1.1 : Superscription.
This first title introduces the entire book as a vision (see 2 Chr 32.32; Ob 1; Nah 1.1; cf. Am 1.1; Mic 1.1; Hab 1.1 ), which in late biblical usage has the broad sense of divine revelation. The name Isaiah means “Yahweh has saved” or “may Yahweh save.” Chs 1–39 record the prophet's activity from the death of King Uzziah (785–733 BCE) to the fourteenth year of Hezekiah (727/715–698/687; the chronology is disputed).
1.2–31: An introductory poem.
The prophet indicts Israel for religious infidelity.
The rhetorical call for attention (cf. 1.10; 28.23; 32.9; 48.1; 51.4; 64.3 ) appeals to heaven and earth to witness the LORD's grievance against his people in the context of a lawsuit concerning Israel's violation of the covenant (see Deut 32.1; Mic 6.1–8; Ps 50 ). The idea of rebellious children recalls the penalty of death imposed on the rebellious son (Deut 21.18–21 ). The appeal to animal behavior is the first of many examples of Isaiah's appropriation of the didactic tradition of Israel's sages (e.g., Prov 6.6–8 ).
This direct address to Israel reminds them that a history of obduracy and sin is responsible for the condition of the land devastated by enemy invasion and occupation, presented under the figure of a bruised and battered body. Several commentators refer this description to the results of the Assyrian king Sennacherib's invasion of Judah in 701 BCE. The title “Holy One of Israel,” perhaps originating in the Jerusalem Temple worship, occurs frequently in the book ( 5.19,24; 10.20; 12.6; 17.7; 29.19; 30.11–12,15; 31.1; 37.23; 41.14,16,20; 43.3,14; 45.11; 47.4; 48.17; 54.5; 55.5; 60.9,14 ).
This more direct description of Judah devastated and Jerusalem barely surviving fits the invasion of Sennacherib, who claimed to have shut Hezekiah up “like a bird in a cage.” Daughter Zion (also 10.32; 16.1; 37.22; 52.2; 62.11 ) follows the common practice of presenting cities as female.
In the prophets, Sodom and Gomorrah (see Gen 18.16–19.28 ) became bywords for spectacular divine judgment on immoral conduct ( 3.9; 13.19; Am 4.11; Jer 23.14; 49.18; 50.40; Ezek 16.46–56; Zeph 2.9 ), though no mention of sexual immorality occurs before the Hellenistic period.
Ritual purification, signified by washing blood from the hands, must be not a substitute for but a sign of moral purification, signified by concern for the marginal classes of society, especially widows and the fatherless (orphan), for whom provision is made in the law (Ex 22.22; Deut 24.17–21; 27.19 ).
The tone is one of legal argument but the precise meaning is unclear, depending on whether v. 18b contains two statements or, as it may also be translated, two rhetorical questions. Crimson and scarlet connote blood and therefore allude to the imagery of vv. 15–16 . Wool, white, as in Ps 147.16; Dan 7.9 .
The object of the prophet's polemic is the capital city, Jerusalem (the condition of which is described with a mix of metaphors), and especially the ruling class (cf. 3.1–5; 5.18–23; 30.1–5 ). The principal accusation, as elsewhere in prophetic diatribe, is the corruption of the judicial process (cf. 5.23; 33.15; Am 5.10,12; Mic 3.9,11 ). Dross, (vv. 22,25 ), the waste product of metal refining. The prophet foresees a future in which Jerusalem will be restored and will receive a new name and designation (cf. 62.4,12 ); righteousness (Heb “tsedeq”) recalls the names of Melchizedek (Gen 14.18 ) and Zadok (1 Kings 2.35 ).
This final stanza is taken by many to be a later, apocalyptic addition to the poem. Justice here has more the sense of judgment (see 3.14; 4.4; 28.6; 34.5; 41.1 ) and righteousness of ultimate vindication (see 51.6,8; 56.1; 59.9,16–17; 61.10–11; 63.1 ); the criterion according to which people are judged is addiction to illicit worship (e.g., in garden shrines, as in 65.3 and 66.17 ) rather than social injustice, as in the last chapters of the book ( 57.1–13; 65.1–16; 66.17,24 ); the nation is now divided between those who repent and turn away from evil and the rebels and sinners. For the latter, the end is judgment represented under the image of fire (cf. 66.15–16,24 ).