Switchbacks: Septuagint Isaiah 66:1-18a
Isaiah’s linguistic tool bag contains a technique he employs repeatedly throughout the entirety of his prophecy. I call this linguistic tool the switchback (Isaiah Devotional Journal 60). The wrap-up of Isaiah 66 contains several switchbacks.
Switchback Set One: Verses 2-6
Readers encounter several switchbacks in the first six verses. First, verse 2b names those whom the Lord regards with favor. In contrast, verses 3 and 4 describe those whom the Lord despises. Then, verse 5 names both groups in one verse. On the blessed side are those who “tremble at his word.” The word “tremble” in this context means to revere, respect, and obey the Lord’s word. Confirmation follows when the prophet names those who “tremble at his word” as “our brethren.”
On the negative side are those who “hate you and abominate you.” There is no reason to suppose that the text speaks about pagans as the ones who hate and abominate those who tremble at the word of the Lord. Verse 3 clearly describes the group of haters as those who perform the religious ceremonies the Old Testament Law prescribes. Yet the text of verse 3 names these as “transgressors.” In other words, these people worship according to Israelite customs, but they do so hypocritically. Verse 5 gives the added information that they “hate” God’s sincere worshipers. The Lord pronounces their end, also in verse 5, “They shall be ashamed.” Finally, verse 6 describes the voice of the Lord crying out from within the city [Jerusalem] and from out of the temple [the Israelite temple]. The Lord is “rendering recompense to his adversaries.” Who are these adversaries? The context establishes these as the disobedient of God’s own people, people who are God’s in name only. (See the entire text.)
Switchback: Verses 7-14a
Septuagint Isaiah 66:7-14a, minus verse 9, provides a solid block of blessing. (See the extensive development of this section in the prior post.) Remember that Septuagint verse 9 differs significantly from its counterpart in the Masoretic. The first sentence of Septuagint verse 9 contains the exception to the solid block of blessing that occurs in both versions in verses 7-14a. That first sentence of accusation does not appear in translations of the Masoretic text.
9 But I have raised this expectation, yet you have not remembered me, says the Lord: (LXE) (see also NETS)Compare with the Masoretic of Isaiah 66:9.
Switchback: Verse 14b
First, the Lord speaks constant blessings to his faithful from Isaiah 66:7 through verse 14a, minus the aforementioned exception in verse 9 (see the Septuagint). Then, a clearly labeled switchback occurs in the last clause of verse 14, “and he shall threaten the disobedient.”
14 And you shall see, and your heart shall rejoice, and your bones shall thrive like grass: and the hand of the Lord shall be known to them that fear him, and he shall threaten the disobedient. (LXE)
The label is the phrase, “the disobedient.” The switchback is that the Lord “shall threaten” them. This action is the direct opposite of what the Lord has been doing for “she that… brought forth a male” (verses 7-8, 10-14a). Readers who proceed slowly and carefully through Isaiah’s often cumbersome text accustom themselves to Isaiah’s frequent use of switchback as a linguistic toolA fitting title for the book of Isaiah might be “A Tale of Two Peoples“..
Verse 15 spells out the “threat” to “the disobedient.” Readers should bear in mind that according to the context up to this point, the “disobedient” are those of the Lord’s people (Israelites) who steadfastly adhere to their unbelieving, and therefore rebellious, ways (see in particular verses 3-5). A quick browse ahead to the end of the book reveals no repentance and no millennial experience for the bulk of Israel. Their end, rather, is God’s wrath.
15 For, behold, the Lord will come as fire, and his chariots as a storm, to render his vengeance with wrath, and his rebuke with a flame of fire. (LXE)
History reveals God’s wrath against biblical Israel, the nation and its ceremonial religious customs, in 70 A.D. (or, 70 CE)Confer the Wikipedia account of the temple and Jerusalem’s destruction by fire at this link, accessed 09/29/2022..
Expansion of Judgment
In chapter 66 of Isaiah, as already covered, God joins together two groups of people who will receive his blessing. God’s faithful people, those who “tremble at his word” in verse 5 (those who willingly obey), will be joined by believing Gentiles (Septuagint Isaiah 66:12). Up through verse 15, on the other hand, there has been but one people group named as “disobedient.” These are ethnic Israelites who worship God according to outward, ceremonial form only (verses 3-5). Despite their false ceremonial worship of Israel’s God, they “hate” and “abominate” Isaiah’s “brethren” who “tremble at his [God’s] word,” i.e., believers (verse 5).
Verse 16 expands the boundaries of the disobedient group. Verse 16 expands the group of Israelite “transgressor” (verse 3) to include the people of “all the earth” (verse 16).
16 For with the fire of the Lord all the earth shall be judged, and all flesh with his sword: many shall be slain by the Lord (LXE). (See also the Masoretic text at Isaiah 66:16.)
Then, in further confirmation, verses 17-18a return to those who falsely follow the ceremonial customs of Israel.
17 They that sanctify themselves and purify themselves in the gardens, and eat swine’s flesh in the porches, and the abominations, and the mouse, shall be consumed together, says the Lord. 18a And I know their works and their imagination. (LXE)
Note: Although the judgment by fire of apostate Israel occurs in 70 A.D., the fiery judgment by wrath of all the earth (verse 16) is still future.
Seismic Shifts: Septuagint Isaiah 66:1-18a
God is amazing–praise his name. In very few quiet sentences, God through his prophet Isaiah lays the groundwork for three seismic shifts in Israelite theology. These accompany the Lord’s advent a few centuries later.
1. SHIFT ONE: INCLUSION OF GENTILES
The first seismic shift is the inclusion of Gentiles as brothers and sisters among God’s chosen people Israel. In chapter 66, God specifically names “Gentiles,” or “nations,” in verse 12. The context of Septuagint Isaiah 66:7-14a establishes the blessing for Sion and Jerusalem that God intends the influx of Gentiles to be.
To further seal the great change taking place, God again eliminates the distinction between Israelite and Gentile in verse 16 (see above). There, he combines disobedient ethnic Israelites with the disobedient of the entire world (See Septuagint 66:14b-18a for context). Therefore, readers of Isaiah who follow him closely step by step realize that in this book God erases ethnic boundaries. By the close of chapter 66, readers see that ethnicity no longer matters to God.
Nevertheless, in spite of there being no ethnic boundaries in faithful Israel’s near future, God fulfills his promises to Israel the Old Testament nation. Within the book of Isaiah itself, the new people God creates he continues to name “Sion” (verse 8) and “Jerusalem” (verse 10). Verse 12 indicates that the “glory of the Gentiles” flows into Jerusalem (verses 10-14a).
But yet, in the near future (beginning with the advent of God’s special Servant–Messiah), Isaiah prophesies that God will give these groups together a “new name.”
Isaiah 62:2 And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and kings thy glory: and one shall call thee by a new name, which the Lord shall name. (LXE) (See also Isaiah 62:2 in the Masoretic.)
Isaiah 65:15 For ye shall leave your name for a loathing to my chosen, and the Lord shall destroy you: but my servants shall be called by a new name,See the section titled “Comment Concerning Isaiah 65:15 and Names,” available in a prior post, Devotional 2.93. (LXE)
2. SHIFT TWO: THE NONIMPORTANCE OF CEREMONIAL LAW
In addition to ethnicity being of no further importance to God (he fulfills his promises to believing Sion and Jerusalem), the sacrifice of animals and other observations of Old Testament ceremonial laws (verses 2-4) no longer matter, as well. This point is more subtle. In Isaiah 66:1 (Acts 7:48-49, 50), God indicates that he does not require a physical home built by human hands. He is much larger than heaven and earth combined. God is Spirit. Rather, as previously indicated in this post, God respects (has regard for, favors) “the humble and meek, and the man that trembles at my [his] words” (see Isaiah 66:2 ESV). Willing Gentiles can meet God’s criteria without participating in biblical Israel’s ceremonial law. Performance of these ceremonies carry no weight with God when obedience is absent (Septuagint Isaiah 66:3-4).
3. SHIFT THREE: SALVATION BY FAITH ALONE
When both ethnicity and religious ceremonial observance are eliminated as necessary factors in pleasing God, faith stands alone. Isaiah does not use the word “faith.” Rather, his vocabulary specifies the “humble and meek” (verse 2) and the one who “trembles at my word”(also verse 2). The concept of trembling at God’s word includes obedience to it. People obey whom they fear. Therefore, the essence of faith (belief and trust in God) is obedience to God and his word. Those who obey God give him their highest regard through obedience to him. Another way to say this is that faith (belief and trust in God) leads a person to choose to obey God and his word despite all contrary consequences.
The Apostle Paul
This portion of Isaiah also lays the groundwork for the Apostle Paul’s theological statements of salvation by faith alone in his New Testament letters. The book of Isaiah informs the writings of Paul, and the writings of Paul inform the book of Isaiah.
1. Ethnic Inclusion
As concerns Isaiah, this and previous posts have explored the question of ethnic inclusionReaders can type the word “Gentiles” into the search function that is located near the menu of this post to find a listing of prior posts that speak of Gentile inclusion.. The words of Isaiah himself can leave no room to doubt God’s intention to join believing Gentiles with the believing remnant of his people (Septuagint Isaiah 66:10-12). A few centuries later the Apostle Paul labored to bring God’s prophecy to pass. Below are a few quotations from Paul.
Acts 26:21 For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. 22 To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: 23 that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.” (ESV) (See also Romans 3:29-30; 9:30; Galatians 3:8; Ephesians 2:11-16; 3:6.)
2. The Nonimportance of Ceremonial Law
Neither Isaiah himself anywhere in chapter 66 nor the Apostle Paul write that Israel’s ceremonial laws are not to be followed. Rather, both state that in terms of acceptance and favor with God, the practice of them is not necessary. Further, reliance upon them can be deceptive (Isaiah 66:3-4, 17).
Galatians 2:16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. (ESV)
Galatians 3:24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (ESV) (See also Romans 2:23-29; 4:13-16.)
3. Salvation by Faith Alone
Whereas Isaiah in chapter 66 arrives at the concept of salvation by faith alone through a process of elimination (not ethnicity and not observance of ceremonial law), Paul states the precept positively.
Romans 1:5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, (Rom 1:5 ESV)
Galatians 3:8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” (ESV)
Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (ESV) (See also Romans 1:17; 3:21-30; 4:16-17.)
…looking ahead…even though the post ends here, Isaiah’s switchbacks do not. Stay tuned for more.
|↑1||Compare with the Masoretic of Isaiah 66:9.|
|↑2||A fitting title for the book of Isaiah might be “A Tale of Two Peoples“.|
|↑3||Confer the Wikipedia account of the temple and Jerusalem’s destruction by fire at this link, accessed 09/29/2022.|
|↑4||See the section titled “Comment Concerning Isaiah 65:15 and Names,” available in a prior post, Devotional 2.93.|
|↑5||Readers can type the word “Gentiles” into the search function that is located near the menu of this post to find a listing of prior posts that speak of Gentile inclusion.|