Day Fourteen of “Through Advent with Isaiah”
Whereas justice in II Isaiah deals with the cost of being faithful to Yahweh and ministering to the poor, the widowed, the orphan, and the powerless, justice in III Isaiah seems to be concerned with expanding who forms part of the people of God -an inssue of inclusion and exclusion.
Thus we find in Isaiah 56:
1 Thus says the Lord:
Maintain justice, and do what is right,
for soon my salvation will come,
and my deliverance be revealed.
2 Happy is the mortal who does this,
the one who holds it fast,
who keeps the sabbath, not profaning it,
and refrains from doing any evil.
3 Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say,
‘The Lord will surely separate me from his people’;
and do not let the eunuch say,
‘I am just a dry tree.’
4 For thus says the Lord:
To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
5 I will give, in my house and within my walls,
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.
6 And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it,
and hold fast my covenant—
7 these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.
8 Thus says the Lord God,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel,
I will gather others to them
besides those already gathered. – Isaiah 66.1-8
This is a striking passage because we see two previously excluded classes of peoples – foreigners and eunuchs – now admitted to the Temple. As Andreas Schuele suggests in his article “Who is the True Israel? Community, Identity, and Religious Commitment in Third Isaiah (Isaiah 56–66)” (Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology 2019, Vol. 73 (2) 174–184), part of the justice to be maintained by Israel is the inclusion of these peoples into Temple worship. This is different from Ezra-Nehemiah, where membership is determined by ethnicity, and foreigners are to be avoided. Schuele sees III Isaiah and Ezra-Nehemiah being part of a longer conversation around whether Judaism could become a missionary religion, and not just the faith of a group of people descended from a common ancestor. This builds on the vision of Isaiah 2.1-5 in a practical way:
2 In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
3 Many peoples shall come and say,
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.’ – Isaiah 2.1-3
As well, in chapters 65-66, Schuele believes that despite the presence of
. . . a clear sense of “us” versus “them,” of true allegiance and loyalty to God versus infidelity and moral depravity . . . this is not Israel versus other nations; rather, the focus seems to have shifted, since this dichotomy applies to “all flesh,” meaning all of humankind.
Right at the second to last verse of the book we read:
23 From new moon to new moon,
and from sabbath to sabbath,
all flesh shall come to worship before me,
says the Lord. – Isaiah 66.23
The theme of justice, then, is central in Isaiah, but develops through the book. And it has continued to develop in the interpretation of the book.