Isaiah 4 In chapter three Isaiah outlines the wickedness of Israel and Yahweh’s judgement upon them (3:13-14).

All that will be left of Jerusalem and Judah is “a ruined mound” without a ruler (3:6). Judah has brought this destruction upon themselves (3:9, 13-15) by “grinding the face of the poor” (3:15). Stark archaeological evidence of this type of destruction can be found at Lachish, a city conquered destroyed by Sennacherib in 701 BCE, as recounted in the annals and reliefs of Sennacherib (COS 2:304; 2 Kgs 18:4).

Assyrian Siege Ramp at Lachish (WJH)

Assyrian relief of Sennacherib’s siege of Lachish (WJH)

The ostentatious and lascivious displays of wealth by the aristocratic “daughters of Zion” (3:16-23), will culminate in their their horrific enslavement (3:24-26), again reflected in the contemporary Assyrian reliefs.

Jewish captives from Lachish on their way to slavery in Assyria (WJH)

As always, the pendulum of Isaiah’s prophecies swings back and forth between destruction and redemption. After these prophecies of destruction, chapter four reverts the theme of the restoration of the temple first set out in 2:2-5. Though the devastation will come, a Branch (ṣemāḥ) of Yahweh will be glorious among the survivors of Israel (4:2). The term Branch (ṣemāḥ) here is an important one. 1 It has reference to a promised righteous priest-king who will rise from the devastated root of the Davidic house, bring Israel to repentance, and rule in righteousness.2 The image here is of a mighty tree, chopped to a stump and destroyed by fire,
1

J. G. Baldwin, ‘Ṣemāḥ as a Technical Term in the Prophets,’ Vetus Testamentum 14 (1964):93– 97.
2

Jer. 23:5; 33:15; Je. 23:5; 33:15; cf. Isa 11:1, where the synonym nēṣer is used

which nonetheless springs to life again, shooting forth a new branch form the ruined stump. It is a richly messianic concept. Thus, after the destruction of Israel, the Branch will lead the survivors in Jerusalem (4:2-3). Then, “the remnant in Jerusalem will be called holy (qādōš), [for] all [the remnant] in Jerusalem will be recorded for life [in the Book of Yahweh3]” (4:3). The concept of a holy people is closely connect to the temple priests, who are consistently required to be holy to serve in the temple. How is wicked Israel to become a holy people? If the Lord (adonāy) washes the filth from the daughters of Zion, and the blood from midst of Jerusalem By a spirit (ruaḥ) of judgment And by a spirit (ruaḥ) of burning In other words, first, Israel must be purified; only then can it be holy. The concept of washing here relates to priestly washings and ablutions required for consecration and when they had become unclean. It may be important that the word Lord here is adonāy, not Yahweh (which usually translated as LORD in small capitals in the KJV). Is Yahweh to perform the purification himself? Or is it his messianic Branch? To be a holy people is to be a priestly people, a consecrated people; and indeed consecrated simply means “made holy.” Ex 19 describes the consecration of Israel in preparation for the Sinai theophany. At Sinai God required all Israel to be “a kingdom of priests, a holy nation” (Ex 19:6). This priestly order for Israel failed because of the apostasy of the golden calf, after which the priesthood was restricted to the Levites (Ex 32:29). Now, in the restored temple at Jerusalem, Israel will again be made holy after their apostasy with golden

3

Ex 32:32, Ps 69:28, Mal 3:16, Rev 20:12, 15

idols (2:20). The surviving remnant, under the leadership of the Branch, are required to become consecrated for a new theophany at the temple. This post-purification theophany is described in 4:5: Then, on the entire site of Mount Zion and its places of assembly, Yahweh will create (bārā) a cloud by day, and smoke and a bright flaming fire by night, for upon all the glory (kābōd) [of the presence of Yahweh] there will be a covering [of cloud and smoke]. The place of assembly on Mount Zion is, of course, the temple. There Yahweh will manifest himself in fire and cloud, just as he did of old in the days of the Exodus.4 This is known as a cloud theophany, when God manifests himself in a cloud enshrouding a brilliantly shining light.5 (And in a very real sense, the altar in the court and incense altar are meant to ritually recreate this fire and smoke-cloud.) Thus Isaiah is here promising of the return of the Glory of Yahweh to his temple after its previous abandonment in 1:10-20. For this to occur, Israel must “walk in the Light of Yahweh” (2:5), which is only possible when Yahweh is present in his temple to enlighten his people, and that presence manifests itself as the pillar of fire (4:5), his shining glory (kābōd) at the temple. The precise context for this promised restoration of the temple is unclear in these verses. The first question is whether this is to be understood as a rebuilding of a destroyed temple, or a reformation of an existing apostate temple, such as that undertaken by Hezekiah (2 Chr 29-30; 2 Kgs 18). Is a new building to be built? Or is the cult to be purified and reformed? (Or both?) Undoubtedly these teachings of Isaiah encouraging the restoration of the authentic temple lay at

4 5

Ex 13:21-22, 40:34-48; Num14:14; Neh 9:12-19.

Sinai, Ex 19:16; Ezekiel, Ezekiel 1, 10; Transfiguration, Mt 17:5, Lk 9:34; Lk 21:17; Acts 1:9; Isa 19:1; Rev 14:14-16.

the foundation of Hezekiah’s reforms during the lifetime of Isaiah, but the ideas also remained a key component in later temple literature.6

6

For example, Ezekiel 40-48, the Temple Scroll from the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the book of Revelation

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