Isaiah 26: Praise and Lament in Trouble

Isaiah 26: Praise and Lament in Trouble

Update: I forgot to tag the places the New Testament quotes (none in this case) or alludes to this passage.

In my series on Biblical criticism I discussed the division of Isaiah 24-27 into various segments and discussing their form. In that article I suggested taking Isaiah 26 as a unity even though it would be the longest single segment in Isaiah 24-27.

Other commentators suggest dividing the chapter after verse 6 into a song of praise while verses 7-21 are a community lament. I see the two parts of the chapter as inextricably tangled together. Isaiah 24-27 appears to be a confused portrayal of the end times, but it is intentionally confused–what appears confused to us is intentional.

Our desire as Christians is to get a roadmap, to find out how to avoid trouble, and how to come out fine in the end without too much fuss and bother. But “fuss and bother” is a characteristic of final events. You have a time of conflict in which there will be moments of triumph and joy, and moments when one needs to hide.

18Woe to those who are anxious for the day of YHWH,
Why do you want the day of YHWH?
It’s a day of darkness and not light!
19It’s as though someone flees from a lion,
but a bear meets him,
so he goes into his house,
leans his hand on the wall,
and a snake bites him!
20Is the day of YHWH not darkness rather than light?
Is it not gloom without any gleam of light?

Amos 5:18-20

This rather negative view contrasts with the joy that is expected on the day of the Lord, the day when God comes to redeem, but also to avenge. There are two reasons for this mixed description. First, the day of the Lord is joy for those who are ready and waiting, but not so joyful for those who are not. Second, the end does not come in any scriptural description without some conflict and trouble. This is not the place to go into any detail on pre-trib vs. post-trib arguments, but I think this passage hints at a situation in which the good spent some tense times along with the bad. It is certainly not a “proof passage” on this point; it simply hints on a less precisely laid out final time of conflict.

Translation and Notes

1In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah.
We have a strong city,
Salvation set in walls and outworks!
2Open the gates!
So a righteous nation may enter,
One that keeps justice.
3The mind that depends,
You will keep totally peaceful,
Because he trusts in you.[Philippians 4:7]

4Trust in YHWH forever,
For in YH YHWH is an eternal rock.
5For he has humbled the inhabitants of a lofty place,
An inaccessible city.
He will overthrow it,
He will cast it down to the ground.
He will make it reach the dust.
6Feet will trample it,
The feet of the humble,
The steps of the poor.

This is the song of praise, but in leads into the destruction of evil, which in turn leads into the lament of the following verses. The lament in turn ends on what, from God’s people’s point of view at least, is another high point.

Some commentators have been concerned that the great city has already been destroyed in chapter 25, but that is part of the lack of clear chronological sense of Isaiah 24-27. The intent is to portray the time of conflict, and the feelings of God’s people, both positive and negative during that time.

7The way of the righteous is level.
You prepare for them a straight path.
8Indeed in the path of your justice
We wait for you YHWH,
Your name and for your reputation,
is our deepest desire.
9My soul longs for you in the night,
My spirit within me keeps watch for you,
Because just as your judgments hold sway in the land,
So do the inhabitants of the earth learn righteousness.

Here again is the key to the day of the Lord. God asserts his rule and his justice. For some people that’s a good thing, for others, it is not so good. God’s true people wait anxiously for God’s justice, even though there may be great trouble along the way.

10When the wicked receive grace,
The don’t learn righteousness.
In a land of upright people he acts unjustly,
And has no fear of YHWH’s majesty.
11YHWH, though your had is lifted up,
They don’t see it.
Let them see your zeal for your people,
And be ashamed.
Let the fire of your anger consume them. [Hebrews 10:27]

There is a certain emotional conflict about the end times in that while many are being saved, God’s people know that others will be destroyed. God’s people have cried out for justice throughout history. There is the essential tension between God not wanting anyone to perish, and God’s unwillingness to allow sin to persist.

The apparent absence of God’s judgment gives sinners permission to carry on whatever they’re doing.

12YHWH will accomplish deliverance for us,
Indeed all our accomplishments are things you have done!

This is a tremendous statement of the gospel message. We really have done nothing. Even what we appear to have done is God’s activity in us.

13YHWH our God,
Other lords besides you have ruled us,
Still we praise your name.

I like this little note of repentance. “We’ve run away Lord, but we’re back. You’re the only one who matters.”

14Being dead, they cannot live;
Being shades, they cannot rise;
Therefore you punished them,
     destroyed them,
     eliminated all memory of them.

My translation is a bit different from what you will find in most versions based on Waltke-O’Connor’s grammar. It seemed strange to be talking about the dead in this verse and how they cannot rise when we have an affirmation of resurrection at the end of the chapter. What this verse actually refers to is those “other lords” who have ruled Israel. They are actually dead, unable to do anything. God has wiped them out.

15You have added to the nation, YHWH.
You have added to the nation.
You have been glorified.
You have expanded the borders of the land.

Note the turn to a description of God’s blessing.

16In trouble they called to you, YHWH.
They poured out their prayer as you corrected them.
17Like a pregnant woman who comes near to giving birth,
She writhes, she cries out in her pains, [John 16:21]

Thus were we from before you, YHWH.
18We were pregnant, we writhed,
But we gave birth to wind.
We have not brought forth salvation on earth,
Nor have the inhabitants of the world fallen.

And here is another statement of God’s grace. Every human effort has failed, has accomplished nothing. They are like giving birth to wind. Yet when God steps in there is salvation.

19Your dead will live,
My corpses will rise.
Wake up and sing!
Those who dwell in the dust.
Like drops of light is your dew,
And the earth will bring forth the shades. [Ephesians 5:14]

20Come my people! Enter your chambers!
Close your doors after you.
Hide for just a moment,
until wrath passes over.
21For look! YHWH is going out from his place,
To repay the iniquity of the land’s inhabitants on it.
The land will reveal its blood,
And will no longer conceal its slain.

We end with two affirmations: 1) God will bring new life, an early affirmation of the resurrection, and 2) The land is going to reveal the iniquity that has been done in it, allowing final justice.

On the first point there has been some debate about whether this resurrection refers merely to the restoration of the nation or whether there is a resurrection of the dead involved. I believe the latter, largely because of the contrast to the dead gods/lords who will never rise again.

On the second, note that the sacrificial system had many cases in which a sacrifice was to be offered when someone realized their guilt. The things that are concealed must be revealed so that justice can be done, whether for atonement or for punishment.

2 thoughts on “Isaiah 26: Praise and Lament in Trouble

  1. Henry, this post is full of interesting ideas. I like the “blue text.” Making your own translation forces you to think more deeply about the text. Good job!

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