Day Eight of “Through Advent with Isaiah”
Isaiah gives his children some strange names.
- At some point Isaiah and his wife had a child, and named him Shear-jashub. This means “a remnant will return”. This is usually taken to be a prophetic sign, to wit, that from the exiles of Israel only a small portion would come back. This might be applied to the people of the northern Kingdom of Israel, but also to the future exiles of Judah.
- If the woman in 7:14 is the wife of the prophet then he gave his second child another odd name, Immanuel, meaning, “God with us”. This was a sign that God was with the city of Jerusalem and and the people of Judah (and perhaps even Ahaz). The name does not seem weird to us, but that is only because Jews and Christians have been inspired to name our children that in various forms, for example, Emmanuel Tov (a prominent Israeli Hebrew and Greek scholar), Immanuel Kant, and Manuel II, the last King of Portugal.
- In Chapter 8 we read:
1 Then the Lord said to me, Take a large tablet and write on it in common characters, ‘Belonging to Maher-shalal-hash-baz’, 2and have it attested for me by reliable witnesses, the priest Uriah and Zechariah son of Jeberechiah. 3And I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son. Then the Lord said to me, Name him Maher-shalal-hash-baz; 4for before the child knows how to call ‘My father’ or ‘My mother’, the wealth of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away by the king of Assyria. – Isaiah 8.1-4
Maher-shalal-hash-baz means “the spoil speeds, the prey hastens”, which is pretty odd, and like Shear-jashub, never became the popular name that Immanuel did. That said, there is a very odd Japanese band with that name.
Now, most Hebrew names mean something.
- יְשַׁעְיָהוּ Yesha’yahu is the Hebrew form of Isaiah, and means “Yah is my salvation” (Yah is the short form of the divine name “Yahweh”).
- עֻזִּיָּהוּ ‘Uzzîyāhū, “Uzziah“, means “Yah is my strength”.
- יוֹתָם Yotam, or “Jotham, means “Yah is honest/complete/perfect”.
- יְהוֹאָחָז, Yehoaḥaz, or “Jehoahaz” is “Yah has held”; אָחָז Ahaz is the short form. Was something signified by the dropping of “Yah”?
- חִזְקִיָּהוּ, Chizqiyahu (Ch as is “Loch”), is Hezekiah, and means “My God has strengthened”.
You can see that the use of “Yah” as part of people’s names was very common, and expressed hopeful or pious thoughts. .
What is different with Isaiah is that the names were not exactly hopeful. One hopes that his children went by something else as time went on.
The first reading of the Revised Common Lectionary this morning has another strange name: שֹׁ֣רֶשׁ יִשַׁ֗י shareth yisai “Root of Jesse”. Jesse is the father of David, so we are talking about someone of the House of David, and in this case it is the ideal king:
1 A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
2 The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3 His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
6 The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
9 They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
10 On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious. – Isaiah 11.1-10
This king is a greater king than Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, or Hezekiah. It is a king that is part of the restoration of Judah and Israel. He will not be corrupt as former kings were, or weak or fearful, but will destroy the wicked. Peace will follow, and even the animals will be at peace, and children will play with formerly dangerous critters. “The nations shall inquire of him”, meaning that his kingdom will be one respected and attended to by the world.
If this goes back to the prophet himself this indicates that he was the originator of messianic expectation. The actual Isaiah dealt with the kings he was given, but that did not mean that he was satisfied with them or was an uncritical supporter. Along with his condemnation of leaders, peoples, and nations, he provides a hope for an anointed one who will rule with righteousness, defending the poor and the meek of the earth. The king will be blessed with the Spirit of God so that he has “wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, the knowledge and the fear of the Lord.”
As Christians we see this in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. As we will see, II Isaiah sees this in Cyrus of Persia, and in the whole people of Israel.