Undoing ‘This People’, Becoming ‘My Servant’: Purpose And Commission In “Isaiah” 6 -- By: Caroline Batchelder

Journal: Southeastern Theological Review
Volume: STR 04:2 (Winter 2013)
Article: Undoing ‘This People’, Becoming ‘My Servant’: Purpose And Commission In “Isaiah” 6
Author: Caroline Batchelder

Undoing ‘This People’, Becoming ‘My Servant’:
Purpose And Commission In “Isaiah” 6

Caroline Batchelder

Morling College, Australia

“This is the end—for me the beginning of life”1


The significance of chapter 6 within the book of Isaiah has been fiercely debated.2 If it is a ‘call narrative’, why is it not located in Isaiah’s opening chapters, as are the call narratives of Jeremiah and Ezekiel? And how can a ‘sending’ which so overturns the usual concept of Yahweh’s soteriological purpose—that the word of Yahweh is sent to bring people to repentance—rightly belong to a prophetic call? The resolution of these two questions seems, to me, to be the mark of a viable canonical reading, not only of chapter 6, but of the whole of Isaiah. This essay will explore a resolution to these questions based on the form of the text of chapter 6 within Isaiah. I hope to demonstrate that the text itself acts as a guide into a particular way of reading. This way of reading, in turn, will ground my thesis that the book of Isaiah presents the figure of the Servant (developed in chapters 40-55) as the human who fulfils the relation to Yahweh for which humanity was created.

Isaiah 6 is the account of a remarkable enlargement of perspective for the one who is ‘I’ in the text, 3and secondarily, but very importantly, for the reader, who (as I will show) becomes ‘I’ through the text. The vision of chapter 6 is recounted as a shift in perception made by one who is ‘undone’ by confrontation with an overwhelming reality (6:4), and tracks for the reader the process of change from ordinary human perspective to the perspective that marks the whole prophecy of Isaiah.4

Chapter 6 comes at the end of a litany of disregarded prophetic appeals to Judah to ‘turn’.5 It is a last-ditch effort, not for repentance, because that is now too late, but to plant a seed for a future beyond the end; the seed of a new kind of person in ...

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