THE ‘WAY OF THE LORD’ IN THE BOOK OF ISAIAH. By Bo H. Lim.
THE ‘WAY OF THE LORD’ IN THE BOOK OF ISAIAH (Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies). By Bo H. Lim. London/New York: Clark, 2010. x + 201 pages. Hardcover. $110.00.
Reviewed by Reed Lessing, Concordia Seminary, Saint Louis, MO.
This study is a revision of Lim’s 2006 PhD dissertation done under the supervision of Willem VanGemeren and Richard Averbeck at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. After discussing the state of the problem and his methodology, the author presents the “way of the Lord” (WOL) theme in Isaiah 40–55, Isaiah 56–66, as well as in Isaiah 34–35. He concludes his study with the WOL and new exodus motifs in the NT. Lim consistently reads individual sections in the book of Isaiah within the context of their Sitz im Text. He only addresses Sitz im Leben issues in broad strokes, i.e., chapters 40–55 are addressed to exiles in Babylon, while chapters 56–66 speak to the needs of those living in Persian Yehud. Somewhat idiosyncratically, Lim demarcates Isaiah with 40:1–52:12 and 52:13–66:24. In this way the relationship between the Suffering Servant and his offspring servants appear together in the third section of the book (53:10; 54:17c; 63:17; 65:8, 9, 13, 15; 66:14).
Lim’s thesis is that the WOL texts in Isaiah cannot be understood by employing the categories of literal and figurative as these terms do not account for the complexities of the prophet’s language, which is poetic and multivalent. He maintains that the WOL is not primarily literal or geographical, but rather ethical, theological, and eschatological.
To prove this point, Lim takes on the dominant idea in Isaiah studies, which postulates that chapters 56–66 reinterpreted the WOL motif received from Isaiah 40-55. Walther Zimmerli, who built upon Bernard Duhm’s work, is frequently credited with the position that the author of chapters 56–66 took the WOL material in Isaiah 40–55 and reworked literal promises into spiritual and ethical mandates. The consensus has been that the call to “prepare the way” in 40:3 is geographical; it only becomes figurative in 57:14 and 62:10.
Lim maintains, though, that the main problem with the position of Zimmerli and others is that they assume 40:3 refers only to the return from exile. The author instead interprets the “way” in 40:3 as both an eschatological announcement for the King and an ethical imperative for his followers. Israel’s return to Yehud, while consistent with the WOL, does not consummate it. “The eschatological promises of the ‘way’ remain unfulfilled and its ethical and cultic expectations remain in effect” (94). It is only in chapters 56–66 that the WOL reaches its consummation.
Moving to the usage of the WOL motif in Isaiah 56–66, Lim argues that the triple imperative, “build up, build up, prepare the way” in 57:14 is intended to summarize the message of chapters 40–55. Agreeing with Susan Niditch, he argues that the command to “prepare the way” in 57:14 functions as a metonymy to evoke the same “way” motif in chapters 40–55. “Since the ‘way’ never primarily referred to a road from Babylon to Yehud for the exiles, any so-called ‘spiritualized’ depiction of the way in chapters 56-66 is consistent with that of Isaiah 40-55” (122).
Lim believes that the climax of the WOL in Isaiah comes in 62:10–12 where the Servant/Prophet of 61:1–3 speaks from within Zion. Prior imperatives commanded Israel to leave Babylon (e.g. 48:20; 52:11), but now the Servant exhorts the people to “pass through, pass through the gates” (62:10). “Gate” (sha’r) comes twelve times in Isaiah (14:31; 22:7; 24:12; 26:2; 28:6; 29:21; 38:10; 45:1; 54:12; 60:11, 18; 62:10) and it never signifies an exit. This is then a call for Israelites to enter the way into Jerusalem. It is apparent from chapters 60–62 that this city is not physical, as the prophet’s language becomes increasingly hyperbolic. Jerusalem is later revealed as the center of “the new heavens and the new earth” (65:17–25).
Lim concludes that this homecoming movement in Isaiah is centered on Yahweh’s “signal/banner/standard” (nes). It begins with the gathering of the dispersed from Assyria by means of a nes (11:12). The journey continues with this same signal (nes) calling God’s people from Babylon (49:22). The homecoming concludes with a final nes that goes out to the ends of the earth, calling the faithful to enter the New Jerusalem (62:10-11). The final destination of Yahweh’s way is not an earthly temple or city. It is rather to dwell in the midst of the Holy One of Israel. The WOL motif begins “with the end of exile and leads to the eschatological Zion” (17).
As Lim moves into the NT appropriation of the WOL motif, one of his chief arguments is that if 40:3 was initially a literal road leading exiles from Babylon to Yehud and 57:14 and 62:10 change this into a spiritual way, why then do the NT authors choose to cite 40:3 and not 57:14 or 62:10? All three texts, then, are spiritual and eschatological.
I believe that Lim succeeds admirably in tracing the development of the WOL through the book of Isaiah and into the NT. He has given members the Isaianic guild insights that will profit us for many years to come.