Friday, December 29, 2023

The land of Egypt is before thee (Isaiah 19)

Isaiah chapter 19 turns to Egypt, first with some terrible judgments, but at the end with some hope. There's a lot of talk in the footnotes about failed prophecy (although I don't see the prophecy icon here) a lot of which I think I can address, but we'll see.

In the opening verse, God rides into Egypt on a "swift cloud", which is strange imagery, but perhaps the intended idea is that the beginning of this judgment is going to be a powerful storm? In any case, somehow the Egyptians are set against each other, and once again, I don't think that "they shall fight every one against his brother" means that people will be actually fighting their own family, but rather Egyptians fighting their fellow countrymen, perhaps some sort of civil war? In the end, Egypt will have a cruel leader, and the Nile will dry up. I don't know if all of this is something that happened in the past or if we're talking about a future judgment (although the mention of "Pharaoh" in verse 11 is suggestive of the past since they don't have rulers with such a title anymore); it can be hard to tell with prophecy, which usually doesn't come with a time frame. Verse 14 does sound rather nasty, but the fact that God sends a "perverse spirit" may be another case of God reinforcing something that already exists to hasten the natural consequences. Yes, I suppose the imagery of a drunk falling over in his vomit is gross, but does being gross imply nasty language? I may not fully understand the meaning of the "Language" label in the SAB. Yes, I'll readily admit that the language of verse 16 is rather misogynistic, but once again, this is probably an outdated cultural view of women; not that it makes it right, but rather the intended audience would understand the imagery.

Now we get to a bunch of parts of the prophecy that the SAB takes issue with the validity thereof.
[v. 17] Judah never invaded Egypt and was never a military threat to Egypt.
One thing I want to say about this is that I don't see anything in verse 17 that points to it being a military threat specifically; it could have been something else. It's also possible that this prophecy has yet to be fulfilled, but the fact that it says "Judah" rather than "Israel" suggests fulfillment in a time when there was such a nation, although it's within the realm of possibility that it refers to the southern part of Israel.
[v. 18] There shall be five cities in Egypt that speak the Canaanite language. But that language was never spoken in Egypt, and it is extinct now.
I take issue with this, because in reality, there is actually no single "Canaanite language" (which could be something to take issue with Isaiah itself) but rather several Semitic languages spoken in that region. It's worth noting that Egyptian was not a Semitic language, but most Egyptians today speak Arabic, which is a Semitic language, and it seems to me that this may be the fulfillment of this particular aspect of the prophecy.
[v. 19-21] These verses predict that the Egyptians will worship the Lord (Yahweh) with sacrifices and offerings. But Judaism has never been an important religion in Egypt.
True enough, but there are a couple things to say about this. First of all, and perhaps a less likely candidate for fulfillment of this prophecy, when I was trying to look up what "Canaanite language" meant, I found mention of the fact that during the time of the Maccabees, some Jews including the high priest fled to Egypt where they built a Temple. What I find more interesting and suggestive personally is the fact that the old Egyptian religion has been completely supplanted by Islam, which is an Abrahamic religion, meaning that Egyptians believe they are worshipping the God of Israel, and many Jews do not dispute that notion. (Historically, Jews and Muslims have gotten along fairly well, actually. I personally believe that all the Abrahamic religions are at least intending to worship the God of Israel; whether or not that means there is validity thereof is a separate question that I don't think is fit for this discussion.)
[v. 24] There has never been an alliance between these three countries, and it's unlikely that it ever will since Assyria no longer exists.
To address the latter part first, the fact that Assyria no longer exists is of no consequence; if the prophecy refers to a future time, the nation of Syria plays the part of Assyria. Anyway, this is not necessarily a political alliance, but could possibly be another case of a sort of spiritual alliance, as all three of these nations in more modern times have been Abrahamic in their religions; the only problem with this idea would be why these three specifically, when the entire Middle East practices Abrahamic religion. Certainly at current there is no love between Egypt, Israel, and Syria, quite the opposite, actually! However, if you're a follower of end times prophecy, you know there are some strange changes that are coming to the world, supposedly.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God (Isaiah 18)

Isaiah chapter 18 once again has very few notes, and it's a strange and rather opaque passage in meaning. I ended up doing some research, and found that some consider this to be one of the most difficult to understand passages in the Bible. One commentary I read summed up the chapter as essentially that Ethiopia was offering an alliance with Judah against Assyria, but God said he had no desire for an alliance, and this chapter was just a "No thanks" from God.

Something I find interesting about this as a side note that I'm going to babble a bit here about to fill out the post is the questionable nature of some of the translation here, particularly "Ethiopia". The Hebrew word here is "Cush" which the KJV sometimes renders directly, particularly in Genesis chapter ten, where Cush is one of the sons of Ham and the father of Nimrod. I seem to recall vaguely that there is some controversy about what land exactly Cush refers to, many early scholars thinking it's just the Hebrew word for Ethiopia; however some archeological evidence has turned up evidencing that Cush was a kingdom in its own right, mainly existing in modern-day northern Sudan, and at times even ruling over the Nile region. Supposedly, in the time that Isaiah was written, Cush was one of the main powers in the region, a rival to Assyria in the south. Verse one, which in the KJV mentions "the land shadowing with wings", might be better translated "the land buzzing with insect wings", and other translations do something along those lines; the Nile region was known for having a lot of insect life.

I suppose I should comment on verse six, which the SAB calls cruel. It indeed sounds like a sad fate for the Ethiopians/Cushites, but there's no indication that this is a punishment from God, but rather it's just a prophecy of their eventual fate.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Damascus has become feeble (Isaiah 17)

Isaiah chapter 17 is another short chapter with few notes. Really, the only thing of substance noted there is the supposed failed prophecy of verse one, but I think the SAB is overstating what the prophecy is really saying. It doesn't say Damascus will be destroyed, and it doesn't say it will no longer be inhabited, it just says it will be left in ruins. I think it's likely that when the Babylonians defeated the Assyrians, Damascus was seriously damaged, but clearly it was rebuilt, and there's nothing against the prophecy in that fact. The prophecy also talks about a fortress in Ephraim being destroyed, but I don't know if that's an Israelite fortress or an Assyrian one; probably the latter. The rest of the chapter talks about people forsaking idols and turning to worship the God of Israel, and I assume this is talking about Israelites, but it's possible even Assyrians are turned from their gods.

Saturday, December 23, 2023

Refresh my bowels in the Lord (Isaiah 16)

I probably should have combined Isaiah chapter 16 with the last chapter, because this is all stuff about Moab with not a lot to say about it. At first, it seems like Isaiah is talking about the end of the destruction from the last chapter, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows, because as the chapter goes on, it sounds like famine still remains, and people continue in mourning. In the end, there will be survivors, but very few.

I should say a word about the noted absurdity in verse eleven, because yes, it definitely does sound absurd. This is a cultural thing among ancient Jews (I think Paul somewhere says something similar in a couple of his letters) that they thought of the emotional center of the body was in the guts, perhaps even literally the bowels. It's perhaps a little less absurd sounding if you replace "bowels" with "heart", as some translations do in order to get across the cultural meaning instead of a literal translation of "bowels" or sometimes "inmost parts". This Hebrew word is actually sometimes used for "uterus" in women, actually (well, at least in Ruth 1:11 in the Bible) so it's meaning may not be fully clear.

Friday, December 22, 2023

And Moab was distressed because of the children of Israel (Isaiah 15)

There's not a lot to say about Isaiah chapter 15. This is a prophecy about Moab, saying that bad times are coming for them, although it doesn't specify why. This bit about being bald and beardless sounds to me like it's some aspect of the Moabites' mourning over their misfortune, but it's not clear. Most of the chapter seems to be lists of places in Moab where bad things happen, and there's a lot. In the end, people that escape the famine will be attacked by lions. It all seems very sad, but I'm once again assuming there's a reason for it; Moab had historically done a few evil things to Israel, like trying to curse them in the wilderness.

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city (Isaiah 14)

Isaiah chapter 14 continues talk about Babylon's destruction. Early in the chapter, it talks about Israel returning to the land, and taking people from the nations that conquered them as slaves. I know slavery is not looked on positively in modern times, but this is again retribution for the time they were in captivity; there's no indication of how long this lasts, so it may have been a temporary state of affairs.

The prophecy turns specifically to talk about the king of Babylon, and how he and his family will be brought low. Verse 12 addresses "Lucifer", in which I believe the SAB is correct in interpreting that this is the king of Babylon, and not Satan. This is the only verse in the whole Bible with this name (in the Hebrew as well), and it supposedly means "morning star". Yes, Jesus is called the morning star towards the end of Revelation, but I don't think there's any connection. The SAB takes verses 21 and 22 to mean all Babylonians will be killed (which, if that were the case, would be a failed prophecy), but I think it's referring to the royal family in particular, coming right after the talk about the fall of the king. I answered whether people are punished for the sins of others in Genesis chapter nine and other places, and it's complicated.

Lastly, Isaiah turns to Assyria, which also gets its comeuppance. It sounds like any Assyrians who are found living in Israel after it's restored are going to be killed. Then Palestine (previously in another place than Israel, despite the fact that Israel comes to be known as Palestine around the 5th century B.C., because the Philistines were invaders) gets a share of the woes that Israel and Judah got, including cockatrices (whatever the Hebrew originally meant by this; see my commentary in chapter eleven) and famine, although somehow the poor have enough.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Behold even to the moon, and it shineth not (Isaiah 13)

There's a lot going on here in Isaiah chapter 13, much of which is marked cruel, unjust, and intolerant by the SAB. Once again, this chapter is about evil people seeing the results of their evilness, so it's questionable. So Isaiah talks about Babylon, which as I said in an earlier chapter is the empire that eventually pretty much completely destroys Judah. It's apparently rather violent, and Isaiah says they're going to destroy the land, whether that "land" is the land of Judah as a nation, or somehow destruction of the soil itself is not completely clear, but I think it's the former.

It says in verse seven that "every man's heart shall melt," which I notice the SAB doesn't mark for "Science" since hearts don't really melt; I'm never real clear on what gets marked with this tag and what gets recognized as poetic language. You have to wonder when the fact that Isaiah mentions moonlight ceasing triggers a "Science" tag, despite the fact that probably every culture--including modern scientifically grounded ones like ours--talks about moonlight and doesn't insist on calling it "light reflected off the moon from the sun." I think it's also pretty clear that, when Isaiah talks about God saying, "Therefore I will shake the heavens, and the earth shall remove out of her place," we're just talking about a powerful earthquake. I guess science and language are a funny thing sometimes.

So anyway, the war fought by Babylon is going to be brutal, not only will they kill everyone they see, including children, they will rape the women. Then for whatever reason, the Medes get in on the general killing action, this time attacking Babylon. Then, Isaiah prophesies that Babylon in turn will be destroyed, and the destruction will be so thorough that nobody will inhabit Babylon again. As the SAB points out, this is a prophecy that never was fulfilled; the Medes and the Persians defeated Babylon, but they didn't destroy it, but rather took it over. It's possible that this is a prophecy that is still to be fulfilled around the time of Christ's return, as the book of Revelation talks about the destruction of Babylon, but yes, this didn't happen any time in the past, and Babylon has pretty much always been inhabited up to the current day (it's in Iraq). Interestingly, Isaiah says that while there will be no humans, there will be satyrs and dragons! See my comments about this sort of thing in Isaiah chapter eleven.

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

But by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them (Isaiah 12)

So, Isaiah chapter twelve, huh? There's not much in this short chapter, so I'm going to talk about the name "Jehovah". There's a word in the Hebrew that is considered to be the name of God, but that name is considered so holy by observant Jews that they never actually say the name. Instead, they usually say "Lord" (Hebrew "Adonay") or, when being informal, simply "the Name" (Hebrew "Hashem"). Accordingly, most Bibles translate this name as "Lord", or sometimes "LORD" to clarify that it's this specific name. The KJV translates it "LORD" 6,510 times, but "JEHOVAH" four times, including here.

Okay, this is vague memories from Hebrew school 40 years ago, so it may not be 100% accurate; I wish I had an observant Jew who was a reader who could chime in. Hebrew in the Torah in particular is written entirely in consonants, the vowels being left out. The Hebrew alphabet is actually entirely consonants, with vowels being indicated (when used) by small marks generally above or below the letters. The name of God, as written in the Torah, is the four letters "יהוה", equivalent more or less to the Latin "YHVH". Usually vowels aren't used, because the name is not meant to be pronounced. However, in some Hebrew texts, it's written as "יְהֹוָה"; those vowels aren't meant to be taken as part of the name, but rather--if I'm recalling correctly--it's the vowels for "Adonay" to remind you that you're supposed to say "Adonay". So here's the thing: if you do decide to pronounce "יְהֹוָה" as if it's an actual name, it's "Y'HOVAH", which has been sometimes rendered in Latin as "IEHOVAH", which eventually led to the English "JEHOVAH". So "Jehovah" is not the name of God; it's an Anglicized version of a Latinized version of a mispronounced Hebrew word! So that's my Hebrew soapbox for this chapter, anyway. I hope it was more enlightening than confusing.

Monday, December 18, 2023

Out of the serpent's root shall come forth a cockatrice (Isaiah 11)

Isaiah chapter eleven for a turn is positive prophecy, seemingly about the Messiah and the end times. It opens talking about "a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots" which, as the SAB admits dubiously, is why Christians believe this is a prophecy about Jesus, who is a descendant of David son of Jesse. Will the Messiah be a descendant of David? I don't know why I didn't answer this in Mark chapter twelve, as that's where the key verse is that triggers this supposed contradiction. I mean, the answer is yes, but why does it seem like Jesus is arguing against it? I would suggest that the point Jesus is making is that the Messiah is not merely the son of David, but one who is greater than David, being also the son of God. Jesus is quoting Psalm 110, which I don't know whether Jews saw it as a Psalm about the Messiah, but it describes someone who David calls "my Lord" and "a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek" (remember Melchizedek from Genesis chapter 14 was unique in the Bible for being both a king and a priest) so it's definitely someone important, and Jesus is implying it's the Messiah. Note also that Jesus implies David had the Holy Ghost, so perhaps that's another entry for the "When was the Holy Ghost given?" page?

Anyway, Isaiah talks about the righteousness of the coming Messiah, and how he will judge not just by looking and hearing. He will "smite the earth...and...slay the wicked" which prompts the SAB to ask, "Is this passage describing Jesus, the Prince of Peace?" Yes, sometimes in order to have peace, you need to get rid of wickedness; does that really not make sense? It seems almost obvious to me. The SAB also comments on the absurdity of him doing this "with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips", but this is just poetic, symbolic language that I believe is meant to imply the absolute authority of his words. In verse five, the SAB claims as an aside that the word translated "reins" actually means "kidneys", although I can't find any evidence of that myself; rather this word "חֲלָצָיו" seems to literally be another word for "loins". Isaiah then talks for a bit about predator and prey animals living in peace; apparently they will all become herbivores as "the lion shall eat straw like the ox." The SAB asks, "I wonder what will become of the spiders. Will they be friendlier toward flies? And will the parasitic wasps find another way to feed their larvae? Or will they continue to feed off the living bodies of caterpillars?" It's an interesting set of questions, and I assume the answer is yes, even insects and the like will also stop being predatory, and in some fashion parasites will also change or perhaps cease to exist; I think that's the general idea here.

While verse eight goes along with the general narrative of the previous verses, I feel I should give it special attention just because of the mention of the "cockatrice". Yes, the SAB gives the correct definition of this animal, and it's something peculiar to the KJV (although not entirely unique) that there are various mentions of mythical beasts throughout the text, this being (I think) the first time it's come up in a passage I'm blogging. The KJV mentions cockatrices four times, satyrs twice, unicorns nine times, and dragons 35 times; there may be other mythical beasts that I'm not aware of (not to mention beasts particular to Hebrew culture such as the Leviathan and Behemoth). I think particularly in the case of the Hebrew, it's a bad guess at what the original word meant; I don't know if the translation team believed these creatures to be real. (And really, translation of an ancient language can be tough; a lot of modern translations chose "viper" here, but Isaiah later (59:5) talks about "cockatrice's eggs", but vipers are viviparous animals apparently, so...?) In any case, I think the thing that needs to be said is that it's not always clear what animal the Hebrew is talking about, and even if it might be referring to a mythical beast, there is such a thing as poetic license and symbolism (I think most of the mentions of dragons in the book of Revelation are properly translated, and the picture of a dragon is symbolic) that allows for it. Here in Isaiah, however, I think we're just looking at a poor translation choice; cockatrices certainly do not exist, nor have they ever, and I doubt that Isaiah had ever heard of such a creature. (Although who knows? The Wikipedia article on the cockatrice mentions that there was a folk belief in Egypt that Ibis eggs could possibly produce a venomous snake-bird hybrid. If it's old enough, the Israelites might have heard of it?) Anyway, the Hebrew word here is also found in Proverbs 23:32, where the KJV chooses the word "adder" instead, so make of that what you will.

Speaking of mythology, verse twelve talks about returning the people of Judah "from the four corners of the earth." This seems to be a pretty literal translation from the Hebrew and not an English phrase, so does Isaiah think the earth is flat? It's possible, but I find it really unlikely, given the fact that evidence of the earth's curvature is pretty readily available to people of any tume and culture, such as seeing ships disappear over the horizon, or seeing the shadow of the round earth pass over the moon during an eclipse. Of course people even in the present day believe in a flat earth, so anything is possible. I just don't think this particular phrase proves anything.

Verse 14 talks about Judah subduing the Philistines, Edomites, Moabites, and Ammonites. The SAB assumes this is talking about war, but Isaiah never says that there's any violence in so many words, so I'm not 100% sure that's right. It's certainly not an unreasonable assumption under normal circumstances, but this verse seems to be talking about the end times, and there's a lot of supernatural stuff going on in those days. Nonetheless, I think the book of Revelation does say that there are battles at certain times in the last days, so it's certainly possible that's what's going on here, and yes, the Messiah would lead the army. Yes, verse 15 is talking about the Red Sea and the Euphrates River, and some translations of this verse go ahead and spell it out for the reader. It seems from verse 16 that God's attack on these bodies of water serve the purpose of the parting of the Red Sea in Exodus: to facilitate bringing the Israelites home from exile.

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice (Isaiah 10)

Isaiah chapter ten has almost no notes, and really, there's not a lot going on here, but I've got some comments and then I'll babble a bit to fill out the post. The one thing the SAB notes besides calling most of the chapter boring is to call the first two verses good stuff. Isaiah calls out leaders who make unrighteous laws, and people who deny help to the poor, widows, and orphans. The thing that needs to be said about the book of Isaiah as a whole is that this sort of stuff, along with other evils, is why Judah is being punished, so it's a little hard to understand why the SAB says that, "Woe unto [people who do all this evil stuff]," is good, but actually having these people suffer is bad (that's what "woe" really means, after all).

The other thing I find notable about this chapter is that starting in verse 12, God deals with the king of Assyria. God does this sort of thing elsewhere, but this is the first time I've seen it where God specifically says outright that once he has used Assyria as his instrument for justice, he's going to turn and deal with Assyria. He emphasizes that Assyria is just a tool in his hands ("Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith?") and if the king tries to take personal pride in his military accomplishments rather than giving God the glory, the same sort of bad things that came upon Israel and Judah will come upon Assyria.

Now for my general rant that I figured I'd put here although it's entirely likely nobody will ever read this post. I find it interesting that (at least it feels like it) most of the prophets in the Bible were rather akin to Cassandra of Troy, who was given the gift of prophecy along with the curse of never having her prophecies believed. A lot of the prophecy in the Bible seems to be saying, "Here's a bunch of terrible things that will happen to you unless you repent; however I also predict that you're not going to repent, in fact, you're going to completely ignore this prophecy until after all the bad stuff happens. Sucks to be you." In any case, that seems to definitely be the sort of stuff that Isaiah is dishing out here. Prophecy is a strange thing, in that prophecy that predicts the future almost always only means something to people after that future has become the past.

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

The fool foldeth his hands together, and eateth his own flesh (Isaiah 9)

Isaiah chapter nine is another very bleak chapter, for the most, although the beginning bit is positive. There is a prophecy that seems to be of the Messiah, although the SAB disputes this because (I guess?) in the New Testament, Jesus is never known by any of the names in verse six. I wonder who else it could be, though, as there are parts that seem they couldn't fit anyone else. A child born who is known as "The mighty God"? (I checked the Hebrew, and there's no ambiguity.) And he sits "upon the throne of David...henceforth even for ever"? That's Jesus. I assume these names (which modern-day Christians use for Jesus) are going to be used in later times, perhaps particularly the "end times". I addressed what Jesus's name is in John chapter one.

Now on to the bleak part. Isaiah speaks once again of a day when Judah will be attacked, and bad times will follow. God won't even show mercy to the most vulnerable of society, because apparently everyone is evil. "[N]o man shall spare his brother" probably doesn't mean literally people are attacking their near family, but rather Jews are attacking Jews. On the other hand "they shall eat every man the flesh of his own arm" may actually be a euphemism for people eating their own children, which is arguably worse. Much of this is marked by the SAB with cruelty, injustice, and intolerance, and it's arguably so, but once again, this is a nation that turned its back on God and did evil things, and this is just the consequences.

Monday, December 11, 2023

I know that ye will not yet fear the LORD God (Isaiah 8)

In Isaiah chapter eight, God commands Isaiah to write about his son Mahershalalhashbaz (literally "Swift is booty, speedy is prey" because prophets need to give their kids weird names). I assume the "prophetess" is Isaiah's wife, although I don't know if she's called this because she's a female prophet, or if they give such a title to prophets' wives (my guides say the latter, but if so, this is the only instance of it being used that way, which I find suspect; I'm going to believe she also had the gift of prophecy). God gives the child his name, saying that it's because before the child is old enough to speak, Judah's riches will be plundered by the king of Assyria, which God proceeds to compare to a flooding river. In verse nine, God tells the people that they will be "broken in pieces", which the SAB calls unjust, and it's a matter of opinion, but the SAB misunderstands the meaning of the verse, I think; God is not saying he will break the people of Judah for doing these things, he is saying that even if they try and form an army ("associate yourselves") or take up weapons ("gird yourselves"), the Assyrians will defeat them. (Or it possibly could be a warning to other people who want to defeat Judah that they will lose, since verse ten says "God is with us"? Actually, I'm leaning towards this, mostly because of "...give ear, all ye of far countries..." In either case, it's not a punishment for associating and girding.) Isaiah says that God told him not to be like the other people (unfaithful Judahites, or foreigners? Still not 100% sure about this.) and not to listen to conspiracy theories, but rather fear the Lord. I addressed the question of whether one should fear God at length in Joshua chapter four, where the answer was yes, but the key takeaway was why one should fear God and what it looks like. Isaiah says God is a sanctuary to those who are faithful, but in Israel and Judah, God will be a stumbling block and a snare for the unfaithful. There is prophesied a time coming when instead of seeking God, people will seek witches and wizards and communication with the dead. They should consult God's word, but they won't, so they will curse God and be cast into darkness.

They shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us (Isaiah 7)

Isaiah chapter seven should be interesting, as it has a prophecy supposedly about Jesus, although there is some controversy, which the SAB brings up, and we'll discuss when we get there.

So, in the time of king Ahaz of Judah, Israel (the northern kingdom, separate from Judah, often called "Ephraim") tries to attack Judah with the help of Assyria. Ahaz finds out that Israel is getting help from Assyria, and is troubled. God tells Isaiah to go and talk to Ahaz and reassure him that they won't prevail. The SAB notes that in 2Chronicles 28, Ahaz is actually taken captive by Israel and Assyria, so is this failed prophecy? Well, I'd want to look into whether these nations defeated Judah as a whole, which they did not in the end, although that surely was no consolation for Ahaz; the whole of 2Chronicles 28 goes into detail about the sins of Ahaz, and how he turned to the gods of Assyria for help instead of the God of Israel. But back to our current story... Isaiah tells Ahaz that in 65 years, Israel/Ephraim will be destroyed.

God challenges Ahaz to suggest a sign, pretty much saying "The sky's the limit!" but Ahaz declines to choose. So God tells Ahaz that the sign will be that a "virgin" will conceive and give birth to a son named Immanuel. This prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 is quoted in Matthew 1:23 as a prophecy of Jesus's birth. Now the SAB has some notes about this prophecy that are worth reviewing. First of all, there is some dispute about the word translated "virgin" here; despite what the SAB says, "עַלְמָה" is an ambiguous Hebrew word that can mean either "virgin" or "young woman". So how do we know which was meant? Well, long before Jesus's time (nearly 300 years), Jewish scholars translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek, and translated this ambiguous Hebrew word "עַלְמָה" into "παρθένος", which definitely means "virgin", so it's actually not the fault of the KJV translation team (it's also "virgo" in the Latin Vulgate, which was likely one of the sources used). There are very few Bible translations that render this word "young woman" although many have a footnote saying it's a possible meaning. As the SAB itself points out, a prophecy of a "young woman" conceiving isn't much of a prophecy, as that happens every single day. But let's talk about the second point, which is that Jesus was born hundreds of years after Ahaz, so it's not much of a sign anyway. I'm pretty sure I have mentioned that sometimes prophecy has multiple times it's fulfilled, and this prophecy is apparently one with that quality. There must have been a woman who was a virgin who conceived and had a child named Immanuel in Ahaz's time. This may have not been miraculous; perhaps she was a virgin at the time of the prophecy, but conceived in the normal fashion, thus giving a time frame for the sign: about nine months. Yes, as the SAB points out, there's no mention in the book of Isaiah of this birth actually happening, but that doesn't personally bother me; it was a private sign for Ahaz, so perhaps Isaiah himself never saw it. Third point on this prophecy is one that many people point out; Jesus was never called Immanuel other than in Matthew 1:23 where the prophecy is quoted. However, it is quoted there with a note in the Greek; it says, "...they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us." No, Jesus is never called by the name Immanuel/Emmanuel, but being God in human form, he definitely was known as "God with us." The rest of the prophecy talks about the boy eating "butter and honey" which prompts the SAB to ask about dietary restrictions, which I addressed in Genesis chapter nine, but I don't think this verse really is an issue with the topic, nor do I think Jesus was a vegetarian, because it probably would have been mentioned somewhere in the gospels.

At the end of the chapter, it says essentially that God will send insects from Assyria and Egypt (bees and flies respectively) which somehow seems to add to the desolation. It also says the people will shaved by the king of Assyria on their beards and feet; feet don't have a lot of hair, but the SAB suggests "feet" is a euphemism for genitals, which is entirely likely. It sounds like finally, there is some restoration of the keeping of livestock, but not agriculture, and people will largely live on butter and honey.

Sunday, December 10, 2023

And all the angels stood round about the throne (Isaiah 6)

Isaiah chapter six is a well-known chapter for this interesting vision that Isaiah has of God in Heaven (or is it the Temple in Jerusalem? I'm not sure...). I answered whether God can be seen in Genesis chapter twelve, and probably expanded on it elsewhere; the answer is no, but sometimes sort of. Isaiah is having a vision, and it may be not literally what God would look like, but how God allowed Isaiah to imagine him.

There is a lot of stuff that the SAB marks as absurd in this chapter, which is probably par for the course when it comes to supernatural visions. There's usually going to be strange things, and things not meant to be taken literally. While it's stated several times in the Bible that God has a throne in Heaven, since God doesn't have a physical body, it's not really clear what it means to see him sitting on it. Likewise, he doesn't likely have a robe with an enormous train as described here; it's probably simply symbolic of God's majesticness. Meanwhile, there are seraphim present ("seraphim" is already plural, so I sort of question "seraphims") which are a kind of angel, the Hebrew word meaning literally "fiery ones"; it's actually the same word translated as "fiery serpent" in Numbers 21:8! The seraphim have six wings, which, as stated, absurd or not, they only use one pair to fly with, while another pair covers their faces and the third covers their feet. This is an indication of how holy God is, as even angels hesitate to look directly at him. Also of course, as I mentioned a couple chapters back, they describe God as "Holy, holy, holy," the only instance of a word being repeated three times in the Bible other than the similar verse in Revelation. The seraphim are apparently shouting this so loudly the doorposts are shaking.

Isaiah is overwhelmed by all this glory and holiness, and expresses his unworthiness as "a man of unclean lips". This leads to an interesting moment where one of the seraphim brings a live coal and places it in Isaiah's mouth to cleanse him, and tells him his sin is gone (probably one of the oddest ways in the Bible of dealing with sin; does the SAB have a page on that?). Then God asks who he should send, which once again (although the SAB doesn't mark it here) doesn't mean God isn't omniscient, he already knows the answer, but is giving Isaiah a chance to volunteer, which he does. God tells Isaiah to tell the people of Judah that they hear but don't understand and see but don't perceive, and therefore God is going to shut their ears and eyes, and make their hearts not understand. The SAB marks this as unjust, but the idea here is that the people of Judah have been refusing to hear God for so long that he's going to let them continue to not hear to the point of destruction; this is a result of their own choices. Isaiah asks how long this will be, and God says it will be until Judah is desolate, but he will leave a tenth (I assume a tenth of the people, but it's not completely clear), which will also be somewhat desolate, but like a tree that loses its leaves, there will still be life there.

Thursday, December 07, 2023

There was a landowner who planted a vineyard (Isaiah 5)

Isaiah chapter five is very poetic, and it opens with a parable of a vineyard. There is a vineyard that is explained to be Israel, but despite the owner of the vineyard doing everything to help it thrive, it only brought forth "wild grapes", which I don't know anything about grapes, but I assume are highly inferior. The idea here is definitely that in establishing the nation of Israel (and later Judah), God expected it to create a spiritually healthy people, but in the end, they kept turning to sin. So the owner of the vineyard tears down the wall, i.e. God removes his protection from Israel and Judah. Furthermore, Isaiah prophesies that the land of Judah is going to be agriculturally poor. (This may once again be natural consequences, as God told the Jews to plant for six years and let the land lie fallow for one, which is actually good agricultural practice, as land gets sort of used up, and needs to rest. The Israelites never did this.)

The question of whether it's okay to drink alcohol I answered most fully in Luke chapter one, but I think it's clear here that verse 11 is talking about someone who clearly drinks to excess. In verse 14, I question the KJV's translation of "hell" here; I don't think there's much indication that Jews before Jesus's time had a real concept of Hell, and the Hebrew word here is "sheol", which is more commonly translated as "the grave". I think once again Isaiah is reiterating that there is going to be a lot of people dying. As for sheol being a woman, Hebrew is a gendered language and sheol is a feminine noun, so the use of "she" follows. Verse 20 is a fairly well-known verse, reading, "Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil," which the SAB notes as "Good stuff" quite rightly; I suppose one of the biggest beefs the SAB has with the Bible is that it feels the Bible does this in many places. Isaiah follows this with a couple other woes, leading him to imply that evil people will be like chaff that is burned up, and their carcasses will lie in the street, which the SAB marks as cruel and intolerant. However, this is God being "intolerant" of evil, so it's hard to say they didn't deserve punishment. God lifts up foreign nations against Judah, making them mighty. Isaiah says that in doing this, God "will hiss unto them from the end of the earth." The SAB marks this phrase as absurd, and I'll agree that it's weird imagery.

Sunday, December 03, 2023

Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts (Isaiah 4)

Isaiah chapter four is short, but there's some meaty stuff in these six verses. The very first verse says that the women of Judah will be so desperate that seven women will grab one man and beg him to marry them, just so they can say they are married. I assume this means a few things, such as that so many men will have been killed that the population will be seven adult women for each adult man, and there is something shameful for these women to be unmarried. I don't know if the latter is just cultural shame of not being married, or if it has something to do with whatever shamed them in chapter three (which of course would probably also be cultural). Of course in that patriarchal society, it would be largely uncommon for a woman to support herself her whole life, and would be expected to have a son who would grow up and support her.

Isaiah once again switches quickly from bad times to good times and speaks of a day when food will be plentiful and God's presence will be in the Temple as it was in the Tabernacle in Moses's day. (The imagery of a cloud of smoke by day and fire by night calls back to Exodus, when the Israelites followed such a cloud in the desert.) God will have purified Jerusalem and Mount Zion and made everyone there holy. Is only God holy? In Isaiah 6:3 and Revelation 4:8, God is not just described as holy, but, "Holy, holy, holy"! These two verses are, to my understanding, the only places in the Bible where a word or phrase is repeated three times. While there is a contradiction on the face of what Revelation 15:4 says against the numerous verses listed on this contradiction page, I believe the idea behind this verse is to say that the level of "holy" that God is is essentially incomparable to anything else.

Yet hear the word of the LORD, O ye women (Isaiah 3)

Isaiah chapter three has some very interesting stuff in it. There are some things presented as though they are terrible curses that really don't seem that bad, but we'll get to that. First off, Judah is told they're going to be without food and water, which is definitely a bad thing. Is this a punishment from God or just the natural consequence of their sin? Sometimes it's hard to tell what precisely is going on, and I suppose it's precisely this sort of thing Wells wants me to deal with as he suggested in the comments on chapter one. I think there are different degrees of cruelty, and they're related to injustice. God could do something cruel just for the sake of cruelty; I don't believe you'll find an instance of that in the Bible, although the book of Job probably comes closest. God could do something cruel because he has been personally slighted; I think there's an element of that here, but I've explained that before, and it's related to the next level. God can remove his protection and allow people to suffer as a result of their actions; this happens sometimes when people have turned to other gods, and God is essentially saying, "Okay, then let those gods save you!" I think it also happens when people themselves are cruel, and God allows them to experience the cruelty that they inflicted on others. The lowest level of cruelty is simply God allowing people to experience the consequences of their bad decisions; this is just God not stopping someone from getting burned when they insist on playing with fire. In any case, I suppose this loss of food and water is a combination of the lower ones; Judah was steeped in sin, as outlined in detail in chapter one, and this would be the result.

The next thing that befalls Judah is that the people of influence in the nation would lose their power, and find themselves ruled by their children. I don't know that this is necessarily so bad, but it's an upset of the usual order of things, and perhaps a bit shameful for these people. (I'm not sure why this is marked for intolerance by the SAB, unless perhaps they're grouping it in with the stuff in verse five, which is perhaps xenophobic?) It says they will be oppressed by their neighbors, which could mean neighbors in the usual sense, but probably means that the nations that border them will oppress them. As I said earlier, Judah was defeated by the Babylonians. There's some interesting stuff in verses six and seven, where it says things will be so bad that people will look to their neighbors and say, hey, you're slightly less impoverished than me, why don't you take over and be a ruler? But nobody will stand up in that way. The nation of Judah will be conquered because they went against God's word, and Jerusalem is eventually turned to rubble by Nebuchadnezzar. Judah is once again compared to Sodom (the sin of Sodom I explained in chapter one, and if I have to explain every time the name "Sodom" is mentioned, it's going to be very tiresome...) and God explains here that the righteous people of Judah are not going to suffer quite like the wicked, as everyone gets what they deserve. (I talked about whether there was ever a righteous person in Genesis chapter 15.)

In verse twelve, it's reiterated that children will rule over them, and adds that women will rule over men. I don't know that this is so bad myself; call me a raging feminist, but but an Israel ruled by women sounds better than the alternative. I suppose Jewish culture being somewhat chauvinistic (there's actually a standard prayer for Jews in which men thank God for not making them a woman) it once again shakes up what is perceived as the natural order. The next few verses once again clarify that they are being punished for their cruelty to the poor. In verse 16, God talks about the women of Judah apparently acting in an inappropriate manner (it's not real clear to me, but since they are being punished for it, there must have been something wrong, it sounds perhaps like they were inciting men to lust, or even being promiscuous) and God gives them scabs on their heads and "will discover their secret parts" which definitely has a sexual connotation; perhaps they contract venereal disease of some sort? Anyway, for several verses, it outlines how God will take away all their fancy jewelry and clothes. I discussed whether perfume was okay in John chapter twelve, although it's not fully clear to me that this passage is talking about perfume. It's further stressed that the women will be made rather unattractive in their poverty, and their men will die in war.