Israel Displeases God
Septuagint Isaiah 50:1-3 LXX Fit Well with Chapter 49
Septuagint Isaiah 50:1 Thus says the Lord, Of what kind is your mother’s bill of divorcement, by which I put her away? or to which debtor have I sold you? Behold, you are sold for your sins, and for your iniquities have I put your mother away. 2 Why did I come, and there was no man? why did I call, and there was none to listen? Is not my hand strong to redeem? or can I not deliver? behold, by my rebuke I will dry up the sea, and make rivers a wilderness; and their fish shall be dried up because there is no water, and shall die for thirst. 3 I will clothe the sky with darkness, and will make its covering as sackcloth. (LXE)
In Isaiah 49:14, the people of Sion spoke.
49:14 The Lord has forsaken me, and, The Lord has forgotten me. (LXE)
1. In the remainder of Chapter 49, through verse 26, the Lord replies to Sion. He declares his long-abiding love for Sion, as a mother would love her child (verse 15). He prophesies that Sion will become heavily populated with an inflow of Gentile children (verses 22-23; see prior post Isaiah Devotional 2.31).
2. Now, in Chapter 50:1-3, the Lord challenges Sion more directly. Rather than professing his never-ending love for them, he places the blame for their banishment upon themselves–upon their own sins and iniquities (verse 1).
3. Then, in verses 2 and 3, the Lord takes a new tack. He claims that he did go to save his people, but they did not respond.
Isaiah 50:2 Why did I come, and there was no man? why did I call, and there was none to listen? [Note: the word for “man” is ἄνθρωπος (an-thro-pos) here. In this sentence it can mean any human being of either sex.] (LXE) and (Isaiah 50, LXX).
But when did this happen? When did the Lord reach out to save Sion and they ignored him?
Understanding Prophetic Poetry
First, readers must recognize that Isaiah 50:1-3 is highly poetic. These three verses contain both structural and linguistic elements of poetry. In a brevity of conciseness which only poetry can achieve, two verses present the three major events of Israel’s salvation history (1). Two are past, and one is yet future to Isaiah’s own time.
The Structural Elements of Isaiah’s Prophetic Poetry
First, what structural elements of Hebrew poetry do these verses contain?
A Of what kind is your mother’s bill of divorcement, by which I put her away?
B or to which debtor have I sold you?
B Behold, you are sold for your sins,
A and for your iniquities have I put your mother away
DOUBLETS AND TRIPLETS-VERSES 2 AND 3
A1 (vs 2) Why did I come, and there was no man?
A2 why did I call, and there was none to listen?
B1 Is not my hand strong to redeem?
B2 or can I not deliver?
C1 behold, by my rebuke I will dry up the sea,
C2 and make rivers a wilderness;
D1 and their fish shall be dried up because there is no water,
D2 and shall die for thirst.
C3 (vs 3) I will clothe the sky with darkness,
C3d and will make its covering as sackcloth.
In the above two verses readers will find five doublets and one triplet. The items labeled with a “C” form the triplet. Notice that the third element of the triplet (C3 and C3d) is itself a doublet. The following original paraphrase expresses the logical structure of God’s argument in Isaiah 50:1-3 LXE.
In verse 49:14 Sion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, and, The Lord has forgotten me” [notice the doublet]. God answers Sion’s false claim in three ways.
1) First, the Lord states that he has not and will never forget Sion (Isaiah 49:15-26).
2a) Second, the Lord reprimands Sion. If, he says, I have forsaken and forgotten you, then
a) show me the certificate of your mother’s divorce (Isaiah 50:1). [The Lord states this challenge as a rhetorical question. Clearly, there is no certificate.]
b) or, name the debtor to which I have sold you. [The Lord also states this as a rhetorical question.]
2b) The Lord then states positively that Sion was sold [passive tense] on account of their own sins. They caused their own sale, not God. Further, the Lord does state that he did send Sion’s mother away because of her sins and because of their lawlessness. In other words, the Lord did not himself abandon and forsake Sion. He stayed where he always was. Rather, he sent them away on account of their unfaithfulness and sins. They spurned God, rather than the reverse. Again, it was their own fault.
3) Third and finally, God declares that three times he did in fact intervene to deliver Sion. But they neither responded positively nor obeyed (ὑπακούων) (Isaiah 50:2).
God then describes his three salvific interventions (Isaiah 50:2-3).
Because the section concerning metaphor is long and important, it will be placed in its own heading.
The entire pericope Isaiah 50:1-3 is an extended metaphor.
1. First, Sion is not in fact a woman. It is both a location (Jerusalem the city and its temple) and a people. God speaks to his people as a group. Because the group of God’s people spanning several generations does not have a biological “mother”, the entire concept is a metaphorical figure of speech. Additionally, God, as Spirit, never literally married his people in a physical-concrete way. Rather, God’s language creates a spiritual metaphor to help us in our finite, fallen (spiritually dead) condition to understand his relation to his people.
2. Second, the concept of God’s sending away Sion’s mother is a double metaphor. First, the metaphor describes Israel’s exile to Babylon. Second, the metaphor describes the people of Israel’s spiritual estrangement from God.
3. Third, God did not literally “sell” Sion to anyone. Nor did Sion in any literal/physically-concrete way sell themselves. A physical exchange of concrete money, accompanied by a bill of sale never occurred. True, a literal debtor, Babylon, existed. The Babylonians as conquerors stole material goods from Israel (2 Kings 24:1; 2 Chronicles 36:10). Yet, God’s intention in this passage is much greater than a physical, local application to Babylon. In a metaphor that permeates the entire Bible, Israel, representative of all humankind, sold itself into slavery to sin, death, and Satan when they rebelled against God.
Three Metaphors of God’s Salvation
God defends his creative power and his might to deliver his people in Isaiah 50:2-3. The metaphor the Lord uses is called metonymy. Metonymy occurs when a part of something represents the whole. So, each of the three specific actions God names represents his entire might and ability to save. In the first metaphor, God states that by a verbal command he can 1) dry up the sea. In the second metaphor, he states that 2) he can turn rivers into deserts.
Then, in the third metaphor, God states that 3) he can “clothe the sky with darkness, and will make its covering as sackcloth.” This figure of speech has a further metaphoric aspect than the two previous metonymies. This figure is a metaphor because God does not place literal-concrete clothing upon the sky. Nor does a literally-concrete, physically darkened sky mourn and grieve as though one had died. The figure is of women, even today, who often cover themselves in black clothing to indicate their mourning over a dead loved one, generally a husband.
But, even though God uses figures of speech to describe his power to save, these metaphors in reality actually occurred in literally physical, concrete ways.
The Three Salvation Metaphors Are Literal-Concrete
The three “metaphors” of Isaiah 50:2-3 actually occurred in Israel’s literal-concrete history. These events may read like metaphors of God’s power to deliver. Each one is a metonymy, a figure of speech in which the part stands for the whole. However, each of them describes an actual, historical event in Israel’s salvation history.
I. Metaphor One and Historical Salvation One
Isaiah 50:2 behold, by my rebuke I will dry up the sea, (Septuagint, LXE)
The Bible records in Exodus how God dried up (parted) the Great Sea for Moses and the Israelites to escape Pharaoh’s army and Egypt. This is Israel’s first great salvation in Scripture. (Exodus 14:15-31). Scripture also records how quickly Israel abandoned their “belief” in God (Exodus 32:1-5).
II. Metaphor Two and Historical Salvation Two
Isaiah 50:2 behold, by my rebuke I will… make rivers a wilderness; and their fish shall be dried up because there is no water, and shall die for thirst. (Septuagint, LXE)
God dried up (parted) the river Jordan when Joshua led God’s people to cross over into the promised land (Joshua 3:14-17).
What About the Fish?
The statement in verse 2 concerning fish drying up and dying for lack of water grammatically can apply to both the dried up sea and the dried up rivers. Historically, the crossing of both the Red Sea and the River Jordan may have taken the better part of a day, since the people of Israel numbered so many. They also carried their supplies. Additionally, the women with children would probably have moved slowly. Fish could very easily have suffocated and dried up during both these crossings.
III. Metaphor Three and Historical Salvation Three
The third “metaphor” reads more like a metaphor than the first two.
Isaiah 50:3 I will clothe the sky with darkness, and will make its covering as sackcloth. (Septuagint, LXE)
In Isaiah’s time frame, this salvation event remained future to him. As the chapters move forward, however, this salvation becomes more and more Isaiah’s focus. If any readers have not yet recognized this salvation, the metonymy (part for the whole) of a darkened sky describes the death by crucifixion of Christ, God’s Servant, on the cross.
Matthew 27:45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. (ESV)
Immediately upon the ninth hour, Jesus died. Readers can find this event also described in Mark 15:33 and Luke 23:44-45. Isaiah predicts the darkness and describes it with the metaphor “sackcloth,” the clothing worn to indicate great mourning and grief. Even the heavens (sky) respond by wearing sackcloth at the death of their Creator.
But Where is Sion?
But God asks Sion, where were you when I came and called?
Isaiah 50:2 Why did I come, and there was no man? why did I call, and there was none to listen? (Septuagint, LXE)
The grammar of the sentence uses past tense. Future prophecy is often stated in past tense. For example, Isaiah 53:1-9 in both Septuagint and Masoretic texts are written in past tense throughout. Yet, the Christian world commonly accepts these verses in reference to Christ’s passion. The Passion remained future to Isaiah, however. Grammarians call a future event written in past tense the prophetic perfect tense.
In verse 2, therefore, it’s entirely possible that the event God describes is still future to Isaiah’s timeframe. What event would this be? In agreement with verse 3, which tells the third of the great salvation events the Lord (the speaker) describes, verse 2 most likely makes reference to the actual, historic “coming” of God’s Servant, his Christ, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
Language Supports Reference to Christ’s Incarnation
Summarizing briefly, the Lord in the first three verses of chapter 50 continues to rebut Sion’s claim that he forgot and forsook them (Isaiah 49:14). Oh, but I did come, says the Lord in Isaiah 50:2. But there was no one to meet me. No one answered when I called. No one obeyed my command. The Lord states these claims as rhetorical questions. Then, in the latter portion of verse 2 and continuing in verse 3, the Lord names the three great salvation events in Israel’s history. Two are past and one remains future. These three great salvation events are 1) the parting of the Red Sea, led by Moses, 2) the parting of the Jordan River, led by Joshua, and 3) the parting of the barrier between death and life, sin and holiness, led by Jesus Christ through the cross.
The Lord uses the phrase, “Why, when I came…” or, depending on the translation, “Why did I come…” or some such variation. The word in Greek is ἦλθον (eel-thon), from the verb ἔρχομαι (air-cho-may), meaning to “come.” Jesus uses this exact form (ἦλθον) at least 12 unique times in the four gospels with reference to himself. In these verses, the “coming” he speaks of refers to his Father having sent him on mission to earth in incarnate form.
Jesus Often Spoke of His Coming
Jesus often spoke of his “coming.” Here are just a few examples, all from the ESV.
Matthew 10:34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
Mark 2:17 And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Luke 12:49 “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!
John 15:22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin.
John 16:27 “for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. 28 I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.”
The Servant Speaks
In the context of the Lord’s coming, in the very next verse after verse 3, with its reference in metaphor to the crucifixion, the Servant begins his third direct speech. He says, “The Lord even God gives me the tongue of instruction, to know when it is fit to speak a word: he has appointed for me early, he has given me an ear to hear:” (Septuagint, LXE). The following post will present details of the Servant’s speech.
God, the Lord Yahweh, and His Servant Are One
Has any reader of the New Testament ever wondered how its writers arrived at the conclusion that Jesus of Nazareth and God the Father are one? Where in the Old Testament, which is the only Scripture these writers knew, can this knowledge be found? For example, Paul writes the following.
1 Corinthians 8:6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. (ESV)
Jesus himself claimed:
John 10:30 I and the Father are one.” (ESV)
One of many exciting discoveries in the first three verses of Septuagint Isaiah 50 is the logical deduction that the Father and his Servant are one. In Isaiah 50:1, “Thus says the Lord…,” the word Lord is κύριος (kee-ree-oss) in Greek. It translates “Lord.” In the Masoretic the word for “Lord” or “LORD” is יְהוָ֗ה, pronounced Yahweh, or Jehovah. The Lord then asks in verse 2, “Why, when I came, was there no man?” So Yahweh, the Old Testament Lord of the Israelites, states that he “came.”
And, we have just seen how Jesus Christ characterized his incarnation as his “coming.” Jesus “came.” Then, in the context of the Lord’s coming, the Servant begins to speak in Isaiah 50:4, “The Lord even God gives me the tongue of instruction…” It was the Servant who came, and yet Jehovah God states that He came. The inevitable conclusion is that these two are one.
*A Personal Note to My Readers*
I often speak of my blog to just a few close friends as the blog that “no one reads.” Indeed, I have very few readers. Nevertheless, this is good for now.
I do hope and pray, however, that someone somewhere reads and finds encouragement in what I do here. I purposefully chose to study Septuagint Isaiah without help or confirmation from outside sources. In other words, what I find I find in the text itself. In contrast, when I wrote about finding Christ in the Septuagint Psalter, I scoured every source available to me for confirmation that I was not shooting in the dark. One practical consideration heavily influenced my decision regarding Isaiah. That is, there are just too many books out there for me at this late date in my life to consult. Concerning Septuagint Isaiah, however, I suspect that there is far less material available.
A secondary reason I chose not to consider outside sources has become a major purpose for me. That is, I wish to demonstrate that ordinary, everyday readers, such as I am, can access even a book as difficult as Isaiah with the help of the Holy Spirit. I’ve tried to leave a transparent trail as I go along. Nearly every language source I use is available online to anyone with a computer.
The basic procedure is to discover where your greatest hunger lies. My greatest desire was for God to reveal to me what Christ showed his disciples on the road to Emmaus concerning himself and the pages of Old Testament Scripture. A second step is to pray to God for his light. God’s light will feed your hunger. Finally, have patience. Read slowly, read again and again. Let it rest, pray, and wait for God. Listen. God promises that he will show up in the quiet spaces and reveal Christ to those who seek him.
One other note, for the few who may have noticed, I’ve chosen for the most part to let the text stand on its own feet without bringing in other Old Testament text for corroboration. I mean that I’m reading Septuagint Isaiah devotionally for Isaiah’s sake. I do refer to historical portions of Scripture. But my basic approach is, what if Isaiah were the only Old Testament book I have? What does it say? Obviously, I do bring in the New Testament quite a bit. This is because I see Septuagint Isaiah as The Gospel of Isaiah. Isaiah greatly influenced New Testament writers. My desire is to see this magnificent book about Christ the way they saw it. And, I decided to share with others as I move along. This keeps me accountable and helps motivate me to keep struggling towards the end goal.
Heartfelt blessings and prayers for my very few readers, Christina.
1 The insights of this article are original to myself (I did not search the literature for corroboration). I used as my starting point Translation for Translators, Copyright © 2008-2017 Ellis W. Deibler, Jr., accessed January 3, 2022, at Bible – Windows (ebible.org).
2 One set of Bible study notes for this verse states, “Another possibility is to take the verbs as referring to past events: “Why did no one meet me when I came? Why did no one answer when I called?” In this case the Lord might be asking why Israel rejected his calls to repent and his offer to deliver them.” NET Bible note, accessed on January 5, 2022, at Isaiah 50 | Lumina (netbible.org).