John Goldingay wrote his The Theology of the Book of Isaiah in two parts. The first looked at the content of Isaiah by sections and in some historical context. I covered that before the break for my trip to Montana.
Now I am back and reading the other part. This deals with the substance of Isaiah’s theology considering the book as a whole. Today I will talk about his exposition of Isaiah’s ideas about revelation and God.
A time-honored way of writing a theology is to start with the doctrine of revelation. This answers the question of how we know what we know. The answer is that God has revealed (revelation) the building blocks for theology. So Goldingay says that for Isaiah revelation means “words from Yahweh mediated through human agents.”
Isaiah begins with a vision: what he “saw” concerning Judah and Jerusalem (Isaiah 1:1). In his vision he seems to overhear God speaking in the heavenly court. Thus he claims to repeat the words of Yahweh (e.g. 7:7 and 10:24).
From this some get the idea that the Bible was dictated by God so that when we read it we are like a stenographer reading back the record of testimony in court–verbal inspiration.
However, Isaiah contributes more than mere repetition. He brings his own viewpoint: his vision. Perhaps he is like the envoy from the king of Assyria in Isaiah 36:13 ff. The envoy sometimes repeats the king’s words and instructions, but he also engages in dialog with Hezekiah’s people and sometimes speaks for the king even when he formulates the words himself.
Beyond the visionary prophet is the notion of the prophet as Yahweh’s servant.
He said to me, “You are my servant,
Israel, through whom I will reveal my splendor.”
But I thought, “I have worked in vain;
I have expended my energy for absolutely nothing.”
But the Lord will vindicate me;
my God will reward me (Isaiah 49:3-4 NET Bible).
We see the inner dialog of the prophet. He is tempted to take the view that his work is absurd and empty (see the Book of Ecclesiastes). Instead, he maintains a partly subjective faith in a future vindication of his words. This speaks to the human side of revelation.
Another aspect of revelation is that the Isaiah prophets wrote over a period of centuries so that the later part already recognized the early part as God’s word.
Regarding the doctrine of God in Isaiah, Goldingay starts with the formula that God is the Holy One of Israel. That God is holy means that he belongs to a different realm than this ordinary, natural, created one. And it speaks to his absolute sovereignty over this realm.
The book underscores this by using the phrase we often translate as “the Lord of Hosts.” Goldingay translates “Yahweh Armies”. Interestingly (since Goldingay mostly refrains from historical conjecture) he thinks this term may go back to the shrine at Shiloh and the Ark. It speaks to God’s power as a warrior. Isaiah uses all kind of military metaphors for this God.
We usually interpret this to speak of God as the powerful deliverer of his people. But Isaiah also has God going to war against Israel (63:10). And God can embody his power in the pagan ruler, Cyrus, to deliver Israel and demonstrate his freedom to use world empires for or against Israel. So as Lord of hosts or Yahweh Armies, God is not just the God of angelic armies but has sovereignty also over all human forces.
So perhaps Isaiah’s doctrine of God is best summed up in 45:6-7:
I do this so people will recognize from east to west
that there is no God but me;
I am the Lord, I have no peer.
I am the one who forms light
and creates darkness;
the one who brings about peace
and creates calamity.
I am the Lord, who accomplishes all these things (NET Bible).