Temple Themes in Isaiah 7-12

Chapters seven and eight are a sequence of three oracles relating to the war of Aram (Damascus) and Israel against Judah. The thrust of the oracles is that the Lord provides three signs through the miraculous birth of three children: Shearjashub (7:1-9), Immanuel (7:10-25), and Mahershalalhashbaz (8:1-14), associated with promises of the defeat of Israel’s enemies. In the first oracle (7:1-9), dating to around 734 BCE, Isaiah is told me meet king Ahaz “at the conduit to the upper pool.” Most scholars think this is at the site of the pool of Bethesda (now near St. Anne’s church), and may have been one of the pools that provided the temple its water supply for their cisterns. However Ahaz does not trust Yahweh’s promises and Isaiah’s signs (7:11-12), instead following lying prophets (9:15) and soothsayers (8:19) and becomes tributary to Assyria in return for help against his enemies (2 Kgs 16:5-16). Ironically, in the process, he takes the treasure from Yahweh’s temple--who would save Judah--and give it to Assyria, which will eventually come and devastate both Israel and Judah (2 Kgs 16:8).

Chapter seven contains the famous Immanuel (‘immā-nū el = “with us is God”) prophecy in 7:14, cited by Mt 1:23 in relation to the birth of Jesus. Many scholars think the immediate reference in Isaiah is to Ahaz’s son Hezekiah, the righteous king who will save Israel from the Assyrians and purify the temple.1 In the broader context, however, the concept of the presence of God in/through the righteous king who purifies the temple is a fundamental temple motif;2 Hezekiah thus could be seen as a prototype of Christ. In the New Testament this temple motif, emphasizing Christ’s role as the king who purifies the temple, is thus fundamental to his messiahship.3 Because of this rejection, Isaiah therefore “seals up” his prophecies among his disciples (8:16). In chapter eight Isaiah is commanded by Yahweh to write his prophecies in rather strange language (8:1). The KJV reads: “Take thee a great roll, and write in it with a man’s pen concerning Mahershalalhashbaz.” The NRSV has: “Take a large tablet and write on it in common characters, “Belonging to Maher-shalal-hash-baz.” In Hebrew Yahweh commands Isaiah to “take a large gilāyōn.” That word occurs only here, and in Isa 3:23, where it is translated as “glass” (meaning mirror) in the KJV, and likewise as “mirror” in the ESV. Now mirrors in the ancient Near East were generally of polished bronze, so Isaiah appears to have been commanded to write on a polished mirror-like bronze plate. This is confirmed by the next phrase where he is to “write on it with an engraving tool” (wa-ketob ‘ālāy-u be-ḥeret). According to HALOT, ḥeret means to chisel, cut or scratch. It is certainly not the ordinary
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Note the prophecy that the Assyrians will flood Judah in the days of Immanuel (8:7-8).

By temple motif, I mean a single reference, image, or symbol derived from or associated with the temple. By temple theme I mean a longer passage involving an extended series of concepts related to the temple.

Mt 21:10-17, Mk 11:15-17, Lk 19:45-46, Jn 2:13-17.

Hebrew word for pen or stylus. The only other time ḥeret occurs in is in Ex 32:4, where Aaron makes the golden calf with a ḥeret, obviously a metal carving tool of some sort. Thus the Lord seems to be telling Isaiah “take a large bronze plate, and engrave on it.” He is then ordered to get two witnesses to sign it and then sealed it away (8:16-17). One of the witnesses was “the priest Uriah” (8:2), who was the High Priest under Ahaz (2 Kgs 16:10-11); it may be that Isaiah’s bronze plate was hidden in the temple just as had been the “Book of Law” found a century later in the days of Josiah (2 Kgs 22:8-11). Isaiah is also said to have been married to a “prophetess” (nebi’āh) with whom he conceived the sign-child Maher-shalal-hash-baz (8:1, 18). This is not merely a respectful way of saying Mrs. Isaiah; all other occurrences of the term in the Old Testament have references to women who perform independent prophetic functions.4 Presumably Isaiah’s wife was also a prophetess in her own right.5 A final interesting temple motif in 8:14 is that Yahweh himself “will be called holy” (taqdīš) and will become a “sanctuary” (miqdāš), or “holy place,” for his people. But because of wickedness, this will create a stumbling stone and trap for Jerusalem (8:14-15). This is probably the source for the book of Revelation’s claim that there is no temple New Jerusalem, for the Lord and the Lamb the temple (Rev 21:22). Thus, for Isaiah, the temple is a blessing to the righteous, but to wicked Israel it is a stumbling stone. Chapter nine is essentially a series of curses that will fall upon Israel because of its wickedness, but with verses 6 and 7 promising the divine gift of a royal child who will establish a righteous kingdom; the royal child is apparently the same Branch described in 11:1.
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Miriam, Ex 15:20; Deborah, Judg 4:4; Huldah, 2 Kgs 22:14; Noadiah, Neh 6:14.

Some scholars think Isaiah’s wife may have had some type of association with the temple, like prophetess Anna in the New Testament (Lk 2:36-37).

In Chapter ten, written after the fall of Samaria in 721 BCE, Yahweh continues his accusations against Israel, concluding with: My hand has reached to the [pagan] kingdoms of the idols [destroyed by Assyria] Whose images [of their gods] were greater than those of Jerusalem and Samaria Shall I not do to Jerusalem and her idols What I have [already] done to Samaria and her images [by the Assyrian conquest] The problem here is that idols of pagan gods (or Yahweh?) are worshipped in the Jerusalem temple. But the same idols that had once been in the temples of Samaria and Damascus were unable to save them from the Assyrians. Why, then, should Jerusalem expect salvation from these idols that have already proven powerless? Nonetheless, when Yahweh has “finished his work [of purification] on the [temple] on Mt Zion,” the Assyrians themselves will eventually be destroyed (10:12), and the remnant of Israel will return (10:20-27). This leads to chapter eleven, and the famous prophecy of the “rod of Jesse,” probably to be linked to the Branch (4:2-6) and holy seed (6:13) prophecies. Judah is compared to the fallen and burned stump of a once mighty tree, the original Davidic kingdom. Out of this withered stump will grow a shoot or a branch to which the scattered the remnants of Judah from throughout the world will be gathered back to the temple at Jerusalem. 6 Filled with the spirit of God, this messianic king will establish righteousness and universal peace (11:2-8), culminating in the establishment of the ideal temple where: They shall no more do evil nor corrupt [apostate worship] In all my Holy [Temple] Mount For the land will be filled With knowledge about Yahweh (11:9).


The Hebrew term “branch” is neṣer, and is often understood to be the source of the prophecy of Christ as a Nazarene (presumed Hebrew neṣerī) in Mt 2:23, a prophecy which is otherwise unknown in the Old Testament.

With the ideal temple restored as the “glorious resting place” (11:10b), Israel and Judah will be reconciled, and the Gentiles will not hinder their return to the temple on the Great Pilgrimage “from the four corners of the earth” (11:12b)--a probable allusion to the temple as the cosmic center of the cosmos. For Isaiah, it is the purified temple restored to righteous worship that will allow the reconciliation of Judah and Israel, and their gathering back to that temple at Jerusalem. (Again, Christ’s cleansing of the temple, noted above, should be seen in this context.) In future chapters we shall see that the Gentiles will participate in this great pilgrimage as well, a theme later taken up in Christ’s wedding feast parables. In chapter twelve Isaiah provides a song that the returning pilgrims will sing as they visit the temple, thanking Yahweh for their salvation as they draw “water from the waters of salvation,” ma’yān ha-yešū’āh. (Interestingly, the phrase could theoretically be translated as “waters of Jesus,” since Yeshuah is the Hebrew name from which the anglicized Jesus derives.) At any rate, these waters of salvation undoubtedly refer to the cisterns and springs associated with the temple mount, used for purification rituals. Immersion in these waters rendered on purified and thus able to ascend to the temple where one attained salvation. This is undoubted part of the background to the New Testament concept of Jesus as the “living water.” Chapter twelve concludes with Zion shouting for joy because of the return of Yahweh, the Holy One of Israel to his temple (12:6).

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