We are studying Isaiah 61:8-62:4 for Sunday, April 26. The text contains exuberant promises about the future of a Zion/Jerusalem restored to justice, righteousness, and divine favor. [Here are my notes on the text.] Here are some questions we might want to consider as we think about the text:
Our reading begins with a clear statement about God’s preferences: “I, YHWH, love justice, I hate robbery with burnt offering” (v8). [We have heard this kind of thing before; it could remind us of Micah 6:6-8, a pre-exilic text, and of Isaiah 58:1-9, a post-exilic text that might be in the minds of the audience for ours.] We have also just heard that the exiles have been punished a lot (v7).
What do we think it means that God “loves justice” and “hates robbery” blended with religious observance? What is God saying to the people about God? What is the implication of that statement for those ancient people? Was God telling them to do something in particular? What? Why do we think this?
What is the implication of that message for us? Is there anything we need to take to heart, and if so, what is it? Why do we think this?
In v10, the speaker rejoices and praises God and compares “salvation” and “righteousness” to the kind of clothing worn by brides and grooms. What does this image tell us about salvation and righteousness?
[It might be worth thinking about how we would describe wedding garments … and then about what it would mean if we described “salvation” and “righteousness” with those same words … does that give us any different insight into the nature of salvation and righteousness? What insight?]
Who is the speaker, do we think? Who has been clothed with the garments of salvation and the robe of righteousness? [Some possibilities include: the prophet; the city; the people … either at present, or in the future …] What difference does it make how we answer this question?
In v11, righteousness and praise are compared to green living things in the spring. What does this image tell us about righteousness and praise?
[Again, we might want to think of all the ways we might describe spring “shoots” or what “springs up” after having been sown in a garden, and then apply those descriptions to righteousness and praise. Is this how we usually describe righteousness? Praise? Does thinking of these things this way give us any additional insight into what they are like, or can be like? What insight?]
[More a statement than a question:] In Isaiah 62:1-2, the word translated “vindication” could also be translated “righteousness.” Does keeping both of those meanings in mind change the way we think of “vindication” here? Does it change our understanding of “righteousness” in this text? How?
It occurs to me that we could think of righteousness in this context as the vindication of the community – which had been sent into exile, according to prophetic proclamation, for its lack of justice and righteousness. Return, along with a demonstration that the community has really, deeply internalized the lesson of the exile, would together mark the community’s vindication – justification – state of being shown to be right, and in particular right in its re-dedication to YHWH after all.
Verse 3 is another aesthetic image of the community – a “crown of beauty” and “royal diadem” – and verse 4 is a relationship image – a transformation from “Forsaken” and “Desolate” to “My Delight Is in Her” and “Married.” What do these images tell us about the restored and transformed community?
Are there any implications for our own community in all this? What are they? Implications for our own role in our communities? What are they? What makes us think this?
Our published curriculum this week includes what seems to me a particularly challenging question, based on the observation that our text is roughly from the same time period as the books of Ezra-Nehemiah. That text, in particular the episode of having the Judeans divorce their “foreign wives,” presents a very different vision of the ideal community than this part of Isaiah – especially Isaiah 56. Here’s the question:
Which vision – the homogeneous society of Ezra and Nehemiah or Isaiah’s radically inclusive society – do you think best exemplifies a society where righteousness and justice flourish? Why?
[The Present Word, Spring 2020, Geneva Press, 51.]