Read: Isaiah 13-23, 24-27
Background Considerations Among the many speech forms which the prophets use in their preaching are Oracles (Speeches) against Foreign Nations (OAN). These appear is all of the prophets except Hosea and occupy a large number of chapters in some (Isaiah: 11, Jeremiah: 6, Ezekiel: 11, Obadiah and Nahum: all chapters). Why so much attention to foreigners? According to most scholars, these were never attended for the ears of the foreigners themselves, but served as a message of hope for Israel/Judah, promising the demise of potential foreign threats and often embedding positive speeches on Israel’s behalf.
From their appearance in the Old Testament, it seems that they were used 1) to encourage the troops before battle, 2) to provide security during transitions in rulers and 3) for other worship services. In Isaiah 13-23 several nations appear as recipients of God’s judgment: Babylon, Assyria, Moab, Syria, Ethiopia, Egypt, Edom, Arabia, Tyre.
The problem of pride. The Old Testament often singles out hubris or arrogance as the most egregious of sins against God. This will become apparent especially in the speech against Babylon in Isaiah 14 and Tyre in chapter 23.
Another note by way of background has to do with the role (or lack of role) of a personal devil in the Old Testament, as some see Satan in passages like Isaiah 14. In context, we should rather see here another OAN, not unlike those which surround it. In addition, the use of the Hebrew word, satan in the Old Testament, indicates the following “adversaries”: human enemies most of the time; the angel of the Lord in the Balaam story; a non-human accuser (Zechariah, Job, 2 Chronicles).
One genre of literature in the Bible is apocalyptic, with its focus on end times, a cataclysmic conclusion to the earth, hope for the oppressed people of God. Isaiah 24-27 forms what some call the “Isaianic Apocalypse.” How does this type of literature vary from other parts of Isaiah? Why is this?
Relevant Biblical Passages
- Read through Isaiah 13-23 at one sitting this week.
- Read through Isaiah 24-27 in one sitting.
- Isaiah 13-14. As we read through these chapters, what do we discover about: Babylon? Israel? Pride/arrogance? For whom is this material good news and why? For whom is it bad news and why? What will happen to the arrogant? How should we interpret chapter 14?
- Isaiah 19. What should we make of verses 23-25? Did the prophet intend for this to be fulfilled or is this a preacher’s way of emphasizing a positive future, even if with exaggeration and hyperbole? Are we to study these OAN as intentional predictions of the future or as a highly stylized, literarily creative way of talking about hope? Or both?
- Isaiah 20. Explain what Isaiah was doing here.
- Isaiah 24-27. Any differences between these chapters and those surrounding them? What is the major thrust of this section in Isaiah? In what ways does it promote hope for the future?
Contributions to the study of Isaiah The OAN form an unexpected literary form in the prophets. Why would the prophets spend so much of their time and so much of their books lambasting the neighbors? What does this contribute to the book of Isaiah?
Lessons for Life How do these chapters contribute to a message of hope?