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Isaiah 13:6-8

Context

13:6 Wail, for the Lord’s day of judgment 1  is near;

it comes with all the destructive power of the sovereign judge. 2 

13:7 For this reason all hands hang limp, 3 

every human heart loses its courage. 4 

13:8 They panic –

cramps and pain seize hold of them

like those of a woman who is straining to give birth.

They look at one another in astonishment;

their faces are flushed red. 5 

1 tn Heb “the day of the Lord” (so KJV, NAB).

2 tn Heb “like destruction from the sovereign judge it comes.” The comparative preposition (כְּ, kÿ) has here the rhetorical nuance, “in every way like.” The point is that the destruction unleashed will have all the earmarks of divine judgment. One could paraphrase, “it comes as only destructive divine judgment can.” On this use of the preposition in general, see GKC 376 §118.x.

sn The divine name used here is שַׁדַּי (shaddai, “Shaddai”). Shaddai (or El Shaddai) is the sovereign king/judge of the world who grants life/blesses and kills/judges. In Genesis he blesses the patriarchs with fertility and promises numerous descendants. Outside Genesis he both blesses/protects and takes away life/happiness. The patriarchs knew God primarily as El Shaddai (Exod 6:3). While the origin and meaning of this name is uncertain (see discussion below) its significance is clear. The name is used in contexts where God appears as the source of fertility and life. In Gen 17:1-8 he appears to Abram, introduces himself as El Shaddai, and announces his intention to make the patriarch fruitful. In the role of El Shaddai God repeats these words (now elevated to the status of a decree) to Jacob (35:11). Earlier Isaac had pronounced a blessing upon Jacob in which he asked El Shaddai to make Jacob fruitful (28:3). Jacob later prays that his sons will be treated with mercy when they return to Egypt with Benjamin (43:14). The fertility theme is not as apparent here, though one must remember that Jacob viewed Benjamin as the sole remaining son of the favored and once-barren Rachel (cf. 29:31; 30:22-24; 35:16-18). It is quite natural that he would appeal to El Shaddai to preserve Benjamin’s life, for it was El Shaddai’s miraculous power which made it possible for Rachel to give him sons in the first place. In 48:3 Jacob, prior to blessing Joseph’s sons, tells him how El Shaddai appeared to him at Bethel (cf. chapter 28) and promised to make him fruitful. When blessing Joseph on his deathbed Jacob refers to Shaddai (we should probably read “El Shaddai,” along with a few Hebrew mss, the Samaritan Pentateuch, LXX, and Syriac) as the one who provides abundant blessings, including “blessings of the breast and womb” (49:25). (The direct association of the name with שָׁדַיִם [shadayim, “breasts”] suggests the name might mean “the one of the breast” [i.e., the one who gives fertility], but the juxtaposition is probably better explained as wordplay. Note the wordplay involving the name and the root שָׁדַד [shadad, “destroy”] here in Isa 13:6 and in Joel 1:15.) Outside Genesis the name Shaddai (minus El, “God”) is normally used when God is viewed as the sovereign king who blesses/protects or curses/brings judgment. The name appears in the introduction to two of Balaam’s oracles (Num 24:4, 16) of blessing upon Israel. Naomi employs the name when accusing the Lord of treating her bitterly by taking the lives of her husband and sons (Ruth 1:20-21). In Ps 68:14; Isa 13:6; and Joel 1:15 Shaddai judges his enemies through warfare, while Ps 91:1 depicts him as the protector of his people. (In Ezek 1:24 and 10:5 the sound of the cherubs’ wings is compared to Shaddai’s powerful voice. The reference may be to the mighty divine warrior’s battle cry which accompanies his angry judgment.) Last but not least, the name occurs 31 times in the Book of Job. Job and his “friends” assume that Shaddai is the sovereign king of the world (11:7; 37:23a) who is the source of life (33:4b) and is responsible for maintaining justice (8:3; 34:10-12; 37:23b). He provides abundant blessings, including children (22:17-18; 29:4-6), but can also discipline, punish, and destroy (5:17; 6:4; 21:20; 23:16). It is not surprising to see the name so often in this book, where the theme of God’s justice is primary and even called into question (24:1; 27:2). The most likely proposal is that the name means “God, the one of the mountain” (an Akkadian cognate means “mountain,” to which Heb. שַׁד [shad, “breast”] is probably related). For a discussion of proposed derivations see T. N. D. Mettinger, In Search of God, 70-71. The name may originally depict God as the sovereign judge who, in Canaanite style, rules from a sacred mountain. Isa 14:13 and Ezek 28:14, 16 associate such a mountain with God, while Ps 48:2 refers to Zion as “Zaphon,” the Canaanite Olympus from which the high god El ruled. (In Isa 14 the Canaanite god El may be in view. Note that Isaiah pictures pagan kings as taunting the king of Babylon, suggesting that pagan mythology may provide the background for the language and imagery.)

3 tn Heb “drop”; KJV “be faint”; ASV “be feeble”; NAB “fall helpless.”

4 tn Heb “melts” (so NAB).

5 tn Heb “their faces are faces of flames.” Their faces are flushed with fear and embarrassment.



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