Temple Motifs in Isaiah 1 The book of Isaiah begins with a horrific description of the devastation of the kingdom of Judea

, probably alluding to the invasion of the Assyrians in 701 BCE (1:1-9). Because the people have “forsaken Yahweh” (1:4), Yahweh has rejected his temple (1:10-20). The description of this rejection includes a fairly detailed list of some of the major activities that took place in the temple seeking blessings from the Yahweh, and Isaiah’s explanation of why these have failed. Yahweh proclaims that he has had enough of blood and sacrifice (1:11; cf. 1 Sam 15:22; Ps 50:7-15; Hos 6:6). He no longer wants the people to appear before him and “trample the courts” of his temple (1: 12). Incense has become an “abomination” (1:13), and Yahweh will no longer attend the temple assemblies on the holy days (1: 14). Most importantly, when the people “lift up their hands” to heaven in prayer, Yahweh turns his face away and will not listen, because their uplifted hands are “full of blood” of wickedness (1: 14). The paradox here is that the sacrificial blood required on the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:14) has been replaced with the blood of murder and oppression which are instead surreptitiously offered by wicked Israel. Thus, all the standard activities of the temple--sacrifice, incense in the Holy Place, assemblies and prayer-have been rejected by Yahweh. But, as always, Isaiah, Yahweh offers hope. To be acceptable, however, Israel must undergo both a ritual washing (1: 16a) along with a moral rebirth (1: 16b-17). Alluding to the Day of Atonement Yahweh proclaims “thought your sins are like scarlet, they shall become like snow” (1: 18b). There is still hope for Israel, but only if they return to Yahweh: “If you are willing and obedient, you shall each the good [things] of the land; but if you refuse and rebel,

you will be eaten by the sword [of the invading Assyrians]” (1:19-20). Isaiah thus insists that the outward performance the temple rituals will avail Israel nothing without repentance and righteousness which will allow Jerusalem and the temple again become “the city of righteousness, the faithful city” (1: 26b). As we shall see (e.g. 2:2-5, 4:2-6), Isaiah is not here rejecting the temple and its rites as the proscribed means to approach Yahweh, but vacuous temple rites of hypocritical outward performances masking wickedness and rebellion.

Isaiah 2 (part 1) Having set the stage with the condemnation of apostate Judah, and Yahweh’s rejection of the temple in chapter 1, Isaiah proceeds to describe Yahweh’s promised reconciliation with Judah, and restoration of Yahweh’s presence to his temple (2:2-4, 4:2-6). I’ll discuss these sections later. First, however, we need to examine the ways in which the temple apostasy manifests itself in Isaiah 2. In addition to his concern for social injustice and wickedness in Judah, Isaiah emphasizes three temple-related activities which contribute to Yahweh’s rejection of the temple (cf. 8:16-22; 2 Ki. 16:3-4, 10-16; 2 Ch. 28:2-4, 23-25). First is the veneration of idols in the temple (2:8), in explicit violation of the Mosaic Law (Ex 20:4, Dt 4:14). (This theme is amplified in 44:6-20.) Isaiah prophesies that these idols--whether of Yahweh or of foreign gods is not clear--will eventually be cast away as impotent as against the coming disasters (2:18, 20). Isaiah emphasizes the difference between Yahweh’s ideal and dismal Judean reality with the refrain, “Yahweh alone will be exalted in that day” (2:11b, 17b), meaning the idols that had been

worshiped in the temple will ultimately be cast down and rejected (2:20), and Yahweh alone will be exalted and worshipped. Isaiah also makes reference to cultic practices and practitioners whose activities profane the temple. Isaiah condemns Judah for consulting “soothsayers” (‘anan), who practiced prognostication (2:6; Ezek 13:9), rather than heeding authentic prophets like Isaiah. Such practices are expressly forbidden by Yahweh (Dt 18:10, 14; Lev 19:26; 2 Kgs 21:6, describing Manasseh, son of Hezekiah). Assuming this practice is an allusion to the types of things that went on the days of Manasseh, son of Hezekiah, in the decades following the death of Isaiah, it is likely that these soothsayers were operating within the temple (2 Kgs 21, esp 21:6). Finally, there is the problem of worship in sacred groves, perhaps associated with the groves of the Canaanite goddess Asherah (2 Kgs 23:4). Those who forsake [the worship of] Yahweh shall perish For they shall be ashamed of the oaks they desired And you shall blush for the gardens you have chosen (1:28-29) Here the point seems to be that Judah has forsaken the licit worship of Yahweh in the temple, choosing instead to worship sacred oaks in sacred gardens, in violation of the proscription in Dt 16:21: “You shall not plant any tree as a sacred pole beside the altar that you make for the LORD your God.” Do the oak and grove the people desired refer to garden precincts created within the temple, or alternate worship at gardens in high places? In either event, it alludes to the widespread Near Eastern practice of worshipping in sacred groves and gardens in temple precincts. Thus, according to Isaiah, Yahweh’s rejection of the temple is based not only on Judean social injustice as described in detail throughout his book, but because of illicit practices and

rituals within the temple. Isaiah’s call for the purification of temple cult should be seen in the context of the apostate temple practices of Isaiah’s contemporary king Ahaz {732-715 BCE} (2 Ki. 16:3-4, 10-16; 2 Ch. 28:2-4, 23-25), and the important temple reforms undertaken by Ahaz’s son--and Isaiah’s disciple--Hezekiah {715-687 BCE} (2 Chr 29-30; 2 Kgs 18). It is interesting to note that Ahaz’s full name (as identifiable by Assyrian inscriptions, ANET 282) is Yeho-‘ahaz, meaning “Yahweh has grasped [his hand as a token of the covenant of kingship].” Isaiah 2:6b condemns Judah because they “clasp hands with the children of foreigners” (KJV garbles “clasp hands” as “please themselves”). This is probably an allusion to Ahaz becoming a vassal--by the ritual clasping the hand--of Tiglathpileser of Assyria (2 Kgs 16:7-9), and adopting in the process some Assyrian/Aramean temple practices (2 Kgs 16:10-11). Thus Ahaz, whose hand Yahweh had grasped in royal covenant, refused to trust in Yahweh’s covenant (Isa 7:10-12), choosing instead “grasp the hand” of the king of Assyria.

Isaiah 2 (part 2) While Israel’s wickedness and apostasy have caused Yahweh to reject his temple (1:10-20), resulting in the devastation of the land and people, Isaiah still offers hope for the future. This hope rests on the eventual reestablishment of the temple and the return of Yahweh’s presence as described in 2:2-4 and 4:2-6 (and elsewhere). The foundational passage for Isaiah’s hope is the famous prophecy in 2:2-5 (paralleled in Micah 4:1-5). (2) In latter days the Mount of Yahweh’s house will be firmly established on the top of the mountains. Then all the Nations (goyim) will flow to it. (3) Indeed, many Peoples (‘amīm) will come and say:

‘Let us go and ascend the Mount of Yahweh to the house of the God of Jacob That he may teach us his Way So we may walk in his paths.’ For from Zion shall go forth the Law (torah) And the word (debar) of Yahweh from Jerusalem. (4) So shall he judge between the Nations (goyim) And arbitrate among many Peoples (‘amīm) That they may beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Thus nation will not raise sword against nation Nor shall they ever again study war. (5) Come, O House of Jacob, Let us walk in the Light of Yahweh! In a sense, this passage highlights the great overarching theme of Isaiah. Israel’s wickedness and apostasy will cause nations to flood into Israel bringing war, devastation and destruction (8:7-8). But if Israel will “walk in the Light of Yahweh” and “firmly establish” the temple, then the nations will flow (2:2) into Israel and bring universal peace. But first, Yahweh’s temple (beth, house) must be “firmly established,” permitting the Lord to return to his temple and accept the prayers and offerings. As described throughout Isaiah, this is accomplished through the repentance of Israel, and the restoration of proper temple practices. Only then will the House of Yahweh be firmly established, as opposed to the desecration of the temple described in 1:10-20. In the process Yahweh’s temple will be established “on the top of the mountains” (2:2b). This symbol is in allusion to the widespread ancient Near East concept of the cosmic holy mountain as the dwelling place of God. Here Isaiah is describing Yahweh’s mountain/temple being exalted on the top of other mountains. The allusion here is broadly related to the time when “Yahweh alone will be exalted” (2:11b, 17b). More specifically, however, it probably describes either Yahweh’s temple in Jerusalem replacing other Israelite temples and high places

(as per the reforms of Hezekiah, 2 Chr 29-30; 2 Kgs 18), or the establishment of Yahweh’s sacred mountain as superior to the other sacred mountains of the gods of the nations. When Yahweh’s temple mount is exalted above all other temple-mountains of the gods of the nations/gentiles, then all peoples will flow to worship there (56:7b). What will exalt Yahweh’s temple mount over all others? The repentance of Israel, and the restoration of proper temple cult which will allow Yahweh to return to his temple (4:2-6), as will be discussed later. Only when Yahweh’s temple has assumed its proper place as the greatest temple mount, will the nations ascend to it to learn the Way of Yahweh, which is consists of the Torah-Law (scripture), and the Word of Yahweh (revelation-prophecy) (2:3). This can occur, of course, only if Israel itself walks in the Way of Yahweh and the Light of Yahweh. Hence Isaiah’s great message to Israel is “come, let us walk in the Light of Yawheh” (2:5). Thus, as the nations gather to the temple mount, they must ascend the Way of Yahweh, which is the sacred way leading up the mountain into the temple (2:3). When they arrive, Yahweh will judge and arbitrate among all peoples, establishing universal righteousness, justice, and peace (2:4). Until then, however, the nations come to Israel not to worship Yahweh and make peace, but to bring war and devastation to a wicked and apostate people.

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