Isaiah 56

 

כֹּה אָמַר יְהוָה שִׁמְרוּ מִשְׁפָּט וַעֲשׂוּ צְדָקָה כִּי־קְרֹובָה יְשׁוּעָתִי לָבֹוא וְצִדְקָתִי לְהִגָּלֹות׃   56:1

Isai. 56:1   Thus says the Lord:

                             “Preserve justice and practice righteousness,

                    for soon My salvation is coming,

                             and My rectitude is being revealed.”

Once more we find that the second-person pronouns implied by the imperative verbs (in the second line) are masculine plural.

אַשְׁרֵי אֱנֹושׁ יַעֲשֶׂה־זֹּאת וּבֶן־אָדָם יַחֲזִיק בָּהּ שֹׁמֵר שַׁבָּת מֵחַלְּלֹו וְשֹׁמֵר יָדֹו מֵעֲשֹׂות כָּל־רָע׃   56:2

Isai. 56:2   Let a person happily do this,

                              and a child of humanity hold fast by it,

                    guarding the Sabbath from his profaning,

                              and keeping his hand from doing any evil.

וְאַל־יֹאמַר בֶּן־הַנֵּכָר הַנִּלְוָה אֶל־יְהוָה לֵאמֹר הַבְדֵּל יַבְדִּילַנִי יְהוָה מֵעַל עַמֹּו וְאַל־יֹאמַר הַסָּרִיס הֵן   56:3 אֲנִי עֵץ יָבֵשׁ׃

Isai. 56:3   And let not the son of an alien

                             who has joined to the Lord speak to say,

                    “The Lord will separate me from His people,”

                             and the eunuch not say,

                    “Behold, I am a dry tree.”

כִּי־כֹה אָמַר יְהוָה לַסָּרִיסִים אֲשֶׁר יִשְׁמְרוּ אֶת־שַׁבְּתֹותַי וּבָחֲרוּ בַּאֲשֶׁר חָפָצְתִּי וּמַחֲזִיקִים בִּבְרִיתִי׃   56:4

Isai. 56:4   For thus says the Lord to the eunuchs:

                            “They who will keep My Sabbaths

                    and choose what I desire,

                            and who are strong in My covenant,

וְנָתַתִּי לָהֶם בְּבֵיתִי וּבְחֹומֹתַי יָד וָשֵׁם טֹוב מִבָּנִים וּמִבָּנֹות שֵׁם עֹולָם אֶתֶּן־לֹו אֲשֶׁר לֹא יִכָּרֵת׃   56:5

Isai. 56:5   then I will give to them

                             in My house and within My walls

                   a monument and a memorial

                             better than sons or than daughters.

                    I will give to him a name everlasting that will not fail.”

Notice the change in third-person pronouns from the first line to the fifth line here.  In the first line, the pronoun is plural, in the fifth line, it is singular.  Isaiah shifts the Lord’s focus from all those who are eunuchs to one of them,   The same trick, altering number from plural to singular, appears in the next verse as well:  The shift from the group to each individual.  Then in verses 56:7 and 56:8 the same thing stretches across the two verses, changing from them in the first line of v. 56:7 to his in the third line of v. 56:8.  I suspect that Isaiah is changing focus after v. 56:7.  from the future; he is there going back to the present.

וּבְנֵי הַנֵּכָר הַנִּלְוִים עַל־יְהוָה לְשָׁרְתֹו וּלְאַהֲבָה אֶת־שֵׁם יְהוָה לִהְיֹות לֹו לַעֲבָדִים כָּל־שֹׁמֵר שַׁבָּת   56:6 מֵחַלְּלֹו וּמַחֲזִיקִים בִּבְרִיתִי׃

Isai. 56:6   “And the children of the alien

                             who have been joined to the Lord to serve Him

                    and to love the name of the Lord,

                             being for servants to Him,

                    every one guarding the Sabbath from his profaning,

                             and holding fast by My covenant,

וַהֲבִיאֹותִים אֶל־הַר קָדְשִׁי וְשִׂמַּחְתִּים בְּבֵית תְּפִלָּתִי עֹולֹתֵיהֶם וְזִבְחֵיהֶם לְרָצֹון עַל־מִזְבְּחִי כִּי בֵיתִי   56:7 בֵּית־תְּפִלָּה יִקָּרֵא לְכָל־הָעַמִּים׃

Isai. 56:7   even them will I bring to the mountain of My holiness

                             and make them joyous in the house of My supplication.

                    Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices

                             shall be acceptable on My altar.

                    For My house shall be called

                              a house of worship for all peoples.”

Please see my remarks about the spelling of the first word in this verse at Nehe. 1:9.

נְאֻם אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה מְקַבֵּץ נִדְחֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל עֹוד אֲקַבֵּץ עָלָיו לְנִקְבָּצָיו׃   56:8

Isai. 56:8   Declares the Master, the Lord,

                             the Assembler of the dispersed of Israel:

                    “Besides, I will gather to be assembled because of him

כֹּל חַיְתֹו שָׂדָי אֵתָיוּ לֶאֱכֹל כָּל־חַיְתֹו בַּיָּעַר׃   56:9

Isai. 56:9   all his beasts of the field.”

                             Come to feed, all his beasts in the forest!

Who is the one being referred to in these two verses (and the next one)?  Might it be the eunuch, or the son of the alien?  As I stated above (regarding vss. 56:7 and 56:8), It could be either -- or perhaps even Israel.  Apparently, it wasn’t important or necessary for Isaiah to make the distinction.  However, I believe he is now speaking of Israel in the present.  I believe the evidence for this can be detected in the words of this verse and the previous one.  The Lord says He will gather the beasts.  For what purpose?  The answer may be in this verse.  “Come to feed,” Isaiah says, “all his beasts in the forest.”  What are the beasts and what or whom are the beasts to feed on?  I feel reasonably certain that it is Judah, who in the near future, will be threatened by its enemies.  In other words, Isaiah is back in his present.  But then see the remarks relating to the next verse.

צֹפֹו) [צֹפָיו] עִוְרִים כֻּלָּם לֹא יָדָעוּ כֻּלָּם כְּלָבִים אִלְּמִים לֹא יוּכְלוּ לִנְבֹּחַ הֹזִים שֹׁכְבִים אֹהֲבֵי לָנוּם׃   56:10

Isai. 56:10   His watchmen, blind all of them.

                             They do not comprehend.

                      All of them dumb dogs,

                              they will not be able to bark,

                       sleeping, lying down, lovers of slumbering.

First of all, there is an error in the first word, which is before the left parenthesis.  It should have a yad as the third letter.  Without it, the word is singular, to be translated as His watchman.  But the verb to which it is the subject is plural, as are all the third-person pronouns and subsequent verbs in the verse.  The correction to his watchmen is in the brackets. 

Second of all, who are the watchmen?  Why does Isaiah say His watchmen?  Commentators believe this refers to the spiritual guides of the people.  Their inability to bark is assumed to be a metaphor for their not giving warning of danger.  I would like to consider these conclusions more carefully.  As I asked above, has Isaiah suddenly reverted to addressing the present, or is he still addressing the future after the redemption?  If he is addressing the present now, then the focus has shifted from that of the verses before v. 56:8.  I believe they were all addressing the future.  Is it possible he is still addressing the future?  If so, he may be relating to a future in which the people revert to idolatry again and they will be facing external threats once more, say before the destruction of the second Temple.  I’m not sure which it is, but I imagine it could be either time frame.  The point is, he is speaking of the watchmen.  They are not only mute guard dogs, they are also greedy dogs and stupid selfish shepherds (see the next verse).  I can agree that they may be the priests of Isaiah’s day.

וְהַכְּלָבִים עַזֵּי־נֶפֶשׁ לֹא יָדְעוּ שָׂבְעָה וְהֵמָּה רֹעִים לֹא יָדְעוּ הָבִין כֻּלָּם לְדַרְכָּם פָּנוּ אִישׁ לְבִצְעֹו   56:11 מִקָּצֵהוּ׃

Isai. 56:11   And the dogs are greedy;

                               they do not know satisfaction.

                      And they are shepherds;

                               they do not know understanding.

                      All of them to their own way turn,

                               each allocating to himself for his own gain.

אֵתָיוּ אֶקְחָה־יַיִן וְנִסְבְּאָה שֵׁכָר וְהָיָה כָזֶה יֹום מָחָר גָּדֹול יֶתֶר מְאֹד׃   56:12

Isai. 56:12   Come, let me get wine,

                               and we will imbibe strong drink;

                       then tomorrow can be like this day,

                               very exceedingly great.

I believe we have here the pièce de résistance of this chapter.  What is Isaiah getting at in this verse?  In  my view, he is teasing the people -- and especially their guides -- with this satirical invitation.  He is employing a literary gambit:  By exaggerating and completely distorting the greatness of today (whenever that is), he is pinpointing their stupidity and obstinacy.  Because if the day is in the present, it is not a good one.  And the only way they can see it as such is to be drunk beyond caring.

 

[Return to Isaiah Chapters]   [Prev.:  Isai. 55]   [Next:  Isai. 57]