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In verse 13, God directly challenges the false Gods to save the Israelites. God tells them that their idols will do them no good and that he can and will destroy them. God also reiterates his promise to the righteous that he will keep them safe and the land will be theirs. This verse demonstrates God's ultimate authority and superiority over the old pagan gods. It proclaims his undisputed position and his intolerance for the worship of other deities.
Chapter 57: It's Place in Isaiah
According to Isaiah, it is the duty of every Israelite to adhere to the morals and commandments of God
. Isaiah viewed Assyria as God's tool for doling out punishment to the rest of the world for transgressions
. Isaiah, Chapter 57 is a plea for the Israelites to take action as a nation so that they do not collectively suffer as sinners.
The Great Isaiah Scroll
The Isaiah scrolls are divided into two sections. It is one of the most complete of the scrolls in existence today. An examination of the original scroll reveals that the scribe ended and began a new paragraph between verse 2 and verse 3
. The next paragraph begins with verse 14
. This separation indicates that verses 3-13 are to be taken as a separate section from the rest of the text. In addition to this paragraph break, a large space in verse 13 divides the verse into two parts. The second part is like a short verse for memorization, "he who trusts in me shall divide the earth and inherit my holy mountain"
The separation of verses 3-13 separates the message contained for emphasis. The Israelites that continue to worship the old Gods are of special concern to the Prophet Isaiah. They are separated to receive special attention in the text. Spacing of the original scroll can provide important clues as to the proper message and translation of the passage. These spacing are important to the translation of the text.
Scholars largely agree that the Isaiah scroll was written over a span of approximately 300 years and that it contains the work of at least four authors
. The First Isaiah spans from chapters 1-23 and from 28-31. It is believed to be the work of Isaiah of Jerusalem in the late 8th Century. The Second Isaiah is from chapters 40-55 and questionably chapter 35. This author was unnamed and lived in mid-6th Century Babylon
. The Third Isaiah is the author of Chapter 57. His work spanned chapters 56-66 and perhaps 24 and 7. It is thought to be a later writing than the first two. The Fourth Isaiah is a narrative taken almost word for word from Second Kings 18-20
Scholarly opinions regarding authorship disagree with traditional Christian teachings, which teach that the scroll is written by a single Prophet, Isaiah
. Scholarly opinion is supported by scientific evidence, such as carbon dating. Differences in literary style also support the multiple author hypothesis. The key question in gaining an understanding of the text is not whether the work is by one or multiple authors, but whether this affects is use and message in Christian ideology. In order to understand this question, let us examine the content and themes found in the Book of Isaiah.
Content and Themes
The Book of Isaiah centers on the connection between the worship practices and moral behavior in its practitioners. In chapter 57, God berates his people for following a form or worship that leads to treating others poorly. The fact that God is intolerant of idol worship is clear in the passage. However, the reason for this intolerance is not clear from reading the passage. However, if one examines the content from a macro perspective, God's reasoning becomes clear.
God specifically lists the activities of the audience of which he does not approve. These include sorcery, adultery, prostitution, telling lies, child sacrifice, idolatry and forbidden sexual practices. In this list, one can find a number of violations that are strictly forbidden in the ten commandments. When the Israelites began to worship the deities of the Canaanites, they began to take on all of the aspects of that religion. As one can see, not only did they engage in idol worship, they were led astray from the just and moral path set forth by God. With idol worship came an entire plethora of immoral behavior that would eventually lead to the downfall of their society. Isaiah uses symbolism in his description of the sacrifice of he children, referring to the "smooth stones of the valley." This reference brings to mind the torrential streams of Canaan, rather than the lazy canals of Babylon
Chapter 57 is meant as a wake up call to those that have fallen from the life the God commanded them to live. The passage is worded harshly to make the audience take a look at their lives. They were addressed as a group and as individuals. The "you" in the passage is meant to be both singular and plural. The actions of the individuals collectively make up the whole of society. God meant to use this passage to shock his chosen people into taking a hard look at themselves as individuals and at the society that they had a part in creating. It is a call for change in individuals and collectively as a society.
The position of Chapter 57 makes it seem like an out of place rant. It does not seem to flow with the passages before and after it. This may have been intentional as a way to emphasize the importance and message contained within the passage. The central theme of Isaiah is about building just communities, through the just and moral behavior of individuals within the society.
The practices promoted by the Canaanie religion were strictly forbidden by Jewish law. Isaiah took a wholistic view of society. It was easy to see how the Israelites could abandon their true God and fall into idol worship. One of the key characteristics of God is that he is invisible. The idols of the Canaanites could be seen and experienced physically through the pleasures of the flesh connected to worship of them. Worship of the one true God of earth requires faith the goes beyond the physical plane.
The Gods of the Canaanites were largely local or national Gods who could be defeated in war. The God of the Israelites has dominion over the entire earth. However, belief in spite of a lack of physical proof is one of the key conditions of worship. The book of Isaiah brought the message of how to build a peaceful society and one that is in alignment with God's commandments.
Worship of the Canaanite Gods brought individual and the society in which they lived into the depths of sin. They not only fell as individuals, but would bring woe to their people through their collective actions. Chapter 57, verses 3-13 is a warning to abandon the ways that would bring about their destruction. When one examines the content of this chapter in relation to its message and placement within the text, one can see that Isaiah's message is one that was intended to cause a fundamental change in society. It was meant to end the influences of another society and to help the Israelites achieve the peaceful society that was promised to them. It demonstrates that the means to change is within their grasp, if only they will take action and return to the religion of their forefathers. Chapter 57 renews God's promise to the Israelites, but only if they are willing to give up their ways that are in conflict with creation of the society that God intended.
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Moeller, F. Column XLVII. The Great Isaiah Scroll 57:2 to…[continue]
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