This blog continues my commentary on Isaiah
On that day the remnant of Isra’el,
those of the house of Ya‘akov who escaped,
will no longer rely
on the man who struck them down,
but will truly rely on the Lord
the Holy One of Isra’el.
21 A remnant will return,
the remnant of Ya‘akov,
to the mighty God.
22 For, although your people, Isra’el,
are like the sand of the sea,
only a remnant of them will return.
Destruction is decreed, overflowing with justice.
23 The Lord God of Armies
will bring about this decreed destruction
throughout all the land.
24 Therefore The Lord God of Armies says:
“My people living in Tziyon,
don’t be afraid of Ashur,
even when he strikes you with a stick
and raises his staff against you,
the way it was in Egypt.
25 For in but a little while, my fury will end;
and my anger will have destroyed them.”
26 The Lord of Armies will wield a whip against them, as he did when striking Midyan at the Rock of ‘Orev; as his staff was over the sea, he will raise it, the way it was in Egypt.
27 On that day his burden will fall from your shoulders
and his yoke from your neck;
the yoke will be destroyed
by your prosperity.
28 He has come to ‘Ayat
and passed through Migron.
He has stored his equipment at Mikhmas.
29 They have crossed the pass,
then lodged at Geva.
Ramah is shaking,
Giv‘at-Sha’ul has fled.
30 Cry, shriek, Bat-Gallim!
Listen, Layish! Poor ‘Anatot!
31 Madmenah is in flight,
The people of Gevim take cover.
32 This very day he will stop at Nov;
and he will shake his fist
at the mountain of the daughter of Tziyon,
at the hill of Yerushalayim.
33 See how The Lord God of Armies
lops off the branches with terrible violence!
The ones standing highest are chopped down,
the lofty are laid low.
34 He will hack down the forest underbrush with an axe,
and the Lebanon in its splendor falls.
The first prophecy here elaborates the message that after terrible destruction a small proportion of Israel will turn back to the worship of the one God, and will find peace and prosperity. This notion of a “remnant”, Hebrew She’ar, has been continually creative the subsequent history of Israel and of The Christian Church. The Jews who returned from exile and established the second temple saw themselves as this remnant. So did the synagogues that survived the Roman defeats of 70 and 135 CE. So did the first Christian churches, the first hermits, the first protestants the predestinarían Calvinists and the pilgrim fathers. So did the founders of modern Israel. It is one of the most successful ideas in human history, with consequences for evil as well as for good.
Isaiah emphasises that the remnant has learned to be humble, to reject attitudes that depend on numbers, for the state with its arrogant power has been destroyed. Similarly the arrogant power of the destroyer, Ashur, will also be destroyed in time, and Israel will have a chance to show that it has learned its lesson.
Anyone who claims the status of the holy remnant – ecclesiastical or secular – must practice the humility that belongs to it.
The second prophecy is a brilliant evocation of the Assyrian army heading for Judah – moving almost too fast for the news media. It’s always risky to abstract from the biblical text to the experience of the author, but I think it’s reasonable to judge that such a passage sets out the vivid fears of the prophet who experiences now what others consider as far off. A contemporary Isaiah would be experiencing the plastic death of sealife, the inundating tsumamis when the ice caps melt, the survival wars as nations fight for scarce resources. Indeed, that’s exactly what contemporary prophets are doing, but will anyone listen? isaiah’s story is not encouraging.