The difficulty with the Book of Isaiah Part 6

If one is to accurately interpret these chapters an important scholar if Walter Kaiser Jr. He has spent 35 years studying and writing on the Old Testament as seen through the eyes of biblical theology.


Kaiser states his belief concerning the importance of Isaiah chapters forty through sixty-six:

One of the most remarkable sections of all the Old Testament is Isaiah 40–66. In its general plan, it is laid out in three enneads—that is, sets of nine chapters: 40–48, 49–57, and 58–66. In each of these three sets of nine messages, the focus is directed to the particular aspect of the person and work of God. It is as close to being a systematic statement of Old Testament theology as is the book of Romans in the New Testament.[1]

 As the interpreter sets out to examine these chapters, he must remember there are many who do not agree with this division, nor do they accept the inference Kaiser is making here. It will be importance to reflect on these resources also.

               In 1947-1956 in the caves of Qumran, workers discovered documents later referred to as the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS), which directly affected the research into Isaiah. The scroll discovered is in fourteen parts and contains all sixty-six chapters. This is the oldest and most complete copy of any book in the Scriptures. Prior to this discovery the oldest extant copy was the Leningrad Codex dated AD 916. This discovery takes the date back to 200 BC. As part of the author’s efforts to determine a reliable document, the Great Isaiah Scroll (DSS-IQ) was compared against the Septuagint (LXX) and the Masoretic Text (MT), chapters forty through sixty-six.

ISAIAH 40-48

               The first step, as described by Kuykendall, is to determine the original intent of the author. Today’s scholars have not reached consensus concerning authorship. The difficulty encountered falls into two categories, style and prophetic accuracy. Brueggemann points out that coming out of the Reformation, “. . . [T]he biblical texts were generated through human effort, human faith, human passion, and human idiosyncrasy.”[2] He further professes, “The practical effect of this enterprise was to relativize the revelatory claims of the text and to treat it like any other book.”[3] Therefore, if the Scriptures are a human production, and the Scriptures’ treatment resembles that of any other book, then if the style changes from one part to another, the authorship changes. This has long been a difficulty because of the use of prose in the first half of Isaiah and predominantly poetry in the second half.

               The second area of difficulty is the question of how Isaiah could be so accurate unless written in the post-exilic period; in particular the mention of Cyrus, who lived over one hundred years after Isaiah. Furthermore, how could Isaiah have spoken of the destruction of Jerusalem as if it had already happened? This is an event that did not take place until 587 BC, over one hundred and fifty years after Isaiah.

               Not everyone is so quick to support the post-exilic writing and audience of Isaiah. David V. Smith states, “This study concludes that it is inappropriate merely to assume an exilic setting for the audience in Isaiah 40–55.”[4] He points out that seven passages that do not fit the post-exilic position and that establishing this theory opens the book to many enlightments. Secondly, God is all-knowing and could very easily have revealed these events to Isaiah. In the belief of this author, the single authorship of Isaiah is appropriate, reasonable, and supportable.

               With the authorship and reliable document issues established, the next step is to investigate the semantics and syntax of this first ennead. One phrase stands out, “The Holy One of Israel.” This phrase appears twenty-six times in the book of Isaiah, twelve times in the first half and fourteen times in the second half.[5] In this first ennead it appears eight times (40:25; 41:14, 16, 20; 43: 3, 14; 47:4; 48:17).

Three questions exist: Who is the Holy One of Israel? What if any attributes does he have? And is there only one or more than one? All three resources, the LXX, DSS-IQ, and MT all agree on the literal phrase, Kodesh Yisrael. The Hebrew word echad is normally translated as “one,” but the word echad does not appear in any instances that are translated in the English, “The Holy One of Israel.” In light of the answer provided concerning the existence of only one Kodesh Yisrael, it would appear this is an injection.

               Who is “The Holy One of Israel?” Robert B. Chisholm Jr. proposes, “For Isaiah, God is first and foremost ‘the Holy One of Israel’ who possesses absolute sovereign authority over his covenant people and the nations of the earth, but who at the same time personally intervenes in history to accomplish his purposes.”[6] Isaiah records the testimony given to him, “Our Redeemer—the Lord of hosts is his name—is the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 47:4). The Lord of hosts elsewhere in the Scriptures refers to God the Father. Two hundred and forty-two times in the Old Testament, the Lord of host refers to God the Father. Isaiah’s testimony is that the “Holy One of Israel” is God, he is the Elohim Yahweh. An additional reason for embracing this testimony is the eternity of the “Holy One of Israel.” Isaiah records, “I am the first and the last” (44:6). This is speaking of God’s eternity. God had no beginning and God will have no end.

            What are some of the attributes of “The Holy One of Israel?” First, he is the incomparable one. “To whom will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him” (40:18)? The third commandment of the Decalogue states, “You shall make no graven image” (Exodus 20:4). The reason is God is incomparable; he is one of a kind; he is the most unique of the unique.[7] Second, “The Holy One of Israel” is creator. God is the creator of all things (Isaiah 40:28; 41:20; 44:24; 45:18; 48:13). Finally, God is the revealer of all things. Isaiah records an almost sarcastic challenge given by God, “Who is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before me, since I appointed an ancient people. Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen” (44:7). It is God that revealed the future through Isaiah; God is daring someone else to predict the future. They cannot, for God is the revealer of all things. How else could Isaiah have known Cyrus’ name two hundred years before he was born?

               As a follow-up to God being eternal, the omniscient revealer, and incomparable, the third, and probably the most important question is, are there one or many gods? God declares repeatedly in this ennead, “Apart from me there is no God” (44:6, 8; 45:5, 6, 11, 18, 22; 46:9).

               As this ennead ends the theological summary, Isaiah forty through forty-eight is speaking about God the Father. This is the first step in tying Isaiah forty through sixty-six forward to the New Testament by discussing and defining the Trinity.

These parallel theological truths are found in the New Testament. First, God is incomparable; who else would send his only son to die for all mankind? God’s grace is incomparable. Who would or could love man in spite of his sin? God’s grace and mercy is incomparable. Second, God is creator of all. The apostle John stated, “All things were created through him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created” (John 1:3). God not only created all but sustains all (Colossians 1:17). Third, God is the one and only. Several New Testament passages point to the oneness of God and how only through his son do we have access to him (John 14:6).

[1] Walter C. Kaiser Jr, The Promise-Plan of God: a Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), pp. 182–183.

[2] Walter Brueggemann, 10.

 [3] Ibid.

[4] Gary V. Smith, “Isaiah 40–55: Which Audience Was Addressed?” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 54, no. 4 (2011): p. 712.

[5] Walter C, Kaiser Jr., Toward an Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapid, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1978), p. 204.

 [6] Robert B. Chisholm Jr., “A Theology of Isaiah,” A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, ed. Roy Zuck (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1991), p. 305.

 [7] Kenneth R. Cooper, “How Immeasurable is God? A Vision of the Greatness of God in Isaiah 40:9-20 Examined,” Journal of Dispensational Theology 13 (2009): p. 45. See also, Walter C. Kaiser Jr., “The Old Testament Promise of Material Blessings and the Contemporary Believer,” Trinity Journal 9 (1988): p. 155.



Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s