I have finished reading John Goldingay’s The Theology of the Book of Isaiah.
The last two chapters are about David and the Day of Yahweh. But they are really about how to interpret the visions and promises of hope and finality in Isaiah. Eschatology would be one word for this. But Goldingay thinks that word and “apocalyptic” are tricky.
The chapter on David is about the idea of a Davidic Messiah. Goldingay points to the phenomena of people in England and America putting much hope into the election of a new government or new President only to be disillusioned. In Isaiah the same thing is going on except that Hezekiah was faithful enough to God to give some hope. But by the time the Isaiah texts got compiled, the Davidic kingdom was pretty much done for.
The book now deconstructs the Davidic idea in different ways. The Servant of God is like David but, as a suffering and despised one, different. Most radically, Cyrus of Persia gets called God’s servant, anointed and beloved like David.
Nevertheless, Goldingay thinks the Christian practice of finding prophecies of the Messiah in Isaiah is not completely wrong. There is something both imminent and ultimate about some of the prophecies. For instance, the prophecy of the child to be born to a young woman in 7:14 refers to a child born in the reign of Ahaz. But the names given to the child, especially in 9:3-7, point to something more ultimate.
“Isaiah thus constitutes a microcosm of the complex scriptural attitude to monarchy and to messianism. The Old Testament both accepts and rejects the notion of kingship. It both works with and sidesteps the notion of a Messiah. And Jesus both accepts the idea that he is the Messiah and warns that it is misleading.”
This dual meaning of the imminent and ultimate future also applies the Day of Yahweh. The Day often refers to soon-to-come events like the destruction of Jerusalem or the return of the exiles. But the “apocalyptic” language of Isaiah 13:10-13, for instance, gets taken up in later Jewish writings, in the Gospels, and in the Book of Revelation. The signs in the heavens were probably a graphic way of talking about horrific events in ancient Judah. But they came to take on a more cosmic and ultimate meaning–the end of the world.
Even within Isaiah there is an ultimate and cosmic idea of “that day.” This is most clear in the passage about Leviathan in 27:1 ff. This mythological language validates the more cosmic and ultimate interpretations. This and similar passages imply a time that is far away rather than around the corner. This is what the call for the response of waiting is all about. Isaiah asks God’s people to “wait” for their redemption.
This has something to do with the idea mentioned in yesterday’s post that though God’s promises are certain, they are also somewhat dependent on human response. Goldingay thinks this comes out particularly in Isaiah 30:18:
Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him (NRSV).
Sometimes, at least, the Lord waits to give mercy, but blessing will come to those who wait with faith that he is a just God.