Lectionary Year B
February 23, 2003
Step III: Composition
A. Immediate Context
(JFC) Pre - The first 17 verses of Isaiah 43 declare that the addressees need not fear
since God has redeemed them and called them by name and claims to own/possess them. God's presence with them as well as Divine ransom paid for them dispels any (further) fear. God promises to gather people from every nation to them, to unite them all and in reminding them of previous salvation from traumas, like the Babylonian Exile, for example, proclaims them to be His servants, witnesses and own people.
Post - Isaiah 43's final three verses find a challenge to the recipients of this Word to try the Spokesperson to establish the truth of these claims, as unimaginable as they might seem in this context. It confirms past sinfulness and judgments.
(JFC) Generally, today's scholars divide the whole of the Book bearing Isaiah's name
into three parts, chapters 1-39, 40-55 and 56-66, more or less, admitting overlaps, etc. Differing linguistic styles, varying vocabularies and contrary thoughts/theologies seem to arise in diverse periods of history as well as from dissimilar demographics in the Ancient Near East. The Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary on the Bible tells us (by Peter Ackroyd) that chapters 40-48 "are rather more concerned with the political situation and have direct reference to Cyrus, the Persian, whereas chapters 49-55 concentrate more on the place of Israel in the purposes of God." Of Second Isaiah, James Luther Mays writes pertinently to our passage at hand, we have a "prophecy of remarkable power and beauty. The sayings collected in these chapters are the words of a herald of salvation. He announces that the period of punishment for sin is over. Forgiveness closes the door on the past. A new time is dawning that will bring things no one expected . . . There is nothing else in the Old Testament quite like this prophecy for visionary breadth, poetic achievement, and bold hope", Proclamation Commentaries, Ezekiel, Second Isaiah.
C. Issues of Authorship
(JFC) Persian King Cyrus' armies defeated Babylon in 539 BCE. John L. McKenzie,
in the Anchor Bible, writes, "In 538 BCE he (Cyrus) issued a decree permitting the resettlement of the Jewish community in Palestine and the restoration of the cult (Ezra 1:1-11, 6:3-5)." It is said that here we have a unity of writing more than any other Old Testament book. The unknown author might have been quite skilled at writing and/or editing spoken prophecies. He presents themes depicting Israel's hope, linked with faith, for getting back from Babylon to Jerusalem to rebuild their life centered around the Temple they will also have to rebuild. He might have made these utterances in gatherings, possibly even back in Babylon itself, on the rout home and when they got back where and when they must have found their original/final forms as we receive them in the printed texts. Jerusalem lay in ruins in the second half of the sixth century BCE according to Isaiah 45:26. Nevertheless, faithful Isaiah spoke words of a "new thing" (43:19) God is promised to do presently and words calling Israel from sinning to become witnesses to the world for such a God. Claus Westermann, in the Old Testament Library commentary on II Isaiah, notes that, "We know practically nothing about Deutero-Isaiah himself, not even his name. Only once, and then only for a moment, does he let himself be seen. This is in the prologue, in 40:6-7, which gives his call."
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