Isaiah 30 Septuagint-Two Kingdoms: Journal 64

Isaiah 30    Septuagint Modernized   NETS

Two Kingdoms, Blessing, and Judgment: Chapter Breakdown

  1. Tragedy for Israel, the northern kingdom — verses 1-18
  2. Blessing in Zion and Jerusalem — verses 19-26
  3. Judgment — verses 27-33

Two Kingdoms? A Reader’s Responsibility

As a reader of Scripture, when I appear before God and he considers my life (Hebrews 9:27), he may ask me what I did with his Holy Word. I doubt he will ask me what my favorite commentator or teacher did with the Word he gave me to read. I believe that I am ultimately responsible to God for my interpretation of the Scripture he gives me. I am always free to say, “Lord, I don’t know what this means,” just as the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:34. I find that God often gives wisdom, through various means, when I ask for it.

Many, if not most, commentators interpret Isaiah 30:1-18 as God’s message to Judah. I disagree. I interpret this portion as another of God’s messages to the northern kingdom, Israel. Here are my reasons why.

Why Is Isaiah 30 Septuagint about Two Kingdoms?

Verses 1-18 are about the northern kingdom of Israel, rather than about Judah. Why is this?

  1. The main reason is the text itself. The text harshly describes the stance of the subject as willfully unwilling to listen and obey God’s direction to them.
  2. This hardness of heart best describes the northern kingdom of Israel during this time frame, rather than the southern kingdom of Judah.
  3. The historical record in 2 Kings supports this conclusion.
  4. There is nothing in Isaiah itself to contradict this interpretation.

I. Language of Apostasy

The text describes an apostate people. Quotations are from the Septuagint, although the Masoretic does not differ greatly.

Woe to the apostate children (τέκνα ἀποστάται, vs 1)

they that proceed to go down into Egypt, but they have not enquired of me (vs 2)

For the people is disobedient, false children, who would not hear the law of God: (vs 9)

“Turn us aside from this way; remove from us this path, and remove from us the oracle of Israel.” (lit. the Holy One of Israel, vs 11)

Therefore thus saith the Holy One of Israel, Because ye have refused to obey these words, and have trusted in falsehood; and because thou hast murmured (vs 12)

therefore shall this sin be to you as a wall suddenly falling… as the breaking of an earthen vessel, as small fragments of a pitcher, so that you should not find among them a sherd, with which you might take up fire, and with which you should draw a little water (i.e., complete destruction). (vv 13-14)

When you shall turn and mourn, then you shall be saved… yet you would not hearken; (vs 15)

When Israel traveled through the wilderness with Moses, such apostasy merited death.

And ye murmured in your tents, and said, Because the Lord hated us, he has brought us out of the land of Egypt (Deuteronomy 1:27 LXE)

Let us make a ruler, and return into Egypt (Numbers 14:4 LXE)

As I live, saith the Lord… Your carcases shall fall in this wilderness… all that murmured against me… shall not enter into the land (Numbers 14:28-30 LXE)

Thus it is with thee and all thy congregation which is gathered together against God: and who is Aaron, that ye murmur against him? 12 And Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiron sons of Eliab; and they said, We will not go up… we will not go up… the ground opened, and swallowed them up (Numbers 16:11-12, 14, 32 LXE)

II. The Language of Apostasy Describes the Northern Kingdom, Not Judah

WHAT TIME FRAME IS THIS?

The time frame is important, since King Hezekiah submitted to God but King Hoshea of Israel did not. Did their reigns overlap? Is it reasonable to suppose that Isaiah might address the two different kingdoms in the same chapter? (One should also remember that when Isaiah wrote, there were no chapter divisions.)

As revealed by the math of 2 Kings 16:2 and 2 Kings 17:1 and directly by 2 Kings 18:1, 9, and 10, King Hezekiah reigned in Jerusalem during more than half of King Hoshea’s reign in Israel. He was king of Judah when Israel was taken. Therefore, it is very possible that Isaiah in 30:1-18 could have been addressing the northern kingdom during the first years of King Hezekiah’s reign. Isaiah writes the first portion in present tense. The third portion consists entirely of future tense. Since the third portion of the chapter concerns Assyria and Judah, it seems reasonable to conclude that the first portion concerns Assyria and Israel at a slightly earlier time.

ISAIAH’S LANGUAGE AND THE HISTORICAL RECORD OF 2 KINGS

Compare the following verses written about King Hezekiah with the language of apostasy used in Isaiah 30:1-18 (see above).

And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that David his father had done. (2Kings 18:3)

He trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him. (2Kings 18:5)

For he held fast to the LORD. He did not depart from following him, but kept the commandments that the LORD commanded Moses. 7 And the LORD was with him; wherever he went out, he prospered… (2Kings 18:6-7 )

Israel, on the other hand, “did not obey the voice of the LORD… They neither listened nor obeyed.” (2 Kings 18:12)

Therefore, Isaiah’s language in 30:1-18 meshes better with the historical record of 2 Kings that concerns Israel.

THERE IS NOTHING IN ISAIAH TO CONTRADICT HIS SPEAKING OF ISRAEL IN VERSES 1-18

1. What we’ve seen so far is that Hezekiah and Hoshea’s reigns overlapped. Hezekiah witnessed the Assyrians carrying off the northern kingdom to captivity (2 Kings 18:10). Eight years later, Sennacherib king of Assyria attacked all the fortified cities of Judah (2 Kings 18:10, 13).

2. Egypt enters into the text in the first section, verses 2 through 7. Biblical history records in 2 Kings 17:4 that King Hoshea of the northern kingdom did send messengers to Egypt to ask for help. In order to reach Egypt from the northern kingdom, the messengers would need to pass through the desert south of Judah, the Negev. This is where they would have encountered the lions and vipers of verse 6. The wealth carried on the backs of donkeys may have been a payment to Egypt for their help.

3. But when commentators say that King Hezekiah of Judah sent to Egypt for help when facing Sennacherib, they are merely inferring that he did. They use 2 Kings 18:21 and 24 as evidence. However, this evidence proceeds from the lying mouth of the agent of Sennacherib, the enemy. He is playing psychological games with Hezekiah. Or, his information may have been outdated, from a prior king even.

The agent demonstrates that he is playing all angles, because in the very next verse, 2 Kings 18:22, he admits that Hezekiah had told him, “We trust on the Lord God:” (2Kings 18:22 LXE). Then he proceeds to argue against that position. The Assyrian shows by the words that proceed from his mouth that he neither understands God nor Hezekiah’s relationship with Him. In other words, Sennacherib’s agent is not a trustworthy witness to Hezekiah’s actions.

Scripture makes no direct statement that King Hezekiah himself sent to Egypt during the time when the Assyrians laid seige upon Jerusalem. Scripture does make such a statement about King Hoshea of the northern kingdom of Israel. And contrary to this, Scripture states that Hezekiah trusted in the Lord and sent to the prophet Isaiah for counsel.

2 Kings 19:1 And it came to pass when king Ezekias heard it, that he rent his clothes, and put on sackcloth, an went into the house of the Lord. 2 And he sent Heliakim the steward, and Somnas the scribe, and the elders of the priests, clothed with sackcloth, to Esaias the prophet the son of Amos. (LXE)

3. Finally, in brief, Isaiah 28, barely two chapters prior, spoke of the northern kingdom. Why shouldn’t chapter 30?

Why Does This Matter?

Why should it matter whether or not the first eighteen verses of chapter 30 in Isaiah reference Israel or Judah? For a reader such as myself, it is important to distinguish carefully concerning the language of Scripture. If the entirety of Isaiah 30 refers to Judah, then it is as though one need not take God’s warnings seriously. For example, in verse 15 God says, “When you return and groan [as in repentant prayer], then you will be saved… and you did not will to listen (SAAS).” (1) Rephrased in the positive, they purposefully chose not to listen. God calls them “apostate children” (vs 1), “a disobedient people, false children, children who are unwilling to hear the law of God” (vs 9) (SAAS). They said, “Take away from us the Holy One of Israel” (vs 11 SAAS)

When God expressed his willingness to forgive (vs 15), they “did not will to listen” (vs 15, SAAS). Aside from the fact that this text does not describe King Hezekiah, how could God move from the strong language of impending judgment in the first section of Isaiah 30 to language of blessing in the second and third sections with no sign from these people of any sort of repentance? At this point in history, with no repentance in sight, God chose to give up Israel the northern kingdom to their own will (Isaiah 30:16), just as he said he would. (See 2 Kings 17:23.) God’s actions were consistent with his words.

But…God’s Mercy, Yes…But, the Caveat of Messiah’s Cross

But, nevertheless, God is patient, longsuffering, and gracious. Verse 18 expresses God’s infinite patience and grace. Isaiah 30:18 speaks of the compassion and mercy of God for his people. God is willing to wait. But there is a caveat. His grace ultimately comes through Jesus Christ, Messiah. There is no grace without judgment. “The Lord our God is a judge” (NETS). God’s mercy arrives as his judgment falls on Christ. “And again God will wait to have compassion on you; therefore he will be exalted to show mercy to you, because the Lord our God is a judge… ” (NETS).

God expresses his mercy when Christ is “exalted,” or “lifted up,” (ὑψωθήσεται) on the cross. Septuagint Isaiah uses the same flexible Greek word (ὑψόω) that John uses in John 3:14; 8:28; and 12:34 . Yes indeed, God expressed his grace in Christ while we were yet enemies (Romans 5:10). But, neither Israel’s nor Judah’s salvation is automatic, nor inevitable, simply because they bear that name. When God expresses his grace, Israel must receive it according to God’s own standards. The prophet asks in Septuagint Isaiah 30:18 (SAAS, NETS), “And where will you leave your glory?” (NETS). They have a choice. Then Isaiah supplies the only right answer, “Blessed are those who abide in Him” (SAAS) (1).

Isaiah 30:18 And again God will wait, that He may have mercy on you, because the Lord our God is a judge, and where will you leave behind your glory? Blessed are all those who abide in Him.” SAAS (1) (See also NETS).

The Crux

And here is the crux of why it matters whether or not Isaiah addresses Israel or Judah in Septuagint Isaiah 30:1-18. The language of this passage is harshly accusatory against its recipient. Nevertheless, God is willing to extend mercy, but he will do so only on his own terms. His terms involve his own exaltation (the cross). At this point in history, there were two kingdoms with two exactly opposite responses. Israel the northern kingdom chose to reject God and walk away from him. They steadfastly pursued this course of apostasy. And God let them go, consistent with his statements of intention in Scripture.

On the other hand, Scripture records that Hezekiah of the kingdom of Judah “rent his clothes, and put on sackcloth, and went into the house of the Lord” (2 Kings 19:1 LXE). He also sent to Isaiah for counsel and help. He trusted God and moved toward him, not away from him. The rest of Isaiah 30:19-33 shows that help and salvation came to Hezekiah and Jerusalem.

The crux is that salvation only comes through the cross of Christ, whether your name is Israel, Judah, or Gentile. There is no difference (Galatians 3:27). “All Israel” will not be saved until all Israel does it God’s way in Christ. Fortunately, God left a remnant, even for the northern kingdom of Israel. 2 Kings 17:27-28 records how the king of the Assyrians sent back a tiny remnant into the land of the northern kingdom, Israel. God is faithful to his promise. For this reason, Scripture also records that Jesus, Messiah, “had to pass through Samaria.” In preaching to the remnant there, “Many Samaritans from that town believed in him… And many more believed because of his word” (John 4:39-41 ESV). As Paul writes, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!” (Romans 11:33 ESV).

For those who refuse God’s offer of mercy, only judgment remains (Hebrews 9:27). Please, dear reader, don’t be one of those of whom Scripture says, “They would not” (2 Kings 17:14). But I hope and pray better things for those reading this.

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1 SAAS. “Scripture taken from the St. Athanasius Academy SeptuagintTM. Copyright © 2008 by St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

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