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30 April. Isaiah chapters 5-8
The first few verses of chapter 5 are a short parable of God as vineyard owner and his people as the vineyard itself – provided with everything necessary for good fruit but actually producing “wild grapes” (presumably inedible, or at least no good for winemaking). This imagery is taken up in several other places in the Bible, including several of Jesus’ own parables.
The vision of the Lord in the Temple in chapter 6 is one of the best known passages of the book, and the words “Whom shall I send?” … “Here I am, send me” the subject of many a sermon on vocation and mission in the Church. It seems to be a sudden revelation to Isaiah that the Temple, the centre of Israelite worship, itself matters for nothing and would eventually be destroyed – it is the presence of God among his people that matters. At this time, though, and until the reign of Josiah, the people of Israel seem to have continued in a very syncretistic and sacrifice-based form of religion.
This vision is said to be “in the year that King Uzziah died”. Uzziah is not mentioned elsewhere, but from the clue in 7:1 (“Jotham son of Uzziah”) it seems to be an alternative name for Azariah (see 2 Kings 15 – a ‘good’ king). After his death, Jotham who had already been prince-regent took over and reigned for another 16 years, but was succeeded by his son Ahaz who returned to idolatry and in whose time the assault on Judah by foreign powers began. So there is a considerable gap in time between the oracle in chapters 6 and those in chapters 7 & 8 “in the days of Ahaz”.
The oracles to Ahaz and Isaiah in chapters 7 and 8 demonstrate that God’s judgement was coming soon: Isaiah was to father a son by the “young woman” (or prophetess, 8:3) and his name would be either Immanuel (“God with us”) or the longer “Mahershalalhashbaz” (“speed the prey, hasten the spoil”), as a sign that the Assyrian hordes would devastate the land of Judah before the child was weaned or learnt to speak, in other words within a couple of years, according to God’s plan. I will not at this point enter the sometimes heated argument whether the alternative translation of the “virgin” being with child in 7:14 is evidence for the virgin birth of Jesus, as recorded by Matthew in his Gospel. It is enough that Isaiah should have had a revelation for the people of his own time.