History of the Old Testament
Exegesis of Isaiah 7:14-16
Historical Context of Isaiah 7:14-16
The book of Isaiah is a vast collection of many works by both Isaiah and other anonymous writers. Although the entire book is dated from the post-exilic period, different sections of the book were written at various times. In fact, the organization of the book isn’t ordered chronologically, but rather by combining separate literary works and booklets (Hastings 424). According to Robert Alter and Frank Kemode of Harvard University Press, the book of Isaiah is broken down into three general sections: Isaiah (or Proto-Isaiah), Deutero-Isaiah and Trito-Isaiah. (Alter 165). Editor and biblical scholar James Hastings noted, “the book of Isaiah is the result of a long and complex literary history” (425). Since the book was not all written at the same time or by a single author, each sentence seems to come with it’s own fascinating history, with varying contexts lying between each line. Beginning with Proto-Isaiah, chapters 1-39 are thought to have been greatly written by Isaiah, while consisting of “oracles and eschatology” (Alter 165). Beginning the early period of Isaiah’s ministry at 3:1-15, Isaiah describes the “social integration of Jerusalem” (Hastings 426). Without divulging too greatly into the historical context of chapter 7 quite yet, Proto-Isaiah addresses the period of the collapse of the northern kingdom before the Assyrians. It reveals Yahweh’s coming judgment towards Assyria for its “pride and refusal to recognize that it is the instrument of Yahweh’s purpose,” while predicting the “overthrow of the Assyrian invader” (Hastings 426). Moving on to Deutero-Isaiah, the prophecies in chapters 40-55 are thought to have been composed by an anonymous prophet who lived among the Judean exiles during the time of Babylonian captivity (Alter 174). This prophet responds to the major events that had previously taken place. Having over exerted their power and resources, the Assyrian empire collapsed. Proceeding Assyrian’s weakening, the Babylonian empire took control (Alter 176). As Robert Alter states, “just as Jerusalem is the focus and personification of the whole Judean community, so the Babylonian capital represents the entire enemy nation” (176). Since Babylon is the enemy of the Judeans, much of Deutero-Isaiah speaks of freedom from the oppressing empire. Cyrus the Great, father of the Persian Empire, is portrayed as “destined by Yahweh to redeem Israel, and to execute judgment upon Babylon” (Hastings 197). Throughout the book, the author tries to give a renewed hope to the Hebrew exiles, while giving the glory of their prophesied redemption to Yahweh. Lastly, Trito-Isaiah is believed to be the product of the writings from a number of authors. From chapters 56-66, this last section of Isaiah is filled with poetry and narratives of the return of the exiled Jews. As predicted, Cyrus the Great defeated Babylon’s king, Nabonidus, and conquered Babylon. Upon Babylon’s surrender to Cyrus’ general, Gobyras, in October 539 B.C., Cyrus the Great took charge. According to Cyrus, he entered the country with little opposition, claiming to have been “chosen by Marduk to be his restorer” (Hastings 197). Marduk was the god that Nabonidus had abandoned in order to focus his worship to Sin, the moon-god. In view of that, Cyrus makes it a point to bring the god back. Nonetheless, Cyrus is pictured as “the friend of Yahweh and Yahweh’s anointed” (Hastings 197). As the new ruler, Cyrus released the Jews from their bondage and gave them his consent to “return to Palestine and rebuild the Temple” (Hastings 197). The historical background of Trito-Isaiah established, the major themes of this portion of Isaiah include repentance, justice and the path of the righteous (Alter 182).
Literary Context of Isaiah 7:14-16
Continuing from the historical background of Proto-Isaiah, Isaiah 7 describes Isaiah’s prophetic...
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