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Isaiah 1:17-23

Context

1:17 Learn to do what is right!

Promote justice!

Give the oppressed reason to celebrate! 1 

Take up the cause of the orphan!

Defend the rights of the widow! 2 

1:18 3 Come, let’s consider your options,” 4  says the Lord.

“Though your sins have stained you like the color red,

you can become 5  white like snow;

though they are as easy to see as the color scarlet,

you can become 6  white like wool. 7 

1:19 If you have a willing attitude and obey, 8 

then you will again eat the good crops of the land.

1:20 But if you refuse and rebel,

you will be devoured 9  by the sword.”

Know for certain that the Lord has spoken. 10 

Purifying Judgment

1:21 How tragic that the once-faithful city

has become a prostitute! 11 

She was once a center of 12  justice,

fairness resided in her,

but now only murderers. 13 

1:22 Your 14  silver has become scum, 15 

your beer is diluted with water. 16 

1:23 Your officials are rebels, 17 

they associate with 18  thieves.

All of them love bribery,

and look for 19  payoffs. 20 

They do not take up the cause of the orphan, 21 

or defend the rights of the widow. 22 

1 tn The precise meaning of this line is uncertain. The translation assumes an emendation of חָמוֹץ (khamots, “oppressor [?]”) to חָמוּץ (khamuts, “oppressed”), a passive participle from II חָמַץ (khamats, “oppress”; HALOT 329 s.v. II חמץ) and takes the verb II אָשַׁר (’ashar) in the sense of “make happy” (the delocutive Piel, meaning “call/pronounce happy,” is metonymic here, referring to actually effecting happiness). The parallelism favors this interpretation, for the next two lines speak of positive actions on behalf of the destitute. The other option is to retain the MT pointing and translate, “set right the oppressor,” but the nuance “set right” is not clearly attested elsewhere for the verb I אשׁר. This verb does appear as a participle in Isa 3:12 and 9:16 with the meaning “to lead or guide.” If it can mean to “lead” or “rebuke/redirect” in this verse, the prophet could be contrasting this appeal for societal reformation (v. 17c) with a command to reorder their personal lives (v. 17a-b). J. A. Motyer (The Prophecy of Isaiah, 47) suggests that these three statements (v. 17a-c) provide “the contrast between the two ends of imperfect society, the oppressor and the needy, the one inflicting and the other suffering the hurt. Isaiah looks for a transformed society wherever it needs transforming.”

2 tn This word refers to a woman who has lost her husband, by death or divorce. The orphan and widow are often mentioned in the OT as epitomizing the helpless and impoverished who have been left without the necessities of life due to the loss of a family provider.

3 sn The Lord concludes his case against Israel by offering them the opportunity to be forgiven and by setting before them the alternatives of renewed blessing (as a reward for repentance) and final judgment (as punishment for persistence in sin).

4 tn Traditionally, “let us reason together,” but the context suggests a judicial nuance. The Lord is giving the nation its options for the future.

5 tn The imperfects must be translated as modal (indicating capability or possibility) to bring out the conditional nature of the offer. This purification will only occur if the people repent and change their ways.

6 tn The imperfects must be translated as modal (indicating capability or possibility) to bring out the conditional nature of the offer. This purification will only occur if the people repent and change their ways.

7 tn Heb “though your sins are like red, they will become white like snow; though they are red like scarlet, they will be like wool.” The point is not that the sins will be covered up, though still retained. The metaphorical language must be allowed some flexibility and should not be pressed into a rigid literalistic mold. The people’s sins will be removed and replaced by ethical purity. The sins that are now as obvious as the color red will be washed away and the ones who are sinful will be transformed.

8 tn Heb “listen”; KJV “obedient”; NASB “If you consent and obey.”

9 sn The wordplay in the Hebrew draws attention to the options. The people can obey, in which case they will “eat” v. 19 (תֹּאכֵלוּ [tokhelu], Qal active participle of אָכַל) God’s blessing, or they can disobey, in which case they will be devoured (Heb “eaten,” תְּאֻכְּלוּ, [tÿukkÿlu], Qal passive/Pual of אָכַל) by God’s judgment.

10 tn Heb “for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” The introductory כִּי (ki) may be asseverative (as reflected in the translation) or causal/explanatory, explaining why the option chosen by the people will become reality (it is guaranteed by the divine word).

11 tn Heb “How she has become a prostitute, the faithful city!” The exclamatory אֵיכָה (’ekhah, “how!”) is used several times as the beginning of a lament (see Lam 1:1; 2;1; 4:1-2). Unlike a number of other OT passages that link references to Israel’s harlotry to idolatry, Isaiah here makes the connection with social and moral violations.

12 tn Heb “filled with.”

13 tn Or “assassins.” This refers to the oppressive rich and/or their henchmen. R. Ortlund (Whoredom, 78) posits that it serves as a synecdoche for all varieties of criminals, the worst being mentioned to imply all lesser ones. Since Isaiah often addressed his strongest rebuke to the rulers and leaders of Israel, he may have in mind the officials who bore the responsibility to uphold justice and righteousness.

14 tn The pronoun is feminine singular; personified Jerusalem (see v. 21) is addressed.

15 tn Or “dross.” The word refers to the scum or impurites floating on the top of melted metal.

16 sn The metaphors of silver becoming impure and beer being watered down picture the moral and ethical degeneration that had occurred in Jerusalem.

17 tn Or “stubborn”; CEV “have rejected me.”

18 tn Heb “and companions of” (so KJV, NASB); CEV “friends of crooks.”

19 tn Heb “pursue”; NIV “chase after gifts.”

20 sn Isaiah may have chosen the word for gifts (שַׁלְמוֹנִים, shalmonim; a hapax legomena here), as a sarcastic pun on what these rulers should have been doing. Instead of attending to peace and wholeness (שָׁלוֹם, shalom), they sought after payoffs (שַׁלְמוֹנִים).

21 sn See the note at v. 17.

22 sn The rich oppressors referred to in Isaiah and the other eighth century prophets were not rich capitalists in the modern sense of the word. They were members of the royal military and judicial bureaucracies in Israel and Judah. As these bureaucracies grew, they acquired more and more land and gradually commandeered the economy and legal system. At various administrative levels bribery and graft become commonplace. The common people outside the urban administrative centers were vulnerable to exploitation in such a system, especially those, like widows and orphans, who had lost their family provider through death. Through confiscatory taxation, conscription, excessive interest rates, and other oppressive governmental measures and policies, they were gradually disenfranchised and lost their landed property, and with it, their rights as citizens. The socio-economic equilibrium envisioned in the law of Moses was radically disturbed.



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