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The Catholic Study Bible A special version of the New American Bible, with a wealth of background information useful to Catholics.

Third Isaiah

Chapters 56 through 66 were written several decades later in Palestine rather than in Babylon. It is possible that the author, now older and facing different issues, was also the author of Chapters 40 through 55 . It is equally possible that he was another person who felt authorized to continue and complete Second Isaiah's work. It is impossible to decide. Chapters 56 through 66 presume that many exiles have returned to Zion, and that they, along with those who remained in Palestine, are busy rebuilding the community. Second Isaiah's task had been to announce to the people that a new stage in the unfolding of the divine plan had been decreed—restoration rather than destruction—and to persuade them to respond by returning to Zion. Yet how were the people to rebuild once they were in Zion? What must they do to become a new people? It is precisely these questions that Third Isaiah addresses. His theme is rebuilding the community in its twofold sense of building a city and forming a people (60–62; 66).

The various speeches of Third Isaiah have been edited into a coherent whole. Chapters 60 through 62 , concerning the glorification of Zion, is the centerpiece, for five poems precede ( 56, 1–8; 56, 9–57, 13; 57, 14–21; 58; 59 ) and five follow ( 63, 1–6; 63, 7–64, 12; 65; 66, 1–16.17–24 ). The centerpiece is framed on one side by a lament plus a brief description of the coming of the Lord to Zion ( 59, 1–20.21 ) and, on the other, by a brief description of the coming of the Lord to Zion plus a lament ( 63, 1–6; 63, 7–64, 1 ). It is helpful to give a schematic presentation of chapters 56 through 66 , and to give to each poem a title that summarizes its essence.

  • 1. The Lord will gather yet more worshippers ( 56, 1–8 )

  • 2. Punishment for the idolatrous oppressors of the faithful ( 56, 9–57, 13 )

  • 3. God will lead the humble faithful ( 57, 14–21 )

  • 4. The fast that the Lord wants (58)

  • 5. Those who repent in Zion will be saved (59)

  • 6. Zion's glory (60)

  • 7. The prophet is sent to the poor (61)

  • 8. Prayer for the city's restoration (62)

  • 9. Day of punishment for the nations ( 63, 1–6 )

  • 10. Communal lament ( 63, 7–64, 12 )

  • 11. The righteous are upheld in judgment: they shall inherit the land (65)

  • 12. Judgment in Jerusalem in favor of the righteous ( 66, 1–16 )

  • 13. Jerusalem as the goal of the nations' pilgrimage ( 66, 17–24 )

With regard to inherited traditions, Third Isaiah shows the same freedom as does Second Isaiah. Third Isaiah does not use, for example, the royal traditions so dear to First Isaiah, and the Exodus traditions dear to Second Isaiah appear only once or twice. Third Isaiah's favored traditions are the mountain of the Holy One, and Zion as the goal of pilgrimage (chapters 60, 62 ) and place of divine judgment ( 65, 1–6; 65; 66, 17–24 ). How then can Third Isaiah be said to continue the preaching of the two previous prophets? How is this section linked to the preceding two? The answer is the same as for Second Isaiah—the prophet is concerned with the same divine plan as his predecessors. Third Isaiah believes the divine plan continues to operate, and that he has been authorized by God to monitor the judgment‐process as it appears in his own day, helping the audience respond to its ethical demands.

Here, then, is the program of Third Isaiah. To the returnees, uncertain about their claim on the land and their identity as Israel in a still devastated city, the prophet announces that the Lord will rebuild the community in Zion so as to reveal the divine glory. To be Israel in an authentic and meaningful way means to adhere to God's commandments, especially those concerning right worship and social justice (57–58), and to await in faith the visitation of God that will transform the city (e.g., 59, 15–21; 65; 66 ). The visitation will separate true Israel from the counterfeit Israel that oppresses its neighbors and closes itself off from the coming renewal. Third Isaiah declares that living in the city of Zion is not enough; one must live in accord with the commands of the Holy God dwelling there, and one must await in lively faith the Lord's initiatives. This point is made at the very beginning of the prophet's message. To emphasize the holiness expected of inhabitants in Zion, Third Isaiah invites to “my holy mountain” two hitherto excluded categories, eunuchs and foreigners, solely on the basis of their sincere commitment to the covenant ( 56, 1–8 ). The nations and Israel are given one and the same criterion for admission to Mount Zion: “Observe what is right, do what is just; for my salvation is about to come, my justice, about to be revealed” ( 56, 1 ).

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