By Christina M Wilson
Denouement: Septuagint Isaiah 56:1-8
If Septuagint Isaiah Volume 2 (that is, chapters 40 to the present chapter) were a drama, we would call Septuagint Isaiah 56:1-8 the denouement, or resolution. The drama climaxes in chapter 53, the death and resurrection of the Lord’s Servant. Chapters 54 and 55 reveal the glorious outcome of the Servant’s work for God’s people in Israel (the “barren” of 54:1–named the “remnant” elsewhere in Isaiah). The glorious outcome for the “barren” woman includes the whole world.
In a relatively minor sense, these chapters also speak to Israel’s condition in exile. That exile will soon be ended. But collectively, the people who worship God and his Servant will live in a spiritual place called Sion. Jesus, God’s Servant, spoke of the spiritual nature of his kingdom many times (1). After Rome destroys Jerusalem and its temple in 70 C.E., the spiritual nature of the collective body of Christ (those whom God will “gather to him”–Septuagint Isaiah 56:8) becomes more apparent.
Most importantly, the main event, the climax, of Isaiah’s story is the revelation of God’s incarnated Servant (Septuagint Isaiah 52:13-53:12). Historically, the Servant appears in person centuries after the return from exile. The Servant’s work changes the course of human history, humankind’s relationship with God, and therefore, the structure of the entire universe. This is why the last of Isaiah’s four Servant Songs in Septuagint Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is the climax of Isaiah’s story.
For Israel and for humankind, God accomplishes a huge change in biblical history through the life, death, and resurrection of his Servant. God now includes Gentiles–those from “every nation and tribe and language and people” (Revelation 14:6). Isaiah repeats this refrain so often that its meaning is unmistakable. The remnant of Israel is first, the elder son, and now God includes everyone else (2), even eunuchs. Septuagint Isaiah 56:3-8 explains this seismic shift in detail.
In the entire passage, verses 1-8, the Lord summarizes the new order. In the first two of these verses, the Lord describes his standard of behavior for his people. He names their reward. Then, in the following six verses, the Lord spells out how he includes the eunuch and the foreigner and how he blesses them equally with his elder son.
Details: Septuagint Isaiah 56:1-8
Verses 56:1-8 fall neatly into two sections. The current passage follows a long segment of blessing that goes back to at least Isaiah 52:13. Verse 9, which follows the current passage, reverts back to another statement of God’s unending anger with those who reject his ways. The text supplies many such statements previously. Two of these occur in Isaiah 48:22 and 50:11. The condemnation which Septuagint Isaiah 56:9 begins continues through Septuagint Isaiah 57:13a.
The passage Septuagint Isaiah 56:1-8 divides neatly into two sections. The first two verses summarize the Lord’s behavior requirements for the community (verse 1) and the individual (verse 2). The Lord states the reward he will give to those who loyally follow these. In the second section (verses 3 through 8) the Lord gives an open invitation to the foreigner and the eunuch to join the community of Israel. The second section forms the bulk of the passage.
Section One: Verses 1 and 2
BEHAVIOR FOR THE COMMUNITY
Septuagint verse 1 uses the plural forms of its verbs. The commands the Lord speaks would therefore apply to the entire community. The Lord commands, “Keep judgment; do righteousness” (NETS) (3). My informal translation of these commands is, “Maintain a clear knowledge of what is right and what is wrong. Do what is right.”
BEHAVIOR FOR INDIVIDUALS
Using singular verbs, Septuagint verse 2 states that the individual should keep the sabbaths and not profane them. He should hold back from doing what is wrong. In my own paraphrase, verses 1 and 2 say, “As a community, know, declare, and guard what is right, as opposed to what is wrong. Do what is right. Don’t do what is wrong. Recognize the Lord’s day of rest, and let your employees rest as well.”
Remember that Israel went into exile for a period of time equal to the number of Sabbaths they had not maintained (Exodus 20:8; Jeremiah 25:11-12; 29:10-14; Daniel 9:2; Nehemiah 13:22). By the time Jesus the Lord’s Servant arrived, the religious leaders had made a mockery of God’s Sabbath by a cruel legalism that ignored God’s love and mercy (Matthew 12:1-2; Luke 13:14; John 5:1-10; 9:13-16). God wants his people to enter his rest, refrain from providing for themselves, and depend upon him for their sustenance during these times of inactivity. He doesn’t want them to forsake “judgment” and fail to do what is right.
Messiah/Servant/Christ is God’s Sabbath rest (Hebrews 3:12-4:11). Those who come to him cease from their legalistic labors to please God (the Mosaic law), and simply rest in the Lord’s sufficiency for them. Each person individually must enter the Lord’s rest, his Sabbath. Empowered and guided by the indwelling Holy Spirit, they must strive to do what is right in pleasing the Lord and to not do what is wrong in the eyes of God. They must seek to understand God’s standard of right and wrong. They must try to honor and obey the Lord’s standard, rather than their own. When individuals within the community do these things, the community as a whole will guard God’s way (his righteous, loving, just, fair, and merciful ways) and do good.
In Septuagint Isaiah 56:1, the Lord will reward the community of those who “keep judgment” and “do righteousness” with the blessing of his “salvation” and “mercy” about to come and to be revealed. In verse 2, the Lord pronounces blessing over two individuals. The first is a male man in Greek (ἀνὴρ–a-NEER), and the second is a generic human being (ἄνθρωπος–AN-thro-pos). The NETS Bible (3), translates the first as “the man,” and the second as “the person” (4). The Lord blesses these individuals in verse 2. These are the individuals who do what God commands in verse 1, who hold God’s precepts fast against all difficulties (See Psalm 119), who keep God’s Sabbath, and who restrain themselves from doing unrighteousness.
Section Two: Verses 3 through 8
… to be continued
1 See John 3:1-8; 4:5-26, 21-24. See also “Concrete to Spiritual: How Jesus Changes the Old Testament to the New” in this blog’s Gems of John series, available in the menu above. Or, see “Outline of the Gospel of John: JustOneSmallVoice.com” for the Gems of John table of contents.
2 The writer of the letter to the Hebrews corrects the perception of the position of Israel which I state in this paragraph (Hebrews 1:6). Israel is not the “eldest” son, the first-born. The Servant is. Everything in God’s plan revolves around the Son, not Israel. (See also Romans 8:29; Colossians 1:15, 18; and Revelation 1:5). Of all the Servant’s brothers and sisters in God’s kingdom (Hebrews 2:11), the sons of the remnant of Israel came first in point of time, but not in position. This is the glorious message of the New Testament.
3 A New English Translation of the Septuagint (NETS), Esaias, translated by Moisés Silva, available at http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/nets/edition/33-esaias-nets.pdf.
4 This attention to detail in the Greek text recalls to the reader’s mind Septuagint Psalm 1:1, “Blessed is the man who has not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, and has not stood in the way of sinners, and has not sat in the seat of evil men.” The first words of Psalm 1:1 and the first words of verse 2 in Isaiah 56 are identical in Greek (and in Brenton’s English translation of the Septuagint). The text states in Greek, “μακάριος ἀνήρ–ma-KA-ree-os a-NEER”. In Psalm 1, the text refers to Messiah (see Psalm 1:Introduction to the Psalter for more on how the Greek phrase, “Blessed is the man” points to Christ). These words here in Isaiah can also refer specifically to God’s Servant. He is the one who accomplishes the salvation and mercy to which verse 1 refers. The NET notes on the Hebrew of Isaiah 56:2 are also interesting. For the second use of “man” (translated as “the person” in the Greek Septuagint of Silva), the NET notes state, “4 )tn Heb “the son of mankind who takes hold of it.” Readers will immediately recognize the formula which Jesus, God’s Servant, applies to himself so often, especially in the gospel of Luke. For just one example, see Luke 6:5, “And he said to them, ‘The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.'”