Yahweh Willing and Able--Second Isaiah's Response to the Exile (1)
Chapter 5 from Israel in Exile by Ralph W. Klein
Sing, 0 heavens, for Yahweh has done it;
shout, 0 depths of the earth;
break forth into singing, 0 mountains,
0 forest, and every tree in it!
For Yahweh has redeemed Jacob,
and will be glorified in Israel. (Isa. 44:23)
With such hymns of praise (cf. 42:10-13; 45:8; 49:13) the author of Isaiah 40-55 sang his message into the dark night of Israel's exile. Commonly known as Second Isaiah, his period of activity fell in the decade between 550 and 540. At a time when God's ability and willingness to save were seriously in doubt, Second Isaiah announced, "Israel will go home--in style!--to Jerusalem!" However joyful his message and however soaring his lyrical poetry, we dare not overlook the fact that Second Isaiah and his
message probably seemed unbelievable to his original audience. How he dealt with the doubts of his own people and the challenge presented by the ascendant Babylonian religion must occupy our attention in this chapter as much as the specific details of his good news about a new exodus, a new creation, and a new trip to Zion.
THE PROPHET'S CREDENTIALS
The book opens with an account of Second Isaiah's commission or call (40:1-8), that presents at once a summary of his central message and the reasons why that message should be believed. Like other prophets before him, Second Isaiah listened to the deliberations of the heavenly council (cf. Isa. 6; 1 Kings 22; Jer. 23:18). The first voice he heard admonished the angelic assembly to give comfort to God's people (vv. 1-2), here called "Jerusalem." "Comfort" in Second Isaiah can connote bringing Jerusalem's citizens home and rebuilding her ruins (52:9; cf. 49:13) or transforming her waste places into a virtual paradise (51:3; cf. 54:11). Israel's time of punishment, in any case, is declared over; she has already received double compensation for her sins (cf. Exod. 22:3, 6, 8).
A second voice (vv. 3-5) urged members of the heavenly council to construct a processional highway, flat and without curves, for Yahweh in the Arabian desert. When Yahweh would lead his flock on this highway from Babylon to Jerusalem, all peoples (all flesh) would see his glory.
The commissioning of Second Isaiah itself begins with the word cry shouted by a third voice (v. 6). Second Isaiah asks, "What shall I cry?" or perhaps better, "By whose authority shall I preach?" A voice from the council concedes that people and their fidelity are like grass or flowers that wither under God's hot wind from the desert. But one thing is sure, the voice continues, and it is the real source of Second Isaiah's authority and credibility: "The word of our God will stand for ever" (40:8; cf. V. 5).
The reliability of that word is demonstrated in the trial speeches against the nations or their gods, and Second Isaiah frequently invoked the authority of that word for his message by beginning a unit with the messenger formula, "Thus says Yahweh" (42:5; 43:1, etc.). In addition we read that Yahweh con- firmed the prophet's message (44:26) and even put his own words into tie prophet's mouth (51:16). God's coming victory over the nations is backed by an oath and a "word that shall not return" (45:23). What Yahweh speaks he always brings to pass (46:11). In the commission report and throughout this book of consolation, therefore, the word of God is set forth as a basis for confidence. Chaps. 40-55 end with a ringing reprise on God's word. Yahweh's reliability and effectiveness in dispatching rain and snow are matched by his word that always achieves its purpose in history (55:l0-11). In this respect it differs totally from the fickle word of men (cf. 55-8-9). The credibility of the news about the new exodus and the credibility of the prophet himself rest on nothing less than God's abiding word. With such bold assertions the book begins and ends.
DIAGNOSING THE PROBLEM: THE TRIAL SPEECHES AGAINST ISRAEL
Second Isaiah lacks the "reproaches" and "threats" that pervade preexilic prophecy, presumably since the punishment thereby threatened had already befallen Israel. In the three trial speeches against Israel contained in Second Isaiah, Yahweh responds to Israel's charge that he had arbitrarily abandoned it by raising counteraccusations against Israel.2
1. 42:18-25. Yahweh had been no heartless punisher, blind and deaf to Israel's suffering. Rather, he gave them up because they sinned against him and refused to obey his law. Israel itself is the one who is blind and deaf (d. 42:16, 43:8).
2. 43:22-28. Yahweh had not burdened Israel with many cultic requirements, but they had loaded Yahweh down with their sins, iniquities, and rebellions. Their many sacrifices gave him no real honor. From the notorious sins of Jacob, their first father, to the rebellions of the priests and official prophets throughout their
history, Israel had piled up a record that could lead to only one verdict-guilty-in a trial with Yahweh.
3. 50:1-3. Yahweh had not divorced Zion like a ruthless husband nor sold her citizens into slavery to pay his debts. Israel was sold because of her iniquities, mother Zion because of her rebel- lions. Yahweh's accusers do not dare show up for the trial (v. 2a). Does he lack power to redeem? Look at the record: He showed in Egypt and in the crossing of the Reed Sea what real power means (50:2-3).
The trial speeches against Israel are a major attempt by Second Isaiah to display God's willingness and ability to save. Israel's sin had led to abandonment and exile. Yet accusations of sin are followed by no new announcements of punishment in Second Isaiah. Instead, the prophet announced God's countervailing attitude:
I, I am he
who blots out your rebellions for my own sake,
and I will not remember your sins. (43:25 RWK)
Yahweh's readiness to forgive comes from his own gracious initiative ("for my own sake"; cf. 42:21 and 48: 1 1), and he displays thereby the kind of divine forgetfulness that is Israel's only hope. In another context Yahweh's forgiving nature is expressed in a moving simile drawn from nature: Israel's sinfulness will soon be put away as if it were clouds and mist (44:22). Yahweh has characteristics--namely, his compassion, his everlasting love, and his oath not to be angry--which contradict and overcome his decision to abandon Israel (54:7-10). His promises of grace are unalterable . 3
The message of forgiveness contained in the trial speeches against Israel and in other portions of Second Isaiah shows that Yahweh is indeed willing to save. The prophet urged the exiles to prepare themselves through personal repentance to seek Yahweh and to call upon him (55:6-7; cf. 44:22). He desperately
hoped for and pleaded for a return to the God "who will have mercy" and "abundantly pardon" (55:7).
IS YAHWEH ABLE? THE TRIAL SPEECHES AGAINST THE NATIONS OR THEIR GODS
Despite all the physical miseries that went along with the Exile, the most serious problem for the Israelites was theological. How could they believe in a God who lost the latest war? Why not worship the gods of Babylon whose armies, after all, were the winners? Second Isaiah deals with such questions in a series of trial speeches between Yahweh and the nations or their gods.4 These speeches are defenses of Yahweh's claim to rule history and a radical denial of the counterclaim of the gods. Since the gods could not foretell the future, either in former times or in the current crisis, they are considered "nothings" (e.g. 41:24, 29).
In the trial speeches against the gods, Second Isaiah replaced the previously accepted proof for a god's divinity-his power to win military victory-with a different kind of proof: the dependable and unremitting continuity between what a real God says and what he does. This continuity between word and action is tested on the basis of Yahweh's and the gods' record in the "former things" and the "new things."
The term "former things" in Second Isaiah seems at times to be a specific reference to the power of God's word in effecting the Exodus from Egypt (43:16-18), but at other times. it refers to Yahweh's past deeds in general, including, we believe, the fairly recent events of Jerusalem's destruction in 587. (5) The events of Israel's history in general seem to be meant when Yahweh says,
The former things I declared of old,
they went forth from my mouth and I made them known;
then suddenly I did them and they came to pass. (48:3; cf. v. 5)
4. For discussion of both form and content, see Schoors, I am God your Saviour, pp. 207-45.
That history included the catastrophic destruction of 587, which Yahweh had long threatened through the prophets. Hence the fall of Jerusalem, instead of being a sign of God's weakness, became an additional piece of evidence for his strength: it showed the truthfulness of Yahweh's prophets and of the word of God they proclaimed. Yahweh had said that exile was coming, and his own people were expert witnesses to the absolute fidelity of that word (43:9-10).
Since Yahweh's word had been proven reliable in the former things, Israel could-and should-trust it in the new things (42:9). New things can refer to the impending fall of Babylon and the rise of the Persian Cyrus (48:6 and 14; cf. 45:21; 46:11). Or new things can also mean the forthcoming new exodus and the festive procession through a luxuriant wilderness toward Jerusalem (43:19-20). After this introduction to the former and new things, we can now turn to a brief summary of the trial speeches themselves.
1. 41:1-5. The nations are here invited by Yahweh to witness his contest with the gods (v. 2) about who is in sovereign control of history. Since Yahweh alone stirred up the man of the hour, Cyrus, and gave him a series of breathtaking victories, the nations must tremble at this theophany (v. 5) and silently concede the correctness of Yahweh's claim. He rules history from beginning to end (v. 4).
2. 41:21-29. Yahweh challenges the gods in this speech to demonstrate their control of history by explaining the meaning of past events or predicting future ones. Exasperated at their silence, he exclaims, "Do good, or do harm, that we [=Yahweh and his council, or Yahweh and Israel] may be dismayed and terrified" (41:23b). In other words, "If you gods cannot explain the past or predict the future, at least do something so that we may know you gods have some kind of existence." Yahweh's own defense rests again with Cyrus, whose ascent he had been the first to predict to Zion/Jerusalem through Second Isaiah, a "herald of good tidings" (v. 27). The judgment on the gods: they, their works, and their images are nothing (vv. 24 and 29). 3. 43:8-13. By their silence the nations now concede that they have no proofs to bring that could substantiate the power of their god. Israel, however, is Yahweh's witness (43:10, 12; cf. 44:8), who has experienced his gracious actions. Their witness in this case is not for the benefit of others but for themselves: "You are my witnesses, says Yahweh . . . that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he" (43: 10). Though ostensibly directed against the pagan gods, the trial speeches are primarily intended to convince Israel of Yahweh's ability to save. In vv. 10-13 the monotheistic assertions are part of this apologetic.
4. 44:6-8. The gods are asked whether they can be considered like Yahweh.6 If any think they are, they should bring proofs of' their divine ability (v. 7). The categorical denial of the gods' existence in vv. 6-8 leaves no uncertainty about the outcome of this challenge.
In the present form of Second Isaiah this trial speech is followed by a satirical description of idol worship (44:9-20). Where do idols come from? They are trees cut down in the forest. With half of the tree's wood the idolator builds a fire to cook his food and warm his house; the other half he turns into an idol and prays to it: "Deliver me, for you are my god!" This satire turns the challenge of v. 7 into a taunt. How could fake deities ever predict the future?7
5. 45:18-25. Yahweh invites the survivors of the nations, that is, those nations who will be left after the coming defeat of Babylon, to tell who predicted the victory of Cyrus. Actually Yahweh's word foretold this turn of events long ago, and it is that same word that guarantees that the whole world will finally acknowledge Yahweh's universal and sole supremacy. Israel's coming triumph rests in the capable hands of Yahweh. The pronounced monotheism in these trial speeches and throughout Isaiah 40-558 is crucial for the prophet's argument
6. Cf. 40:18, 25; and 46:5. See also the list of passages in C. J. Labuschagne, The Incomparability of Yahweh in the Old Testament (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1966), p. 193. 7. Cf. 41:6-7 and 46:6-7. Many scholars hold vv. 9-20 to be secondary. We need to pay attention, however, to the function of such texts in their canonical context. See Melugin, The Formation of Isaiah 40-55, pp. 120-21.
8. See Hans Wildberger, "Der Monotheismus Deuterojesajas," Beiträge zur Alttestamentlichen Theologie, ed. H. Donner, R. Hanhart, and R. Smend (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1977), pp. 506-30.
about the credibility of Yahweh's word and of Israel's hope for the future; his monotheism is subservient to soteriological interests. Put differently, Second Isaiah fought the tendency to turn from Yahweh to the gods of victorious Babylon by offering a blistering critique of the captor's religion. Its gods are nothings, and its adherents must pass from the scene in embarrassed silence.
IS YAHWEH WILLING AND ABLE? THE DISPUTATIONS IN SECOND ISAIAH
Immediately after the account of the prophet's commission (40:1-8) and the account of God's leading his flock home to Jerusalem (40:9-1 1), we find a series of disputations aimed at refuting mistaken notions about God which might hinder the joyful acceptance of his announced salvation.
1. 40:12-17. In these verses Yahweh is pictured as a giant for whom the creation of the world was mere child's play. He holds the world's waters in his palm and measures the sky by the breadth of his hand. Yahweh needs no helpers or counselors, (9) and compared with him all the nations are mere drops from a bucket or even absolute nothings. The prophet thus disputes Israel's feelings of discouragement by pointing on the one hand to God's size and his wisdom in creation, and to the puniness of all earthly enemies on the other.
2. 40:18-26. The prophet begins this disputation (or series of disputations) with a question: To whom will you liken God? Yahweh's incomparability is affirmed by a mocking speech against the idols (vv. 19-20) and by references to God's power in creation (vv. 21-22) and in history (vv. 23-24), where princes and rulers are easily uprooted by the blast of God's spirit (cf. 40:7). The prophet then repeats the question in dispute, but now as a direct citation of God: "To whom then will you compare me?" (v. 25). This time Yahweh's incomparability is demonstrated at the expense of the astral cult, which was of course quite prominent in Babylon (v. 26). Like the Priestly writer, however, Second Isaiah
9. Whybray has detected here a polemic against Babylonian religion. See The Heavenly Counsellor in Isaiah xl 13-14 (London: Cambridge University Press, 1971).
held the stars to be fully under God's power. The Holy One created them and assigned them their proper-and limited-functions (cf. 45:12b). Compared with the nations, the gods, the princes and rulers, and even the central deities of the Babylonian astral religion, Yahweh is the only sovereign God. He has displayed his superiority and his power in creation and in his control of history. The initial disputations in this chapter, then, give a clear, affirmative answer to the question, Is Yahweh able to deliver Israel? 3. 40:27-31. With this final disputation of chap. 40, Second Isaiah touched on a different question: Is Yahweh willing to deliver? The prophet contested Israel's complaint that God disregarded their way and their right (v. 27) for the following four reasons: (a) Yahweh is an everlasting God, active in the distant past, the present, and the future; (b) as Creator of 'the ends of the earth his power knows no special limits; (c) a God who is completely sovereign over time and space can never be faint or weary; and most directly to the issue in question, (d) God's understanding is unsearchable, that is, he will act only when he thinks the time is ripe. On the basis of these affirmations Second Isaiah concluded that those who "wait on Yahweh" will renew their strength and like God himself never grow weary or faint (cf. 49:23).
In short, the disputations appeal to Yahweh's creative power and his dominion over history in order to leave no doubt that he can help his people and that he is in fact willing to do so. Nevertheless, his decision to deliver Israel via the pagan Cyrus (cf. 41:2-3, 25) evoked indignant reactions in Second Isaiah's audience.
CYRUS: GOD'S EFFECTIVE AND CONTROVERSIAL MESSIAH
We have no way of knowing how many accepted Second Isaiah's claim-which turned out to be correct!-that Cyrus would be the one to topple the Neo-Babylonian Empire. His clearest and most controversial word about him is a royal oracle of election (45:1-7) in which Yahweh designates the Persian king as his messiah, appoints him to defeat nations, kings, and cities (v. 1), and promises to prepare the way for his lightning like triumphs (v. 2). Though Cyrus himself did not yet know the source of his victories (vv. 4-5), Yahweh promised to give him fabulous treasures which would lead him to recognize his elector (v. 8). The motivation for God's acting in this way is two-fold: (a) his commitment to his elect servant Jacob (v. 4), and (b) his desire that people everywhere confess that Yahweh is the only God (v- 6).
One can well imagine the consternation this oracle evoked within the exilic community. Why would God use a pagan to bring about his people's deliverance? Could there not be a new Moses, a new David, or even a new Josiah? Should the term messiah, which had long been associated with the occupants of the Davidic throne, be given to an avowed pagan like Cyrus? The prophet faced up to these questions in a series of disputations in which he both refuted those who felt Yahweh had no power and challenged those who were indignant over the choice of Cyrus.
1. 44:24-28. This disputation is permeated with hymnic elements. Vv. 24-26a, for example, give Yahweh's credentials in participial form: he is Israel's Redeemer and Creator; he frustrates oracle priests and the allegedly wise, but he confirms the word of his prophets. It is precisely this God, with these credentials, who says (a) to Jerusalem, "She shall be inhabited"; (b) to the cities of Judah, "They shall be built"; (c) to Cyrus, "My shepherd. He shall fulfill all my purpose"; and (d) to the temple, "Your foundations will be laid" (vv. 26-28). In the present arrangement of materials, this disputation is followed by the royal oracle of election addressed to Cyrus (45:1-7), a hymn (45:8), and a second disputation (45:9-13).
2. 45:9-13. According to this passage, Yahweh regards criticism of Cyrus as a direct challenge to his sovereignty, and lie confronts his critics with sharp, accusatory questions: "Does a lump of clay ask the potter, 'What are you making?' Or does it offer the carping criticism, 'You forgot the handles on me, your pot?' Does a human ovum say to a potential father, 'What are you going to beget?' Or does a child cry out to his mother, 'What are you giving birth to?"' Israel's audaciousness becomes apparent when Yahweh confesses that he is the Creator and that the choice of Cyrus is in accord with his nature and his plan of salvation. That Cyrus will be the one to build Jerusalem and set Yahweh's exiles free is good news and not bad. The clinching argument comes with an appeal to Yahweh's word itself: "Says Yahweh of Hosts" (v. 13; cf. 44:24).
3. 46:5-11. An initial question about the incomparability of Yahweh (v. 5) is followed by words mocking the idols whom some might consider rivals to Israel's God (vv. 6-7). A conclusion comes in v. 9: "I am God and there is no other ... there is none like me." The prophet then added that God, who rules history with an irresistible plan, had also said: I call a bird of prey from the east,
the man of my plan from a distant country.
I have surely spoken, and I will just as surely bring it to pass,
I have purposed, and I will just as surely do it. (v. 11 RWK) God's word is invoked in this disputation to authenticate his right to raise Cyrus.
4. 48:12-15. This pericope first establishes the credentials of Yahweh (he created the world by his word; his prediction proofs establish his dominion over history) before it goes on to give a specific example of his rule: Yahweh loves him [ = Cyrus]; and he shall perform his purpose on Babylon, and his arm shall be against the Chaldeans. (48:14; cf v. 15 and 48: 1-1 1)
From this survey of Second Isaiah's commission, his explication of God's word, the trial speeches, and the disputations emerges a picture of a most embattled prophet. Even good news is not easy to preach when one's audience doubts the ability or willingness of Yahweh to save, or when they refuse to accept salvation on God's terms. Salvation's source was God's free and unmerited forgiveness; its shape was the military successes of the pagan Cyrus. We must now spell out some details of this salvation.
GOD'S PROMISES: THE ORACLES OF SALVATION
Whereas accusations against Israel play a very minor role in Second Isaiah, promises to the exiles abound. Many of them appear in the oracles of salvation, perhaps the most emotional and tender type of speech employed in the entire prophetic corpus. These oracles are characterized by a spirit of joy, by intimate personal language, and by the assertion that there has al- ready been a change from judgment to salvation. Some forty years ago, Joachim Begrich suggested that these oracles of salvation were modeled after a priest's response in the preexilic temple to individual psalms of supplication or laments.10 This background would explain the many allusions in the oracles to typical complaints, and it would account for their warm language, since priests delivered their oracles personally to individuals in pre-exilic times (I Sam. 1: 17). Second Isaiah, according to the current version of this hypothesis, appropriated and imitated this form, which was intended originally for individuals, to speak words of assurance to the whole people. The characteristic features of these oracles will be demonstrated at the hand of 41:8-13.11
Address (41:8-9; cf. 41:14a, 44:1, 2b). These verses abound with references to election. Second Isaiah quite often connects Israel's election to her status as the servant of Yahweh (e.g. 42: 1; 43: 10), dependent on God's call and care. We should not miss the intimate and honored relationship suggested in biblical times by the term servant. The servant of the king, for example, was one of the top officials in the land, and the psalmist often bases his prayer precisely on his own servant status (e.g. 31:16; 35:27). The strong affirmations of Israel in the addresses anticipate the con- crete good news which follows in the other parts of the oracles.
10. Joachim Begrich, "Das priesterliche Heilsorakel," ZAW 52 (1934): 81-92. See also Schoors, I am God your Saviour, pp. 32-84; Melugin, The Formation of Isaiah 40-55, pp. 13-22; Westermann, Isaiah 40-66, pp. 11-13; and Thomas M. Raitt, A Theology of Exile: Judgment/Deliverance in Jeremiah and Ezekiel (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977), pp. 151-58.
11. Three of the other five oracles of salvation have a section called "goal" (41:16b; 43:7; 44:5). God's actions for Israel, accordingly, have as their final goal the praise of Yahweh by Israel or by the nations.
Assurance of Salvation ("Fear not ... be not dismayed," 41:10a; cf. 41:14a; 43: lb, 5a; 44:2b; 54:4a). This command had the power in itself to banish fear. Elsewhere we find such commands ad- dressed (a) to people who were awestruck at a theophany of God (Gen. 15: 1; Dan. 10: 12); (b) to people whose fears of threats or dangers led them to bring a lament (Lam. 3:57); or (c) to Israelites when they were faced with threats from military enemies Josh. 8:1). As exilic Israel heard these oracles of salvation, they, too may have been fearful because of Yahweh's presence in his word, anxious because of the threats and dangers of exile, and terrified because of the obvious superiority of Babylon's military might.
Nominal Substantiations 12 ("For I am with you . . . for I am your God," 41:10a; cf. 41:14b; 43:lb, 5a; 54:5). The assurance "I am with you" was all the equipment needed by a Moses (Exod. 3:12), a Gideon Judg. 6:16), or a Jeremiah (1:8). Another nominal substantiation is "Your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel" (41:14b). The term g'l is used of God some seventeen times in Second Isaiah, while there are only seven occurrences of this usage in all of our preexilic sources.13 We can learn much about its theological meaning by examining its use in secular or legal contexts. (1) Israelites were to redeem a relative who had been compelled to sell himself into debt slavery (Lev. 25:47-55). (2) If a person was forced by poverty to sell his land, a kinsman had the first right to redeem (buy) it (Lev. 25:23-34; cf. Jer. 32:7-8; Ruth 4:4-6). (3) The "redeemer of blood" saw to it that the murder of his kinsman was avenged (cf. Num. 35:12, 19, 24, 25). (4) A blood relative was to marry the widow of a man who died without a male heir (Ruth 3:12-13). A redeemer in Israel, there- fore, was one who acted as a kinsman on behalf of someone who was enslaved, injured, or in danger of losing honor or property.
Two oracles of salvation, 43:1-4 and 43:5-7, develop the kin-
12. These substantiations are called "nominal" since their verbs are only implicit in Hebrew.
13. For the statistics and a detailed discussion of this term see Carroll Stuhlmueller, Creative Redemption in Deutero-Isaiah, AnBib 43 (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1970), pp. 99-123.
ship aspects of the word redeem. Yahweh's kinship in these oracles is expressed in his assurance, "I have redeemed you" (v. 1), but it is also seen when he addresses Israel by its own name (v. 1) or when Israel is named after Yahweh (v. 7). Note also the reference to Israel as Yahweh's sons and daughters (v. 7) and the endearing words "You are mine" (v. 1) and "You are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you" (v. 4).
Yahweh promised his protecting presence for his kin on their way home from exile (43:2-3a), and he even offered to buy their release:
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. (43:3; cf. 4)
In other words, Yahweh promised to grant Cyrus temporal rule over all of then-known Africa in return for the freedom of enslaved Israel. What is more, he issued stern orders for the emancipation of his children from their captors (43:6; cf. 49:22ff.).
The kinship connotations of the word redeem help us to understand the equation of the term redeemer with the epithet "the Holy One of Israel" in the nominal substantiation cited above. The Holy One is transcendent, sovereign, or a God with- out compare (40:5), but he is also the Holy One belonging to Israel, the one who chose it (49:7b) and who will create its future (41:20).
The word redeem in Second Isaiah can refer to God's deliverance of Israel from Egypt or his leading them through the Reed Sea. Thus the prophet writes, "You made the depths of the sea a way for the redeemed to pass over" (5 1: 1O; cf. 48:20). Second Isaiah also links the term redeem to statements about Yahweh's power (54:5). Yahweh is not just to be a husband to his wife Zion, who feels abandoned by him and laments her lack of children; he is also her Maker-Creator. He is not just Israel's kinsman- redeemer, the God who chose her; he is at the same time the God of the whole earth. These assertions of power are underscored by the martial connotations of his name, Yahweh of hosts.
Verbal Substantiations ("I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand," 4 1: IO; 41:14b, 43: lb, 54:6). What is not clear in this translation is that each of the verbs is in the perfect, or past, tense in Hebrew. That is, they could just as well be translated, "I have strengthened," "I have helped," and "I have upheld." These past tenses indicate that Yahweh has already turned to intervene on Israel's behalf. Once God's decision to save has been made, the deed is as good as done; the actual deliverance is totally predictable and even anti-climactic.
Outcome (41:11-12; cf. 41:15-16a; 43:2-4, 5b-6; 44:3-4; and 54:4b). The verbs in the outcome section are usually imperfect (= future), and they indicate in detail what will be the consequence of God's action. In 41:11-12, for example, we are told that the hostile nations surrounding Israel will vanish into thin air when Yahweh strengthens, helps, and upholds Israel. In another of the oracles, wormlike Israel is told she will become a threshing sledge to mow down the mountains and hills, thanks to Yahweh's help (41:15-16a).
THE NEW EXODUS
Remember not the former things,14
nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? (43:18-19)
God's promised "new thing" refers to Israel's exodus from Babylonian exile, together with its causes and consequences. Second Isaiah urged Israel not to limit its theological horizons to
14. We must add a few words on the prophet's skillful use of the terms remembering and forgetting. Though Israel elsewhere was called to witness to God's past deeds, she is told in this verse to forget them. She lived in fear that God had forgotten her (49:14; cf. 40:27), but Yahweh assured her, I will never forget you (49:15; cf. 44:21). Israel's names graven on Yahweh's hands (49:16) and the permanently fertile desert (55:13) remind God of Israel (cf. the rainbow in P) . In the future, Israel will no longer remember the shame of her widowhood when Yahweh separated himself from her (54:4). Yahweh himself will forget her sins (43:25) .
a recounting of the old salvation history but to expect that God would be willing and able to bring off an exodus again as he had in the past. The first exodus, to be sure, had not lost all meaning. Israel's witness to Yahweh's earlier activity in fact was one basis for faith (43:9-10) in the Exile, and Yahweh's past direction of history was one basis for disputing the claims of the gods in the trial speeches. Nevertheless, God's impending act of salvation was his decisively new thing, hailed by a new song (42: 10). This coming event was to run parallel to the old exodus, to escalate and heighten its themes, and even to supersede it..13
Israel would not go out in haste or in flight (52:12) as she did in the first exodus (Exod. 12:16; Deut. 16:3). Instead, Yahweh himself would march before and behind her in a manner similar to but presumably better than the pillar of cloud and fire of first wilderness days. No murmuring would mar the new trek through the wilderness. The mere announcement of the new exodus would evoke cascades of praise from the sea, its coastland, and the desert cities of Edom (42: 1 1), and from the heavens, the depths of the earth, the mountains, and the forest (44:23; cf. 49:13). The captives were exhorted to lead the singing (48:20). All creation would echo Israel's own joy and give the exiles a mighty ovation (55:12).
Once free from Babylon, the Israelites would march home on a highway built by the angels across the Arabian desert (40:3). This "way" would be freed of all dips and hills and curves (40:4). Such a superhighway, of course, far outshines the trackless desert through which Israel's parents passed in Mosaic times. By heading straight across the desert it avoids the detour from Ur to Harran that had been taken, according to one tradition, by Abraham, and which was in fact the regular route from Babylon to Palestine. On this road Yahweh would advance on Jerusalem
15. See Anderson, "Exodus Typology in Second Isaiah," Israel's Prophetic Heritage, ed. B. W. Anderson and W. Harrelson (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1962), pp. 177-95.
like a warrior after military victories, 16 and he would be proclaimed as king (52:7; cf. 41:21; 43:15; 44:6).17 Since kings were customarily called shepherds in the ancient Near East, we should probably see both pastoral and royal connotations in passages which describe how Yahweh as shepherd would gather, lead, water, and care for his flock (40:11 and 49:9-11; cf. Ezek. 34:11-16). By providing food and water for the participants of the new exodus (41:17-18; 43:19-20; 48:21; 49:10) Yahweh would repeat the miracles of the first wilderness period, though with two innovations: (a) He himself, not Moses or some other human leader, would lead Israel through the desert and make water flow from the rock (48:21). (b) His provision of food and water in the desert would be a new creation. Yahweh would accordingly create oases and pools in the desert and make all sorts of trees grow there to give shade to the traveling Israelites (41:19). Instead of thorn and briar, the desert would thrive with cypress and myrtle (55:13). The scorching wind and the sun would lose their power to harm Israel (49: 1 0); aye, Zion's wilderness would become like Eden, the garden of Yahweh (51:3). Even the wild beasts, the jackals, and ostriches would honor Yahweh (43:20; cf. 11:6-9; 35:7; and Gen. 3:18).
A CULTIC PROCESSION TO A RENEWED ZION
The highway for the new exodus would be also a cultic way:
Depart, depart, go out thence,
touch no unclean thing;
go out from the midst of her, purify yourselves,
you who bear the vessels of Yahweh. (52:11; cf. 35:8-9)
The vessels of Yahweh take the place of the ark of the covenant used in preexilic processions, and of the vessels "borrowed" from
16. Yahweh is often pictured I in military images in Second Isaiah; cf. 40:10; 42:13, 49:24-26; 51:9, 22-23; and 52:10. He was also the "man of war" at the first exodus (Exod. 15:3, 6).
17. Ezekiel too affirmed Yahweh's kingship in the context of the new exodus (20:33). Exod. 15 ends its account of the victory at the sea with the confession "Yahweh will reign forever and ever" (v. 18).
the Egyptians at the first exodus (Exod. 3:21-22; 11:2-3; 12:35- 36). On this sacred highway a theophany of Yahweh would take place (cf. 40:5, 9). The wilderness journey is to end with a procession to Zion. In 40:9 personified Zion and Jerusalem are urged to climb high mountains and announce to the cities of Judah Yahweh's victorious, theophanic march to Zion. The prophet even envisioned a messenger who would go ahead of the exile caravan to tell Zion of God's victory. The city's lookouts were to echo his cry as they witnessed the return of King Yahweh to Zion (52:7-8).
Zion is promised a rapid rebuilding", and repopulation. So massive will be the new population, in fact, that complaints of overcrowding will arise, leading Zion to marvel at how her barrenness in exile has been totally reversed (49-.17-21; cf. 54-1-10). At least some of the population increase is to come from the large number of Zion's sons and daughters brought home by the nations. In the future all attacks on Zion will fail, since Yahweh created and therefore controls the blacksmith and the warrior. Even words cannot hurt Zion (54:11-17).
CREATION'S ROLE IN SECOND ISAIAH
Throughout Second Isaiah, also in the announcement of God's new actions, creation plays a major role; it undergirds, enriches, and expands. We have already seen how God's creation and preservation of the world provided the basis for affirming his ability and willingness to save (40:12-13). Affirmations about creation also supported God's credentials in his contest with the gods (45:18; cf. 40:25-26) and in his promise to free Israel from its tyrants (51:13-16). Since Yahweh laid the foundations of the earth and spread out the heavens, one could be certain that Cyrus would perform God's purposes on Babylon (48:13-14). Zion need not fear, since the soldier (the destroyer) and the weapons manufacturer (the smith) are creatures of Yahweh and therefore under his control (54:6).
18. The only mention of a new temple is in 44:28. According to 54:11-12, Jerusalem's new buildings will all be made of precious stones.
Creation language could be used to enrich Second Isaiah's idea of monotheism: I form light and create darkness,
I make weal and create woe,
I am Yahweh, who do all these things. (45:7).29
That both good and evil are brought by Yahweh is a constant of Israelite religion (cf. Amos 3:6), but Second Isaiah achieved a breakthrough in extending this monergism back to creation itself.
Second Isaiah gave the events of Israel's salvation history a new dimension by describing them as creative acts. In several oracles of salvation, the credentials of Yahweh are in his "creation" of Israel, that is, in his acts of election and deliverance at the first exodus (43:1, 7; 44:2; cf. v. 21). The connection of creation and first exodus is also expressed in the images of 50:2 where God argues for his ability to save now by appealing to his cosmological/historical victories in the past. God's election of Israel and his care for them throughout their history are de- scribed elsewhere in metaphors of creation, birth, and preservation (46:3-4).
Yahweh, Zion's estranged husband who is willing to take her back, has confidence-inspiring credentials: he is her Creator (54:5). As Israel's Creator (45:9, 11), yes, as the Creator of the earth, man, the heavens, and the stars (45:12), Yahweh has the absolute freedom to direct history in the way he chooses (namely by using Cyrus). It is creation that provides reassurance that the meaning and relevance of the exodus traditions were not entirely lost in Israel's recent tragedies.20
Yahweh's past role as Creator is only a prologue to the future. He will bring life, water, and abundant trees to the barren desert and then be hailed as Creator once more (41:20). God's perform-
19. Coming at the end of an oracle announcing Cyrus' election, this verse may contain a subtle polemic against the dualism of his Persian religion. Second Isaiah elsewhere, however, seems unconcerned about polemicizing against Persian religion.
20. See Ph. H. Harner, "Creation Faith in Deutero-Isaiah," VT 17 (1967): 298-306.
ance at the first creation and the first exodus will be made almost forgettable by the new creation he now undertakes, with its way in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, and animals transformed into agents of praise (43:16-21). Yahweh's creation is a "new" thing (48:7).
Second Isaiah does not speak compartmentally of creation, preservation, the election of Israel, Exodus, wilderness guidance, new exodus, renewed wilderness, return to Zion. For him they are all actions of Yahweh. In a celebrated hymn to the arm of Yahweh, it is not always possible to determine the point of transition from one action to the next one (51:9-11). By using creation terminology to describe all of God's actions, from the creation of the universe to the new trip to Zion, Second Isaiah keeps a continuity in his theology. While the events he anticipates are new, they are from the long-known Yahweh. There is not an old God and a new one. Rather, Yahweh states, "I am the first and I am the last" (41:4; 44:6; 48:12); "Yes, I am always the same" (41:4; 43:10, 13; 46:4; 48:12).
The foreign nations in Second Isaiah play an ambivalent and paradoxical role. On the one hand, Babylon's imminent defeat at the hands of Cyrus is a foregone conclusion. A taunt song in- forms Dame Babylon that she will be humiliated and disgraced like a prostitute (chap. 47). Though the song admits that Yahweh was angry with Israel (v. 6), it castigates Babylon for showing the captives no mercy, imposing heavy burdens on the aged, and not considering the purpose of God's judgment (vv. 6-7). Babylon's colossal arrogance and the skill of her astrologers will not be able to avert the disaster and ruin that is coming her way (vv. 10-15; cf. 46:1-2).
Second Isaiah also announced defeat for the pagan nations in general. Israel's opponents would not only be shamed and con- founded; they would also become as nothing at all (41:11-12). Frail Israel herself (worm Jacob) would turn into a threshing sledge to grind up her enemies (symbolized by the mountains and hills), and the wind would blow their chaff away (41:15-16). The agent of the nations' defeat is often Cyrus (41:25; cf. 41:2 and 45:1).
Another series of passages announce joyful deliverance from the tyrant's hand (51:12-16). Though Jerusalem is presently drunk from Yahweh's cup of wrath and her sons have fainted from this drink at every corner, Yahweh promises that the cup will soon be passed to those tormentors who have run roughshod over Israel's back. The cup of staggering will then be theirs alone (51:17-23)1 The kings and queens who bring Zion's children home will become utterly subservient (49:23). In total defeat the oppressors will feed like cannibals on their own kith and kin (49:24-26). Once God had made David a witness to his divine power by granting him victory over many nations. Now, the promise made to David (the everlasting covenant) will be democratized, that is, it will be given to the whole people. At Israel's beck and call, the nations will come running to them as once they ran to David (55:3-5; cf. Ps. 18:43-44).
On the other hand, there are many passages which treat the nations much more positively. All flesh, for example, is to see Yahweh's theophany on the processional highway across the desert (40:5). The servant is twice described as a light to the nations (42:6 and 49:6). According to 49:6 (cf. 42:6), the servant's light enables the news of Yahweh's salvation victory to reach to the ends of the earth. Kings and princes of the nations will see and prostrate themselves (v. 7). What happens to the servant is a witness to the nations. Finally, Yahweh's commissioning and equipping of Cyrus is not just for the sake of his servant Jacob (45:4) nor only to enable Cyrus himself to recognize who it was who called him by name (45:5). Rather, here is the final reason for Yahweh's outfitting Cyrus:
that men may know, from the rising of the sun
and from the west, that there is none besides me;
I am Yahweh, and there is no other. (45:6)
But does Second Isaiah think that these nations will come to believe in Yahweh? Does Israel have a "mission" to them? Or will the nations only be under Israel's rule? The principal evidence follows.
1. 44:1-5. In this oracle of salvation Israel is promised many offspring, but its population increase also seems to have an additional source:
This one will say, "I belong to Yahweh,"
another will call himself by the name of Jacob,
and another will write on his hand, "Yahweh's man,"
and surname himself by the name of Israel. (44:5 RWK)
Thus foreigners will see Israel's prosperity and seek to become part of Yahweh's people.
2. 45:14-17. Here too we are told of nations which will come over to Israel and be theirs. But these wealthy delegates come more as slaves than as proselytes (v. 14). Nevertheless, they ac- knowledge that God is with Israel alone, and they concede that other gods do not exist. All persistent idolators will be put to shame and confusion.
3. 45:18-25. In this trial speech, Yahweh announces that the gods cannot save the survivors of the nations, and he urges all the ends of the earth to be saved by turning to him. Yahweh's oath and word have set in motion a new course of history: "To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear" (v. 23). Does the nations' oath in v. 23 represent only grudging acknowledgment of Yahweh's sole power, or is it the language of faith?
4. 53:4-5. The speakers in this fourth servant poem once de- spised the servant, but now they recognize that he had carried their griefs and sorrows. And more:
He was wounded by our transgressions,
he was bruised by our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that made us whole,
and with his stripes we are healed. (53:5 RWK) This would seem to be the clearest evidence for a belief in "salvation" for the gentiles in Second Isaiah, but the interpretation of this and other servant poems is most uncertain.
Leaving aside for the moment this last passage, we can identify the following motifs about the nations in Second Isaiah: (a) Babylon and the other nations will be defeated; (b) the nations will serve Israel by bringing home the exiles and by responding as servants to her beck and call; (c) the nations will witness Israel's future history and will be led to acknowledge the sole power of Yahweh; (d) one passage seems to speak of proselytes explicitly (44:5; cf. 55:5); (e) Israel is not sent on a mission to the nations (they actually come to her), though her fate and posture under God's governance may lead the nations to acknowledge and confess Yahweh (cf. also the positive hopes for the nations discussed in chaps. 3 and 4).
THE SERVANT OF YAHWEH
The servant poems (42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; and 52:13-53:12) are among the best-known and best-loved passages from Second Isaiah, and they have been the object of an unprecedented amount of scholarly research.21 Yet it must be confessed that no overall interpretation has achieved anything like a consensus.
Who is the servant? Two hypotheses dominate the discussion today: (a) the servant is Second Isaiah himself and the poems are autobiographical; (b) he is a personification of Israel. If the poems are taken as autobiographical, many scholars suppose that the prophet was either executed (so Preuss) or that he was imprisoned for a time by the Babylonians (so Whybray). Second Isaiah indeed was a most embattled man, but evidence that he experienced foul play comes only from the servant poems them- selves, and even that evidence is vague and ambiguous. Since the term servant (singular) in texts outside the servant poems them- selves always refers to Israel, it is hard to believe it had a different meaning within the poems. What is more, the servant is explicitly identified with Israel in the second poem (49:3; cf. 49:7), and the vocabulary used to describe the servant's election (42: 1) denotes the election of Israel elsewhere.22 Those who fol-
21. For recent bibliography see Preuss, Deuterojesaja, pp. 117-18, nos. 122- 28a.
22. Jorg Jeremias, "mishpat im ersten Gottesknechtlied jes xlii:1-4)," VT 22 (1972): 40.
low the autobiographical hypothesis, especially if they believe the servant died, must ascribe the fourth poem to the prophet's disciples.
To identify the servant with Israel, however, is also not with- out serious problems. Not only must one propose an intense personification, which gives the picture of the servant its highly individualistic traits, but the second poem assigns the servant a mission to Israel (49:6), just after it has identified him with Israel. Melugin has suggested that the reason for this ambivalence stems from the fact that Second Isaiah himself was Israel in a very real sense. His task was Israel's task; his word was the word of Israel the servant. His ministry was a kind of archetype for the mission of Israel. Second Isaiah cannot be separated from Israel. Rather, he loses his personal identity in the chosen people.23 In the interpretation which follows, I shall follow a middle position. The servant will be seen as Israel, but I concede that certain aspects of the servant's description have been shaped by reflections on the career of Second Isaiah.
1. 42:1-4. In these verses Yahweh announces to an unidentified audience his servant's election, the gifts with which he has been endowed, and the task for which he has been selected. Three times we are told that the servant will be responsible for "justice." What this means can only be understood in the light of the larger context.24
According to 40:14, Yahweh is the only source of that miipC7t which shapes the course of history, but this assertion is followed by Israel's complaint that her own mispat is disregarded by God (40:27). If God would only regard Israel's claim on his attention, they assert, history would change drastically: the pagan nations would no longer be in control.
Chap. 41 can be seen as one response to Israel's complaint. At the conclusion of the trial speech against the gods, the nations are said to tremble because they recognize that Israel's God is in control of history (v. 5). In the following oracles of salvation, on
23. Melugin, The Formation of Isaiah 40-55, pp. 146-47, 154-55, 169. 24. See W. A. Beuken, "mishpat: The First Servant Song and its Context," VT 22 (1972): 1-30, which I summarize and adapt in the discussion below.
the other hand, Israel is urged not to fear (vv. 10, 14), for her enemies will perish (vv. 11-12), and she will mow down all the obstacles, including the nations and their rulers, who keep her from returning home. Vv. 17-20 assert the validity of Yahweh's rule, and they are followed by another trial speech (vv. 21-29) in which the gods of the nations are categorized as "delusion" and '.nothing." Not only does this conclusion contradict the com- plaint 40:27, but it also highlights the good news at the beginning of the following servant poem. Compare "Behold, they [the gods] are a delusion" (41:29) with "Behold, my servant whom I uphold" (42: 1).
The first servant poem itself offers an interpretation of how God's justice over the nations will be carried into effect. Though the servant is the agent of Yahweh to establish his justice in history, he will not be raucous (v. 2; cf. 53:7) or ruthless (v. 3a). Wherever he meets weakness, whether in the nations or in Israel, he will not strike the final blow against those who are bruised and fainting. This concern for the weak reappears in the third (50:4) and fourth (53:4) poems.
At the end of 42:3 we are told that the servant will bring forth justice "to faithfulness," that is, until Yahweh's faithfulness is apparent. Finally, Yahweh announces that the servant will establish mishpat in the earth, that is, he will proclaim the statute appropriate to the new situation brought about by God's just rule, and the coastlands wait eagerly for this law (v. 4). The words "He will not fail or be discouraged till" (42:4) hint that hard times are coming for the servant. Each of the following poems relates how the servant does not perish under the oppression he experiences while completing his task (49:4; 50-.6; 53).
2. 49:1-6. The personified servant reports his own commission in this second poem. After calling the nations to attention (v. la), he reports how Yahweh called him before his birth and made his mouth like a sharp sword (vv. lb-2). Jeremiah too was called prenatally and given a well-equipped mouth (1:4-9). Perhaps servant- Israel is to be understood as the embodiment of the prophetic office, just as the promises to King David have been transferred to all the people (55:3).
Designated as God's servant (v. 3) the speaker complains about the futility of his task (v. 4a) but follows this with an expression of confidence: "Surely my right is with Yahweh" (v. 4b). This assertion contradicts and corrects Israel's earlier complaint: "My right is disregarded by my God" (40:27). Vv. 5-6 offer God's plan for the servant. It is not enough for him to bring back Jacob- Israel; he is also to be a light to the nations. Thus the servant discovers that complaints about one's vocation only lead to a greater assignment (cf. Jer. 12:5-6). Israel will be a light to the nations, according to the present context, when her tribes are raised up (v. 6) and she is restored to the land (v. 8). Then the kings and rulers will see that the deeply despised, abhorred Israel, the doormat of the world powers, is really the property of faithful Yahweh, the elect people of the Holy One of Israel (v. 7).
3. 50:4-9. In this poem the servant commits himself to his vocation even in the face of opposition. Like the servant of the first poem (42:3), and like Yahweh himself (40:29-31), the servant helps and sustains those who are weary (v. 4). He is not rebellious (cf. Jer. 1:6-7; Ezek. 2:8) but voluntarily accepts physical abuse (v. 6) and expresses his absolute confidence that Yahweh will finally help him. In fact, he resolutely challenges his opponents (cf. Jer. 1: 17-18; Ezek. 3:8-9), since he knows that Yahweh is the final and only arbiter of his case (vv. 7-9; cf. 49:4). Whether the servant here is Second Isaiah or the ideal Israel, his open ear contrasts with the deafness of empirical Israel (48:8). The verses that immediately follow the servant poem continue the description of fidelity under pressure. Yahweh's servant trusts in God even when he walks in darkness. That was Israel's vocation in the uncertain days of exile. Meanwhile, the unfaithful opponents of the servant show no such trust. They kindle torches and are sentenced to lie down in torment (vv. 10-11).
Chap. 53 itself opens with a confession by these same nations and their kings. In their eyes the servant had been a figure despised by both God and men (vv. 2b-3, 4b), but suddenly they came to a different opinion (v. 4a). The sufferings of this stricken and afflicted servant came from bearing the sicknesses and pains of the nations, from his suffering in their stead and for their sins (53:5-6).
Led away (into exile? cf. 52:5) after imprisonment and trial, the servant was beaten for his people's rebellion (v. 8) and condemned to death and dishonorable burial, even though he had not committed violence or practiced deceit (v. 9).
At the poem's end 25 Yahweh promises the servant a reward for his faithfulness. No longer weak and crushed, the servant takes his place among the great ones of the earth because he risked his life to the uttermost and was classified with the rebels. As sin bearer (53:12b) the servant might be compared with the goat designated for Azazel on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:22) or even with the prophet Ezekiel who lay on his side to bear the sins of Israel (Ezek. 4:4-8). By praying for sinners (53:12b) the servant continues a long tradition in Israel of the righteous inter- ceding for others who are sinful.26
We can summarize briefly our interpretation of the servant who is Israel. He will be the agent of God's rule of history, but this means neither a total annihilation of the nations nor a trouble-free life for the servant himself (42:1-4). In addition to his concern for the weak and weary within Israel, he must also
25. Vv. 10-11 cannot be translated with any certainty. They seem to indicate that the servant's suffering results from Yahweh's good pleasure and that the servant offers his life as a guilt offering (Lev. 5:14ff.) . Long life is granted him, perhaps a reference to dead Israel's "resurrection" from the Babylonian exile. Cf. Ezek. 37:1-14.
26. Cf. Abraham (Gen. 18:22-32); Moses (Exod. 32:11-14, 32); Amos (7:1- 6) ; Jeremiah (7:16; 11:14; 15:1), and Ezekiel (14:14-20). David J. A. Clines, 1, He, We and They: A Literary Approach to Isaiah 53, JSOT Supplementary Series I (Sheffield, 1976), offers a structuralist or "language-event" interpretation of this passage. For him the figure of the servant "seizes" the readers and bends them to a new understanding of themselves and the direction of their lives (p. 63). Clines makes no attempt to integrate this reading into the message of Second Isaiah as a whole, but the poem, read in the structuralist mode, would not have had an essentially different message for people who had heard the news of a coming deliverance from Second Isaiah than that which I have outlined above.
be a light to the nations (49:1-6). Despite his troubles, the servant will maintain steadfast trust, knowing that Yahweh will finally vindicate him (50:4-9). The nations will be amazed when they see how God glorified him, while the servant learns the deeper meaning of his sufferings. Via them he carries the punishment intended for the nations, and it is for these nations he prays (52:13-53:12).
A CONCLUDING WORD
Second Isaiah lived late in the Exile. His audience was afflicted with doubts about God's willingness and his ability to save, and with questions about who was really in control of history. To them the prophet announced a great new exodus and a trip home to Zion, an announcement undergirded and enriched with references to Yahweh as Creator and Redeemer. By trial speeches, disputations, and appeals to God's word, Second Isaiah showed that Yahweh was able and willing to save.
This good and joyful news was promised by God in accord with his freedom. That freedom permitted him to use Cyrus as his special agent and to offer the oppressive nations both defeat and an opportunity to recognize whose was the real glory in the world. All this was grounded, at the beginning and end, and through the entire sixteen chapters of this book, in the word or promise of God proclaimed to weak and weary Israel.
As Israel waited for this word to happen, she was called to conduct herself as God's servant. Exile was seen, therefore, not just as a penalty to be paid by Israel or a condition from which she was to be delivered. Rather, Israel's faithful endurance of exile and her victorious emergence from it were designed to make her a light to the nations.