best known and most-preached-from passage in Isaiah is the call in chapter 6. The original prophet Isaiah has a vision in the Temple. He sees God in all his power and holiness, and God asks for a volunteer spokesman to send to Judah. Isaiah says, “here am I, send me.” Goldingay points out that this is where Christian exegesis often ends. However, the actual end of the passage contemplates the failure of Isaiah’s mission. Isaiah asks how long he must preach. The answer is until the cities lie in ruins and the land is unpopulated. The people will show themselves too dull of hearing to respond.
Another metaphor reminds us of the song of the vineyard in Isaiah 5:1-7 in that Israel is like a tree that will keep getting cut down (Isaiah 6:13).
Goldingay does not see this as a denial of people’s free will–as some read vs. 9-10. Rather the passage is part of a collage that has two perspectives. One is the perspective of Isaiah as he preached, when the people could still choose. The other is the perspective of a later time when everybody knew that Isaiah’s mission had failed to prevent the eventual fall and exile of Judah. Yet even in 6:13 there is hope still, since the stump that is left after the falling of the tree has life in it (see the “stump of Jesse” in Isaiah 11:1).
Goldingay points out how these early chapters of Isaiah point up certain themes that run through the whole book. One of them is that God is the Holy One of Israel. The seraphim in the vision of chapter 6 call out, “Holy, Holy, Holy”. I am sure this is one of the reasons Israel Knohl associates Isaiah with the priestly holiness school responsible for the last chapters of Leviticus.
Another theme is that of trust. It is related to the theme of holiness. The contrast in Isaiah’s vision is between God and those with “unclean lips”. Unclean lips are lips that utter falsehoods and untrustworthy speech. Contrast God who is altogether trustworthy. So in chapter 7, Isaiah calls on King Ahaz to trust in God. If Ahaz fails to stand on trust of God, he will not stand at all (7:9). Not to trust God is an affront to his holiness.
Light and darkness is another important theme. In 8:19 there begins a prophecy of current darkness followed by a new dawn and the deliverance of Ephraim. This did not happen in Isaiah’s lifetime, although the saving of Hezekiah’s Jerusalem from the Assyrian army foreshadowed it.
The child who has been born in 9:6 is possibly Hezekiah. Yet the messianic description of the future king in vs. 6 and 7 (which everyone who has heard Handel’s Messiah knows) does not refer to that child but to characteristics of God. It is like an extended name for the royal child (this is credible on the Egyptian royal names model).
So for Goldingay the familiar Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace becomes:
For Isaiah his own time is a time of extraordinary darkness. People would rather listen to fortune tellers and occult conjurers than the Holy God Isaiah represents (8:10). But he trusts God for a new dawn.
Something Goldingay hints at that I had not considered before is that the title “LORD of hosts” has an ominous meaning. It literally means Yahweh of armies. This is odd in English but also in Hebrew. Maybe it mean that God has at his disposal the Assyrian and Babylonian armies as a means to bring about his will.
Goldingay takes the following passage to mean that God asks Isaiah to have his disciples write down and save or collect his oracles as they await God’s future.
Tie up the scroll as legal evidence,
seal the official record of God’s instructions and give it to my followers.
I will wait patiently for the Lord,
who has rejected the family of Jacob;
I will wait for him (Isaiah 8:16-17 NET Bible).