Isaiah is commonly divided into three major parts know as First Isaiah, or Proto-Isaiah (1-39); Second Isaiah or Deutero-Isaiah (40-55); and Third Isaiah or Trito-Isaiah (56-66). This Sunday’s reading is taken from Second Isaiah which “has for its theme the deliverance of Jewish exiles from Babylonian oppression which Yahweh will effect in the immediate future through his chosen instrument, Cyrus. The argument frequently takes the form of a judicial contest between Yahweh and the pagan deities. As in the past so also in the present Yahweh alone predicts and performs. The idols know nothing and do nothing. The work is divided into two parts, 40:1-49:13 and 49:14-55:13. In the first the prophet addresses himself to Jacob and Israel, in the second to Sion and Jerusalem. The new exodus from Babylon is celebrated in both parts but the future glories of Sion in the second replace the exploits of Cyrus and the fall of Babylon in the first. The unity of plan is remarkable and makes it easy to recognize that the four poems on the Servant of Yahweh, 42:1-7; 49:1-9a; 50:4-11; 52:13-53:12, are a subsequent addition, composed apparently by the author but inserted by a redactor. They depict the future Messias, not as king and conqueror, but as worker and sufferer. The first two Servant songs interrupt very evidently the context of prophecies in which they were unskilfully inserted. The last two were located more naturally between separate prophecies with which however they have no connexion: (Catholic Commentary On Holy Scripture).
Today I’ll be using the RSV, see the copyright notice at the end of the post.
16 Thus says the LORD, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, 17 who brings forth chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick: 18 “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. 19 Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. 20 The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, 21 the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.
Introduces three major themes of Second Isaiah: (1) that God is the powerful creator who keeps creation at his beck and call; (2) That He is the savior of His people who will (3) lead them back from Exile as He had once led them to freedom in the Exodus.
God had warned His people that if they did not obey His covenant in the Promised Land they would be exiled (Deut 28:58-69). This threat was fulfilled in part, in 722 BC when the northern Kingdom of Israel was taken into exile by Assyria; and fulfilled completely in 587 BC when the southern Kingdom of Judah was exiled into Babylon (see 2 Kings 17 and 2 Chronicles 36:15-21).
The punishment of exile was meant to be medicinal, in order to lead the people to repentance (see Deut 30). According to Isaiah 40:2 the Exile has had its effect, and so God has initiated a new Exodus (40:3-5; 42:), whereby He manifests his power as both Creator and Savior (40:12-17), and this in marked contradiction to the useless gods of the Pagans (40:18-31).
17. who brings forth chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick. What God once did to the army of Pharaoh (Ex 14:1-15:21) He will again do to the oppressors of His repentant people. Note the present tense of the words, this indicates that God is always ready to unleash His saving power upon those who repent (see the previously referred to text of Deut 30. Also, recall the parable of the Prodigal Son from last Sunday’s Gospel reading).
18. Remember not the former things &c. 19. Behold, I am doing a new thing &c. As the Protestant Commentators Keil and Delitzsch put it: “for the redemption out of Egypt was a type and pledge of the deliverance to be looked for out of Babylon. The participles must not be rendered qui dedit, eduxit; but from the mighty act of Jehovah in olden time general attributes are deduced: He who makes a road in the sea, as He once showed. The sea with the tumultuous waters is the Red Sea.”
20 The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, 21 the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise. These words recall the opening prophecy of the Book of Isaiah (1:2-3): “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the LORD has spoken: ‘Sons have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its owner, and the ass its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, my people does not understand.’ ” The attitude of the people towards God has changed as a result of His punishment and His grace, and so, therefore, the lot of the people has been changed by God as well.
RSV Copyright Notice:
The [New] Revised Standard Version Bible may be quoted and/or reprinted up to and inclusive of five hundred (500) verses without express written permission of the publisher, provided the verses quoted do not amount to a complete book of the Bible or account for fifty percent (50%) of the total work in which they are quoted. Notice of copyright must appear on the title or copyright page of the work as follows:
“Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1952 [2nd edition, 1971] by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”