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Isaiah 6:11-13

Context

6:11 I replied, “How long, sovereign master?” He said,

“Until cities are in ruins and unpopulated,

and houses are uninhabited,

and the land is ruined and devastated,

6:12 and the Lord has sent the people off to a distant place,

and the very heart of the land is completely abandoned. 1 

6:13 Even if only a tenth of the people remain in the land, it will again be destroyed, 2  like one of the large sacred trees 3  or an Asherah pole, when a sacred pillar on a high place is thrown down. 4  That sacred pillar symbolizes the special chosen family.” 5 

1 tn Heb “and great is the abandonment in the midst of the land.”

2 tn Or “be burned” (NRSV); NIV “laid waste.”

3 tn Heb “like a massive tree or like a big tree” (perhaps, “like a terebinth or like an oak”).

4 tn The Hebrew text has “which in the felling, a sacred pillar in them.” Some take מַצֶּבֶת (matsevet) as “stump,” and translate, “which, when chopped down, have a stump remaining in them.” But elsewhere מַצֶּבֶת refers to a memorial pillar (2 Sam 18:18) and the word resembles מַצֶּבָה (matsevah, “sacred pillar”). בָּם (bam, “in them”) may be a corruption of בָּמָה (bamah, “high place”; the Qumran scroll 1QIsaa has במה). אֳשֶׁר (’asher, “which”) becomes a problem in this case, but one might emend the form to וּכְּאֲשֵׁרָה (ukÿasherah, “or like an Asherah pole”) and translate, “like one of the large sacred trees or an Asherah pole.” Though the text is difficult, the references to sacred trees and a sacred pillar suggest that the destruction of a high place is in view, an apt metaphor for the judgment of idolatrous Judah.

5 tn Heb “a holy offspring [is] its sacred pillar.” If מַצֶּבֶת (matsevet) is taken as “stump,” one can see in this statement a brief glimpse of hope. The tree (the nation) is chopped down, but the stump (a righteous remnant) remains from which God can restore the nation. However, if מַצֶּבֶת is taken as “sacred pillar” (מַצֶּבָה, matsevah; see the previous note), it is much more difficult to take the final statement in a positive sense. In this case “holy offspring” alludes to God’s ideal for his covenant people, the offspring of the patriarchs. Ironically that “holy” nation is more like a “sacred pillar” and it will be thrown down like a sacred pillar from a high place and its land destroyed like the sacred trees located at such shrines. Understood in this way, the ironic statement is entirely negative in tone, just like the rest of the preceding announcement of judgment. It also reminds the people of their failure; they did not oppose pagan religion, instead they embraced it. Now they will be destroyed in the same way they should have destroyed paganism.



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