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Isaiah: A Personal Devotional Journal–10

 

NET Isaiah 4:2 At that time the crops given by the LORD will bring admiration and honor; the produce of the land will be a source of pride and delight to those who remain in Israel.

Considering the NET version as a stand-alone verse, a reader might be drawn to surmise that Isaiah speaks about a time when many people had moved away from Israel, and those who remained were blessed with wonderful, prize-winning agriculture. “At that time,” is a general marker, not too specific, not particularly definite, not especially memorable. “Crops given by the Lord,” would be difficult to interpret in a metaphorical sense. As previously stated, the Lord seems to have blessed the agriculture. “Produce of the land,” is a concrete-literal term, similar to crops, not easily interpreted metaphorically.

I wonder how many biblical readers consider the NET Bible to be a paraphrase? My guess would be not too many, possibly because it provides a multitude of marginal notes: translation, historical, text critical, and subject. However, consider the NIV translation below. This is a translation of the same verse based predominantly upon the same Hebrew text.

NIV Isaiah 4:2 In that day the Branch of the LORD will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel.

Most readers will be able to notice tremendous differences. Even though the Hebrew underlying each is identical or very similar (1), the translators chose to proceed in quite different directions. First, while the NET opens with, “At that time,” the NIV opens with, “In that day.” The phrase “in that day” was discussed in some detail in the prior journal entry, Journal 9. Briefly, there are a fairly large number of verses that use this phrase both within Isaiah, other parts of the Old Testament, and the gospels. These other verses lead a reader to draw the conclusion that texts with this phrase indicate a specific period of time after the advent of Christ. NET Bible includes a small, marginal note that states that the KJV uses this phrase.

For purposes of comparison, I’m including below the ESV, which is fairly new (2007, 2011) and tends toward a formally literal translation of the original text. Its translation is based on the RSV, in which the first word, Revised, refers to a revision of the KJV, which is itself a mostly literal translation written in beautiful English. As stated in its preface, “The ESV is based on the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible as found in Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (2nd ed., 1983).” So here we have three translations, all based upon the same Hebrew text. (1) The NIV claims to be “dynamically equivalent.” That is, they attempt to capture the literal, original meaning but stated in a way perhaps more palatable to the modern ear. The ESV claims to be “essentially literal.” The NET Bible’s preface states, “The philosophy of the NET Bible translators was to be interpretive when such an interpretation represents the best thinking of recent scholarship.” Here then is the ESV of the same verse.

ESV Isaiah 4:2 In that day the branch of the LORD shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and honor of the survivors of Israel.

Readers can readily see that the NIV and the ESV are essentially the same.

 

SIDEBAR

Please, readers, understand that I am one small voice. No one, least of all myself, would claim that my voice is in any way authoritative. Each of these Bibles is a very fine Bible. I personally have a great interest in discovering Christ in the Old Testament. As a young Christian, I was extremely jealous of the two disciples whom Jesus sought out on the road to Emmaus. My fervent prayer was the the Lord would show me what he showed them, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself,” (Luke 24:27 ESV). Over the years, as I’ve continued studying with the language and biblical tools I have available to me on my own dining room table and in my computer, I am blessed to report that to a large extent the Lord has granted my heart’s desire.

So, my “hermeneutical presupposition” is that the Bible connects with itself in a multitude of ways. Further, many texts are polyfunctional. My predisposition is to favor translations that bring out Christ. Other Christians may have other dispositions, and that is fine. However, I strongly feel that in sending each and every Christian believer the Holy Spirit to indwell her or him, the Lord has given each and every Christian the privilege of deciding for themselves what the Word of God is saying. That is, although the work of scholars is extremely valuable, useful, produced at high cost, and not to be ignored, one of the most valuable gifts of God to each and every Christian through Christ and the Holy Spirit, is to give each one a personal relationship with Himself through his Holy Word.

Second, after the opening phrase, “In that day,” which many readers will associate with Christ,  the second major difference between the NET understanding of this verse and both the NIV and ESV understanding is the next phrase, “the Branch of the LORD,” (NIV). The ESV does not capitalize the word Branch. The NET translates the same Hebrew text as, “the crops given by the LORD.” They also include a very long, detailed translator’s note explaining why they translate this way and not as the other major English versions, which they list, “KJV, NAB, NASB, NIV, NRSV, NLT, and others.” Their main argument is that Isaiah 4:2 displays no “contextual indicators” that a “human ruler is in view.” But is this so?

First, Isaiah has 66 chapters. Chapter 4 is near the beginning. In later chapters, Isaiah most definitely speaks of a future ruler using similar botanical imagery, “A shoot will grow out of Jesse’s root stock, a bud will sprout from his roots,” (Isaiah 11:1 NET). In its notes for this verse, NET readily admits that the prophecy refers to a future David-like king. Again, in 27:6, “In days to come Jacob shall take root, Israel shall blossom and put forth shoots and fill the whole world with fruit,” (ESV). I chose the ESV translation here for its use of “fruit” rather than the “produce” NET uses. “Fruit,” of course, is a New Testament metaphor used frequently throughout its pages with reference to the work of the Holy Spirit in believers. Why does the New Testament choose to translate the same Greek word that the Septuagint uses, similar to its Hebrew equivalent, as “fruit” rather than “produce?” Could it be that the writers of the New Testament are picking up this metaphor from the Old Testament? (Hint: yes). Examples of agricultural metaphors in Isaiah are abundant. A well-known verse is 53:2, “He sprouted up like a twig before God, like a root out of parched soil; he had no stately form or majesty that might catch our attention, no special appearance that we should want to follow him,” (NET). The translation note for this verse states, “… it probably refers to the Lord.” For other agricultural references see Isaiah 27:12; 37:31,32; 53:2; 45:8, 49:6; and 61:3. Isaiah is largely about the Messiah and the restoration he brings to Israel. Surely, this topic must be introduced somewhere, and chapter 4 is still very near the beginning of the book, meaning that Isaiah still has plenty of space and time to begin being more fully developed.

Second, 2 Samuel 23:5, an early book of history, states the following, “My dynasty is approved by God, for he has made a perpetual covenant with me, arranged in all its particulars and secured. He always delivers me, and brings all I desire to fruition,” (NET). The last word, “fruition,” is a slightly different form of the identical Hebrew word that is found in Isaiah 4:2. So, in fact, a book earlier in Scripture than Isaiah uses this same word base in a metaphorical sense, as spoken by a ruler.

Third, the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT) says this about Isaiah 4:2:

The first writer to take up the thought of 2 Sam 23:5 and use the root smh as a noun to designate the Messiah is Isaiah (Isa 4:2). Many deny that Isaiah is referring to the Messiah when he speaks of “the Branch or Shoot of Yahweh” because it is paralleled by the expression “the fruit of the earth.” Therefore, Isa 4:2 is simply a reference to the agricultural prosperity of the land. But this view fails to notice that both of these expressions are elsewhere messianic. It also neglects to account for the unusual limitation of this fruitfulness “in that day”; the fruitfulness is for the survivors of Israel. Furthermore, they overlook the progressive nature of revelation, for certainly 2Sam 23:5 and perhaps Psa 132:17 are controlling ideas when we come to the eighth century B.C. Thus the “Sprout of Yahweh” (or as clarified by the cognate studies, “the son of Yahweh”) is an obvious reference to the divine nature of the semah [note: this is a transliteration of the Hebrew word under discussion, Strong’s 6780 and TWOT 1928a]. Yet his human nature is also in view, for he is “the Offspring or Fruit of the Earth.”

Fourth and finally, NET notes defend their choice of “crops” and “produce” with the following, “A reference to the Lord restoring crops would make excellent sense in Isa 4… ” But does it? So far in Isaiah we have seen the Lord’s great anger that continues to rage in chapter upon chapter. These pages describe a nearly total bringing down, stripping away, and deathly destruction. Remember Isaiah 1:9? “If the LORD of hosts had not left us a few survivors, we should have been like Sodom, and become like Gomorrah,” (ESV). While lovely, honorable crops and produce are desirable, does that match the heavy weight of the destruction in the immediately prior context? Further, we determined that God is not angry with physical hills, mountains, cedars, and oaks, but rather with his people. When God states, “”It is you who have devoured the vineyard, the spoil of the poor is in your houses,”” (Isaiah 3:14 ESV) his main concern is not with grapes, but with people. When serving as a counter weight to the extensive punishment of the people whom God chastises, crops and produce, no matter how wonderful they might be, do NOT suit the context.

As regards agricultural metaphor and context, the verses immediately following the section containing 4:2, verses 5:1-7, use an extended agricultural metaphor of a vineyard to represent the entire nation of Israel. Verse 7 explains what the entire passage means, “Indeed Israel is the vineyard of the LORD who commands armies, the people of Judah are the cultivated place in which he took delight. He waited for justice, but look what he got– disobedience! He waited for fairness, but look what he got– cries for help!” (NET).

Now, in view of all of the above, which fits the context of Isaiah best and makes more sense?

This?

NET Isaiah 4:2 At that time the crops given by the LORD will bring admiration and honor; the produce of the land will be a source of pride and delight to those who remain in Israel.

OR… This?

ESV In that day the branch of the LORD shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and honor of the survivors of Israel.

Where do we go from here?

Because it consumes so much time, energy, and perhaps is a distraction, my intention is not to compare the Septuagint with the NET and ESV at every step of the way. It happened here because Isaiah 4:2 is such a rich and important verse. It is also the first instance in which the Masoretic text and the Greek text diverge significantly. And even beyond that , it is the first passage in which the editors of NET took a major turn away from traditional English versions, which also follow a more or less identical Hebrew text. As seen, these other versions interpret the verse messianically, which NET goes to great lengths to avoid doing. In most instances, my chosen text for this walk-through journal is and will be the Septuagint, with comparisons here and there to the Masoretic, mostly through the ESV.

As a postscript, it turns out that the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew word “sprout,” or “springs forth,” (Stong’s 6780, TWOT 1928a) is common for that particular word. The Septuagint writes, “shall shine.” This is found in Luke 1:78, which, according to TWOT, has strong overtones of Isaiah 4:2.

Lord willing, we will continue to verse 3 next time.

__________

1 By reading the prefaces of each (I have a printed copy of the 1973, 78, 83 edition), I discovered that the Biblia Hebraica is the primary document from which each of the translators worked.


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