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Variations on a Theme: King, Messiah and Servant in the Book of Isaiah [Paperback]

By H.g.m. Williamson (Author)
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Pages   242
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9" Width: 6" Height: 0.55"
Weight:   0.75 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Jan 5, 2006
Publisher   AUTHENTIC UK
ISBN  0853648700  
EAN  9781842274569  

Availability  138 units.
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Item Description...
The related themes of King, servant and Messiah that feature prominently in Isaiah are analyzed in this volume. Hugh Williamson examines the texts that focus on the role of a human figure in the establishment of God's ideal society. Despite changing protagonists, the author identifies a fundamental unity of the principles of this society. From this he argues that the predictive element within Isaiah is in the task to be undertaken and not the person who will do it.

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More About H.g.m. Williamson

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Hugh Williamson is Regius Professor of Hebrew, University of Oxford, UK.

H. G. M. Williamson has published or released items in the following series...
  1. International Critical Commentary

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
The Discussion of Isaiah 7 is Worth the Price of the Book Alone!  Jul 13, 2006
The contents of this book first saw the light of day as a series of lectures delivered by H.G.M Williamson in 1997 on themes of King, Messiah, and Servant in the book of Isaiah. He acknowledges in the first chapter that even though there is a scholarly consensus about the multiple authors who have contributed to the book of Isaiah that we now possess, there has also been in recent times recognition of the reality that there are certain themes that run through the entire book in its final form. He goes on to examine the wider context of Isaiah for these themes.

Williamson notes that the word `melek' (king) appears 78 times on the pages of Isaiah, and most of these references refer to the king of Assyria or some other earthly king. God's kingship is noted as coming to the forefront of the book in the sections widely agreed to be post-exilic in nature, particularly in Isaiah 40-55. Yet in Isaiah 56-66, there is no explicit reference to God as king whatsoever, though Williamson seems to hold that a belief in God as king as implied.

Williamson goes on to say that Isaiah 6 was a watershed text for Isaiah of Jerusalem as he reflected on the kingship of God. He is pictured on His throne perhaps in deliberate contrast to the earthly king Uzziah who has just died.

He then discusses God the King's interest in justice, righteousness and faithfulness. I appreciated Williamson's recognition of the importance of these themes in Isaiah, and his astuteness in seeing how Isaiah uses the words `mishpat' (the Hebrew word for justice) and tsedek (righteousness) differently in different verses. Williamson concedes that Isaiah of Jerusalem may not be responsible for all the uses of these words in Isaiah 1-33, the frequent usages of these words at the very least show how Isaiah's theology had profoundly affected his admirers as they contributed their hand to the composition of the canonical Isaiah.

The next couple of chapters deal with the messianic passages. Isaiah 9:1-7 is noteworthy because of its reference to the child reigning on David's throne (verse 7), implying kingship. Williamson also sees possible echoes of 9:6-7 in Psalm 72 and in 2 Samuel 7:14.

But what is particularly interesting is his reading of verse 6 as two sentences that make statements about God (it was common in ancient Israel to name a child after an aspect or quality of God). He translates verse six as "A wonderful planner is the Mighty God," and "The father of eternity is the Prince of Peace." A similar argument can be found in David Berger and Michael Wyschogrod's book "Jews and `Jewish Christianity.'" The Hebrew could be translated that way, or it could be translated literally the way the NIV has written.

Williamson doesn't fare as well in his discussion of Isaiah 11:1-5. He tries hard to see the motif of kingship in Isaiah 11, where it is implied at best. He is more successful in finding the messianic king theme in Isaiah 16:1-5, as he is in Isaiah 32:1-5, where the messianic ruler is called "a king" in verse one.

The writer deals with Isaiah 7:14 separately, since so much ink has been spilled on this passage. His discussion of this important text is worth the price of the book alone. He understands that the context deals with an impending invasion on Judah. He holds that it was added later to first Isaiah as a reflection on the monarchy in light of the fall of the house of David to the Babylonians. He concludes that there is a stronger messianic flavor to the text than has been previously granted by some exegetes and that the child is from the house of David. Yet it is Williamson's larger concern to show how this text fits into canonical Isaiah's theme of kingship in God's ideal society. This is the most brilliant discussion of Isaiah 7:1-17 that I have ever read.

The next chapter discusses the servant theme in Second Isaiah. He notes that God's salvation is mediated through the ministry of the central servant figure. Williamson discusses the first of the "servant songs" (Isaiah 42:1-4), noting that it points toward the idea of the servant being a royal figure. He thinks this is so because the expressions "My chosen one" and "My servant" were used often of the kings (David my servant in Psalm 89). The servant's ministry is to bring justice to the nations. I am not convinced that the royalty theme is as prominent here as Williamson and others want it to be, but I grant that there may be overtones in the language of service and in being chosen.

Williamson follows through on the servant as royalty figure by stating that this may help us with the identity of the servant. He stresses that Deutero-Isaiah presents Israel as a royal figure (explicitly so in Isaiah 55:3-5), and that Israel is clearly identified as God's servant in Isaiah 41:8. He also puts forward the idea that Isaiah 42:1-4 is an ideal picture of what he hopes Israel will be under God.

But not wanting to offend the Christian community, he points out that Jesus fulfilled this scripture without exhausting it. He then discusses Isaiah 49:1-6, which is another variation on this theme. He recognizes from the outset that this text represents a transition in the ministry of the servant. He raises the question "How could this servant be identified as Israel in verse three and when the servant is said to have a ministry TO Israel in verse five?" His answer is that the ministry of servant Israel is being transferred to someone else. My answer would be that the servant Israel in Isaiah 49:3 is an individual Israelite who has a ministry to Israel the nation, though I am still tossing this around.

Williamson goes on to say that the main element of continuity in the servant songs is that the ministry of the servant is to bring light/salvation to the people of the world. He also acknowledged that there is less emphasis here on the royalty of the servant (I am grateful that he admits this). He also observes that Isaiah 51:1-8 is layered with material from other parts of Isaiah.

I was disappointed that there was not more of a discussion of Isaiah 53. Other than a passing reference to Isaiah 53:1, we didn't really get any exposition of this passage at all. I would have loved to have seen Williamson expound this watershed passage. I almost took a star away from him because of this negligence.

The final chapter of the book discusses the material in Isaiah 56-66. He discerns that there may very well have been more than one author of these chapters, as they reveal different outlooks within the text. In fact, he states that Deutero-Isaiah may have composed some of the poems in Third Isaiah (a title Williamson finds slightly less than satisfactory). He notes that Isaiah 60-62 has similar themes as to what we can find in Isaiah 40-55. He cites Isaiah 61:8 and compares it with Isaiah 55:3 as an example of this.

There is also an extended discussion of Isaiah 61:3. Williamson says that there are similarities between this text and the first servant song of Isaiah 42, though the word `servant' is not used in Isaiah 61. Like with Isaiah 42, the question is invariably raised in Isaiah 61 as to whom it refers. He cannily notes that the Spirit-anointed person in Isaiah 61 seems to be fulfilling the role of King Cyrus in Isaiah 45, though I would also contend that this person is fulfilling the ministry of the servant in Isaiah 42.

According to Williamson, the section of Isaiah 61:1-3 which speaks of the Spirit-anointed person being sent by God may have been influenced by the account of Isaiah's commissioning back in Isaiah 6. Moreover, the ministry of bringing good news may be a deliberate echo of those who bring good news in Isaiah 52:7. The verb karah (to call or proclaim) is also noted by Williamson to be repeated several times in Isaiah 40:2-6.
The ministry of comforting that the Spirit-anointed person is called to do also harkens back to material found in Second Isaiah (Isaiah 40:1, namely).

After examining the variations of Isaianic themes, Williamson concludes by saying that the Spirit-anointed person is a composite character, `a bringing together into one of all those whom God had earlier said he would use for the salvation of His people" (page188). To this, not only would I want to add my "Amen," but I would also want to stress that this text is malleable enough for Jesus to make reference of it to Himself later on in Luke 4:16-30.

In his concluding discussion of the servant theme, he notes that the singular `servant' of Second Isaiah seems to have become the plural `servants' in such texts as Isaiah 65:8-13, where the plural form occurs seven times.

There is also a discussion of Isaiah 66:18-24, where a sharp distinction between the faithful and the apostate is maintained. The last verse in particular is gruesome, and points to the utter punishment awaiting those who reject God's grace and His vision for the future.

Then in a closing section, Williamson acknowledges what I noted earlier, namely, that he has been forced to be selective in his choice of texts, and that he has to neglect Isaiah 53. But each of the passages he has chosen has revealed the role of a human figure in the establishing of God's ideal society on earth. He feels that he has shown First Isaiah to be a book of hope, pointing ahead to the need for a great king who would act on behalf of God in the world.

Second Isaiah was shown to be a portion of scripture that lifts up Israel as the mediator of God's blessing in the world. And Third Isaiah adds to this by introducing the composite agent of the 61st chapter.

I loved how Williamson used critical scholarship methods to arrive at mostly evangelical conclusions about the text of Isaiah, particularly Isaiah chapter 7. It was brilliant. This is a book that I highly recommend for the student who wants to dig into the theology of Isaiah a little deeper.

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