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ISAIAH 1-12. THE CONTEXT
These chapters can be divided into three major sections:
• Chapters 1-5 constitute an introduction to the book, outlining the wickedness of Judah and Jerusalem (chapter 1) and the judgment that they can expect to endure as a result of their wickedness (2:5 – 4:1). Chapter 5 includes the song of the unfruitful vineyard, which uses an vineyard as a metaphor for Judah (5:1-7). A vine-grower planted a vineyard and tended it carefully, expecting good grapes as a harvest, but it yielded only wild grapes. That is how Yahweh feels in his relationship to Judah, which has not been faithful. Chapter 5 goes on to include a denunciation of social injustice (5:8-23) and to predict a foreign invasion as Yahweh’s judgment (5:24-30). However, 4:2-6 gives a glimpse of future glory.
• Chapter 6 is an account of Isaiah’s vision in the temple, his call, his response, and the message that Yahweh gives him to take to the people.
• Chapters 7-12 tell of Isaiah’s dealings with King Ahaz, who fears Kings Rezin of Aram and Pekah of Israel, who have determined to attack Jerusalem. Ahaz, in his fear, wants to ask Tiglath-pileser of Assyria to come to his rescue. Isaiah counsels Ahaz to trust Yahweh, not Assyria, but Ahaz seeks help from Assyria nevertheless. Isaiah says that Assyria will become the enemy, but Ahaz will not hear it. Isaiah foretells the coming of a righteous king who will bring peace (9:1-7), the judgment that Judah can expect (9:8 – 10:19), the survival of a faithful remnant (10:20-34), the establishment of a peaceful kingdom (11:1-9), and the return of the faithful remnant to Jerusalem (11:10-16). Chapter 12, a hymn of praise and thanksgiving, is the capstone of this section, telling of the great rejoicing that will take place when the faithful remnant returns to Jerusalem.
To summarize, these chapters tell of unfaithfulness and judgment, but then speak of hope for the future. Chapter 12 is a hymn of thanksgiving or joy for that hope.
Chapters 13-35 speak of the difficulties that Judah will experience as a result of their unfaithfulness, but chapters 36-39 will “see the Assyrian defeated, Immanuel standing strong, and the prophetic word of promise fulfilled” (Seitz, 112).
ISAIAH 12. A HYMN OF THANKSGIVING
Chapter 12 is one of a number of hymns found outside the book of Psalms in the Old Testament. Examples include Exodus 15:1-18, 21 and Amos 4:13; 5:8-9; 9:5-6 (Tucker, Preaching through the Christian Year, 15).
“The central focus of (chapter 12) is upon God. This is what Isaiah has been appealing for…. Whenever Israel focuses primarily upon her needs she is in difficulty, for supply of those needs becomes the ultimate goal and all else, including the Sovereign of the universe, becomes a means to that end. This attitude is a sure prescription for spiritual disaster” (Oswalt, 292).
ISAIAH 12:1-3. I WILL GIVE THANKS TO YOU, YAHWEH
1 In that day you will say, “I will give thanks to you, Yahweh; for though you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you comfort me. 2Behold, God is my salvation. I will trust, and will not be afraid; for Yahweh is my strength and song; and he has become my salvation.” 3Therefore with joy you will draw water out of the wells of salvation.
“In that day you will say” (v. 1a—see also 11:10). The phrase, “in that day,” occurs frequently in this book (2:11, 17, 20; 3:7, 18; 4:1; 5:30; 7:18, 21, 23; 10:20, 27; 11:10, etc.), but has different tone than in the earlier chapters. In those chapters “in that day” predicted judgment. Here it looks forward to a time of thanksgiving. “That day” has not yet arrived, but this chapter promises that it will do so.
Note that this chapter divides nicely into two sections, verses 1-3 and 4-6 (the NRSV incorrectly links verses 3 and 4). The phrase, “in that day,” introduces each of the two sections (vv. 1, 4). “In the Hebrew, v. 1a is second-person singular and v. 4a is second-person plural. Both are calls to give thanks, in v. 1 to an individual and in v. 4 to the community” (Tucker, The New Interpreter’s Bible, 147).
“I will give thanks to you, Yahweh; for though you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you comfort me” (v. 1b). “In that day” the people, who have suffered Yahweh’s judgment, will discover that Yahweh is no longer angry with them. Yahweh’s anger will turn to compassion, and his judgment to words of comfort. His anger and judgment will have accomplished their purpose. Not only will Yahweh have punished the people for their sin, but their Yahweh-imposed suffering will have prepared them for a new and faithful walk with Yahweh.
“You comfort me” (v. 1b). “The Hebrew word translated ‘comfort’ really means that one allows a person who has a severe spiritual or external burden to breathe again, thus removing what has caused him distress. To generalize, comforting means removing the burdensome pressure from someone and thus ultimately helping them” (Kaiser).
“Behold, God is my salvation” (v. 2a). This verse begins and ends by acknowledging that Yahweh “is my salvation” and “has become my salvation.” Under the flawed leadership of Ahaz, Judah looked to Assyria for salvation—a hope that quickly turned sour as Assyria dominated Judah and turned it into a vassal state. Verse 2, however, looks forward to the day when Judah will rediscover the power of Yahweh to save them. Yahweh’s offers true salvation as contrasted with the false salvation offered by the Assyrians.
“I will trust, and will not be afraid; for Yahweh, is my strength and song; and he has become my salvation” (v. 2b—see also Exodus 15:2a). “In that day” the people of Judah will come to their senses and recognize that it is Yahweh rather than external alliances that constitutes her real strength. Once their faith in Yahweh is renewed, they will no longer be afraid—their faith will deliver them from fear. David expressed this sentiment beautifully in his psalm: “Yahweh is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear? Yahweh is the strength of my life. Of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1).
This verse “echoes… Exodus 15:2, which celebrates the Egyptian deliverance. The deliverance here anticipated is, like the Exodus, a second exodus, a theme to become prominent in later Isaiah” (Brueggemann, 109). It will be this deliverance from exile that will restore their faith and give rise to their thanksgiving.
“Therefore with joy you will draw water out of the wells of salvation” (v. 3). These people are accustomed to living in a land that is perennially short of water. Unlike Assyria, watered by the Tigris and Euphrates, or Egypt, watered by the Nile, their water comes from rainfall. They suffer when rainfall fails to live up to expectations. The Old Testament reflects this concern for life-giving water. The creation story tells of “a mist (that) went up from the earth, and watered the whole surface of the ground” (Genesis 2:6). The shepherd-king David’s psalm tells of God leading him “beside still waters” (Psalm 23:2). Jeremiah speaks of the Lord as “the spring of living waters” which the people forsook for cracked cisterns (Jeremiah 2:13; 17:13).
A village well would be highly prized as a reliable source of water, and a good well could be the difference between life and death in a bad year. It is no wonder, then, that they would use water as a metaphor for salvation.
ISAIAH 12:4-6. GIVE THANKS TO YAHWEH! CALL ON HIS NAME!
4 In that day you will say, “Give thanks to Yahweh! Call on his name. Declare his doings among the peoples. Proclaim that his name is exalted! 5Sing to Yahweh, for he has done excellent things! Let this be known in all the earth! 6Cry aloud and shout, you inhabitant of Zion; for the Holy One of Israel is great in the midst of you!”
“In that day you will say” (v. 4a). As in verse 1, we hear the words, “in that day”—a day of salvation—a day that has been promised but has not yet arrived.
“Give thanks to Yahweh! Call on his name” (v. 4b—see also Psalm 105:1). When “that day” finally arrives and the people experience the gift of freedom, they are to respond by giving thanks and calling on Yahweh’s name. A name in that culture is assumed to embody the essential nature and character of the person who bears that name, so calling on Yahweh’s name implies acknowledging Yahweh’s wonderful nature and character. It also implies celebrating their special relationship with Yahweh.
“Declare his doings among the peoples. Proclaim that his name is exalted” (v. 4c). The word “peoples” could be translated “Gentiles.” The Jewish people are the chosen people of God and are to depend on God for their salvation. They tend to believe that being chosen implies an exclusive relationship with God, but that was never the idea. They have a mission to “declare (God’s) doings among the peoples” and to “proclaim that (God’s) name is exalted.” In other words, their purpose is to witness to God’s wonderful nature and character so that all the nations of the world might drawn to the true God rather than to idols carved from wood or stone.
“Sing to Yahweh, for he has done excellent things! Let this be known in all the
earth “ (v. 5). This verse repeats the emphases of verse 4—praise, God’s glorious deeds, and a worldwide witness.
“Cry aloud and shout, you inhabitant of Zion” (v. 6). This recaps the emphasis on singing praise found in verses 4 and 5.
Zion is the mountain upon which Jerusalem is built, and the word “Zion” can be a synonym for “Jerusalem”—the city where Yahweh has located his temple and, by implication, his presence.
“for the Holy One of Israel is great in the midst of you” (v. 6). “The Holy One of Israel” is a phrase that occurs 31 times in the Bible, all but six of which are in the book of Isaiah (see also 2 Kings 19:22; Psalms 71:22; 78:41; 89:18; Jeremiah 50:29; 51:5). The holiness of Yahweh sets him apart from sinful humans. The holiness of God is manifested in “God’s moral perfection (Hab. 1:13) and …through the will and action of God in judgment and redemption (e.g., Isaiah)” (Myers, 494).
While Yahweh’s holiness sets him apart from sinful humans, he says to his people, “You shall be holy, for I Yahweh your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). We cannot accomplish this on our own. It is only by God’s action and God’s grace that we can become holy.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Brueggemann, Walter, Westminster Bible Companion: Isaiah 1-39 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998)
Holladay, William, Unbound by Time: Isaiah Still Speaks (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Cowley Publications, 2002)
Kaiser, Otto, The Old Testament Library: Isaiah, (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1983)
Myers, Allen C. (ed.), The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987)
Newsome, James D. in Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R.; McCann, J. Clinton; and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV–Year C (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994)
Oswalt, John N., The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 1-39 (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986)
Scott, R.B.Y. (Introduction and Exegesis of Isaiah 1-39); Kilpatrick, G.G.D., (Exposition of Isaiah 1-39); Muilenburg, James (Introduction and Exegesis of Isaiah 40-66); and Coffin, Henry Sloane (Exposition of Isaiah 40-66), The Interpreter’s Bible: Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Vol. 5 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1956)
Seitz, Christopher R., Interpretation Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1993)
Tucker, Gene M. in Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holliday, Carl R.; and Tucker, Gene M.,Preaching Through the Christian Year, C (Valley Forge: Trinity Press, 1994)
Tucker, Gene M., The New Interpreters Bible: Isaiah, Vol.VI (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001)
Watts, John D. W., Word Biblical Commentary: Isaiah 1-33 (Dallas: Word Books, 1985)
Copyright 2007, 2008, 2010, Richard Niell Donovan