Isaiah 51:9-16 LXX: Isaiah Devotional 2.36

Introduction

Isaiah Volume 2 (the section from Chapter 40 forward) centers on God’s Servant. While Volume 1 introduces the Servant several times, presentation of the Servant consumes Volume 2 (1). The book of Isaiah previews the revelation of God’s Servant in the New Testament. Many think of Isaiah as The Gospel of Isaiah. 

Believers worldwide know Chapter 53 of Isaiah possibly more than any other section. In the portion remaining between what this blog has already covered and the beginning of Chapter 53, Septuagint Isaiah divides neatly into three sections.

Three Sections

The material in Septuagint Isaiah from 51:9 through 52:15 divides into three sections.

  1. Septuagint Isaiah 51:9-51:16
  2. Septuagint Isaiah 51:17-51:23
  3. Septuagint Isaiah 52:1-52:12

Three Direct Addresses to Jerusalem

Each of the three sections begins with a direct address to Jerusalem.

  1. Septuagint Isaiah 51:9 begins with the words, “Awake, awake, O Jerusalem, and put on the strength of your arm” (Brenton, modern English).  Note that the Masoretic text does not contain this address. Rather, the Hebrew states, “Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the LORD” (Isaiah 51:9 ESV).
  2. Septuagint Isaiah 51:17 begins with, “Awake, awake, stand up, O Jerusalem” (LXE). In this and the next instance, the Masoretic reads nearly the same, “Wake yourself, wake yourself, stand up, O Jerusalem,” (Isaiah 51:17 ESV).
  3. Septuagint Isaiah 52:1 reads, “Awake, awake, Sion; put on your strength, O Sion; and o you put on your glory, Jerusalem the holy city:” (LXE). The Masoretic writes, “Awake, awake, put on your strength, O Zion; put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city;” (Isaiah 52:1 ESV).

Three Related Topics

Each of the three sections describes an oppression Jerusalem endures. Likewise, each of the three sections names the oppressor.

  1. In Section 1 “mortal man” oppresses Jerusalem.
  2. In Section 2 God oppresses Jerusalem.
  3. In Section 3 sin oppresses Zion and Jerusalem.

Section 1: Septuagint Isaiah 51:9-51:16

Clearly, the Septuagint text (Greek tradition) differs significantly from the Masoretic text (Hebrew tradition) in verse 9, the first verse of this section.

Awake, awake, O Jerusalem, and put on the strength of your arm; awake as in the early time, as the ancient generation. (Septuagint, LXE)

Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the LORD; awake, as in days of old, the generations of long ago. Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces, who pierced the dragon? (Isaiah 51:9, Masoretic)

Three Questions

  1. Whom is being addressed?
  2. Who is speaking?
  3. What can today’s readers glean from the words?

1. WHOM DOES THE SEPTUAGINT SPEAKER ADDRESS?

In the Septuagint text, the speaker addresses “Jerusalem.” Most readers will notice that the speaker in the Masoretic text addresses the “arm of the Lord.” The Masoretic phrase is a figure of speech known as metonymy. In this figure, the arm of the Lord represents the attribute of God’s might. To “put on strength” means to get ready for battle. One paraphrase states, “Yahweh, wake up and do something for usShow your power!” (Translation for Translators). This post will consider the Septuagint text only within its own context.

Difficulties

With Jerusalem as the addressee, readers must make allowance in verse 9 (above) for the historical fact that Jerusalem the city did not not exist in the time of the ancient generation. Then there is verse 10.

Are you not 10 she who made desolate the sea, the water, the abundance of the deep, who made the depths of the sea a way of passage for those being delivered and those who have been ransomed? (New English Translation Septuagint, NETS) (Note: Brenton translates “she” as “it.”)

Likewise, Jerusalem the city or even its people did not part the Red Sea. That event long predated the establishment of Jerusalem. So what sense might we make of this? One suggestion is that the word “Jerusalem” is a figure of speech (synecdoche) in which the name Jerusalem represents the entire Israelite people from the time God first called Abraham.

Positive Consistencies

I. INTERNAL CONSISTENCY

1. Readers may perhaps overcome the interpretive difficulty inherent in this verse by remembering Septuagint Isaiah 51:1-2. There also, the speaker (God) addresses a group of people. He applies the active voice to their activities. This means that the people hewed the rock and dug the pit (to hold water) of their own historical foundations. Contrary to this, the Masoretic text uses passive voice. Passive voice indicates that the people were recipients of actions performed by God. We proposed in a prior post that a reasonable explanation might be that the active voice draws attention to the active role which faith plays in following God’s commands (See Footnote 2 in Isaiah Devotional 2.35). That is, the people of Israel actively participated in acknowledging and following the faith of Abraham and Sarah as their first parents. In that sense, they hewed the rock and dug the pit to hold life-giving water.

The point here is that the wording of Septuagint Isaiah 51:9-10 shares a similar construction with regard to point of view. That is, they crossed the Red Sea which Moses dried up by exercising their combined faith in God’s power. By faith, it is as though the Israelites themselves achieved that feat. Indeed, their faith in God’s power and protection did play an active role in their crossing over the dried up sea (Hebrews 11:29 ESV).

2. A second point embedded in its use of the addressee “Jerusalem” is the text’s acknowledgment of one people of God. These people, collectively named Jerusalem, formed one people from the beginning of their history to their current time.

II. COHESIVE SYMMETRY

1. Three sections begin with a vocative address (a command directed at someone). The first sections begins in Septuagint Isaiah 51:9, the second in Isaiah 51:17, and the third in Isaiah 52:1. In the Septuagint, each of these sections addresses some form of Israel, either “Jerusalem,” “Sion,” or both. In the Masoretic, however, the first section addresses God and only the second two address Jerusalem and/or Zion.

2. The Septuagint text maintains a consistency of speaker. God and his Servant speak throughout chapters 49 through 51 up to this point, with two brief exceptions. In Isaiah 49:14 Israel speaks, and in 50:10 the prophet himself speaks. Use of the vocative “O Jerusalem” in Septuagint 51:9 continues the dominant consistency of the divine addressing humanity. God also speaks in the section following verse 10, that is, from verse 11 through 16. The Masoretic, on the other hand, breaks the consistency of this flow. The Masoretic inserts a somewhat out-of-context exclamation from the people towards God.

III. CONTEXT

Context favors the Septuagint translation. God’s entire message from chapter 40 onward is that he is awake and on the move. Sion does accuse the Lord of forsaking her in Septuagint Isaiah 49:14. The Lord then uses the next thirteen verses demonstrating that this is not so. Following this the Servant’s speaks in Isaiah 50:4-9. Then after this, the Lord encourages and comforts his righteous followers. And, throughout all these chapters, the Lord offers salvation to the Gentiles (e.g., Isaiah 49:6, 8 LXE). Clearly, God does not sleep but is highly active. It could be, of course, that God’s people have simply not been paying any attention at all. This is the condition the Masoretic text describes. Or, as in the Septuagint, rather than the people of Jerusalem calling on God to awaken, it is God who tries to rouse Jerusalem.

2. WHO SPEAKS?

The Septuagint text allows two possible speakers in Septuagint Isaiah 51:9-11. First, God may be addressing the people of Jerusalem, or second, the prophet Isaiah may be addressing them. Because the text switches from second person vocative (direct address) in verses 9-10 to third person in verse 11, the grammatical structure leans toward Isaiah as speaker (see also Isaiah 50:10). It would seem unlikely that God would refer to himself in third person in 51:11, and the three verses 9-11 flow smoothly one to the other.

3. CONTENT

What can today’s readers glean from the words of the first of the three sections addressing Jerusalem and Sion (Septuagint Isaiah 51:9-11)?

To Be Continued

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1 I use the divisions “Volume 1” and “Volume 2” as a convenience. Whether or not the book of Isaiah was written by one or more than one author does not feature in my devotional considerations. There is a noticeable shift, beginning in Chapter 40, which places God’s Servant at the center of the book’s focus.

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