Old Testament Life and Literature (1968)
Chapter 18 - Isaiah and Micah
OF the two Judaean prophets who were active in the eighth century, there can be little doubt that Isaiah was the more powerful. He lived in the capital city of Jerusalem and was brought into immediate association with the Temple, with the royal family and with national and international policies. Nevertheless, Micah, who dwelt in the Shephelah was not out of touch with the political activities of the era, for Judah was a small country and, despite the limited means of communication, information was rapidly disseminated. Because of the bulk of Isaiah's work (amplified by later additions) it is listed among that of the Major Prophets, but the smaller book of Micah's words is classified with the Minor Prophets.
ISAIAH OF JERUSALEM
The book of Isaiah, which at first glance appears to be the work of one individual, the eighth century prophet, Isaiah of Jerusalem, is considered by most scholars to be composite. The book can be divided into three parts:
Questions about the integrity of the book of Isaiah can be said to have begun when Abraham Ibn Ezra, a Jewish scholar of Spain (d. 1197), remarked in a commentary that Isaiah's name at the head of the book was no more guarantee of authorship than Samuel's name at the head of the two books bearing his name. In the eighteenth century, analytical study by J. C. Doederlein (1775) and J. G. Eichhorn (1782) drew clear distinctions between I and II Isaiah. Subsequent research strengthened their arguments. The basis for the division is as follows:
From the start the results of analytical study were challenged by competent scholars, including the nineteenth century German exegete Franz Delitzsch, and the controversy has continued in diminishing intensity to the present time.1 Different historical situations reflected in the writings are explained by the argument that the literature is revealed and that the prophet spoke not his own words but God's; and if Isaiah, 200 years before the time of Cyrus, was able to predict the deliverer's coming and he does come, then the verification of the words proves that they are God's and that God is a God of history. Differences in style are dismissed by the suggestion that in dealing with future events the prophet, freed of the present, employed a different mode of expression. Appeals are also made to tradition. Ben Sira's writings were much closer to Isaiah's time (second century B.C.) than those of present-day scholars and no mention of a division is made in his work (Ecclesiasticus 48:20 ff.). Nor did the first century A.D. Jewish historian Josephus (Antiquities: XI: 1:1 f.), who suggests that Cyrus freed the Jews because he read the prophecy of Isaiah, recognize more than one Isaiah. The Isaiah scroll from the Qumran community on the Dead Sea, the earliest Hebrew text of Isaiah, makes no division between Chapters 1-39 and 40-66, and this document is dated first century B.C. These and other arguments cannot be persuasive if the methodology for literary analysis set forth in the chapter "How Do We Read?" is accepted.
How and why materials from authors separated by centuries should have been combined is not known, and the history of the text is both confused and complex. II Chron. 32:32 implies that Isaiah's work, in part at least, may have been included in the lost "Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel." If II Chron. 36:22 and Ezra 1:1-2 refer to II Isaiah's prophecy of the return from Exile (cf. Isa. 44:28; 45:1-3) rather than Jeremiah's more general comment (Jer. 29:10), then, perhaps, Deutero-Isaiah was at one time attached to the book of Jeremiah. By the second century B.C., as Ben Sira's references demonstrate, the book of Isaiah had taken its present form.
Isaiah of Jerusalem spoke of disciples (8:16) and the biographical sections of the book undoubtedly came from these followers. It has been proposed that there was an Isaianic school or guild responsible for the additions to the original work. This attractive proposition presents difficulties, for it suggests a line of disciples extending over two centuries, not mentioned in biblical sources, and coming into prominence only at the close of the Babylonian captivity. On the other hand, there can be little doubt that Isaiah's words and those of other eighth century prophets were studied and restudied, particularly during the Exile. In the Exilic period, when words of doom must have assumed new and deeper significance because they were fulfilled, those students or disciples who pored over these oracles perhaps were led to new insight, understanding and hope. Out of their insight could have come Deutero-Isaiah with its message of redemption, utilizing some Isaianic terms ("Holy one of Israel") and developing ideas drawn from Isaiah of Jerusalem. The message, appended to the great prophet's work, completed the pattern of doom and hope of a remnant with the joyous announcement that what was promised was about to be fulfilled. Beyond such speculation we cannot go at present.2
LITERARY ANALYSIS OF THE TEXT
The complexity of Isaiah 1-39 makes possible a variety of literary analyses. There is general agreement that Isaiah 1-39 is composed of smaller collections of prophetic oracles, autobiographical and biographical materials representing Isaiah's work or reports on his work by disciples, and non-Isaianic writings. Some sections may be dated by content or superscriptions (cf. 6:1; 7:1; 14:28; 20:1). Some non-Isaianic materials are readily recognized because they contradict sayings of Isaiah to which they have been appended or because they portray idealistic, eschatological pictures of the restoration of Judah, indicating that they come from the Exilic or post-Exilic period. Some material is also separated on the basis of style, a method that is far from reliable. Following the detailed literary analysis below, the text will be discussed in terms of historical periods (so far as they can be determined) out of which various portions have come.
Broadly speaking, six major divisions may be identified in Isaiah 1-39:
Within this broad outline, smaller collections can be recognized. Non-Isaianic materials are in italics.
I. Chapters 1-12 Oracles concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
1. 1:1-2:4-a collection of oracles on Judah's sin terminating with an eschatological restoration oracle.3
2. 2:5-4:6 Oracles of condemnation and threat.
3. 5 and 9:8-11:9 A collection of oracles, linked by the refrain "For all this his anger is not turned away and his hand is stretched out still" (5:25; 9:12, 17, 21; 10:4), and interrupted by biographical materials (Chapters 6 and following).
4. 6:1-9:7 Autobiographical and biographical materials, comprising the earliest materials in the book.
5. 12 Two psalms, 1-2 and 3-6, reflecting hope and joy in restoration appended to close this section, are from the Exilic and post-Exilic periods.
II. Chapters 13-23 Oracles against foreign nations.
1. 13:1-14:23 Oracles against Babylon from the late Exilic period.
2. 14:24-27, 28-32 Oracles against Assyria and Philistia.
3. 15-16 Oracles against Moab. These were used in part by Jeremiah (48:28-38) oracles are by Isaiah, there is no clue concerning the time or occasion when they were given.
4. 17 Oracles reflecting the Syro-Ephraimitic war.
5. 18 Oracle on Ethiopia-Egypt at the time of the fall of Ashdod. Verse 7 is not part of the original oracle.
6. 19 Oracles on Egypt.
7. 20 A biographical section on the failure of the conspiracy against Assyria and the Ashdod.
8. 21 Sixth century oracles on Babylon, Dumah and Arabia.
9. 22 Oracles on Sennacherib's attack on Jerusalem.
10. 23 Oracles against Tyre (13, 15, 17-18 are late additions).
III. Chapters 24-27 The little apocalypse-from the post-Exilic period.
IV. Chapters 28-33 Miscellaneous oracles.
1. 28-31 The Assyrian Cycle.
V. Chapters 34-35 Post-Exilic restoration oracles.
VI. Chapters 36-39 Biographical material on Hezekiah's revolt. The material in this se is the same as that found in II Kings 18:13 to 19:37 with one exception: II Kings 18:14-16 which describes Hezekiah's heavy payments to Assyria and his willing capitulation to Sennacherib.
It is possible to conjecture how these collections may have developed. The earliest collection of materials, the biographical and autobiographical materials in Chapters 6 to 9, may have been gathered by Isaiah and his disciples. Another early section, Chapters 28 to 31, is composed of oracles that the prophet may have gathered. With Chapters 6 to 9 as a nucleus, other oracular materials from small collections were added to form the larger unit, Chapters 1-12. These basic materials were expanded over a long period of time by the addition of new Materials, in some instances in fairly large units and in other cases in single oracles or statements. The final composition appears to have taken from some time before the second century B.C.
ISAIAH, THE MAN
Despite many oracles and the biographical material, it is surprising to realize how little we actually know about Isaiah. It is clear that he is a Jerusalemite, one who loves the city (cf. 8:18; 28:16), yet one who looks with unclouded vision recognizing evils that infest it. There is no indication that the prophet traveled to other places, and it has been surmised that perhaps he lived all his life in the environs of Jerusalem.
Like Hosea, his contemporary in Israel, he was married, but unlike the Israelite prophet, he gives no hint of marital discord. Like Hosea, Isaiah gives his children symbolic names. Unlike Amos, Isaiah encounters no difficulty when he goes to the temple, and the experience that was to affect his whole life took place within the temple precincts. Nor did Isaiah encounter hostility from those in authority, for the prophet appears to be on intimate terms with both Ahaz and Hezekiah. Because of his participation in national affairs, he has been called "the statesman prophet," but such a label restricts rather than explains the prophet's interests. The role of the prophet as a charismatic speaker for Yahweh included many responsibilities and embraced many issues, including politics.
The social evils of the day were to Isaiah, as to Amos, an offense against Yahweh, and the empty forms of religion that led men to ignore the plight of others were treated as a mockery. Those appointed to lead continually proved their ineptness, and Isaiah's condemnations of princes, priests, prophets and judges echo the feelings of Amos about these same persons, and his scorn for the women of Jerusalem is as virulent as was Amos'. Possibly the best way to understand and know the prophet is to read his oracles in historical context.
ISAIAH AND THE HISTORY OF THE PERIOD
Read II Kings 15-20; II Chron. 26-32
Because there was no outside power strong enough or interested enough to provide any real threat, Israel and Judah prospered in the eighth century. King Adad-nirari III of Assyria in 805 took tribute from Damascus, but Israel, a few miles to the south of the Aramaean capital, was unaffected. A succession of weak rulers reduced the Assyrian threat. Jeroboam II (786-746) expanded his kingdom into the Transjordan area and worked in economic harmony with Phoenician cities. Prosperity and social inequalities graphically pictured by Amos brought hardship and suffering for the underprivileged. Parallel economic growth took place in Judah in Uzziah's time (783-742). Edom was recaptured; trade with Arabia developed through the Red Sea; two cities of Philistia, Gath and Ashdod, became vassals (II Chron. 26:6 f.), and despite the absence of a prophetic record comparable to the book of Amos, conditions condemned by Isaiah when he begins his prophetic work at the King's death suggest that the situation in Judah and Israel was the same.
746. Jeroboam II died and a period of decline in Israel began. Lack of stability in Israelite leadership, resulting in the assassination of four kings within twenty years, produced a national policy that fluctuated between pro-Egyptian and pro-Assyrian alliances. A sense of aimlessness or lack of direction, clearly reflected in Hosea, made Israel an easy target when Assyrian forces began to move westward and southward.
745. Tiglath Pileser III (called "Pul" in II Kings 15:19 after "Pulu," the name under which he controlled Babylon) became ruler of Assyria and began an expansionist program. Up to this time, Assyria had periodically raided northern Syria for bounty and to maintain open channels for exploitation of minerals, timber and trade. Assyria's new program included conquest and rule. In addition to subduing Mesopotamian neighbors in the immediate vicinity of Assyria, Tiglath Pileser began subjugation of the west, starting in 743. A coalition of small nations, led by Azriau of Iuda, undoubtedly Uzziah (Azariah) of Judah, opposed him. The Assyrian account, taken from slabs found at Calah, has many lacunae, but it is clear that Tiglath Pileser subdued his opposition. The records list tribute received from frightened rulers of smaller kingdoms, including Rezin of Damascus and Menahem of Samaria.9
742. Uzziah died and Jotham became king. Because of his father's long illness, Jotham had administrative experience as regent of Judah and was able to give Judah governmental stability that is in complete contrast with the situation in Israel. Uzziah's military program was continued and the Chronicler reports a Judaean victory over Ammonites who paid tribute for three years.
ISAIAH'S VISION AND COMMISSIONING
Read Isa. 6; II Kings 15; II Chron. 26
Dr. Julian Morgenstern has theorized that Solomon's temple, oriented with portals facing east enabled the first rays of the rising sun to penetrate the holy of holies at the time of the autumnal equinox.11 Seraphim, the six-winged creatures that chanted an antiphonal hymn of Yahweh's holiness, are often described as "mythical" figures but no mythology concerning them is known. The term "seraphim" is derived from a Hebrew verb meaning "burn," so that seraphim have been called "burning ones." The word seraph is also associated with serpents in the story of the seraph serpents of the wilderness wanderings (Num. 21:6 ff.; Dent. 8:15) and the seraph snakes mentioned in two of Isaiah's oracles (Isaiah 14:29; 30:6). It is possible that in Isaiah's vision the bronze seraph serpent, a Canaanite symbol later destroyed by Hezekiah (II Kings 18:3 ff.) despite the sanctuary tale that legitimatized its presence (Num. 21:6 ff.), entered Isaiah's experience as the early morning sunlight played upon it. It has been suggested that the sun's rays entering the inner cella of the temple may have struck the gold-plated olivewood cherubim, making it seem as though they burned with fire, providing the source of Isaiah's imagery.12 It is possible also that the seraphim were temple ministrants or altar attendants in winged costumes with specific choral and purification responsibilities in the New Year rites.
A NINTH CENTURY ASSYRIAN PANEL in low relief from the royal palace at Calah showing an attendant in a costume with four wings and a bird headdress participating in a ritual (fertility?) involving a tree (of life?). It is possible that the Hebrew New Year ritual employed costumed altar attendants.
Isaiah's cry of woe is a cry of awakening as he discovered that ritual purification alone did not make a people holy or acceptable to Yahweh. The gulf between sacred and profane was not one of ritual impurity but of moral or inner uncleanliness. Isaiah's term "the Holy One of Israel" (1:4; 5:19, 24) implies that Yahweh, as the God of a particular people, demanded ethical and ritual purity of those who were close to him, for ethical and moral impurity made it impossible for the Holy Yahweh to draw near to his people.
When the purification rite was completed, the prophet responded to Yahweh's call for a messenger. The scene is a (heavenly) court where a messenger is dispatched by a monarch. The message was not reassuring, for the prophet was to aid in bringing destructive judgment on the people-he was to preach a message that men would not heed; indeed, they would turn away and because of failure to heed would be destroyed.13 Some find this interpretation too harsh and suggest that the commission reflected Isaiah's intention to preach whether or not the people heard.14 It has also been argued that the passage was written after the prophet had been at work and represents his evaluation of his work.15 Isaiah's response contains a note of incredulity: "how long?" The response is as harsh as the commission: until all is desolate. The final verse (13) is problematic, for although Isaiah did believe that a remnant would return (cf. 7:3) the 10 per cent figure appears a much too precise qualification. The verse is generally taken to be an expansion of Isaiah's work by a later hand.16 The final phrase, absent in the LXX, is meaningless.
Read Isa. 1-5; 10-12
In Chapter 5 the prophet assumes a minstrel's role and sings a song that has often been called "daring" because it employed a fertility or agricultural motif, a theme prominent in the cult of Ba'al. It is important that the real point of the song be recognized, for this is a song of social and religious concern. Israel, the vineyard of God, failed to produce anything but wild grapes (a symbol of the social evils of the day). Like a wise landowner, Yahweh prepared to uproot and destroy the vineyard. The seven-fold woe oracles that follow (interrupted by Chapters 6-9) are confessions of evils, for Isaiah documented his challenges to popular mores and popular religion. These were uneasy, troubled days with threats to national security on all sides. Isaiah argued that the greatest threat was within, in the prosperity that fostered greed and ruthlessness and injustice, in religion that was outward rather than inward.
738. Tiglath Pileser III was now receiving tribute from subject states, including Syria and Israel. A deportation policy quickly quenched potential revolutions, for leaders were promptly moved to distant parts of the Assyrian empire. In a new environment without the supporting sentiment of their own people, the leaders' rebellious inclinations were rendered ineffective.
BRONZE BRACELETS. Isaiah's denunciation of the haughty women of Jerusalem pictured them "mincing along . . . tinkling with their feet" (Isa. 3:16). The tinkling sound was produced by metal anklets and a mincing walk could only increase the clinking. Either Isaiah or a follower added an expanded list of contemporary feminine finery and included bracelets in the collection (Isa. 3:19). The bronze bracelets pictured above are typical of those found on the wrists of skeletons coming from Isaiah's time. Larger and heavier bronze bands of similar design are often found on the legs and are the anklets which became symbols of vanity to Isaiah. Bracelets, gold bracelets in particular, were prized gifts and apparently played a rather important role in wooing a young woman (Gen.24:22, 30, 47; Ezek.16:11).
735. Pekah of Israel and Rezin of Damascus, believing that the time was ripe to break free of Assyria, urged Jotham of Judah to join in revolt. Jotham refused and, as the two northern kings prepared to compel him to cooperate, Jotham died, passing the problem to his son and successor, Ahaz. Ahaz continued his father's non-participation policy and Rezin and Pekah attacked Judah, thus beginning the Syro-Ephraimitic war. (Cf. II Chron. 28:1-15 for an extensive, though probably exaggerated, account.) Edomite and Philistine attacks upon Judah added to the confusion. In desperation Ahaz, despite Isaiah's counsel, sought aid from Tiglath Pileser, offering a handsome bribe. The Assyrians needed little persuasion and the northern coalition was destroyed. By 734 the northern and eastern sections of Israel, including Galilee and the Transjordan area of Gilead, had become Assyrian provinces (II Kings 15:29). The pressure on Judah's Mediterranean flank was eased as Philistia too became an Assyrian province.
ASSYRIAN ARCHERS.The carving is from the limestone wall panels of King Sennacherib's palace at Nineveh (early seventh century) .
Read Isa. 7-8; 10
The second section introduces the sign "Immanuel," meaning "God is with us," by which Isaiah hoped to persuade the vacillating king that the best security was found in trust in Yahweh, not in alliances with Assyria. The prophet referred to an unidentified18 young woman (Hebrew: 'almah) who was about to bear a child that would be named "Immanuel," signifying Yahweh's support of his people. By the time the child would be weaned, the prophet promised, the military threat from Syria and Israel would be past, the two nations destroyed, and Judah would enjoy great prosperity. This interpretation, which seems to fit the historical situation best, has been challenged.
The word 'almah refers to a young woman old enough to bear a child and does not in itself indicate whether a girl is a virgin or married. The LXX translators employed the Greek word parthenos, which means "virgin," although the term neanis, which corresponds better to 'almah, was available. When the Christian Church began its mission in the Greek-speaking world and the Gospel of Matthew was written, predictions of Jesus' birth were sought in the LXX version of Jewish scripture; thus, in Matt. 1:18-23, the citation from Isaiah 7:14 is from the LXX, not the Hebrew text. It is argued by some Christian scholars that the sign was far more wondrous than the birth of any child and pointed ahead to the birth of a Messiah, a deliverers promise fulfilled in Jesus. Still others, recognizing that the announcement of a deliverer who would come 700 years later would be of little comfort to Ahaz in his crisis, find a double meaning in the sign Immanuel: an immediate significance relating to the young woman of Ahaz' day and a futuristic one foretelling the coming of Jesus.19 However, it should be pointed out that within the Hebrew text there is no indication that the child would perform messianic functions; the baby is a sign or signal of Yahweh's intention to save the nation if they would rely on their deity.
The chapter closes with four oracles promising invasion and destruction without any indication of the victim (7:18-25).
Chapter 8 opens with the promise of the birth of a child who would bear the unwieldly name Maher-shalal-hashbaz, meaning "the spoil speeds, the prey hastens," to signify the speedy demise of Rezin and Pekah. The mother is called "prophetess" and is usually assumed to be the prophet's wife. The oracle reiterates what Isaiah had said in 7:10-17 that Ahaz had nothing to fear for his enemies would perish. 8:5-8 appears to have been spoken after Ahaz had rejected Isaiah's advice and had turned to Tiglath Pileser for help. Isaiah predicted that Assyrian influence would sweep into Judah like an overwhelming flood. The autobiographical oracles that follow reveal that Yahweh reassured his prophet in his ministry and that Isaiah, perhaps in disappointment, perhaps to demonstrate that his words would come to pass, entrusted his teachings to his disciples for preservation. It is possible that oracles warning Assyria of pride in accomplishment come from this period (ch. 10).
Read Isa. 17
In purchasing Assyrian aid Judah became a subject nation, paying regular stipends to Tiglath Pileser. Subservience had religious overtones. It was clear to the Assyrians that Yahweh was not powerful enough to protect his people. As Judah had become a vassal nation and Ahaz a puppet king, so Yahweh was a subject deity. A great bronze Assyrian altar was placed in the Temple of Yahweh, a symbol of the dominance of Ashur, chief god of Assyria, over Yahweh. The extent to which enthusiasm for the introduction and cultivation of new facets of religion was carried is indicated in Isaiah 2:6-8, 20; 8:19 f., and by Ahaz' sacrifice of a son to the god Moloch (II Kings 16:3 f.).
727. Tiglath Pileser died and Shalmaneser V became ruler of Assyria.
724. Hoshea of Israel stopped paying taxes to Assyria. What prompted this action is not clear, but perhaps it was an effort to break free taken in cooperation with several other Palestinian communities. Shalmaneser wasted no time. Israel was invaded and Hoshea was seized. The powerful capital city of Samaria refused to capitulate and a three-year siege began.
722. Samaria fell to Shalmaneser between spring and autumn, 722, or just before the king died (December, 722) according to one account, or, according to another, to Shalmaneser's successor, Sargon II, in late December, 722 or early spring of 721.20 The Assyrian policy of deportation was followed: 20 per cent of the population was removed,21 and people from other conquered territories imported. The remnant Israelites became the Samaritans with whom the Judaeans were to enter into controversy in the post-Exilic period.22
Read 28:1-4, 7-29
Read Isa. 14:28-31
Read Isa. 9:2-7; 11:1-9
714. The throne of Ashdod was seized by an adventurer named Iatna or Imani and invitations were dispatched to kings in Philistia, Edom, Judah and Moab (all Assyrian vassals) to cooperate in a rebellion against Sargon. Hezekiah was eager to join, but Isaiah walked about Jerusalem naked, dramatizing the disastrous fate participation would bring (Isa. 20). Whether through Isaiah's influence or other factors, Hezekiah did not join the rebels, and when, in 712, the rebels were defeated by Sargon, Judah was spared.24 But Hezekiah did not cease planning for independence. The defenses of Jerusalem were strengthened and the Siloam tunnel was dug to bring water from the spring Gihon into the city so that fresh water would be available in time of siege. Religious reforms were introduced. The Assyrian altar was removed from Yahweh's temple, and Canaanite cult objects were destroyed, including the serpent symbol (Nehushtan) which a sanctuary legend explained as having come from the time of Moses (II Kings 18:3 ff., cf. Num. 21:6).
A HEBREW IRON PLOW POINT. Isa. 28:23 ff. provides considerable information about Hebrew agriculture. For plowing, the Hebrew farmer used an iron plow point with a collar into which a wooden shaft was thrust. Such a plow harnessed to an ox would cut a furrow rather than turn the earth as modern plows do. The term "plowshare" commonly used in English translations (I Sam. 13:20 f.; Isa. 2:14) is a misnomer for it denotes a plow with a blade. It is not difficult to imagine a sword being beaten into a plow point (Isa. 2:14; Mic. 4:3) or vice versa (Joel 3:10) .
Read Isa. 30:1-17; 31:1-4; 18:1-6
Read Isa. 1:7-9; 36-37
Read Isa. 22; 29:1-6; 30:27-28
So terrible was the effect of the Assyrian invasion that Judah never again mustered strength or courage to challenge Assyrian authority. Hezekiah remained upon the throne but his territorial powers were limited to Jerusalem and its environs. Sennacherib divided the remainder of Judah among loyal Philistine rulers who began to rebuild devastated areas. How and when the Davidic kings regained control over lost Judaean territory is not known. Nor is there information about the fate of Isaiah and his disciples during these dark years. It can be assumed that they lived long enough beyond the end of the eighth century to assemble collections of Isaiah's oracles. A legend, preserved in the Apocrypha, tells of the martyrdom of Isaiah by King Manasseh in the seventh century, but there is no way to determine whether there is any factual basis for the account.
THE ASSYRIANS BESEIGE A JUDAEAN CITY. Because artists had not mastered perspective all aspects of the battle appear on one plane. A wheeled battering ram assaults the walls on one side as refugees pour out the opposite side. Something of Assyrian terror tactics are portrayed in the lower right hand panel which pictures captured Judaeans impaled on stakes and displayed where they would have a demoralizing effect on the people within the beseiged city.
MAJOR EMPHASES IN ISAIAH
The study of Isaiah's writings makes it possible to suggest that there were certain major underlying beliefs that gave order and pattern to all that the prophet said and did. Foremost among these would be his concept of God. If one single label were to be used to characterize Isaiah, it would have to be "prophet of faith" for at the heart of his interpretation of international relationships was constant and unwavering faith in Yahweh's ability and desire to protect Judah. In his confrontation with Ahaz, there appears a note of irritation and impatience with the monarch's uncertainty and unwillingness to trust the national deity (7:13). For the prophet there could be no doubt or hesitation. He was equally sure in his proclamation of Yahweh's distaste of religion that lost itself in ritual and ceremony but disregarded the plight of the underprivileged and condoned exploitation by the rich and powerful. His epithet for Yahweh, "the Holy One of Israel," which may have come from some cultic source, but may just as well have been coined by the prophet,29 conveys not only transcendence and otherness but, in its setting in Isaiah's vision, moral and ethical purity. Yahweh was not just "the Holy One" as Hosea had said, but "the Holy One of Israel," belonging to Israel in a unique and peculiar way. To be one with their deity, the people had to possess the kind of purity that Yahweh demanded-ritual and ethical cleanliness. No other people stood in this kind of relationship to Yahweh; through Isaiah, the election concept is portrayed in new terms. The fact that Yahweh could call Assyria the "rod" of his anger would imply that Yahweh's power extended beyond Palestine and controlled other peoples. Like Amos, Isaiah's concepts approach monotheism and universalism but never achieve them, for the existence of other gods is not challenged and Isaiah's concerns were local and nationalistic in religion and politics. World affairs were important insofar as they affected his beloved homeland.
Isaiah's words reveal his deep love and hope for Jerusalem. Here was the capital of the kingdom, the seat of the Davidic dynasty, and here was the very dwelling place of Yahweh. Repeatedly the prophet's deep concern for the city is revealed as it is singled out time and again for attack. Isaiah's realistic assessment of the people's conduct compels him to foresee doom for the city, with Yahweh himself as the enemy:
The remnant has often been isolated as an important theme in Isaiah's teaching, but the meaning of the term is not clear. Sheldon Blank has argued that a "mere" remnant is meant, not one that will represent the essence of the nation or signify the choice of a select few, but simply a remnant that manages to escape30 (cf. Isaiah 17:6; 30:14). An opposite point of view is held by those who find in the remnant Isaiah's disciples and others faithful to Yahweh's commands.31 The position taken throughout our discussion has favored the first point of view simply because there does not seem to be any evidence to substantiate the second. Whatever hopes Isaiah may have had for the future are not made explicit, unless it be that his word, bound up in his disciples, would prove true. The so-called messianic oracles may come from the time of Isaiah, but there is no reason to assert that they must be Isaiah's work, while, in view of the rest of the prophets teachings, there is reason for doubt: the door must be left open.32
The last collection of prophetic oracles from the eighth century are from Micah, the prophet of the Shephelah. According to the editorial superscription, he was active during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah (742-687 B.C.), and although it must be admitted that a prophetic ministry of this length is not impossible, most of the datable material comes from the time of Ahaz and Hezekiah. One hundred years later, the prophet Jeremiah quoted Micah 3:12 noting that the oracle was given in Hezekiah's time (Jer. 26:18). Micah was, therefore, a contemporary of Amos, Hosea and Isaiah, but echoes of themes found in Amos and Isaiah are not indications that Micah knew or was influenced by either of these men.
Micah's home town of Moresheth (1:1) or Moresheth-gath (1: 14) has not been located and it is possible that it was one of the "daughter" villages of the city of Gath, the old Philistine site located in the Shephelah which had come under Judaean control.33 The area was rich in grain, olives, figs and grapes. Micah has been called "rustic," "rural," and his words have been labeled "course," but there is no reason to think that Gath and its environs were any more "backward" or "rural" than Jerusalem which was also surrounded by agricultural communities. Micah's writing reveals skill in imagery and sharpness in delineation of evils and disasters, and his statement of Yahweh's demands in religion is one of the best-known sections of prophetic literature (6:8). The importance of Micah's work is demonstrated by Jeremiah's reference to it and by the serious study it received during the Exile.
The Book of Micah may be divided into four parts (non-Micah materials are italicized).
I. Chapters 1-3 containing Micah's oracles against the evils of Samaria and Jerusalem.
II. Chapters 4-5 contain eschatological and late material.
III. Chapters 6:1-7:7 consist of oracles by Micah.
IV. Chapter 7:8-20 is made up of words of hope and comfort from the Exilic period.
Although some scholars have argued that these verses come from the post-Exilic period, most accept them as the work of Micah.34
Old Testament Life and Literature is copyright © 1968, 1997 by Gerald A. Larue. All rights reserved.
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