Salvation for the Just*
1* Thus says the LORD:
Observe what is right, do what is just,
for my salvation is about to come,
my justice, about to be revealed.a
2Happy is the one who does this,
whoever holds fast to it:
Keeping the sabbath without profaning it,
keeping one’s hand from doing any evil.b
Obligations and Promises to Share in the Covenant
3* The foreigner joined to the LORD should not say,
“The LORD will surely exclude me from his people”;
Nor should the eunuch say,
“See, I am a dry tree.”c
4For thus says the LORD:
To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,
who choose what pleases me,
and who hold fast to my covenant,d
5I will give them, in my house
and within my walls, a monument and a name*
Better than sons and daughters;
an eternal name, which shall not be cut off, will I give them.
6And foreigners who join themselves to the LORD,
to minister to him,
To love the name of the LORD,
to become his servants—
All who keep the sabbath without profaning it
and hold fast to my covenant,
7* Them I will bring to my holy mountain
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be acceptable on my altar,
For my house shall be called
a house of prayer for all peoples.e
8* Oracle of the Lord GOD,
who gathers the dispersed of Israel—
Others will I gather to them
besides those already gathered.f
9All you beasts of the field,*
come to devour,
all you beasts in the forest!g
10* All the sentinels of Israel are blind,
they are without knowledge;
They are all mute dogs,
unable to bark;
loving their sleep.
11Yes, the dogs have a ravenous appetite;
they never know satiety,
Shepherds who have no understanding;
all have turned their own way,
each one covetous for gain:
12“Come, let me bring wine;
let us fill ourselves with strong drink,
And tomorrow will be like today,
or even greater.”h
* [56:1–8] This poem inaugurates the final section of the Book of Isaiah, often referred to as Third or Trito-Isaiah. While Second or Deutero-Isaiah (Is 40–55) gave numerous references to the hopes of the community of Israel during the Babylonian exile (ca. 587–538 B.C.), Third Isaiah witnesses to the struggles and hoped-for blessings of the postexilic community now back in the homeland of Israel. In this opening poem, the references to “keeping the sabbath” (vv. 2, 4, 6), “holding fast to the covenant” (vv. 4, 6) and “God’s holy mountain” as a house of prayer (v. 7), all tell of the postexilic community that was establishing itself again in the land according to the pattern of God’s word given through the prophet. The poem can be classified as a “prophetic exhortation” in which the prophet gives instruction for those who wish to live according to God’s word and covenant. What is important to note are the conditions placed upon the people of God; while Is 40–55 show an unconditional promise of redemption, these final chapters delineate clear expectations for receiving God’s salvific promises. Both the expectations and the great promises of God will unfold in the succeeding chapters of Third Isaiah.
* [56:1] This opening verse echoes themes that are well known throughout the Book of Isaiah: justice and right judgment (1:27; 5:7, 16; 9:6; 16:5; 26:9; 28:17; 32:1, 16; 33:5; 42:1, 4, 6; 45:8, 13, 19), salvation and deliverance (12:3; 26:18; 33:2; 45:8, 21; 46:13; 51:5, 6, 8). These themes will be developed also throughout Third Isaiah.
* [56:3] Eunuchs had originally been excluded from the community of the Lord; cf. Dt 23:2; Neh 13:1–3; Wis 3:14.
* [56:5] A monument and a name: literally in Hebrew, “a hand and a name”; a memorial inscription to prevent oblivion for one who had no children; cf. 2 Sm 18:18; Neh 7:5; 13:14.
* [56:7] This verse continues the theme of universalism found in Is 49:6. As Israel was to be “a light to the nations” so that God’s “salvation may reach to the ends of the earth,” so now does that come to pass as foreigners, faithful to the divine commands, are brought to the Temple by God and joined to the covenant community of Israel.
* [56:8] For the gathering of the dispersed people of Israel, cf. Jer 23:3; 31:8–9; Ez 11:17. Here the Lord not only gathers the displaced of Israel, but also unites other peoples to them. Cf. Is 60:3–10; 66:18–21.
* [56:9–57:21] This section is made up of two pronouncements of judgment (56:9–57:2; 57:3–13) and an oracle of salvation (57:14–21), each of which ends with a reversal of imagery and language. While there are harsh indictments against the corrupt leaders of Israel (56:9–12), a promise of peace is offered to those who are just (57:1–2). Then the judgment and its subsequent punishment for idolaters (57:3–13a) change to an announcement of reward for those who place their trust in God (57:13c). And the promises of salvation (57:14–19) then shift to a word of warning to the wicked (57:20–21).
* [56:9] Beasts of the field: foreign nations, which are invited to come and ravage Israel.
* [56:10–11] These shepherds of Israel are without “knowledge,” a theme developed earlier in the Isaian corpus; cf. 1:3; 6:9–10. Ezekiel 34 has similar condemnatory words against the unfaithful shepherds of Israel.
b. [56:2] Is 1:13; 58:13–14; Ex 23:12.
c. [56:3] Dt 23:3–5; Neh 13:1–3.
e. [56:7] 1 Kgs 8:29–30, 41; Mt 21:13.
g. [56:9] Jer 12:9–10; Ez 34:5.