By Christina M Wilson
Birth of a New People: Septuagint Isaiah 66:7-14a
A Quick Look Behind and Ahead
1. God establishes his sovereignty in Septuagint Isaiah 66:1-2. He does so frequently throughout the book (see for example Isaiah 45:5-7). By doing so, he declares that he answers to no one. God may do whatever he chooses, simply because he is God. He has no need to justify any of his actions.
1 Thus says the Lord, Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool…2 For all these things are mine, says the Lord… (Isaiah 66:1-2 LXE)
2. God condemns those of his people who worship him falsely. They have no future (Septuagint Isaiah 66:3-4).
3. He commands his faithful to testify to the unfaithful(Septuagint Isaiah 66:5 (1).
4. He recompenses his adversaries (Isaiah 66:6).
5. God announces birth of a new people (Septuagint Isaiah 66:7-14a).
Who Are the New People? Isaiah 66:7-14a
Verses 7-8 introduce the question of who the new people recently birthed might be. The text answers the question in verses 10-14a.
WHO IS “SHE THAT TRAVAILED” NOT?
66:7 Before she that travailed brought forth, before the travail-pain came on, she escaped it and brought forth a male. (LXE)
Although in verse 7 the text does not reveal who “she” is, we learn that the image is metaphorical.
- the “earth” travails in (verse 8)
- a “nation” is born (verse 8)
- Sion “travailed and brought forth her children” (verse 8)
As Isaiah has established in many past texts, “Sion” represents the believing Israelites, i.e., the remnant (2). Notice how the “barren” woman of Isaiah 54:1 brings forth a great multitude of children without travail. Likewise the “she” of verse 66:7 brings forth “a male” without travail.
WHO IS “SION”?
The word “Sion” is extremely important in this text. Who is Sion? Past posts have labored in detail to establish that in this portion of Isaiah (chapter 54 onward), God reserves the name Sion for his believing remnant. God does not refer to the entire nation of Israel by this name. These–apart from the remnant–he condemns. Proof of this fact follows.
All Septuagint uses of the word “Sion” from chapter 54 onward occur in the context of blessing. The name “Sion” in the Septuagint from chapter 54 onward occurs only in Isaiah 59:20; 60:14; 61:3; 62:1, 11; 64:10; and Isaiah 66:8. Although Isaiah 64:10 may seem to be an exception, the context of the verse extends from Isaiah 63:7 through Isaiah 64:12. In this lengthy passage, both God and the prophet recount God’s previous mercies upon his people from the time of the exodus to the immediate future, when the Servant would appear (Isaiah 65:1). The prophet’s voice represents the prayer of the humble, those who repent. The bulk of Israel never repent. God insists repeatedly that they shall be destroyed (see Isaiah 57:3-13 (3); Isaiah 65:2-7, 11-15; 66:3-4, 6). Notice that God never uses the words Sion or Jerusalem in reference to those of Israel whom he condemns.
Conclusion: The believing remnant of Israel are they who give birth without travail.
“YOU HAVE NOT REMEMBERED ME”
9 But I have raised this expectation, yet you have not remembered me, says the Lord: behold, have not I made the bearing and barren woman? says your God. (LXE) (4).
The Septuagint text of Isaiah 66:9 above differs remarkably from the Masoretic text (below).
9 Shall I bring to the point of birth and not cause to bring forth?” says the LORD; “shall I, who cause to bring forth, shut the womb?” says your God. (ESV).
The sentence at the very beginning of Septuagint 66:9 is absent from the Masoretic, “But I have raised this expectation, yet you have not remembered me, says the Lord.” It is simply not present in the Hebrew version. But this blog reports on Septuagint Isaiah, not the Masoretic.
Returning to the main topic, readers need always be on the alert for sudden changes of audience (addressee) in Isaiah. For those who have followed closely, the indications are clear. In verse 9a, the Lord does not speak to the “she” of verse 7. Rather, he speaks to the “you” of verses 3 and 4. Readers know this because the tone displays disfavor. Again, notice the extreme suddenness of the subsequent switch-back in verse 10, “Rejoice, O Jerusalem…” God does not make these opposite statements to the same audience. Rather, in all of chapter 66, as in a multitude of places elsewhere in Isaiah, there are two audiences. One audience are the unfaithful of Israel. The other audience are the faithful.
WHEN DID “YOU” NOT REMEMBER?
Moving on, in verse 9 in the Septuagint, for the phrase, “But I have raised this expectation, yet you have not remembered me, says the Lord,” there are two possible time frames for when the “remembering” did not occur.
1. Up to the moment of this present speech by God in Isaiah 66:9, disobedient Israel has ignored both the prophecy and the Lord. God previously announces the influx of many children in Isaiah 49:15-22 and 54:2-3.
2. Several hundred years after Isaiah prophesied, the Servant came and ministered in person in Israel. He later was taken up into heaven. The nation of Israel as a whole failed to recognize their God, nor were they mindful of either him or his prophecy. Then, on the day of Pentecost, after God’s Spirit descended upon the believing remnant in the upper room, a new “nation” or “people” became born in a single day (Acts 2:5-47 and especially Acts 2:41).
REJOICE, O JERUSALEM!
Isaiah 66:10 Rejoice, O Jerusalem, and all you that love her hold in her a general assembly: rejoice greatly with her, all that now mourn over her: (LXE)
“Jerusalem” in verse 10 is a synonym for Sion, as it also is in Septuagint Isaiah 10:32; 24:23; 37:32; 41:27; 52:1, 2. God’s faithful remnant, Sion itself, are they who mourn over the holy city of Jerusalem in its desolate condition. It is they who pray the prayer of contrition recorded in Isaiah 63:15-64:12.
The others, the bulk of Israel to whom the Lord speaks in a tone of chastisement in verse 9, are the people whom God addresses in Isaiah 66:3-4.
The prophet exhorts the people of Jerusalem (which is Sion of verse 8) to rejoice over her. He directs this command to those who love her. Again, the ones who love Jerusalem are the ones who love and worship God with a faithful heart, who obey all his commands, not just the ceremonial ones. These are not the bulk of Israel, who worship in outward appearance only (Isaiah 66:3-4; Matthew 23:25-28). It is the faithful remnant of Israel who bears a “nation” in one day (Isaiah 66:7-8). This prophecy of Isaiah finds its fulfillment in Acts 2, the day of Pentecost, and in the years immediately following, as the book of Acts records.
THE ANSWER TO THE QUESTION
Finally, the reader reaches the point in the text at which the Lord answers the question with which this post began, Who are the new people?
The Jerusalem of which the text speaks are one people derived from two subgroups.
1. Subgroup 1 are the Gentiles.
12 For thus says the Lord, Behold, I turn toward them as a river of peace, and as a torrent bringing upon them in a flood the glory of the Gentiles: their children shall be borne upon the shoulders, and comforted on the knees. (LXE)
There is no reason either grammatically or contextually to suppose that “their children” refers to anyone but the children of the Gentiles. God turns himself in verse 12 toward the people of Sion and Jerusalem, as though he himself were “a river of peace” and “a torrent.” God brings upon Sion and Jerusalem the “glory of the Gentiles.” It is their children who swell the ranks of the city. The city here is compared to a nursing mother (verses 8 and 11, LXE) who gives comfort to her children.
2. Subgroup 2 are the faithful remnant of Israel.
God combines two groups of people in verses 11-14a. We have just seen how verse 12 names the Gentiles. Verses 11 and 13-14a name the faithful remnant (LXE). See how seamlessly the entire passage reads when the admonishment concerning the unfaithful in verse 9 is removed.
66:7 Before she that travailed brought forth, before the travail-pain came on, she escaped it and brought forth a male. 8 Who has heard such a thing? and who has seen after this manner? Has the earth travailed in one day? or has even a nation been born at once, that Sion has travailed, and brought forth her children?… 10 Rejoice, O Jerusalem, and all you that love her hold in her a general assembly: rejoice greatly with her, all that now mourn over her: 11 that you may suck, and be satisfied with the breast of her consolation; that you may milk out, and delight yourselves with the influx of her glory. 12 For thus says the Lord, Behold, I turn toward them as a river of peace, and as a torrent bringing upon them in a flood the glory of the Gentiles: their children shall be borne upon the shoulders, and comforted on the knees. 13 As if his mother should comfort one, so will I also comfort you; and you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. 14 And you shall see, and your heart shall rejoice, and your bones shall thrive like grass: and the hand of the Lord shall be known to them that fear him… (LXE)
The Septuagint of these verses agrees with what Isaiah has been saying all along, since the very beginning. That is, he has great plans for his believing remnant. These plans include an influx of believing Gentiles.
Isaiah Prophesies the Events of the New Testament
Isaiah prophesies several centuries in advance the happenings which the New Testament records. Yet, God’s “own” people were not interested.
66:9 But I have raised this expectation, yet you have not remembered me, says the Lord… (Isaiah LXE)
John 1:11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. (ESV)
But, a remnant did hear and believe and receive God’s blessing.
66:10 Rejoice, O Jerusalem, and all you who love her… rejoice greatly with her… 11 that you may suck, and be satisfied with the breast of her consolation; that you may milk out, and delight yourselves with the influx of her glory… 13 As if his mother should comfort one, so will I also comfort you… 14 And you shall see, and your heart shall rejoice, and your bones shall thrive like grass: and the hand of the Lord shall be known to them that fear him… (Isaiah LXE)
John 1:12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (ESV)
The book of Acts records the rapid growth of the “church” throughout Israel, Samaria, and to the distant islands as far as Rome in Italy. The letter to the Ephesians verifies that God made the two peoples one: Gentiles and believing Israelites.
Ephesians 2:14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (ESV)
Isaiah prophesies the “peace” of the Ephesians passage.
66:12 For thus says the Lord, Behold, I turn toward them as a river of peace, and as a torrent bringing upon them in a flood the glory of the Gentiles: their children shall be borne upon the shoulders, and comforted on the knees. (Isaiah LXE)
Isaiah focuses throughout both volumes, chapters 1 through 66, upon God’s Servant. He describes his person, his work, and the blessed consequences of his work for the believing remnant of Israel. These all find fulfillment in the advent of God’s Servant–his life, his death as a sacrifice for many, his resurrection from the grave, his ascension, and the rapid growth of the new kingdom of Sion made possible through him, as recorded in the book of Acts.
As difficult as it may be for many to accept, there is nothing to this point in the text of Septuagint Isaiah 66 that would indicate that either God or the prophet intends to fly over the indescribably magnificent events of our Lord’s advent approximately two thousand years ago, in order to prophesy concerning a theoretical second one. No. Rather, Isaiah remains fixedly focused on the only advent of Christ his writing records.
1 Notice that the Septuagint reads differently here than the Masoretic. See Devotional 2.96, Section 6, The Great Missionary Call.
2 In brief, see Isaiah 49:14. For a summary of a longer presentation, see Devotional 2.64.
3 See Devotional 2.73.
4 Translation note: the word “your” in the phrase “your God” is not present in the Greek text. The Greek text states, “said God”. The New English Translation of the Septuagint (NETS) translates according to the Greek (Isaiah 66:9 LXX, 9 ἐγὼ δὲ ἔδωκα τὴν προσδοκίαν ταύτην καὶ οὐκ ἐμνήσθης μου εἶπεν κύριος οὐκ ἰδοὺ ἐγὼ γεννῶσαν καὶ στεῗραν ἐποίησα εἶπεν ὁ θεός).