Isaiah Institute Weekly Reading: Isaiah 1:27–31


Isaiah 1:27-31

27 Zion shall be ransomed by justice, those of her who repent by righteousness.

Parallel phrases define Zion as “those of her who repent.” That is, those of Jehovah’s people—his wife within the marriage covenant—who repent. As we observe in a repeat definition, Zion represents that category of his people to whom Jehovah comes to reign: “He will come as Redeemer to Zion, to those of Jacob who repent of transgression” (Isaiah 59:20). While those whom Isaiah identifies as Jacob or Israel represent a category of believers in God, those whom he identifies as Zion or Jerusalem represent a higher spiritual category, namely persons who repent of transgression—not all Israel.

Justice . . . righteousness. The reestablishment of justice and righteousness qualifies Jehovah’s people for deliverance from destruction in Jehovah’s Day of Judgment. To that end, Jehovah sends his servant, who personifies righteousness, to restore justice in the earth and to serve as an exemplar of righteousness (Isaiah 41:2; 42:1–4; 46:11–13). While the verb “ransomed” (pdh) applies largely to the physical deliverance of Jehovah’s people, its synonym “redeemed” (g’l) applies to their spiritual salvation (Isaiah 44:22). In effect, he who “redeems” is Jehovah, while he who “ransoms” is his servant.

28 But criminals and sinners shall be altogether shattered when those who forsake Jehovah are annihilated.

Paralleling (1) “criminals and sinners” who are “shattered” with (2) “those who forsake Jehovah” who are “annihilated” identifies both as Jehovah’s people. These, in turn, parallel “adversaries” and enemies” (v 24)—also his people—in an a1b1cb2a2 mini-chiasm: adversaries and enemies are avenged (v 24)—a1; Jehovah’s hand is restored (v 25)—b1; a righteous city is born (v 26)—c; Zion is ransomed by righteousness (v 27)—b2; and criminals and sinners are annihilated (v 28)—a2. In short, when Jehovah’s hand of righteousness intervenes, some are delivered while others perish.

29 And you will be ashamed of the oaks you cherished and blush for the parks you were fond of.

Isaiah portrays a kind of nature worship centered around “oaks” and “parks.” The parallel verbs “cherish” or “lust after” (hamadtem) and “fond of” or “prefer” (behartem) allude to the idolatrous nature of the practice (cf. Isaiah 57:5; 65:3). Because the word “oaks” (’elim) is a metaphor for elite persons in society, moreover (Isaiah 61:3), additional meanings of these terms suggest that those whom Jehovah’s people fancy include persons of wealth, power, or position who are popular with the masses, persons whom they idolize as “gods” (’elim) or toward whom they “express fawning adulation” (hamadtem).

30 You shall become like an oak whose leaves wither, and as a garden that has no water.

In his Day of Judgment, Jehovah humbles the elite of the earth (Isaiah 23:9; 26:5), while those who were humbled he exalts (Isaiah 49:7; 52:1–2). The covenant curses of drought, searing winds, and dying vegetation overtake the wicked (Isaiah 17:13; 27:8; 33:9), causing lakes and rivers to evaporate and dry up (Isaiah 19:5–7; 42:15). While the pronoun “you” addresses Jehovah’s people, desolate conditions also overspread the earth (Isaiah 24:4–12). Indeed, it is his people’s apostasy that precipitates Jehovah’s Day of Judgment. Although the whole earth suffers, they are the catalyst (Isaiah 10:5–7).

31 The mighty shall be as refuse, their works, a spark; both shall burn up alike, and there shall be none to extinguish.

The “mighty”—the icons of society—become but burnt refuse as Jehovah cleanses the earth of wickedness. Their “works” or institutions are the spark that sets off the conflagration. “Refuse,” a chaos motif, signifies the disintegration of the old society before the new—the community of Zion or Jerusalem—takes its place (Isaiah 2:2–4). Jehovah appoints the king of Assyria/Babylon as his instrument for burning up the wicked of his people and the nations (v 7; Isaiah 9:18–19; 10:5–7; 33:1, 12–14; 47:14). Jehovah ordained this archtyrant’s cleansing of the earth “long ago . . . in days of old” (Isaiah 37:26).


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