Isaiah 27:7-11 Septuagint Modernized
Isaiah describes Israel’s exile in chapter 27:7-11. In its overall content the Septuagint (Greek) and Masoretic (Hebrew) texts agree. Most commentators also agree that these verses describe Israel’s exile. The chart below displays one translation from each textual tradition. The Complete Apostle’s Bible updates Lancelot Brenton’s translation of the Septuagint to modern English.
How Can the Reader Determine that This Passage Describes the Exile?
This passage presents one occasion when placing the two textual traditions side by side can help the reader determine the passage’s meaning. It is okay to do this. For example, when reading an English translation of the Septuagint (Greek), one occasionally finds a reference to the Hebrew text in the footnotes. And, conversely, when reading an English translation of the Masoretic (Hebrew based), one occasionally finds references to the Septuagint. In other words, modern translators often consult both textual versions when searching for God’s intended meaning.
Another helpful practice for verses with difficult wording is to consult many same language translations. Some free websites offer online readers a choice of multiple translations. Websites I often use are ONLINE BIBLE (bibliatodo.com) and NETS: Electronic Edition (upenn.edu). Both these sites offer highly readable English translations of the Greek Septuagint. The first site also provides multiple translations based upon the Hebrew text (Masoretic). Additionally, it presents the option of a parallel Bible format. (See the link at the very top of this and every post, titled Septuagint Modernized.)
A Look at the Details
Once the reader has chosen her Bibles and translations, she can compare details. Examination of the chart above reveals the following.
1. Verse 7 asks rhetorical questions which grammatically require the answer, “No.” NET Bible interprets this verse, “Has the LORD struck down Israel like he did their oppressors? Has Israel been killed like their enemies?” That translation is clear. The Septuagint, on the other hand, leaves the reader unsure of who “he” is. Could “he” possibly be God? Of course, in the Christian tradition, the answer would be “yes.” God himself was smitten and slain. However, this verse alone would not be enough evidence to establish that. We will ponder this in our hearts as we choose the Masoretic here.
2. No doubt exists that the language of verse 8 is difficult. The metaphor is that of a man divorcing his wife. Answering the questions of verse 7, verse 8 replies that no, God did not kill his people. Rather, he sent them away, as in a divorce. Nevertheless, it was not a congenial divorce, but God the sender was angry.
Hebrews 9:10 echoes this language, “then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second.” While the Septuagint translates the verb ἀνελεῖν (a-nay-leen) in Isaiah 27:8 as “slay” or “kill” (NETS), the translation in Hebrews is “does away with,” in the sense of to remove in order to replace. (Yes, it does appear that the Bible introduces replacement theology.) In either case, it is a permanent removal.
3. In light of verse 8, verse 9 follows smoothly. This verse explains the purpose of the exile, or divorce. God intends to bless Jacob after they have purified themselves by removing all the objects of their idolatry. John the Apostle echoes this in 1 John 3:2-3. As God is pure, so must his people be. In both Isaiah and 1 John, the believer bears the responsibility for removing idols from themselves. God does the atoning (LXX vs 7), but believers must actively participate in their own sanctification.
4. Verse 10 clearly describes the forsaken land of Judah during the exile.
5. Verse 11 details the horror of the exile by describing the parched brittleness of abandoned Israel, as though it were a vineyard of dead branches fit for burning by gadabout women (LXX). In the New Testament, Jesus echoes a similar metaphor while laboriously trekking to Calvary. He redirects the weeping of the women who follow him, “”Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31 For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 23:28-31 ESV) Isaiah then confirms the image with very stark, non-metaphorical language, “for it is a people of no understanding; therefore He that made them shall have no pity upon them, and He that formed them shall have no mercy upon them.”
There is yet more to this verse. The prophet writes in 27:11, “for it is a people of no understanding; therefore he that made them …, and he that formed them…” These phrases declare God’s judgment upon his handiwork. His people have no understanding of who he is, nor of their relationship to him. They do not understand his ways, nor his requirements of them. This is their choice. In setting the nation aside, God asserts his rights as creator and craftsman. Surely, the potter has the right to judge and set aside his own pot?
The added testimony of the New Testament, as presented in the several quotations above, gives the reader a distinct impression that Isaiah may have been speaking of more than a physical and temporary exile to Babylon. The strength of the vocabulary Isaiah chooses indicates that the passion and action of God were equally strong. What God does to Israel here is no light undertaking.
Verses 7-11 describe Judah’s exile in consequence of God’s anger and rejection. On the other hand, verse 27:6 (Isaiah 27:6), verse 9 (Isaiah 27:9), and verses 11-12 (Isaiah 27:11-12) speak positively of God’s blessing. This is an example of the way in which Isaiah jumps back and forth between blessing and denouncing. Without understanding, a reader might think that God is “schizophrenic.” But we know he is not. So, how do we interpret these rapid alternations?
We will seek to answer this question in the next post.
To Be Continued…