Monday, November 27, 2023

And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him (Isaiah 1)

So, after some consideration and brief discussion with Steve Wells, I've decided to try the book of Isaiah. It should be an interesting change for a few reasons. As a prophetic book, most if not all of it won't be in the straightforward narrative style that most of what I've already done has been. Also as prophecy, there's probably going to be a lot more abstract symbolism rather than straightforward telling of information. Furthermore, in case I haven't said so before, I haven't read the entire Bible, and Isaiah is one of the few books I haven't read, so it should be interesting to read it for the first time (mostly, I've read parts of it) while blogging through the SAB's notes. We'll see how this goes.

So the first note the SAB has is the idea that Isaiah is actually a compilation of two or three different writings; I've heard this before, and while there are certainly scholars who prefer this view, most Christians do not (I don't know the Jewish view on the subject). It's largely a matter of the fact that Isaiah contains prophecies of the future that actually came true, and since some people don't like to see that, they postdated the parts with those prophecies (at least, that is my understanding, I'm probably way off on this, but I've seen such things elsewhere in the Bible). I'm going to treat Isaiah as one singular work by a single author, Isaiah the son of Amoz.

There are a lot of tags here, so we'll see if we can sort it all out. The chapter here opens with Isaiah giving a time frame for his writing, and talking about how Israel has largely turned from good to evil. Verse four is marked for "injustice" apparently for the phrase "seed of evildoers" as that's what's highlighted. I'm not sure what is unjust about this; it's just an observation that people in Israel have become more evil over time, and people who do evil tend to raise up evil children, at least that's how I read it. "Injustice" is also marked for verse nine, which says God knows there are still good people in Israel, for which reason he hasn't destroyed Israel yet. It mentions Sodom and Gomorrah, which is a good parallel, because in the chapter before their destruction in Genesis, Abraham discusses with God how many good people would be worth sparing the city for. This is certainly not justice, it's mercy, which is God not giving the punishment that is justly deserved. "Injustice" is also marked for verses 19-20, where it contrasts what happens to people who obey or disobey God; but why should God protect people who don't obey him? I guess it's a matter of opinion. "Intolerance" is also marked on some of those, as well as later verses such as 24 and 28. While I can certainly see verse 24, I think like I commented on 19-20, verse 28 is simply a case of God ceasing protection of those who aren't faithful to him. "Cruelty & Violence" is also marked for these verses, to which I offer the same responses.

What was Sodom's sin? is the first contradiction given here, briefly touching on the topic of homosexuality. I addressed it a bit in Genesis chapter 19, although surprisingly not in depth, as that would have been an appropriate place for a full explanation. I always prefer Ezekiel 16:49-50 as the definitive answer to this question, as I feel it covers it all:
Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good.
Was the "abomination" mentioned there homosexuality? It doesn't specify, but in my opinion, it's gang rape, which has nothing to do with gender of the victim(s). While there are things mentioned on the contradiction page that are outside of the scope of what Ezekiel lists, I think it's just the case that Sodom and Gomorrah are frequently lifted up in conversation in the Bible as examples of sinfulness. I answered whether one should keep the sabbath in Exodus chapter 16. I answered whether God helps in times of need in 1Samuel chapter eight, but really didn't do a thorough job responding to the "No" section there. While generally God does help in times of need, God does have a tendency to refuse to help those who have turned their backs to him for long enough. It's sort of a, "If you're going to insist you don't need me, then don't come crying when things go wrong!" So it's conditional.

The SAB call verses 16-17 (and the opening of 18) "Good stuff", and it really is; this stuff is a major theme throughout the Bible, just sort of "love thy neighbor" type of things. It's interesting that when Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is in the Bible, he says to love God, and the second is to love people; but elsewhere he clarifies that you show your love for God by loving people. The SAB also has a couple of "Absurdity" points: in verse 20, it mentions the "mouth of God" which I'm guessing is absurd because God doesn't have a physical body? I think it can be said that the mouths of God's prophets are the "mouth of God" since he speaks through them. As for verse 29, I think this is symbolic language as well, not literally implying that gardens are bad, but rather it's another way of saying, "You reap what you sow." The last thing the SAB has issues with is the use of the word "harlot" in verse 21, which it labels with "Women" and "Language". I'm not sure why the former, but I suppose the latter is warranted. A lot of the prophets compare unfaithful Israel to an unfaithful wife, or even a prostitute (check out the book of Hosea, where God commands Hosea to marry a prostitute who cheats on him to essentially live out prophecy; he reconciles with his wife in the end, showing that there is always hope), and yeah, the language is usually harsh, but it's conveying a seriously strong point.


Steve Wells said...

I'm glad to see that you are blogging Isaiah. My wife, Carole, and I will soon be doing Isaiah in "The Bible in Fewer Words" podcast, so it will be fun to compare our thoughts to yours.

There is one thing I would suggest as you go along, though. I am less interested in your reaction to my notes at the SAB than in your thoughts about the Bible itself. My comments are not that important (even to me). It's the text that matters.

I realize, of course, that this is the Annotated Skeptic's Annotated Bible, so it is intended to respond to the SAB. But still, I recommend that you focus more on Isaiah and less on notes at the SAB.

You mention that you think Isaiah the son of Amoz wrote all 66 chapters of the book of Isaiah. Does that include chapters 36-39 that were taken from 2 Kings 18-20? Most of the rest of the first 39 chapters were probably written by Isaiah (or his followers) in Jerusalem in about 740-690 BCE. But chapters 40-55, which are called "Second Isaiah," were written more than 150 years later during the Babylonian exile. Third Isaiah (chapters 46-66) were written even later, during the construction of the Second Temple. Isaiah would have had to live 250 years to have written all of the book attributed to him.

I noticed that you didn't comment on the verses that say that God dislikes animal sacrifices, saying "I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats." (v.11) He seemed to like them well enough in Leviticus chapters 1-9. Has he changed his mind since then? (If so, good for him. It was barbaric for him to ever insist upon them or to enjoy their "sweet savor."

I wonder if it would bother you if a modern leader were to call everyone in an entire city evil and threaten to kill them all with the sword? Would it be okay to call that city a "harlot"? If not, then why is it okay for God to talk and act like that?

I look forward to your comments on the rest of Isaiah. (Are there any other books in the Bible that you haven't yet read? How about Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Revelation?)

Brucker said...

It's pretty much the major prophets that I haven't read, so yes, Jeremiah and Lamentations, although I think I did manage Ezekiel once a long time ago. I didn't comment on animal sacrifice here, but I certainly did previously, and the answer was similar to my answer on Sabbath keeping. Here it is in Genesis four. More later, I have to go...

Brucker said...

I feel like your notes were pretty thorough, though; I'm not sure what else I should have said. I'll try and comment more generally, but of course my main focus is going to be on your notes. It is my understanding that most Christians accept that Isaiah had a single author, but I guess I'll also see what's in there as I go. (I've never heard it as three Isaiahs!) I really don't feel that God is so much threatening to attack them, rather he's saying because of their wickedness, he's not going to protect them anymore, which, if I remember the timing, leaves them open to attack by the Babylonians. I think the reason God calls them a "harlot" is because they're cheating on him with other gods, although Isaiah doesn't specify that in this chapter at least, but focuses on their cruelty to other people. It's certainly okay for God to say things like that if they're true.

I have read the book of Revelation several times, and am trying to go through it with my family, but it's a rough one to do. My wife wants me to paraphrase and summarize, but it's a book that's very dense in information and symbolism. None of the rest of my family has read it, and I think they will be surprised by both what is and is not in there.