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The Book of Books Book Club weekly blog

Isaiah 40-59

My apologies for the delay in posting this week's blog. Enjoy your reading!


While Second Isaiah (see last week's blog) is usually held to be chapters 40-55, I've extended the reading (new version of the reading schedule now available here on the website) through chapter 59 this week so that it includes the warnings about conflict and disobedience in these last chapters – which allows next week's shorter reading (chapters 60-66) to center on the most joyous passages this prophet provides. Our reading this week focuses on passages of extraordinary beauty (chapters 40, 51, and 52, for example) as Isaiah promises the people of Israel exiled in Babylon that they have not been forgotten, and assures them of God's salvation, that they will go home. The mood here is set by the narrative of Second Isaiah's call in chapter 40, a vision of the prophet being instructed to cry out the constancy of God's promise in comparison to the transiency of human life, offering comfort and hope to God's people. Perhaps some of Handel's "Messiah" is echoing in your head?

Our reading also includes what are known as the four Songs of the Suffering Servant: 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; and 52:13-53:12. These passages have been traditionally taken by Christians to prefigure the person of Christ who suffers for our salvation, and they have therefore provided some of our standard imagery for Jesus' mission and Passion – notice the end of the second song, for example, and the atonement imagery in the final song. We should remember, however, that Isaiah is speaking more immediately of Israel, anthropomorphized into an individual figure, suffering yet upheld by God's plan. Thus even these difficult passages are suffused with faith and hope.