Isaiah Institute Weekly Reading: Isaiah 1:8-9


Isaiah 1:8-9

8 The Daughter of Zion is left like a shelter in a vineyard, a hut in a melon field, a city under siege.

The Daughter of Zion. When defining Israel’s relationship to its God, the Hebrew prophets commonly characterize Israel as a woman and Jehovah as her husband within the marriage covenant. Because Jehovah’s people as a whole have apostatized, however, persons among them who survive Assyria’s destruction comprise but a small remnant of Jehovah’s people. Called “Zion” or the “Daughter of Zion” (Isaiah 37:22; 52:2; 62:11), these survivors represent a higher spiritual category of Jehovah’s people than the “Israel” category because of their faithfulness to his covenant through many trials.

The Daughter of Zion is left. The idea of being “left” signifies the survival of a remnant of Jehovah’s people at the time the rest perish. It underscores the dire conditions under which some survive. Word links in the Book of Isaiah identify those who are “left” as persons who return from exile in a new exodus to Zion (Isaiah 11:11, 16), who survive Assyria’s siege of Jerusalem (Isaiah 37:4), who remain “as a flag staff on a mountaintop, an ensign on a hill” (Isaiah 30:17), whose names are “inscribed among the living at Jerusalem” (Isaiah 4:3), and who are called “the holy offspring” (Isaiah 6:13).

A shelter in a vineyard. While Jehovah’s “vineyard” denotes the Promised Land (Isaiah 5:1–7), in the millennial age it extends to the entire earth (Isaiah 27:2–6). The “shelter” refers to Jehovah’s cloud of glory that protects a remnant of his people as it did ancient Israel (Exodus 14:19–20, 24): “Over the whole site of Mount Zion, and over its solemn assembly, Jehovah will form a cloud by day and a mist glowing with fire by night: above all that is glorious shall be a canopy. It shall be a shelter and shade from the heat of the day, a secret refuge from the downpour and from rain” (Isaiah 4:5–6; cf. 25:4–5).

A hut in a melon field. The idea of a “hut” suggests the presence of a watchman who guards the field against thieves and wild animals. A synonym of the term “shelter”—which appears in parallel with it—the “hut” further connotes protection from the elements, such as a rainstorm or the heat of the sun, whose imagery alludes to Jehovah’s Day of Judgment (Isaiah 17:13; 18:4–6; 25:4–5; 28:2, 14–19; 32:19; 40:24; 49:10). As a watchman’s role includes sounding the alarm when danger approaches (Isaiah 21:6–10), so those who heed the watchman’s warning are persons most likely to survive.

A city under siege. The “city” motif—which here appears in parallel with the “shelter” and “hut”—provides another metaphor of Jehovah’s people. Ultimately there emerge two cities in the Book of Isaiah that represent Jehovah’s covenant people: one wicked, the other righteous; one destroyed, the other delivered (v 21; Isaiah 24:10–12; 26:1–6; 33:20; 52:1–2; 66:6). The expression “under siege” (nesurah), moreover, possesses a double meaning in Hebrew: (1) “under siege”; and (2) “preserved.” In other words, although the righteous city may come under siege by enemies, Jehovah preserves it.

9 Had not Jehovah of Hosts left us a few survivors, we should have been as Sodom, or become like Gomorrah.

A type or precedent of the “few survivors” of Jehovah’s people who are “left” after the destruction are Lot and his two daughters who escaped God’s ancient destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:24–30). Representing a pattern of what happens in the end-time, when Jehovah sends his angels to escort Lot and his family out of Sodom, his sons-in-law consider it foolish while Lot’s wife looks back and perishes (Genesis 19:12–23; cf. Matthew 24:31). The full authoritative title “Jehovah of Hosts” underscores the gravity of these events and the fact that Israel’s God is in charge of world affairs.

Sodom . . . Gomorrah. The names Sodom and Gomorrah remind us of those ancient cities and their inhabitants and what they came to symbolize. In their perverse lifestyle their residents grew so aggressive that they attempted to violate the angels of God who were Lot’s guests (Genesis 19:1–11). Isaiah’s drawing on this type when predicting the end-time lets us know that once they lose God’s light his people start to resemble those ancient inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. When his people’s devotion to Jehovah becomes but a shallow version of his law and word, it lacks the power to withstand evil.

The names Sodom and Gomorrah additionally function as word links to Babylon: “And Babylon, the most splendid of kingdoms, the glory and pride of Chaldeans, shall be [thrown down] as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah” (Isaiah 13:19). Isaiah’s structurally developed concept of a Greater Babylon—resembling John’s “Babylon the Great”—identifies it as an evil world conglomerate on the eve of its destruction (Isaiah 13–23, 47; Revelation 17–18). That a wicked majority of Jehovah’s people suffers the same fate Babylon does implies that it too has become identified with Babylon.

The idea of “cities burned with fire” that describes the destruction of Jehovah’s people (v 7) alludes to the desolation of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and their residents by a hail of fire and brimstone (Genesis 19:24–25; cf. Isaiah 32:19). While the end-time version of that event may involve a similar cosmic cataclysm, Isaiah attributes the destruction of the world’s cities to the king of Assyria/Babylon (Isaiah 37:26). In view of modern weaponry’s ability to destroy entire cities in seconds, such technology in the hands of an archtyrant may thus account for Isaiah’s end-time scenario (Isaiah 9:18–19).


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