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Isaiah 8:19-20

Context
Darkness Turns to Light as an Ideal King Arrives

8:19 1 They will say to you, “Seek oracles at the pits used to conjure up underworld spirits, from the magicians who chirp and mutter incantations. 2  Should people not seek oracles from their gods, by asking the dead about the destiny of the living?” 3  8:20 Then you must recall the Lord’s instructions and the prophetic testimony of what would happen. 4  Certainly they say such things because their minds are spiritually darkened. 5 

1 tn It is uncertain if the prophet or the Lord is speaking in vv. 19-22. If the latter, then vv. 19-22 resume the speech recorded in vv. 12-15, after the prophet’s response in vv. 16-18.

2 tn Heb “inquire of the ritual pits and of the magicians who chirp and mutter.” The Hebrew word אוֹב (’ov, “ritual pit”) refers to a pit used by a magician to conjure up underworld spirits. In 1 Sam 28:7 the witch of Endor is called a אוֹב-בַּעֲלַת (baalat-ov, “owner of a ritual pit”). See H. Hoffner, “Second Millennium Antecedents to the Hebrew ’OñBù,” JBL 86 (1967): 385-401.

3 tn Heb “Should a nation not inquire of its gods on behalf of the living, (by inquiring) of the dead?” These words appear to be a continuation of the quotation begun in the first part of the verse. אֱלֹהָיו (’elohayv) may be translated “its gods” or “its God.” Some take the second half of the verse as the prophet’s (or the Lord’s) rebuke of the people who advise seeking oracles at the ritual pits, but in this case the words “the dead on behalf of the living” are difficult to explain.

4 tn Heb “to [the] instruction and to [the] testimony.” The words “then you must recall” are supplied in the translation for stylistic reasons. In the Hebrew text vv. 19-20a are one long sentence, reading literally, “When they say to you…, to the instruction and to the testimony.” On the identity of the “instruction” and “testimony” see the notes at v. 16.

5 tn Heb “If they do not speak according to this word, [it is] because it has no light of dawn.” The literal translation suggests that “this word” refers to the instruction/testimony. However, it is likely that אִם־לֹא (’im-lo’) is asseverative here, as in 5:9. In this case “this word” refers to the quotation recorded in v. 19. For a discussion of the problem see J. N. Oswalt, Isaiah (NICOT), 230, n. 9. The singular pronoun in the second half of the verse is collective, referring back to the nation (see v. 19b).



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