The Messianic hope in the book of Isaiah
Nason, Philip Stephen
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The purpose of the dissertation is to ascertain the origin and development of Israel's Messianic hope as shown in the book of Isaiah. In doing this a survey has been made of the various theories held upon this subject. These have been considered under three headings; those which believe the hope existed previous to Isaiah's day; those which regard Isaiah as the author of this idea; and those which believe the idea did not arise until after Isaiah's time. All of these theories were seen to contain elements of truth, but none seemed an adequate solution of the problem. Evidence shows that a hope similar to the Messianic did exist in ancient countries of the East. Such a hope may be a natural result of Man's spiritual evolution, but there is nothing to show that Israel's Messianic Hope came either from another land or from her own antiquity. A number of passages in the Old Testament which are generally considered to be older than anything in the prophecy of Isaiah have been held to present the Messianic hope. Investigation of these shows that they promise nothing more than the prosperity and perpetuity of the Davidic dynasty. The majority of those who look upon Isaiah as the author of the hope regard it as an outgrowth of his political interest, and fail to take into account that the prophet's primary interest was in religion. The tendency in recent years has been to deny any message of hope to the eighth century prophets, but no adequate arguments have been brought forth to support such a denial. That Isaiah had hope for the future is seen by the oracle in 1:21-26 which is generally regarded as authentic. Those who argue that Isaiah could not have been the author of the Messianic hope do so on inadequate grounds. A study of the significance of anointing in the Old Testament shows that the king was endowed by this rite with the Spirit of Yahweh. As the anointed one, he became Yahweh's agent to bring peace and prosperity to the nation. Thus the kings served to establish a unique relationship between Yahweh and His people. There arc suggestions in the Old Testament that at times the king, under the influence of the Canaanized Yahweh worship, played the part of God in the cult ceremonial. Two approaches are possible to an understanding of the divine nature of the Hebrew kingship. The first is through a study of the Old Testament historical records; the second through a study of the cult practices that existed in the time of the monarchy. The historical records make no direct statement of king deification, but they do give hints of such practice. These records were extensively revised by the Deuteronomists who were opposed to such a practice, and this may account for the absence of any direct statement. Prohibitions in the Old Testament of certain ritual practices known to have been connected with king deification in other lands indicate at least an attempt at such practice among the Hebrews. Further evidence of king deification is seen in the ritual use made of some of the Psalms, especially in their use in connection with the Feast of the Tabernacles. In Psalm 45:7 the king is definitely addressed as God. The practice of king deification would have been extremely offensive to such a sensitive soul as Isaiah. His philosophy of life was more religious than political. For him the greatest sin is lack of faith in Yahweh, who is a holy God in whose presence only holy men can stand. If Isaiah were to sot forth such a doctrine as that of the Messianic hope, it would very likely be colored by his doctrines of faith and the holiness of Yahweh. A study of the characters of Ahaz and Hezekiah, the two kings with whom Isaiah had most dealings, shows that neither of them fulfilled the prophet's ideal. Ahaz was especially offensive to the prophet due to his practice of child sacrifice and worship 'under every green tree', both of which were connected with the Canaanite fertility cults. Furthermore, he caused a pagan altar to be erected in the temple. In a time of crisis, Ahaz sought help from Assyria, and this was an admission to Isaiah of the futility of the king's religion. Thus Ahaz failed completely to fulfill the function of Yahweh's Messiah. In the case of Hezekiah, the historical records claim him to have been a virtuous king. There is some evidence to show that he was not always a devout Yahweh worshipper. Furthermore, he was lacking in faith as seen by his trust in the men and horses of Egypt. Hence, Isaiah might have set forth his idea of a Messianic king as an antithesis to either Ahaz or Hezekiah. The belief that Isaiah is the author of the Messianic hope is further substantiated by a study of the Almah-Immanuel sign of 7:1-17. This passage has offered many difficulties to Old Testament critics, and has usually been interpreted only by deleting a part of it. A new understanding of it is now made possible through recent discoveries made at Ras Shamra. Clay tablets discovered at this place in 1929 and subsequent years have furnished us some of the ritual literature of the fertility cults which existed in Canaan at the time Israel entered that land. This ritual throws now light upon a number of Hebrew religious customs which scholars have thought for some time Israel borrowed fron her Canaanite neighbors. In the Ras Shamra ritual the Almah is a cult figure who becomes the mother of Shahar, the prosperity bringing god. Isaiah declares that there is no Shahar for Ahaz. The significance of the Almah-Immanuel sign is that Ahaz is seeking security through practice of the cult ritual. He hopes in this manner to have God with him (Immanuel), but such will not be the case. Immanuel is not the Messiah, but is the cult figure that represents the rejuvenation of the king. It is this figure that suggests to the prophet his idea of the Wonder-Child, the Messiah. Hence the Messiah is not to be identified with Immanuel but is to be contrasted with him. Isaiah developed his idea of the Messiah from this suggestion and gave utterance to it in the oracles contained in 9:1-6 and 11:1-9 at the time of Sennacherib's assault upon Jerusalem. Another expression of the idea, in a somewhat modified form, is to be found in 32:1-5. A study was made of the Messianic hope as it is found in Second Isaiah. Chapters 60-63 were studied in this connection since there is found no justification for regarding Isaiah 56-66 as a unit. Investigation was made of three points in this prophecy where the Messianic hope might be expressed. The Cyrus reference in 45:1 is seen to be an ironical appropriation to Yahweh by the prophet of the manner in which Cyrus claimed to be the special agent of the Babylonian god, Marduk. In the study of the Servant Songs an attempt was made to identify the Servant. It is seen that many characters do, in one way or another, answer the description of the Servant, but none fulfills the role as well as does the prophet himself. The question then arises as to whether he is to be regarded as the Messiah. It is seen that in various ways the Servant and the Messiah are to be identified, Moreover, evidence is found in Malachi to show that in post-exilic tine a prophet could be regarded as the agent of Yahweh who would be used to usher in the Messianic era. The conclusion is reached that the Second Isaiah was regarded in some sense as the Messiah. The 'sure mercies of David' passage in 55:3b-5 confirms this thesis for in this we see the idea of the blessings of the Messianic era being transferred from the Davidic dynasty to the people of Israel. Investigation of the apocalyptic and other late passages contained in the book of Isaiah was made in order to see whether any expression of the Messianic hope is to be found therein. A resemblance was noted between the apocalyptic idea and the Messianic hope. In both cases the blessings of a New Age follow a period of affliction. There is a marked difference, however, in the way in which the New Age is to be established. In the passages studied in this connection, it is Yahweh Himself who brings into existence the Glorious Future. No use is made of the Messiah. Hence there is to be found in these passages no clear setting forth of the Messianic hope, though suggestions of it are seen to be present. The conclusion reached was that a decline in interest in this doctrine had taken place. A possible reason for this was found in the fact that the hope had never been fulfilled, the one attempt at fulfillment on the part of Zerubbabel probably being a failure. The narrow nationalism of post-exilic Judaism was seen to be unfavorable to the life of this doctrine. A possible reaction to the House of David, due to its interest in the Hellenizing party, may also have been a contributing factor to this decline.
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