Gleanings from Isaiah 41
Picking up the “story line” from the last post (Isaiah Journal 2.5), in Chapter 41of Isaiah, God summons the nations to renew their strength, gather themselves in consultation together, then “debate” (Isaiah 42:1, NET) with him. The debate will determine who is more powerful, God or his united enemies.
Differences Between Septuagint and Masoretic Texts
God speaks first in Isaiah 41:2-4 (1). The narrative of the Septuagint differs from the Masoretic in verses 2-3.
II. Isaiah 41:2-3 (2)
A. The Masoretic
The Masoretic text (Hebrew) portrays the victorious conqueror from the east accomplishing his militaristic feats through violence.
41:2 Who stirred up one from the east whom victory meets at every step? He gives up nations before him, so that he tramples kings underfoot; he makes them like dust with his sword, like driven stubble with his bow.
3 He pursues them and passes on safely, by paths his feet have not trod. (ESV)
Verse 3 appears obscure. What does it mean that he pursues nations “by paths his feet have not trod,”? Readers can compare translations at this website: Blue Letter Bible.
B. The Septuagint
The Septuagint text (Greek), on the other hand, portrays the victorious conqueror accomplishing his feats peacefully.
41:2 Who raised up righteousness from the east, and called it to his feet, so that it should go? shall appoint it an adversary of Gentiles, and shall dismay kings, and bury their swords in the earth, and cast forth their bows and arrows as sticks? 3 And he shall pursue them; the way of his feet shall proceed in peace. (LXE, Brenton)
- I do not pretend to be an historian. Readers may consult online encyclopedias to discover that some accounts state that Cyrus achieved takeover of Babylonia peacefully by diverting waterways that protected the city. His soldiers marched through thigh high water by night. The Babylonians caved without resistance. Not all accounts agree with this. They vary by source material used.
- Isaiah 44:28 and 45:1 mention Cyrus by name. We have not arrived at these verses yet in our study. However, Isaiah does use metaphor. Cyrus could well be a metaphor for God’s shepherd, Christ. The Orthodox Study Bible (3) contains study notes that so indicate.
- If a reader chooses to interpret the phrases “righteousness from the east” and “his feet shall proceed in peace” as prophecies extending to God’s Messiah, then indeed, they are true. Christ, through his followers, spiritually conquered Gentile nations by means of peaceful preaching of the gospel.
- In any event, these questions concerning the meaning of verses two and three would most likely not be asked if the reader only consulted the Masoretic text.
III. Isaiah 41:4
Isaiah 41:4, LXX pops in the Septuagint text. The last two words state, “I Am.”
4 Who has wrought and done these things? he has called it who called it from the generations of old; I God, the first and to all futurity, I AM. (LXE, Brenton)
A study note for this verse appears in the Orthodox Study Bible (3).
41:4 I Am, repeated twenty-seven times in chs. 41-49, means “I am the existing One.” This phrase is traditionally written in Greek in Christ’s halo on Orthodox icons (OΩN). This is how the Son and Word of God revealed Himself to Moses (Ex 3:14).
Additionally, the high priest tore his garments when Jesus spoke these words in Mark 14:62-63. On another occasion in John 8:58-59, the religious leaders picked up stones to hurl at Jesus when he spoke these words. These are actions Jewish people performed whenever they heard blasphemy. Because Isaiah consistently uses the “I am” phrase with reference to Yahweh, the Lord God Almighty, they understood that when Jesus spoke “I am” with reference to himself, he equated himself with Yahweh, the Old Testament Lord and God. This resulted in charges of blasphemy, by their interpretation.
John 8:58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. (ESV)
In all fairness, yes, the English versions of the Masoretic text do bring out the force of Isaiah 41:4, ESV, some more than others (see Isaiah 41:4, NET). But to anyone with an Old Testament Septuagint interlinear, the text in Greek immediately calls to mind New Testament parallels. (See also Revelation 1:8, 17 and 22:13).
IV. Isaiah 41:25
With much less dramatic impact, verse 25 contains a small difference worth notice.
The Masoretic (Hebrew) reads:
41:25 I stirred up one from the north, and he has come, from the rising of the sun, and he shall call upon my name; (ESV)
Another version translates the Hebrew differently:
41:25 I have stirred up one out of the north and he advances, one from the eastern horizon who prays in my name. (NET)
The Greek text reads:
41:25 But I have raised up him that comes from the north, and him that comes from the rising of the sun: they shall be called by my name: (LXE, Brenton)
The introduction of “they” here, in association with “him” calls to mind a New Testament text that points to Christ and his followers. “They shall be called by my name” finds fulfillment in Acts.
Acts 11:26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians. (ESV)
Not too many years ago, many church “scholars” and pundits considered the Septuagint translation as “less than.” I, for one, encountered discouragement toward its use. In the past several years, however, a fresh appreciation of the Septuagint has grown. Some English translations of the Masoretic use it to inform their text, when the Hebrew meaning seems less clear or certain.
New Testament authors quoted extensively from the Septuagint. I find the linguistic connections between it and the New Testament to be many and rich. Septuagint Isaiah is a book in which the gospel connections between the Old Testament and Christ in the New are brought to light, rather than obscured. Lord willing, may he permit and encourage me to continue exploring its treasures.
1 In fact, the nations never speak in all of this chapter. God speaks throughout. Rather, the text shows us their actions of constructing their idols together.
2 The prior post contains point one: Isaiah Journal 2.5
3Academic Community of St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, Elk Grove, California. The Orthodox Study Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008.