This post is a continuation of the last one — just sharing some further thoughts Sunday School Lesson 37.

Isaiah Chapter 25

This chapter begins like many of the psalms, praising the Lord for the great salvific deeds he has performed for the redemption of the house of Israel.

Isaiah 25:1 O LORD, thou art my God; I will exalt thee, I will praise thy name; for thou hast done wonderful things; thy counsels of old are faithfulness and truth.

Just as, according to some theories, some of the psalms were used in a great New Year Festival that celebrated the kingship of Yahweh and his redemption of the people, Isaiah seems to foresee the elements of the festival as a future reality.  The events that were represented — perhaps acted out dramatically — in the festival, such as the coming of Yahweh to Mount Zion to save his people who were under attack, defeating enemies combined from all nations, were envisioned by Isaiah to one day be a reality.

The foreigners who were proud enough to imagine that they could destroy the Lord’s people will be destroyed.  While the people of God once rejoiced when they should have sorrowed for their sins, and were conquered by foreign armies, the time will come (after their repentance) when the Lord will give them true reason to rejoice (Isa. 25:6).

The Lord will come and appear on the scene. To do so, he will have to remove the “vail” that is covering the Earth, preventing them from seeing God clearly.  This, of course, can be taken both figuratively and literally.

Isaiah 25:7 7 And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the vail that is spread over all nations.

The people will finally see and recognize their Savior and their God and what he has done and will imminently do for them.

Isaiah 25:9 9 And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the LORD; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

Besides (but perhaps thematically related to) his victory over the earthly enemies of Israel, the great and wonderful accomplishment of Yahweh that Isaiah declares will cause this recognition is his victory over Death — another motif found in the psalms of the New Year Festival.

Isaiah 25:8 He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the LORD hath spoken it.

This is, in my opinion, one of the most comforting verses in all of Scripture (see also Rev. 21:4). What a beautiful and hope-filled declaration!  Death will be swallowed up and God will wipe the tears from off all faces!! This truly is a God of love and mercy, who has tender feelings for the needs of his children.

As I mentioned, this was one of the principal features of the New Year Festival. Compare chapter 25 of Isaiah and what we’ve discussed with Psalm 68:

Psalm 68:1–20 (RSV)  Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered; let those who hate him flee before him! 2 As smoke is driven away, so drive them away; as wax melts before fire, let the wicked perish before God! 3 But let the righteous be joyful; let them exult before God; let them be jubilant with joy! 4 Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides upon the clouds; his name is the LORD, exult before him! 5 Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. 6 God gives the desolate a home to dwell in; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity; but the rebellious dwell in a parched land. 7 O God, when thou didst go forth before thy people, when thou didst march through the wilderness, Selah 8 the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain, at the presence of God; yon Sinai quaked at the presence of God, the God of Israel.

17 With mighty chariotry, twice ten thousand, thousands upon thousands, the Lord came from Sinai into the holy place. 18 Thou didst ascend the high mount, leading captives in thy train, and receiving gifts among men, even among the rebellious, that the LORD God may dwell there. 19 Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation. Selah 20 Our God is a God of salvation; and to GOD, the Lord, belongs escape from death.

It almost seems as if Isaiah used this psalm as a template for his vision in chapter 25!  But these themes were part of an ancient tradition that was repeated over and over again in Israel/Judah (also in the New Testament, see especially Revelation).  There is evidence that all of this was based on a visionary pattern that was given to Israel’s prophets from the most ancient times — they were shown in vision the mighty works that Yahweh would perform for the salvation of mankind, in the past, present, and future.

Another example (among many) of this imagery from the psalms is Psalm 48:

Psalm 48:1 (RSV) Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised in the city of our God! His holy mountain, 2 beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all the earth, Mount Zion, in the far north, the city of the great King. 3 Within her citadels God has shown himself a sure defense. 4 For lo, the kings assembled, they came on together. 5 As soon as they saw it, they were astounded, they were in panic, they took to flight; 6 trembling took hold of them there, anguish as of a woman in travail. 7 By the east wind thou didst shatter the ships of Tarshish. 8 As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the LORD of hosts, in the city of our God, which God establishes for ever. Selah 9 We have thought on thy steadfast love, O God, in the midst of thy temple. 10 As thy name, O God, so thy praise reaches to the ends of the earth. Thy right hand is filled with victory; 11 let Mount Zion be glad! Let the daughters of Judah rejoice because of thy judgments! 12 Walk about Zion, go round about her, number her towers, 13 consider well her ramparts, go through her citadels; that you may tell the next generation 14 that this is God, our God for ever and ever. He will be our guide for ever.

Following an alternative interpretation of the Hebrew, A.R. Johnson argued that the last verse should read: “Our God, who abideth for ever, Is our leader against Death.”1

There are many other examples of this motif elsewhere in the Psalms and also in the writings of other biblical prophets — one of Yawheh’s most “wonderful things” that he has done is to save us from the grasp of Death.

Chapter 26

This chapter basically repeats, in psalmic fashion, the themes of the last chapter.  Verse 1 says that it is a song that will be sung at that day in the land of Judah.  It seems to me that this song is to be sung liturgically by a congregation in response to the previous chapter’s song by the lone singer (the prophet). This is also very reminiscent of many of the biblical psalms.  Again, this is very much the picture that was presented in the above cited psalms (68 and 48). Compare the end of Psalm 48 (Ps. 48:12) to the first verse of Isaiah 26:

Isaiah 26:1 In that day shall this song be sung in the land of Judah; We have a strong city; salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks.

Some scholars suggest that the psalm depicts a procession of worshipers marching around the walls of the city and surveying its new (or restored) strength and impregnability.2  The idea is that part of the aid that the Lord gives at his coming is the rebuilding and repair of Jerusalem/Zion and its temple after the defeat of the foreign attackers.  The Holy City becomes the stronghold of God, protected by his salvific power.

The procession around the walls then reaches the gates of the city (or temple — they may be virtually the same here). Verse 2 says:

Isaiah 26:2 Open ye the gates, that the righteous nation which keepeth the truth may enter in.

Again, this is imagery that we can find in the Psalms.  For example, Psalm 24 has a similar plea for the gates to be opened so that Yahweh and his procession of followers can enter in:

Psalm 24:7–8 Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in. 8 Who is the King of glory? The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle!

Who would be worthy to enter in through the gate with the Lord?

Psalm 24:3–4 Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place? 4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false, and does not swear deceitfully.

The similarity to Isaiah 26 is clear. The vision is the same. Only those who speak and keep the truth will be allowed to ascend the hill and enter the gates (representing entering heaven) with the Lord.

Chapter 26 also gives us some additional insight into the victory of Yahweh over death.  In what would seem to be a rather odd transition (but not if you think liturgically), the voice of the people gives way to the voice of an individual, who states:

Isaiah 26:19 (KJV) Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead.

This is a great verse that we often use to show that Yahweh himself would be resurrected and that he would raise other dead souls with him.  There are a few problems, however, with this reading of the verse.  First of all, it is difficult to tell who is speaking here.  If we follow the liturgical pattern of lone singer and choral response, it would seem that Isaiah would be the one to sing these words. However, because the people are singing to the Lord, and they are called “my people” by the singer in the next verse, one could argue that it is the Lord himself that is responding (very likely through the prophet).  Another problem is the KJV translation of the verse. I couldn’t find any other translation that reads “together with my dead body” in this verse.  The usual translation is “their/your corpses shall rise.”

The problem is in the Hebrew text itself.  I would really have to do a more in-depth study to figure this out and see what others have said about it, but the Hebrew seems to say “my dead body (1st person sing.) they will arise (3rd person pl.).” There is nothing that could give the sense of “together with my dead body…”  It would seem that there is some error here in the Hebrew text.  It seems clear that most translations would prefer to avoid the idea that the Lord Yahweh is being resurrected here, as the KJV infers.  I see no problem, however, theologically, with interpreting this to be Yahweh speaking, saying that the dead of his people would arise, just as he would also be resurrected.  This may not be the mainstream interpretation of the text, but I think that it is one that fits well with the ancient concepts of the New Year Festival, where there was likely a representation of the king (playing the role of Yahweh) dying and being brought back to life. The death and resurrection of the king brought new life to the people as well.

Another interesting element of verse 19 is this talk of dew and resurrection:

Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead.

This section is also tough to translate.  The KJV chose to translate the Hebrew ‘orot as “herbs”. While this is a possible translation, the far more common rendering is “light(s)”.  For example, the translation the RSV gives is:

For thy dew is a dew of light, and on the land of the shades thou wilt let it fall.

Or the NAS:

For your dew is as the dew of the dawn, And the earth will give birth to the departed spirits.

Anciently, the anointing oil that was used in the temple was associated with the dew of the dawn/early morning.  As the dew gave life to the plants, so the “dew” of the anointing oil (which was supposed to have come from the Tree of Life) gave new life to the dead.  We can see this imagery in play in Psalm 110:

KJV Psalm 110:3 Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth.

NIV Psalm 110:3 Your troops will be willing on your day of battle. Arrayed in holy majesty, from the womb of the dawn you will receive the dew of your youth.

NRS Psalm 110:3 Your people will offer themselves willingly on the day you lead your forces on the holy mountains. From the womb of the morning, like dew, your youth will come to you.

Again I give multiple translations here because this verse is notoriously difficult to translate. The context of this verse is the coronation of the Davidic king and his anointing as “a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (Ps. 110:4).  I could write several posts on this one subject, but what verse 3 is apparently inferring is that the king was anointed with dew/oil and that this gave him new life.  In the context of the aforementioned New Year Festival, some scholars argue that the king had just gone through a ritual that represented his death and the anointing would then be a part of his “resurrection.”  That the oil represents light is an ancient concept — but the idea of it being a “dew of herbs” is not strange either, as the ancient anointing oil of the temple was mixed with myrrh and diverse herbs.3

Chapter 27

The lesson skips this chapter, so I won’t make much comment on it here.  I would note that this chapter, too, contains many elements from the New Year Festival, such as the defeat of the waters/Chaos monsters:

Isaiah 27:1 that day the LORD with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.

For references to this imagery in the Psalms, see, for example Ps. 74:13–14 and Ps. 89:9–10.

The last verse of this chapter also contains images from the festival (If you think I’m talking too much about this New Year Festival, I apologize, but you’ll have to bear with me as part of my PhD dissertation involves an analysis of the theories for it).

Isaiah 27:13 13 And it shall come to pass in that day, that the great trumpet shall be blown, and they shall come which were ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt, and shall worship the LORD in the holy mount at Jerusalem.

The blowing of a trumpet (see the relevant part of my Rosh Hashanah post) and the gathering of Israel from foreign lands (pilgrimage) to Jerusalem to worship at the temple were significant features of the festival.

To be continued…

  1. A.R. Johnson, Sacral Kingship in Ancient Israel, 89
  2. See John Eaton, Festal-Drama in Deutero-Isaiah, 21
  3. For more on the topic of the anointing oil, see Margaret Barker’s paper here.

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