56:1. Masoretic Text: Thus says YHWH, Keep judgment and practice righteousness, for my deliverance draws near to come and my righteousness to be revealed.
Septuagint: Thus says the Lord, Keep judgment; practice righteousness, for my deliverance has drawn near to come and my mercy to be revealed.
The Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah (the Great Isaiah Scroll) begins the verse with a Hebrew word meaning “for.”
To keep judgment may be understood to mean to uphold justice, acting in a just and fair manner in agreement with God’s commands. Practicing righteousness denotes doing what is right. Following through on this admonition determined whether one would experience the deliverance that YHWH would effect. This deliverance is spoken of as drawing near, for it was certain to come.
According to verse 8, YHWH is represented as gathering those who had been driven away, banished, or dispersed. This suggests that the deliverance mentioned in verse 1 could initially refer to the freeing of the Israelite exiles to be able to return to their land. The gathering of the exiles to return and settle in the land would be an expression of YHWH’s righteousness, for it would be a revelation of his justice in acting for his repentant people. It would be, as indicated in the Septuagint rendering, a revelation of his compassion for them by restoring them to their land and to his favor.
It is also possible to link the deliverance with the coming of the Messiah. As sinners, the people were in a state of alienation from YHWH like persons who had been banished or dispersed. Upon being forgiven of their sins and reconciled to him on the basis of their faith in Jesus, the promised Messiah or Christ, and his sacrificial death for them, they would be delivered from the condemnation to which sin leads. In dealing with them as his own, God would maintain his righteousness, for the repentant ones would be counted as righteousness on the basis of the cleansing from sin resulting from their faith in Jesus and his death for them. They would thus also become recipients of God’s mercy.
56:2. Masoretic Text: Fortunate [is] a man [’enósh] who does this, and a son of man [’adhám] who adheres to it, keeping the Sabbath [so as] not to defile it and keeping his hand from practicing any evil.
Septuagint: Fortunate [is] a man [anér] who does these things and a man [ánthropos] who adheres to them and keeps the Sabbaths [so as] not to defile [them] and guards his hands [so as] not to practice injustice.
In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah (the Great Isaiah Scroll), the Hebrew word for “hand” is plural.
For one to be “fortunate,” happy, or blessed denotes to be in a state of enviable well-being. This desirable condition is the promised possession of all who uphold justice and live uprightly, for they would be recipients of YHWH’s love, aid, and protective care.
Both the Hebrew text and the Septuaging rendering contain two distinct words for “man.” The Hebrew word ’enósh appears to apply to a man in the general sense, whereas ’adhámanér can designate either a man or a husband, and ánthropos is the general designation for a man or a human.
Sabbath observance being a prominent feature of the law given to the Israelites, faithfully keeping it would have been a reflection of obedience to the law. It was one of the requirements for being among those who are fortunate or blessed from YHWH’s standpoint. The person who did not desist from work on the Sabbath, refusing the think appreciatively about YHWH and what he has done for him and his people, would be defiling it. He would be conducting himself contrary to the reason for which it had been given as a day of refreshment from labor. Another requirement was for the individual not to engage in wrongdoing or, as expressed in the Septuagint, not to make himself guilty of injustice.
56:3. Masoretic Text: And let not the foreigner [literally, “son of the foreign one”], the one joining himself to YHWH, say, “YHWH, separating, will separate [me] from his people.” And let not the eunuch say, “Look! I [am] a dry tree.”
Septuagint: Let not the foreigner, the one joining himself to the Lord, say, “The Lord surely will separate me from his people.” And let not the eunuch say, “I am a dry tree.”
The Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah (the Great Isaiah Scroll) does not open with the conjunction “and.”
Foreigners or non-Israelites would join themselves to YHWH when coming to recognize him as the true God, rejecting deities they may formerly have venerated and turning to him in worship. The repetition of a form of the Hebrew verb for “separate” serves for emphasis and denotes “surely separate.” On account of not being an Israelite, the foreigner may have felt that YHWH would not accept him as a person with the same standing as his people. This, however, would not be the case, and the foreigner was directed not to express himself in this way.
Among the exiles there would have been young Israelite males who were made eunuchs, as were males of other nations. Having been deprived of the potential to have offspring, even a godly eunuch would have been inclined to consider himself to be a “dry tree,” one that would never bear any fruit. He, though, was not to think and speak in this manner about himself, for YHWH did care about him and would not deprive him of his loving attention.
56:4. Masoretic Text: For thus says YHWH to the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths and choose that which pleases me and adhere to my covenant,
Septuagint: Thus says the Lord, To the eunuchs, as many as keep my Sabbaths and choose the things I wish and adhere to my covenant,
The reassuring word of YHWH is not directed to all eunuchs but only to those who desire to do what is right. They would faithfully observe the Sabbath, refraining from doing any work on that day. Of their own free will, they would choose to do whatever they recognized to be pleasing to YHWH, and they would hold fast to the covenant he concluded with the Israelites. Their adhering to the covenant would denote striving to live according to the commands set forth therein.
56:5. Masoretic Text: and I will give to them, in my house and within my walls, a monument [literally, a “hand”] and a name better than sons and daughters. I will give to him a name to limitless time, [a name] that will not be cut off.
Septuagint: I will give to them, in my house and within my wall, a nameworthy place better than sons and daughters. I will give to them an eternal name, and it will not cease.
Instead of “I will give to him,” the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah (the Great Isaiah Scroll) says, “I will give to them.”
At no time did any arrangement exist at the temple in Jerusalem for setting up some kind of memorial honoring God-fearing eunuchs. So the reference to YHWH’s house appears to be to his people who were surrounded as if by his protective walls. Among his people, the godly eunuchs would be part of YHWH’s approved family of children. This would be their monument, and the divine acknowledgment would be a “name” or a recognized status that would be something greater than having sons and daughters. The divine acknowledgment would prove to be a “name” that endures for all time to come. It is not of a temporary nature, but is permanent, never to be brought to an end.
56:6. Masoretic Text: And the foreigners [literally, “sons of the foreign one”], the ones joining themselves to YHWH, to minister to him and to love the name of YHWH, to be his servants, all those keeping the Sabbath and not defiling it and adhering to my covenant,
Septuagint: And to the foreigners, the ones joining themselves to the Lord, to minister to him and to love the name of the Lord, to be to him for male servants and female servants, and all the ones keeping my Sabbaths [so as] not to defile [them] and the ones adhering to my covenant,
The literal expression “sons of the foreign one” designates people of another family, tribe, nation, or country. In verse 3, the same words appear in the singular.
The Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah (the Great Isaiah Scroll) reads, “to be his servants and to bless the name of YHWH and keeping the Sabbath.” It does not include the words “to minister to him and to love the name of YHWH.”
In the case of this verse, the thought is completed in verse 7.
The foreigners would be non-Israelites who chose to attach themselves to YHWH as his worshipers, serving him by living in harmony with his commands. To love the name of YHWH denotes to love him, the person represented by the name. As his servants, these foreigners would seek to please him and would look to him as their Owner who would care for them. They would observe the Sabbath, not profaning it by doing work on that day. Such Sabbath observance would be representative of their conformity to the commandments in God’s law, the requirements of the covenant made with Israel. To this covenant, the foreigners would hold fast so as to live in harmony with it.
56:7. Masoretic Text: these also I will bring to my holy mountain and make them rejoice in the house of my worship [literally, “prayer”]. Their holocausts and their sacrifices [will be] for acceptance on my altar, for my house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.
Septuagint: I will bring them to my holy mountain and make them rejoice in the house of my worship [literally, “prayer”]. Their holocausts and their sacrifices will be acceptable on my altar, for my house will be called a house of prayer for all the nations,
The Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah (the Great Isaiah Scroll) says regarding the sacrifices that they “will ascend for acceptance.”
In the time of the prophet, the holy mountain was Jerusalem by reason of its being the location of YHWH’s temple. The acceptable standing of godly foreigners is expressed by his bringing them to this holy mountain, there to rejoice as his devoted worshipers in his house or temple. Literally, the house is called the “house of my prayer,” indicating it to be the location for worship or prayer that was directed to YHWH. He would accept the holocausts or whole burnt offerings and other sacrifices that the foreigners would present, and the temple itself would be a “house of prayer” for people of all nations, not just the Israelites.
Just how this would find its fulfillment in the arrangement for worship made possible through the promised Messiah is not reflected in the language. This is because the temple services in Jerusalem still existed and would continue there as long as YHWH’s temple remained on the site. As Jesus, the promised Messiah or Christ, indicated, however, acceptable worship would cease to be associated with a specific location. (John 4:21-24)
Jesus, when cleansing the temple of commercial activity, called attention to the purpose of the temple as being a “house of prayer.” (Matthew 21:12, 13)
56:8. Masoretic Text: An utterance of the Lord YHWH, the one gathering the scattered ones of Israel: “Still [others] I will gather to him to his gathered ones.”
Septuagint: said the Lord, the one gathering the dispersed ones of Israel, for I will gather to him a gathering.
In the Targum of Isaiah, the dispersed ones of Israel are identified as the exiles who would be gathered.
YHWH is represented as saying that he would be gathering the scattered or dispersed ones of his people Israel. In an initial sense, this would have been when he used Cyrus to issue a decree, making it possible for the people to return to their land. In relation to Jesus, the promised Messiah, those who put faith in him and his sacrificial death for them were forgiven of their sins and gathered to God as reconciled members of his beloved family.
The ones gathered to “him” or to Israel, the forgiven people as a collective whole who had been gathered, appear to be the people of the nations who would turn to YHWH and gain an acceptable standing before him. After Jesus appeared as the promised Messiah, this required that people of the nations put faith in him to be forgiven of their sins and to gain God’s acceptance.
According to the rendering of the Septuagint, the expressions of the previous verse are identified as God’s words. Otherwise the Septuagint basically conveys the same thought as the Hebrew text.
56:9. Masoretic Text: Every beast of the field, come to eat, every beast in the forest.
Septuagint: All you wild beasts, [come] here, eat, all you beasts of the forest.
The Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah (the Great Isaiah Scroll) has the plural form for the word here rendered “beast” (“all beasts of the field”; “all beasts of the forest”). After the word for “eat,” this scroll has the conjunction “and,” which can also be translated “even.”
Even though the directive “come to eat” appears between “every beast of the field” and “every beast in the forest,” both may be understood as being invited to come for the purpose of devouring. This is made explicit in numerous translations. “All you beasts of the open country and of the forest, come and eat your fill.” (REB) “Come and gorge, all you wild beasts, all you beasts of the forest.” (NJB) “Come from the forest, you wild animals! Attack and gobble down your victims.” (CEV)
The Targum of Isaiah interprets the reference to be to the kings of other nations that assemble to oppress Jerusalem. These kings are said to be cast down in its midst. They then become food for the beasts of the field. The beasts of the forest would be gorged with the flesh of the carcasses.
The application to foreign rulers is questionable. In the next verse, the reference is to “his watchmen,” and the closest antecedent for the third person singular pronoun is “Israel” (in verse 8). A number of translations have even inserted “Israel” in the text (“Israel’s watchmen”).
This verse serves to introduce a pronouncement of YHWH’s judgment against his wayward people. The words may be understood to indicate that the kingdom of Judah and its capital Jerusalem would be conquered, with many of the unburied slain becoming food for wild animals. There is also a possibility that the beasts represent the enemy invaders who are being invited to launch their attack like predatory animals.
Although less likely to be the case, the “beasts of the forest” could be the ones that the “beasts of the field” are told to devour. This understanding of the text has given rise to the interpretation that the “beasts of the field” designate the conquering enemy forces, and the “beasts of the forest” are the Israelites. The reading of the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah (the Great Isaiah Scroll), however, does not support this view.
56:10. Masoretic Text: His watchmen [are] blind, all of them not having knowledge. All of them [are] mute dogs [that] cannot bark, panting, lying down, loving to slumber,
Septuagint: See that all have been blinded. They did not know insight. All [are] mute dogs, not able to bark, dreaming in bed, loving to slumber.
The description of the watchmen as dogs continues in the next verse.
The “watchmen” are the leaders of the people. A number of translations specifically identify them as watchmen of Israel. “Israel’s watchmen are blind.” (NIV, REB) “Israel’s sentinels are blind.” (NRSV)
In order to be able to warn the people of danger, watchmen needed to be alert, fully aware of everything taking place around them. These watchmen, though, were blind and, therefore, like useless watchdogs. They lacked the knowledge or awareness of what they should have observed.
The watchmen or leaders of Israel should have set an example to the people in upright conduct and warned them about the certainty of divine judgment if they did not abandon their lawless ways. Instead, the leaders were corrupt and like watchdogs that were mute or unresponsive to signs of danger. Israel’s watchmen were like dogs that could not bark, unable to sound an alarm when it was essential to do so.
Possibly the Hebrew expression that may denote “panting” could be understood to mean heavy breathing while asleep. All the watchmen wanted to do was to indulge their desires. They were like lazy dogs, lying around and slumbering.
56:11. Masoretic Text: and dogs mighty of soul. They have not known satiety. And these [the] shepherds have not known [how] to understand. All of them have turned to their way, [each] man to his gain to its end.
Septuagint: and dogs impudent in soul, not knowing satiety. And they are wicked, not knowing insight. All have followed in their ways, each one according to himself.
In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah (the Great Isaiah Scroll), the definite article precedes the participle here translated “shepherds,” but the definite article is not included in the Masoretic Text.
The Targum of Isaiah interprets the ones here mentioned to be those who “prey on the wealth of Israel,” but this interpretation does not fit when the “watchmen” are identified as Israel’s watchmen.
Both the Hebrew and the Greek words for “soul” may be understood to denote “appetite” or “desire.” The appetite of Israel’s watchmen for personal ease and pleasure was extraordinarily great. They were like greedy dogs that never had enough.
As shepherds, the leaders had the responsibility of protecting the people and devoting themselves to promote their interests. These shepherds did nothing to live up to their responsibilities, but were like persons without knowledge, bereft of any understanding or insight in caring for their duties. They did not conform their conduct according to God’s pure ways, but chose their own wayward path, disregarding their responsibilities toward the people.
The expression here rendered “to its end” may denote to its very limit. The corrupt leaders had as their aim to derive as much personal profit as possible from the position they occupied and cared nothing about the welfare of the people.
56:12. Masoretic Text: Come, let me get wine, and let us imbibe intoxicating drink. And like this day tomorrow will be great [in] excess of abundance.
Rahlfs’ printed Greek text ends chapter 56 with verse 11. The corresponding Greek words for the Hebrew text of verse 12 are only included in a footnote.
The Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah (the Great Isaiah Scroll) reads, “Come and let us get wine.”
The shepherds of Israel were pleasure seekers, given to wine and other strong drink. Instead of caring for their responsibilities with unimpaired faculties, they engaged in heavy drinking. This was a habit with them, each day being marked by their unrestrained excesses.
The reference to “tomorrow” could be understood to mean that the revelry would be even greater than the previous day or that it would be just as great as that of the previous day. Translators have variously rendered the concluding thought. “And tomorrow will be like today, or even far better.” (NIV) “Tomorrow will be just as wonderful as today and even more so!” (NJB) “Tomorrow we’ll do it again. We’ll really enjoy ourselves.” (CEV) “And tomorrow we will do this again, or, maybe we will have an even better time.” (NCV)