15 September 2003

'zdq' in isaiah: 2nd isaiah

In Second Isaiah, as much as in the first portion of the prophecy, the assumed background is that of Yahweh’s covenant with Israel and his promises to them. Indeed, in Second Isaiah these themes are brought to the fore through a more sustained emphasis upon Yahweh’s own faithfulness to his covenant as his “righteousness” and upon the final “vindication” he will bring to his people as an expression of that covenant promise.

Naturally, the terminology of zdq continues to be used in Second Isaiah in ways parallel to the first part, for instance:
  • Yahweh’s vindication leads to “righteousness” (z’daqah) springing up in the land (45:8)

  • had the people been faithful they would have experience peace (shalom) and “righteousness” (z’daqah; 48:18)

  • those who know “righteousness” (zedeq) listen, taking Torah to heart (51:7)

  • Yahweh’s servant is “righteous” (zadiq) in his faithfulness to God (53:11)

  • the people are called to maintain “righteous” verdicts (z’daqah) in their courts (56:1)

  • those who are faithful to Yahweh are “righteous” (zadiq) though they perish (57:1)

  • in the midst of false piety Israel acts as if they pursued “righteous” verdicts (zedeq) with regard to the poor (58:2)

  • the people of Israel does not sue in “righteousness” (zedeq) but lie in court and thus confess their failure to “vindicate” (z’daqah) the innocent (59:4, 14).
While these uses of zdq are quite similar to those we surveyed earlier, it is also the case, I think, that there is a greater emphasis, on the whole, upon the forensic sense of zdq, an emphasis that seems typical of Second Isaiah as a whole.

The primary focus of Second Isaiah, however, is upon Yahweh and his actions with regard to Israel. Israel is called to put confidence in God for he will deliver them with the right hand of his “righteousness” (zedeq; 41:10), in this context, I think, pointing to Yahweh’s covenant faithfulness to deliver Israel, though perhaps also pointing to that deliverance as “vindication.”

More clear, perhaps, is the confession that it was the creator Yahweh who made Israel his covenant people, a light to the nations, calling them in his “righteousness” (zedeq) by rescuing them (presumably from Egypt; 42:6). The background here is God’s promise to the patriarchs as that finds fulfillment in the exodus and so the righteousness of Yahweh here carried the strong connotation of “covenant faithfulness.”

In Isaiah 45 there are several instances of this sense of zdq. Yahweh, the sole creator, does not speak falsely, but speaks in “righteousness” (zedeq) and truth, fulfilling what he has promised by raising up Cyrus to deliver Israel (45:19). Thus, Yahweh alone is God, the one who fulfills his promises and thereby is a “righteous” one (zadiq) and a savior (45:21). When Yahweh swore his covenant, his mouth went forth in “righteousness” (z’daqah) with a word that will not return without being fulfilled (45:23).

In Second Isaiah, however, it is primarily Israel’s vindication that is the result of Yahweh’s faithfulness to his promises. This vindication is, first of all, the decision of the divine judge finding in favor of Israel and thus carries a fully forensic importance (the law court scene is particularly evident in, e.g., 43:9; 50:8). But this decision is manifest in history as the defeat of Israel’s adversaries and the restoration Israel, first of all from exile, but also with sights set on a final eschatological restoration. When this restoration occurs, the land will return to an Edenic state in which God’s verdict is seen by all nations and true justice, in faithfulness to Torah, is established.

In Isaiah 45, which we considered in part above, Yahweh’s righteousness is seen in his vindication of Israel. Yahweh is said to have raised up Cyrus in order that the covenant be renewed, triumph sprout up, and “vindication” (zedeq) be rained down (45:8). The result is that within Israel, “righteousness” (z’daqah), as a way of life, will again spring up (45:8). Yahweh has roused Cyrus so that the city will be rebuilt and the exiles return, expressing God’s “righteous verdict” (zedeq) in Israel’s favor. The people respond by confessing that only in Yahweh is there “righteousness” (z’daqah) and strength, for when the people come to him their adversaries are put to shame (45:24; is this vindication or Yahweh’s faithfulness?). Therefore in Yahweh the seed of Israel will have “vindication” (zadaq) and glory (45:25).

In the following chapter Yahweh’s “righteousness” (z’daqah; his plan for Israel’s salvation and vindication) is far from them in exile, but it will be soon brought close (46:12-13).

In Isaiah 51, the Torah that goes out from Yahweh as a light is said to bring “vindication” (zedeq) and salvation, defeating Israel’s enemies and delivering the people (51:6). This salvation and “vindication” (z’daqah) is enduring and final, standing forever and unbroken (51:6). Those who accuse and insult will wither away when Yahweh’s vindicating verdict (z’daqah) is pronounced, his eternal salvation of Israel (51:8).

In the later chapters these themes are carried further. Though Israel doesn’t pursue righteous verdicts and thus can only hypocritically ask for Yahweh to vindicate them, Yahweh will nonetheless come in light, healing, and vindication, guarding Israel, should they begin to show compassion for the poor (58:1-8). In a song of repentance, the injustice of Israel’s own courts is lamented since it drives Yahweh’s vindication far from them (59:1-9). Nonetheless, Yahweh hears their repentance, sees the lack of righteous verdict, and decides to bring vindication by his own arm, dressing himself in military (and high priestly?) garb: vestments of vindication, salvation, vengeance, and wrath (59:14ff.).

In the final chapters of Isaiah, Israel is said to have peace as a governor and vindication/righteousness as an official, alluding perhaps to the fruits of divine deliverance (60:17). Those who receive vindication are said to be “righteous” (zadiq), God’s own handiwork (60:21) and they will be called “oaks of righteousness” (zedeq) that Yahweh himself has planted (61:3). Since the agent here is Yahweh, it seems that the point is not the personal piety or acts of the people, but their “right-standing” before Yahweh as the people whom he has vindicated. Thus the very garments of vindication that Yahweh himself wore in saving Israel and pouring out his wrath are now wrapped around Israel as garments of salvation, a robe of vindication, like a bride (61:10). Thus Israel’s vindication by Yahweh will be seen by all the nations, until kings recognize her glory as Yahweh’s bride (61:11; 62:1-2).

It is with the glorious image of Israel, vindicated by Yahweh who is faithful to his covenant with her, that I conclude my survey of Second Isaiah. As should be clear, the themes of Second Isaiah move well beyond those of First Isaiah, filling them out in light of the exile and Israel’s eschatological hope.