By Christina M Wilson
Structure: Cycles of Repetition in Isaiah Volume 2
The prophet structures his text with cycles of repetition in Isaiah Volume 2. The text does not proceed in chronological fashion. (Similarly, cycles of repetition also occur in the book of Revelation.) Each cycle of repetition relates an account of 1) Israel’s need, 2) the Servant’s coming and sacrifice, 3) results for God’s believing people and believing Gentiles, 4) statements of God’s judgment upon those who willfully and persistently disobey. Isaiah presents each of the repeated accounts of the Servant’s Advent from a different point of view, that is, with a different emphasis.
Cycle 1 of repetition is the longest. It stretches from Septuagint Isaiah 40:1 to 56:8.
1 Israel’s Need
Cycle 1 is the only cycle that begins with the theme of comfort. The comfort of cycle 1 in Volume 2 answers Israel’s need for a Savior, which Volume 1 so thoroughly develops. Nevertheless, cycle 1 of repetition also presents Israel’s need (see, for example, Isaiah 42:18-25).
II The Servant’s Coming and Sacrifice
The centerpiece of cycle 1 is Septuagint Isaiah 52:13-53:12. Here the focus falls most heavily upon the Servant himself. The verses describe the Servant’s work of sacrifice for sin (Isaiah 53:4-6, 11-12), his rejection by Israel (Isaiah 52:14-53:3), his acceptance by Gentiles (Isaiah 52:15), and his own ultimate reward (Isaiah 52:13; 53:10-12) (1).
III Outcome for Believing Israel and Believing Gentiles
Still within cycle 1, the text after chapter 53 (concerning the Servant’s work) immediately begins a description of the outcome of the Servant’s work for believing Israel (the barren woman of Septuagint Isaiah 54:1) (2). The rejoicing that begins there continues all the way through Septuagint Isaiah 56:8. God includes Gentiles in Isaiah 42:1, 4, 6; 49:1, 6, 8, 22; 51:4-5; 54:2-3; 55:4-5; and 56:2-8. The Septuagint is very clear in these verses.
IV Judgment Upon the Rebellious
As the book of Isaiah progresses through its pages, the message of “two Israels” becomes increasingly clear. First, there is the believing remnant. Second, there is everyone else. As concerns the first group, through the prophet Isaiah, God promises to rescue and bless his believing remnant. But, scattered throughout the chapters are descriptive statements of the actions of the ungodly and God’s ultimate condemnation of them.
The distinction between these two groups is not as clear in Cycle 1 as later in the book (3). Nevertheless, readers find God’s condemnation of Israel’s nonbelieving group in Septuagint Isaiah 48:22. This verse stuns the reader, because it follows immediately upon God’s pronouncement of tenderest blessings upon those whom he addresses as, “my people” in 48:21. The Septuagint contrasts these verses most effectively.
Cycle 2 of repetition in Isaiah Volume 2 begins with Septuagint Isaiah 56:9 and ends with Septuagint Isaiah 62:12.
I Israel’s Need
The text shifts abruptly from God’s blessings and expectations in the new order following the Servant’s cleansing work (cycle 1) to a harsh and seemingly final judgment of condemnation for those who refuse to follow God’s holy and just ways (cycle 2). The text presents no transition between the two verses (Isaiah 56:8, 9). Further, the condemnation continues Isaiah 57:13a. The reader feels as though she has returned to Volume 1, before the Advent of the Servant. And, I believe, the text does return both to conditions prior to the exile and prior to the salvation that is to be accomplished by the Servant.
II The Servant
Cycle 2 extends from Septuagint Isaiah 59:16 through Septuagint Isaiah 62. Isaiah 59, at the beginning of cycle 2, describes the saving work of God’s Servant, again. Verses 16 through the chapter’s close in verse 21 describe the Servant’s work and the new covenant he inaugurates (verse 59:21) (4). But, this portion of repetition, as contrasted with cycle 1, emphasizes God’s accomplished salvation through the sacrifice of his Servant as it affects the people of God.
III Blessings for God’s Believing People and Gentiles
Chapters 60-62 describe the outcome of the Servant’s work as blessings for his people, including Gentiles. The text names God’s people Zion and Jerusalem as those who will benefit (Septuagint Isaiah 60:1, 14). Gentiles from all over the world, who come and join themselves to God’s believing people, share in God’s blessings upon Zion (Septuagint Isaiah 60:10-11, 16). The people of Zion adopt as their own the children of the Gentiles (Septuagint Isaiah 60:3-4, 8-9; 62:10-11).
III Judgment of Condemnation for the Rebellious
The text in cycle 2 draws sharper distinctions within Israel’s people between those who reject outright God’s ways and those who are willing to repent and believe in his salvation. Largely through God’s condemning speeches, the text presents the theme that “not all Israel are God’s people.” Not everyone will be saved. The faithful obedience of turning toward God to confess and repent is what God rewards. God will not save, or favor, those of his people who remain hard-hearted and self-willed (Septuagint Isaiah 56:11-57:13a, 20).
But those who cleave to the Lord shall possess the land and inherit God’s holy mountain (Septuagint Isaiah 57:13b). God will pour his Spirit upon the “faint-hearted” and “broken-hearted” (Septuagint Isaiah 57:15-16). These he will heal, and to these God will give his “true comfort” and “peace upon peace” (Septuagint Isaiah 57:18-19).
The text devotes all of chapter 58 of cycle 2 to God’s chastising his people and calling them to repentance. He makes glorious promises to them should they repent. In chapter 59:1-10, God condemns those who appear to have no interest at all in repentance. The voice of repentance occurs in Septuagint Isaiah 59:12-15. The next major piece of repentance occurs in Cycle Three, Septuagint Isaiah 64:5-9.
Septuagint Isaiah 63 begins the third and final cycle of repetition in Isaiah Volume 2. Readers will recall that each of these cycles contains four elements: 1) Israel’s need, 2) the coming of the Servant and his work, 3) the blessings of the Servant’s work upon all God’s believing people, which includes Gentiles, and finally, 4) God’s condemnation upon the rebellious.
I Israel’s Need
Chapter 63 begins by summarizing the deeds of Yahweh (Old Testament Israel’s Lord) with a focus on God’s historical judgment of Israel. These verses alternate with recollection of God’s historical mercy (verses 1-14).
II The Servant and His Saving Work
The Servant in cycle 3 appears in both his judgmental role and his salvific role. (See, for example, Septuagint Isaiah 63:1-8.)
III Blessings for God’s Believing People and Gentiles
Cycle 3 contains one of the longest prayers of confession and intercession in the entire book (see Isaiah 63:15-64:12). In direct response to this prayer, God speaks the famous words that indicate his calling of Gentiles to his salvation.
I became manifest to them that asked not for me; I was found of them that sought me not: I said, Behold, I am here, to a nation, who called not on my name. (Septuagint Isaiah 65:1, Romans 10:20-21)
IV Condemnation upon the Rebellious
Chapter 65 reveals to readers much about God’s overall plan. As mentioned above, after the believing remnant’s prayer of confession, God responds by announcing his inclusion of Gentiles among his beloved. Then God speaks again of that portion of Israel who consistently rebel (Isaiah 65:2-7). Their reward is God’s wrathful retribution (verse 5). But, God turns again in Isaiah 65:8-10 to speak of the good “grape-stone” (the remnant) in the desiccated cluster. They, his elect (verse 9), shall “inherit my holy mountain.” In verses 11-15a, God repeats his decision to exclude the disobedient of Israel from his blessing. (It is indeed difficult to contemplate this judgment upon those who reject God and his ways.)
This post describes the structure of Septuagint Isaiah Volume Two. The text of Isaiah Volume 2 reveals cycles of repetition. In other words, the text does not proceed in a chronological flow. Far from it. Each of three cycles contains elements that develop four major themes. Cycle one gives the most detail concerning the suffering Servant himself. Cycle two emphasizes God’s believing people, both among those of Israel and among the Gentiles. Cycle three contrasts the results for apostate Israel and repentant, believing Israel. God himself places ethnic Israelites and Gentiles together in this single, believing unit. The strokes of cycle three seem the broadest in the entire book. They reveal God’s heart throughout the ages from the past into the eternal future. Cycle three deals with God’s game-plan and reveals his end-goal. The text also reveals the Lord (God’s Servant) to be the Yahweh who accompanied Israel all the years of their long history with him. He appears as both Judge and Savior. All three cycles deal with Israel’s past history, the first coming of God’s Servant, and the eternal results of the salvation he brings.
…As these posts progress, we will uncover, Lord willing, some of the details of the four chapters that conclude Isaiah with cycle three.
1 See Isaiah Devotional 2.42 and forward through Isaiah Devotional 2.53.
2 For the concluding post concerning the identity of “the barren,” see Isaiah Devotional 2.68. The series concerning the context of “the barren” in 54:1 begins with Isaiah Devotional 2.54.
3 For a verse even earlier in Volume 1 that distinguishes the two “groups,” see Septuagint Isaiah 33:2, “[Group One:] Lord, have mercy upon us; for we have trusted in thee: [Group Two:] the seed of the rebellious is gone to destruction, [Group One:] but our deliverance was in a time of affliction.”
4 For the New Covenant, see Isaiah Devotional 2.77.