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Yahweh Is Exalted in Justice: Solidarity and Conflict in Isaiah

Author: 
Thomas L. Leclerc (Author)
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Description

Focusing on Yahweh, the "God of Justice," Leclerc discusses how each of Isaiah's three parts emphasizes justice in its own unique way. In Isaiah 1-39 justice is fidelity and judgment. In Isaiah 40-55 it is treated as a manifestation of Yahweh's sovereignty and incomparability; Yahweh and his servant are the exclusive agents of justice. And in Iasiah 56-66 it is an obligation of the covenant that can be realized only through divine intervention. In addition to providing an overview of the importance of justice in the Hebrew Bible, Leclerc addresses liturgical issues through an analysis of those Isaiah passages that appear in the lectionary readings.
ISBN: 
9780800632557
Price: 
$23.00
Release date: 
November 14, 2001
Pages: 
240
Width: 
6
Height: 
9

Endorsements

"A significant study of social justice and prophetic preaching, this remarkable book will appeal to students, pastors, and scholars alike. The urgent necessity of justice in all social realms of ancient Israel (legal, political, economic) remains equally urgent in today's world. Leclerc demonstrates the nuances of justice in the various portions of Isaiah deriving from different historical circumstances, but he also clearly demonstrates how the Book of Isaiah is united in its overarching vision of justice rooted in Yahweh's character and purposes. The author has done us a real service in providing this stimulating analysis of the historical, literary, and theological import of social justice in ancient Israel and the Book of Isaiah."
— Gary Stansell, author of Micah and Isaiah

Excerpts

Excerpt from Chapter 1

PROBLEMS OF METHOD

As suggested in the Introduction, the concern for justice is found throughout the Bible. For those who wish to understand biblical concepts of justice, this is both fortunate and problematic. It is fortunate that there is lots of evidence to examine and plenty of material to study. As it turns out, the very abundance of material creates its own problems. It will be helpful first to discuss and clarify some of the problems that affect the method of studying justice in the Bible.

Difficulties Intrinsic to the Study of Justice
1. The Complexity of the Concept. Justice is a complex topic, and its complexity is evident first in the choice of vocabulary. Both the Hebrew words mishpat and sedaqa (righteousness) can, depending on context, be translated by the English word "justice." The concept of social justice is also implied in the term mesarim (equity). One scholar, Rolf P. Knierim (1995), includes the following terms in the word-field of "justice": emuna (steadfastness); emet (faithfulness); esed (kindness); shalom (sufficiency, peace); hoq (statute); miswa (commandment, ordinance); torah (instruction, law); musar (correction, warning); and tom (completeness). As will be seen below, the choice of terms will lead to different conclusions. For our purposes, the complexity on the level of vocabulary can be minimized by focusing this study primarily on mishpat.

Even so, complexity is evident in the wide range of meanings conveyed by mishpat. By way of example, Osborne Booth (1942) classifies the meaning of the term in eleven categories, with more than one-third of the occurrences falling into more than one category; Even-Shoshan's concordance (1990) classifies the meaning under seven headings; Robert Culver (1980) describes thirteen "distinct but related" meanings; Rolf Knierim (1995) discusses sixteen "aspects of justice in the horizon of the Old Testament"; and J. L. Mays (1983) delineates three broad spheres within which the term "justice" functions. These studies point both to the multivalence of the term and to the lack of critical agreement as to even the semantic range of the term. Among its nuances, mishpat may refer to social custom; to specific laws and ordinances; to court cases, types of proceedings, or the verdict; it may mean the principle or virtue of justice or the specific implementation of a social reform. A careful study of the term in its contexts—both literary and historical—will be critical for accurate understanding.

Further complicating the discussion is a tendency to understand the term by setting it within a conceptual framework, for example, to understand justice as an "extrinsic norm" or to see it functioning in the context of "relationship." In addition to the problems of privileging one framework at the expense of others, and of reducing the multivalence of the term to a more manageable sameness, there are two further difficulties here. One is methodological: extracting terms from their literary and historical contexts and placing them in another interpretive framework does violence to the native environment of the terms. The other danger is the likelihood of importing uncritically into the biblical milieu notions from the interpretive framework. An example may help illustrate this. Because justice pertains to dealings between persons, an interpreter may seek to understand "justice" primarily in terms of how it regulates or functions in relationships, in which case the notion of "relationship" is used as the governing interpretive paradigm. Not untypically, the more biblical term covenant is used as the equivalent for "relationship." This poses a serious difficulty. While the English term covenant can describe a relationship between equals, biblical covenants more often involve parties of different ranks, as is obvious in the covenant between God and Israel.

The problem is this: because moderns tend to understand "relationship" in personalist terms, the biblical notion of "covenant" may be made to conform to those preconceptions. While it is true that the biblical "covenant" does establish a relationship between parties, covenants based on the model of international suzerainty treaties (such as the covenant between God and Israel) establish relationships that codify the authority and power of the suzerain (overlord) on the one hand and, on the other hand, the duties and obligations of the vassal. The fact is that the stern demands of such a covenant are loyalty and obedience, not the mutuality and equality sometimes implied by "relationship." Interpreting "justice" in the context of a broader category such as "relationship" risks distorting the very meaning of the term. In terms of method, it is more sound to interpret each occurrence of the term mishpat in the literary and historical context in which it is found. Thus both the multivalence of the term mishpat and the necessity of interpreting its each occurrence with attention to its native environment complicate any study of this term. ...

Table of Contents

Introduction: Justice Now and Then

1. The Study of Justice in the Bible
Problems of Method
Justice in the Book of Isaiah
The Goal of This Study

2. Isaiah: The Prophet(s), The Book, The Commentators
Overview
Representative Approaches in Isaianic Studies
A Proposed Approach

3. Isaiah 1–39
Introduction
Isaiah 1
Isaiah 2–12
Isaiah 13–23 and 24–27
Isaiah 28–32 (33) and 34–35

4. Isaiah 40–55
Preliminary Issues
Passages in Isaiah 40–55
False Judgment Shall Be Confounded: Isaiah 54:11-17
Conclusions about mishpah/Justice in Second Isaiah

5. Isaiah 56-66
Authorship, Unity, and Date of Isaiah 56–66
Passages in Isaiah 55–66
Conclusions about mishpah/justice in Third Isaiah

6. Justice in Diachronic and Synchronic Perspectives
Diachronic Perspectives
Synchronic Perspectives

Index