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Isaiah

(c. 740 - 681 BCE)


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The prophetic vision that affirmed principles of absolute justice and morality emerged in the Jerusalem of the First Temple period. This, together with the traditions related to the genesis of the three monotheistic faiths, transformed Jerusalem into a major city in the history of human civilization. The prophets emphasized the concept of historical linearity, which maintains that the flawed present, with its rampant suffering and injustice, will ultimately undergo a radical metamorphosis, and that finally absolute justice, peace, harmony, and spiritual awareness will prevail. It was in Jerusalem that people first lifted their eyes toward a more hopeful future.

A paramount shaper of the prophetic vision was Isaiah, who was active over an extraordinarily lengthy period of time: "The prophecies of Isaiah son of Amoz, who prophesied concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah "(Isaiah 1:1).

Isaiah was witness to one of the most turbulent periods in Jerusalem's history, from both the political and the religious standpoint. His status enabled him to take an active part in events, and in some cases to guide them. His relations with the senior m embers of the royal house, as described in the Bible, and the fact that he had free access to the palace, together with the complex linguistic style of his prophecies, suggest that he belonged to the Jerusalem aristocracy. This, though, did not prevent him from being an outspoken mouthpiece of the common people, who were being victimized by the rampant corruption of the ruling class: "What need have I of all your sacrifices? says the Lord... Put your evil doings away from my sight... Devote yourselves to justice;... Uphold the rights of the orphan; defend the cause of the widow"(1:11-17).

Isaiah was the most "political" of the prophets. In the face of Assyrian expansionism he counseled a passive political and military approach. He put his faith in divine salvation, which would certainly follow from a necessary change in the moral leadership and in the people's spiritual tenacity. Every "earthly" attempt to alter the course of events was foredoomed, since the mighty Assyria was no more than a "rod" in God's hands with which to punish the sins of Jerusalem: "Again the Lord spoke to me, thus: 'Because that people has spurned the gently flowing waters of Siloam assuredly, my Lord will bring up against them the mighty, massive waters of the Euphrates, the king of Assyria and all his multitude" (8:6-7). When the comprehensive religious reforms introduced by King Hezekiah seemed, at first, to justify the hopes held out for him by Isaiah, the prophet supported him in the difficult moments of the Assyrian siege: "Assuredly, thus said the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not enter this city; he shall not shoot an arrow at it, or advance upon it with a shield, or pile up a siege mound against us. He shall go back by the way he came, he shall not enter this city declares the Lord"(37:33-34).

However, Isaiah took an unwaveringly dim view of Hezekiah's attempts to forge alliances with Egypt and with the envoys of the Babylonian king Merodach-baladan, as a wedge against Assyrian expansionism. Such efforts, he said, attested to insufficient faith in the Lord. Isaiah is also considered the most universal of the prophets: "In the days to come, the Mount of the Lord's House shall stand firm above the mountains... And the many peoples shall go and shall say: Come, let us go up to the Mount of the Lord ... "(2:2-3). Christian theologists have drawn heavily on Isaiah's prophecies for exegetical purposes.


Sources: The Jerusalem Mosaic. Copyright 1995 Hebrew University of Jerusalem -- All Rights Reserved.

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