Embodiment And The Prophetic Message In Isaiah’s Memoir

Embodiment And The Prophetic Message In Isaiah’s Memoir

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PNEUMA 39 (2017) 431–456

Embodiment and the Prophetic Message in Isaiah’s Memoir

spsPresidential Address 2017

Jacqueline Grey

Alphacrucis College, Parramatta, Australia



In the Isaiah memoir, the prophet refers to three children that function as signs that embody his message. The signs of all three children are connected to the political situation of the Syro-Ephraimite Crisis preoccupying Judah at that time. The physi- cal presence of Shear-Jashub (Isa 7:1–9) emphasized the immanence of the prophetic word. It highlights a value of the prophetic community of Isaiah: that a prophetic word, like embodiment, is present. The second child, Immanuel (Isa 7:10–16), highlights the importance of the physical presence of bearers of the prophetic message as imperative to the prophetic message. That is, the message of Isaiah relied upon the prophet and those that embodied his signs to be visible in the community, even when their presence was uncomfortable and unwanted. The third sign (Isa 8:1–4) is produced by the collab- oration of Isaiah and the woman-prophet. This highlights the prophetic community of Isaiah as a discerning community that emphasized inclusivity as imperative. Like Isaiah’s community, the pentecostal family both historically and today identifies itself as a prophetic community. Isaiah’s memoir reminds us that prophetic communication should be relevant and immediate. A prophetic community addresses real-world prob- lems and offers solutions that promote the holistic well-being of people and creation in their context. A prophetic community is committed to embodying its message. Yet, while this community is embodied and located in a culture, it needs to see beyond its own culture and the political challenges of its location. While it is important to identify and address the theological and social issues of each location, however, this should not be the sole lens through which we envision the future of Pentecostalism and the future of the Society for Pentecostal Theology.

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Isaiah – children – prophet – embodiment – prophetic signs – pentecostal – Society for Pentecostal Theology


When the prophet Isaiah envisioned the magnificence and majesty of Yahweh in chapter 6 of the Book of Isaiah, he was overwhelmed, not just cognitively but physically. All his bodily senses were engaged: his sight was stunned by just the partial view of the gigantic, heavenly king1 and the spectacle of the seraphim flying and circling about the throne; his hearing was filled with the sounds of these fiery attendants calling to one another, chanting of God’s holiness and glory so loudly that it caused the doorposts to shake; his sense of smell and taste were encased by the scent of smoke and the burning of offerings on the altar; his taste and touch were forever seared as the seraphim tapped the burning coal to his lips in an unprecedented act of purification and painful purging by fire of his sin.2 Isaiah, as an embodied being, was changed by this encounter with God, never to be the same again. His eyes had seen the king. Somehow there was an increased awareness of the holiness of God realized by Isaiah through his bodily senses. Even if this report is a vision rather than an actual event, the prophet still could not imagine any encounter with God except through his human, material body. As the report continues, Isaiah overheard that this magnificent God was seeking a messenger from among the people to be a spokesperson to those that have stubbornly rejected his rulership. Isaiah, with cleansed lips and a consuming passion for God, volunteered to go to his people. This vision becomes the foundation for both his call to ministry and his theological emphasis on the holiness of God. As the narrative continues, however, Isaiah is warned that his message will be rejected by the community that is unwilling to hear as its members are metaphorically blind and deaf. Yet, the prophet is compelled by this vision of God to persevere despite his likely rejection.3

1 The term gigantic is particularly utilized by J.J.M. Roberts, who notes analogies from the

broader ane that use this motif of the gigantic dimensions of the divine ruler (First Isaiah,

Hermeneia [Minneapolis: Fortress, 2015], 94). This is also explored in Mark S. Smith, “Divine

Form and Size in Ugaritic and Pre-Exilic Israelite Religion,”zaw 100 (1998): 424–447. 2 Roberts, First Isaiah, 100.

3 It is noted that scholars such as de Jong consider this a later edition (Isaiah among the Ancient

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embodiment and the prophetic message in isaiah’s memoir


Central to the message of Isaiah is the giving of signs, particularly in the significantly narrative portion known as the Isaiah memoirs (the core of which is found in Isaiah 6:1 to 8:18).4 Within this section, the prophet presents three prominent signs as a kind of proof of God’s intent. These signs are not simply metaphoric symbols that point to a theological truth: these signs are people. The message of Isaiah is embodied in the physical form of three children. The signs of all three children are connected to the political threat facing Judah at that time, known as the Syro-Ephraimite Crisis (735–732bce).5 The message for Judah embodied by these three children was consistent: Trust God. In this presentation I would like to explore the significance of the three children that embody Isaiah’s message in these narrative portions of the Isaiah memoir. I would like to ask: What is the significance of these embodied signs? What do they tell us about the nature of the prophetic word? And specifically, what do they reveal for us today about what a prophetic community looks like? I will conclude with some brief reflections on the implications of these for the Society for Pentecostal Theology, a community that also seeks to be a prophetic voice grounded in the Scriptures.

Near Eastern Prophets, 57). This is acknowledged, however, as a narrative analysis; this study

is focusing on the final form or received form of the text. See Matthijs J. de Jong,Isaiah among

the Ancient Near Eastern Prophets: A Comparative Study of the Earliest Stages of the Isaiah

Tradition and the Neo-Assyrian Prophecies, Supplement to Vetus Testamentum 117 (Leiden:

Brill, 2007).

4 The section of Isaiah 6:1 to 8:18 is a literary block generally referred to by scholars as Isaiah’s

Denkschrift or memoir. While the exact section identified as the memoir is disputed (for

example, Roberts [First Isaiah, 88] identifies the memoir as extending from 6:1 to 9:6), literary

analysis by de Jong (Isaiah among the Ancient Near Eastern Prophets) suggests that the block

is most appropriately understood to 8:18. Roberts identifies the memoir as a literary block

that had previously circulated as an independent collection (First Isaiah, 88). As the focus of

this study is the narrative portion, however, it does not include text from chapter 9. While

Prokhorov makes a strong argument for the inclusion of the section up to 9:6 on the basis of

the children motif, this study will focus on the core of the narrative (Alexander V. Prokhorov,

The Isaianic Denkschrift and a Socio-Cultural Crisis in Yehud: A Rereading of Isaiah 6:1–9:6[7]

(Göttingen:Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2015)). See also de Jong (IsaiahamongtheAncientNear

EasternProphets, 54); Csaba Balogh, “Isaiah’s Prophetic Instruction and the Disciples in Isaiah

8:16,”Vetus Testamentum63 (2013): 2.

5 Roberts, First Isaiah, 88. Though note that Roberts refers to this as the Syro-Ephraimite War

of 735–732bce.

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It may seem surprising for contemporary Western readers influenced by dual- ism to discover that for Isaiah—a prophet who was consumed with theholiness of God—the physical body had an important function in the delivery of his prophetic message. In our Western intellectual tradition, we tend to separate the body from holiness as though it is dangerous and to be reviled. Hebraic thinking (as presented in the Old Testament), however, emphasizes an earthy, holistic view of the body as inextricably connected to the people’s religious life as expressed through rituals and worship. So the concept of embodiment is important for the study of Old Testament texts. The concept of embodiment is also of increasing interest within Pentecostal Theology and among the various interest groups of this Society.6 While it is explored differently in the respec- tive disciplines, there is a common interest in this approach as it explores the real interaction among embodied persons in very concrete and particular sit- uations. The physical body is located in a time and place and reflects all the aspects of our identity, including race, gender, culture, sexuality, age, history, and geography. The body is not simply a canvas or a shell that passively houses our thoughts or beliefs or performs religious activities.7 Instead, the body is integral to our identity and actually helps shape our beliefs, thoughts, and reli- gious ideas, particularly through our location in a specific culture. The body exists in a social world, a physical community in a time and place, that also informs and shapes us. For this reason, many scholars, including Ola Sigurd- son, understand embodiment as narrative rather than conceptual.8

A body, in its various interactions, is located in a time and place: it has a history. As Stephen Crites notes, neither a disembodied mind nor a mindless body can appear in a story.9Drama, and in some sense narrative, is completely dependent on the presence of human beings. If you eliminate the human pres- ence, then you eliminate the theater. Action, interaction, and, for the purposes of this study, prophetic action all require physically present human actors. Those human actors are physically present in a time and place. Doan and Giles write, “As something that occurs, drama is in the eternal present. Dramatic time is the time of now, even when it conventionally represents the past, the

6 This includes disability studies, gender studies, and healing.

7 Francesca Stavrakopoulou, “Making Bodies: On Body Modification and Religious Materiality

in the Hebrew Bible,”Hebrew Bible and Ancient Israel2 (2013): 534.

8 Ola Sigurdson, “How to Speak of the Body? Embodiment between Phenomenology and

Theology,”Studia Theologica62 (2008): 40.

9 Crites is quoted in Sigurdson, “How to Speak of the Body?” 29.

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future, or a time only imagined.”10 So when we speak of prophetic drama, it was not something that was ritualized. It was performed, or communicated for one audience at one time.11 Isaiah embodied his message and mission in actions that were symbolic carriers of meaning. That is, he did things symbol- ically.12 These symbolic actions and the “signs” in Isaiah were not just mere visual aids, but dramatic presentations of God’s vision for the community in that time and place. The prophet’s message was not always delivered in verbal form, but sometimes proclaimed in action. It was a “prophetic drama,” to use the phrase coined by David Stacey. The actions point beyond themselves to the greater reality of God’s intentions.13 This term prophetic drama is helpful as it emphasizes that the physical embodiment of the prophetic message was not just an optional extra, but a vital communication revealing God’s perspective of current reality.The Isaiah memoir presents a written version of this dramatic performance. It is the preservation, albeit redacted, of part of the memory of Isaiah’s testimony and actions.

The Isaiah memoir provides us with insight in understanding prophecy as a socio-historical phenomenon in pre-exilic Israel. During this time, the prophet had a significant function within the sociopolitical structure of ancient Israel: to speak on behalf of Yahweh to the covenant community, particularly to the monarchy.14 Generally, the prophetic message was political, even when it addressed social issues. This is because the covenant community at that time was a sociopolitical entity. For Isaiah, who was concerned about the future of Judah, his function was to be a “guardian of the well-being of the state.”15This, of course, changes in the New Testament when the covenant community is no longer located as part of a single sociopolitical entity or nation state (which we would do well to remember). For Isaiah in the eighth century, however, his function was to deliver a relevant prophetic message to the community living


11 12




William Doan and Terry Giles, Prophets, Performance, and Power: Performance Criticism of the Hebrew Bible(London: T & T Clark, 2005), 142.

Doan and Giles, Prophets, Performance, and Power, 146.

Scot McKnight, “Jesus and Prophetic Actions,”Bulletin for Biblical Research10, no. 2 (2000): 224.

Morna Hooker,The Signs of a Prophet: The Prophetic Actions of Jesus (Eugene, or: Wipf & Stock, 2010), 2–5.

David N. Freedman, “Between God and Man: Prophets in Ancient Israel,” in Yehoshua Gitay, ed., Prophecy and Prophets: The Diversity of Contemporary Issues in Scholarship (Atlanta,ga: Scholars Press), 59.

de Jong, Isaiah among the Ancient Near Eastern Prophets, 347.

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at that time in Jerusalem (that is, embodied recipients), particularly guiding them in decision-making that had national implications and impacted the well-being of his broader community.

A prophet, as defined by Lester Grabbe, “is a mediator who claims to receive messages direct from a divinity, by various means, and communicates these messages to recipients.”16This role was not unique to ancient Israel, but proph- ets, even prophets attached to a royal court as Isaiah seems to be, could be found all across the ancient Near East. They were the mouthpiece of their god. Prophets in both Israel and the ancient world addressed specific histori- cal situations: they were not abstract religious sermons, but addressed real-life questions and problems. In one sense, the prophetic word resembles embod- iment as it also addresses issues in a particular time, place, and location. It is grounded in concrete historical situations.17 The prophets would deliver spo- ken oracles or perform symbolic actions to communicate their message. Fur- thermore, many texts representing the pre-exilic period refer to groups or com- munities of prophets. So for those prophets that belonged to a community, this group most likely provided their fellowship and support.18These communities also provided support to the leading prophets by recording and preserving their words in writing.19 Certainly the Isaiah memoir refers specifically to the disci- ples of Isaiah, who were tasked with recording his words. He refers to these disciples in almost the same breath as his references to his children, suggesting a family-like closeness among the prophetic community.

The Isaiah memoir is recognized by form critics as containing the material most authentic to Isaiah of Jerusalem. In particular, chapters 6:1 to 8:18 provide the core of his testimony, albeit recognizing the redactional activity in its textual development.20Isaiah 6 begins with a first-person account of his calling


17 18



Lester L. Grabbe, Priests, Prophets, Diviners, Sages: A Socio-Historical Study of Religious Specialists in Ancient Israel (Valley Forge,pa: Trinity Press, 1995), 107.

de Jong, Isaiah among the Ancient Near Eastern Prophets, 183, 191.

de Jong,IsaiahamongtheAncientNearEasternProphets, 297. de Jong refers to the Assyrian prophets who belonged to a community of devotees of the deity (usually Ištar). He suggests that their nearest colleagues were from among this group of prophets. As Balogh notes, however, very little is known about this process or about the functioning of these communities See Csaba Balogh, “Isaiah’s Prophetic Instruction,”Vetus Testamen- tum63 (2013): 1–18.

It is particularly noted how chapter 7 is presented in the third person, unlike chapters 6 and 8. Collins also notes the correspondence of chapter 7 with chapters 36–39, suggesting the deliberate comparison of the two kings by the redactor. See John J. Collins, “The Sign of Immanuel,” in John Day, ed., Prophecy and the Prophets in Ancient Israel (London: Bloomsbury, 2014), 230.

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to the prophetic ministry. In the language of the pentecostal community, this is his testimony. Having been in the presence of the heavenly king, he is sent. In being sent, he will also need to be fully present among those he is ministering. The narrative then shifts to the third person as it focuses on the speech and actions of the prophet during the political crisis in chapters 7 to 8:18. It is this section that we will explore.21The core of the memoir is structured around the three signs: each of these signs is associated with a child.22 This material then can be dated to the period of the Syro-Ephraimite crisis (735– 732bce), during which the prophet Isaiah spoke a message of encouragement and hope.23In this political crisis Rezin, the king of Damascus, and Pekah, the king of Israel (the northern kingdom), were seeking to create a coalition to resist the increasing domination of Assyria. It seems that the success of the coalition required Judah’s participation; therefore Rezin and Pekah attempted topersuadeAhaz,theking of Judah,tojointhis coalition.AsAhazwasreluctant to join, however, they instead threatened an invasion of Jerusalem by which they would replace Ahaz (the Davidic ruler) with their own puppet king. The covenant community of Judah (as a “nation” at that time) was under political and military threat. This threat caused great distress and panic for Judah. It was into this situation then that Isaiah spoke as recorded in his memoir. The focus of this study will, however, be on what the prophet does—the embodiment of his message in the prophetic drama—not just what he verbally communicates.

Now, the recipients of Isaiah’s message—that is, King Ahaz and the people of Judah—are blind and deaf (to use the language of disability24 in Isaiah 6): they are obstinate in their refusal to receive the prophetic word. So to address this political crisis, Isaiah not only verbally spoke prophetic oracles, but also engaged in several symbolic acts that underscored his message. He also included others from the prophetic community and his own family in the generating of these signs. The prophetic drama presents three children


22 23 24

The Isaiah memoir will be read as a narrative unity, having a thematic unity based around the three signs, and a contextual unity as the signs address the situation of the political crisis.

Collins, “The Sign of Immanuel,” 228.

de Jong, Isaiah among the Ancient Near Eastern Prophets, 57.

This raises within the study of embodiment the issue of disability, particularly Isaiah’s use of the language of disability to describe the spiritual condition of the people consistent throughout the corpus of Isaiah. Disability reappears as a concern in later oracles, such as 35:5, 29:18. See J. Blake Couey, “The Disabled Body Politic in Isaiah 3:1, 8,” jbl 133, no. 1 (2014): 104.

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with significant names. The births of two of these children are announced in unique circumstances. These three children become important visible signs to the community during this political crisis.25The narrative provides a prophetic drama that was a vivid alternative to the spoken word. Generally the stud- ies of Isaiah give preference to Isaiah’s dominant spoken messages and tend to overlook the narratives and the prophetic performative they describe.26 The prophetic actions of Isaiah point to the activity and will of Yahweh. The prophet’s actions are a manifestation of the divine will as it unveils God’s pur- poses. Just as words can mediate a prophetic message, so also can the body. The message is seen rather than heard. Body discourse can communicate infor- mation. In this case, however, it is not just the symbolic acts that speak the message, but also the people that embody the message. The children function as tangible representations of the divine word. Their presence underscores the message.27The children embody redemption and hope rather than judgment. The power in these signs comes from Yahweh, not from the actions or people themselves. The first sign in the prophetic drama of Isaiah’s memoir is the child Shear-Jashub in Isaiah 7:1–9.


In this narrative (Isa 7:1–9),28the prophet Isaiah actively seeks out Ahaz, who is preparing for invasion by inspecting the water supply. It is a situation of panic, fear, and uncertainty created by the political bullying of the northern neigh- bors. But Isaiah does not meet with Ahaz alone. At the direction of Yahweh, the prophet takes his son, Shear-Jashub (meaning “a remnant will return”)—a name with very symbolic meaning. Although the name Shear-Jashub has been understood in many ways, common to all is that this is a message of hope (of

25 26

27 28

de Jong, Isaiah among the Ancient Near Eastern Prophets, 346.

This does not include the many references to disability in the symbolic language of Isaiah. As Couey notes, ‘The book of Isaiah contains numerous references to disability—more than any other prophetic book’ (104). See Couey, “The Disabled Body Politic in Isaiah 3:1, 8,” 95–109.

de Jong, Isaiah among the Ancient Near Eastern Prophets, 339.

The passage of Isaiah 7:1–9 was read by Dr. Michael Frost from Aotearoa—New Zealand. This scholar was seen and heard by the community ofspsin attendance. He was physically standing before thespscommunity: he was seen by them but is unfortunately not seen or heard by the reader.

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varying degrees).29 The message for Ahaz is one of reassurance. Surely that is good news? So why does Isaiah need to take his son? It seems unusual for a court prophet to take his child to a secret meeting with the king. Why is Shear- Jashub needed to communicate Isaiah’s message? While the name of Isaiah’s son is certainly significant, it is not just his name that is important. The name of the son of Isaiah is not just the sign, the child himself is the sign and the mes- sage. Shear-Jashub is the message embodied. The son is the message in carne: in the flesh. Of course, this will not be the last time in Scripture that a father calls attention to the physical presence of his son incarnate in the world.

ThenarrativetellsusthatAhazwassofearfulof thisthreatfromthenorthern kings that he was shaking like a tree in the wind.Yet, this message of Isaiah gives hope that despite the threat he will remain—he may be a shaking tree, but he will remain standing. As the name of Shear-Jashub (“a remnant will return”) speculates, the tree may even be cut down or trimmed to a remnant, but it will survive. The kings of the north, however, will not survive; they will be cut down. They are two stubs of smouldering firewood. In this context, the name of Shear- Jashub is confronting. This child reminds them that their election as God’s people does not preclude suffering.The child’s name points to a future reality of exile if Ahaz chooses not to listen or see the word of Yahweh. If Ahaz chooses to be unseeing and unhearing, then exile and judgement are his future. Yet even in potential judgement, Yahweh will not forget his people or abandon them. They will be preserved; future generations will succeed. This child physically represents that message.

In our age of ethical sensibilities, it may seem inappropriate for the prophet to take a child with him for this confrontation—even possibly abusive to expose a minor to this situation. Then, as now, adults were meant to provide nurture and protection for children. Yet, even then under Ahaz’s rulership, there were many fatherless children and widows being exploited (as Isaiah 1 reminds us). If these vulnerable ones were being exploited by greedy people within their own community,30 how much more would children like Shear-



According to Roberts the meaning is later elaborated in chapter 10:20–24 to indicate that “a remnant shall return” refers only to a small number of northerners that would survive the Syro-Ephraimite War, so only a remnant of Israel would return as a surviving remnant of northerners to Judah. He considers it a message of salvation (First Isaiah, 110). Other commentators such as Brueggemann consider it a more ominous reference. He suggests the name refers to the survival of Judah of the exile (65). See Walter Brueggemann, Isaiah 1–39, Westminster Bible Companion (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1998). Katheryn Pfisterer Darr, Isaiah’s Vision and the Family of God, Literary Currents in Biblical Interpretation (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1994), 50–51.

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Jashub be exposed if Ahaz made a fear-based foolish political decision that would have a devastating impact on the broader Judean community? A foolish decision by Ahaz would leave many more children fatherless and exposed. Yet, understood in its cultural context, it seems very appropriate for Isaiah to take his son to meet with the king. Generally at this time, a son learned the trade or profession of his father. In this case, Shear-Jashub was being introduced or exposed to his father’s profession of being a court prophet. While it is not assumed that the Spirit would automatically gift the son with the same revelation as his father, however, the memoir suggests that this child and his siblings would be disciples in the prophetic community led by Isaiah and possibly also his prophetic mother. As Gafney observes, at the end of the core of the memoir in Isaiah 8:16–19, “Isaiah refers to his children (8:19) and his disciples (8:16) in the same pericope; the two groups function interchangeably in the text.” So Isaiah includes his son as a disciple, as a sign, and as a physical embodiment of this important message of hope to the king.31

So as Isaiah met with Ahaz in the midst of this political crisis, he did so with Shear-Jashub at his side. The message for Ahaz was standing embodied before him as a young, vital male—full of potential with his future before him. Shear-Jashub does not speak, but stands present alongside his father. The son may not even have realized the significance of his presence, but his stance indicates quietness and trust in his father. His physical presence says: the future generations are not lost, nor will his lineage be cut off. In this ancient culture sons were crucial for preserving the family name and family land. A male child, particularly a first-born, represented the future survival and posterity of the family. The presence of Shear-Jashub speaks a powerful message to Ahaz: the family name will survive; their inhabiting of the land will continue. Shear-Jashub, physically standing before the king, makes explicit the theme of succession. The repeated use of the termsonin this section reinforces the idea of successors. While the sons of Aram and Israel will be destroyed, Judah’s sons will remain. But to remain, he must remain: to be, he must be. That is, Ahaz must stand firm and not surrender to the bullying politics of his neighbors. Like Isaiah’s son, Ahaz must stand calmly with Yahweh in quietness and trust. As Shear-Jashub postures and is, so should Ahaz stand and be. He must adopt what Roberts calls a quietistic policy of waiting out the expected siege.32The bodily presence of the son is the message. The statement “If you do not stand firm in



Wilda C. Gafney, Daughters of Miriam: Women Prophets in Ancient Israel (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008).

Roberts, First Isaiah, 118.

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faith, you will not be made firm” (7:9) functions as a challenge. It reinforces the need for quietness, trust, and resolution to stand just as Shear-Jashub stands.33 At this point in the narrative, the possibility and hope exist that Ahaz will respond positively to this challenge.

The child, embodying Isaiah’s message, was seen by Ahaz; but the child phys- ically standing before the king is no longer alive: he was seen by Ahaz but is unseen by us as later readers of the text. That is the point of embodiment; it is present. Embodiment suggests imminence: it is here and now. The child Shear- Jashub was physically present before the king because it was a message for the king at that time. This does not mean that the sign and narrative has no sig- nificance for later readers, as certainly the prophetic word can speak to future generations and have meaning for later readers. We must acknowledge, how- ever, that the purpose of the prophetic word at that time was to speak a relevant message to the recipients present. This should also communicate to us as con- temporary readers a crucial message: the prophetic word, like embodiment, is present. A community that takes seriously the prophetic word of God ensures that the message is relevant and accessible to the target audience. A prophetic word speaks a message to address the challenges and hopes of the community here and now. What does this tell us about the values of the prophetic com- munity? What did the prophetic community look like in Isaiah’s time? The first feature of the prophetic community in Isaiah’s memoir is: this is a community that emphasized the immediacy and relevancy of the prophetic word as imper- ative.


The second sign presented in the Isaiah memoir is the child named Immanuel. The description found in Isaiah 7:10–1634 is presented as a continuation of the narrative of the previous section, though it is uncertain if it represents historically the same occasion or was a later confrontation.35 It does seem, however, that Ahaz’s response to the message of the first child was not positive. Ahaz was blind to the significance of Shear-Jashub standing physically before him and deaf to the vocal message of Isaiah. Yet, as the narrative continues, the prophet persists. Isaiah provokes Ahaz, saying, “Ask for yourself a sign

33 34


Collins, “The Sign of Immanuel,” 229–230.

The passage of 7:10–16 was read by Ps Ekaputra Tupamahu from Indonesia. Like Dr. Frost above, Ps Tupamahu was seen and heard by the audience in attendance.

Roberts, First Isaiah, 117.

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from Yahweh” (v. 11). In the tradition of Moses and Gideon (to name a few), God offered Ahaz a sign to encourage belief.36 Ahaz, however, hides behind a false piety, refusing the sign. He is given a sign regardless. The message of Immanuel speaks directly to the political crisis with the announcement of a birth oracle.37 The prophetic drama begins by announcing that the young woman will conceive and bear a child. The child will be called Immanuel. Both the pregnancy and the child function as signs. By the time the child can determine right from wrong, the political crisis will be no more. Again, this is good news for Judah: Yahweh is with them.38 As de Jong writes, “The name Immanuel is an assurance that Ahaz and his people need not fear the enemy, since Yahweh is at their side.”39

This child-sign is very significant in the light of its New Testament usage, which also means that Christian readers unfortunately often miss the value and importance of this passage within its own context of the Syro-Ephraimite Crisis. It was a message to be heard by real people in real time. Because it was immediately relevant, it assumes knowledge known to Isaiah’s community but unfortunately unknown to us today.40 Assumedly, what was known to those present at the prophetic drama—that is, the original hearers—was the parentage of the child whose birth is announced. The identity of both the mother and father of the child are much debated by scholars. The mother of the child is called in Hebrew a “young woman,” not necessarily a virgin but definitely young. As Esther Hamori notes, “although the identity of the ‘young woman’ is not specified for the reader, she is not a mysterious future figure, ‘a young woman,’ but probably someone known to Isaiah, ‘the young woman.’”41 While some scholars consider the father of the child to be Isaiah on the basis of 8:18 (which refers to the children given to him as signs), unlike Shear- Jashub and Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz, this child Immanuel is never explicitly acknowledged by Isaiah as his son.42 Others suggest that it was more likely

36 37 38

39 40



Roberts, First Isaiah, 117.

de Jong, Isaiah among the Ancient Near Eastern Prophets, 61.

de Jong, Isaiah among the Ancient Near Eastern Prophets. As de Jong writes, “The name Immanuel refers to the imminent rescue from the aggressor and reinforces the exhorta- tion to resist the anti-Assyrian coalition and the promise of salvation by Yahweh” (62). de Jong, Isaiah among the Ancient Near Eastern Prophets, 207.

Richard Niessen, “The Virginity of the המלע in Isaiah 7:14,”Bibliotheca Sacra (April-June 1980): 133.

Esther Hamori, “Heavenly Bodies: Pregnancy and Birth Omens in Israel,”Hebrew Bible and Ancient Israel2, no. 4 (2013): 491.

Collins, “The Sign of Immanuel,” 231–232; Kaiser notes, however, that Jerome, Rashi,

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a royal child. This is based on the context and the strong connections of the name to the Davidic dynasty.43 Collins calls the name Immanuel a “slogan of the Davidic house” emphasizing Yahweh’s commitment to the dynasty.44While Jewish tradition has mostly identified the child as Hezekiah, the son of Ahaz, the chronology makes this problematic.45 So for readers today, the parentage of the child remains unclear. Perhaps that is the point. It is not the parentage of the child that is important (or it would be clearer), it is the message the child signifies. It is the timing of the birth and the actual child himself that is significant and meaningful: God is with us. This sign is another attempt by Isaiah to address the fear and disbelief of Ahaz.46 This second message is the same as the first. Like Shear-Jashub, Immanuel serves as a sign and embodies the message of hope for the house of David and the community of Judah during this political crisis.

The whole prophetic drama—including the pregnancy, the birth, and the child’s name—is explicitly called a sign. Even christological readings that ig- nore the historical relevance of the passage for Isaiah’s time still recognize that the woman’s pregnancy itself is portrayed as a sign.47 The female body trans- forms during gestation. Ahaz, the palace dwellers, and the Judean community


44 45

46 47

and Ibn Ezra all considered Immanuel to be Isaiah’s son (see Otto Kaiser, Isaiah 1–12: A Commentary (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1983, 151–172)). The argument of Roberts has merit, however. He notes, “Given the similarity among these oracles, the common prophetic practice of giving their children symbolic names (cf. Hos 1:3–8), and the fact that Isaiah refers to the children whom God gave him as signs and portents in Israel (8:18), it is probable that all these children with symbolic names were Isaiah’s children” (Roberts, First Isaiah, 107).

For de Jong, the recipient of the oracle is Ahaz.The subject of the term in 7:14b is uncertain; de Jong rejects the third person feminine singular use of the term based on a form-critical study. Instead he suggests that it is Ahaz to whom this order is directed: “you must name.” In addition to the context and connection to the Davidic dynasty noted above, he also suggests that the Hebrew text could be read as second person masculine “you will call.” He reads this then as an instruction to Ahaz. As the command of name-giving is always addressed to the recipient of a birth oracle, then the name giver is Ahaz (Isaiah among the Ancient Near Eastern Prophets, 61).

Collins, “The Sign of Immanuel,” 235.

2Kings 18:7 potentially alludes to the name Immanuel in reference to Hezekiah by the statement that “the Lord was with him”; however, it may be drawing more generally on Davidic language rather than trying to make a direct connect. See Collins, “The Sign of Immanuel,” 230.

Collins, “The Sign of Immanuel,” 235.

Hamori, “Heavenly Bodies: Pregnancy and Birth Omens in Israel,” 490–491.

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will watch the belly of the young pregnant woman grow, see the newborn infant breastfeed and then crave more solid food. The bodies of both the woman and the child are meant to transform. The people are meant to see these physi- cal changes: that is the message. The mother’s pregnancy and growing child embody the message of God’s presence with them through the crisis. The phys- ical development of the child is a proclamation of hope. Like Shear-Jashub, the presence of the pregnant woman and her child speaks. Unlike the name Shear- Jashub, however, which dangles the threat of exile as a potential conclusion, the name Immanuel has no ending.We do not know what will happen to this child. As Francis Landy suggests, the sign is open. He says, “As a child, he embodies a potentiality, for new language and a new age.”48Through good or bad, God is with them. This child-sign embodies a new future. It is a real baby born into the world, symbolizing joy and new life. The real, living child will grow, breastfeed, and eventually eat baby food. This speaks of the temporal nature of their prob- lem. Within approximately two years, this crisis will be over. Life will go on. By the time the child eats the baby food of curds and honey49 the political crisis will be resolved. Yet, through it all, God will be with them.

The physical presence of the child Immanuel points to the presence of God in the world. While this child is noten carneof God—that is a different miracle for the young woman Mary to bear in the New Testament—this child born into the community of Judah is en carne pointing to God. This takes seriously the notion of incarnation. It perhaps harkens back to the very purpose of humanity at creation, being made in the image of God, fashioned to be living statues rep- resenting Yahweh as they were placed in the temple of creation (Gen 1:26–28). It perhaps harkens back to the revelation of Yahweh’s very own name to them at the Exodus: I am who I am (Exod 3:14). God is alive—always and forever—and is present among his people. Of course, that same “I am” chose later to make himself physically present and vulnerable, born not in a palace but in a manger. The reality of incarnation and physical presence was crucial for understanding this prophetic drama in Isaiah. The child, his mother, and the prophet were all bodily present among the recipient community. Those recipients were part of the covenant community, albeit noncompliant members that were refusing to



Francis Landy, “Prophecy as Trap: Isaiah 6 and its permutations,” Studia Theologica 69, no. 1 (2015): 82.

Much has been made of the type of food consumed by the child (see Landy, “Prophecy as Trap,” 81). But whether the child eats curds and honey because it is the food of survivors of a siege (since this food is not from harvested crops) or it is the food of prosperity, either way it is the timing that is important.

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hear or see God’s word. Prophetic drama and the use of prophetic signs are an alternative to speech when the voice of the prophet will no longer be heard or tolerated.

As the memoir continues, it becomes clear that Ahaz has rejected the mes- sage and the signs. Despite his dismissal of the message, the child will be born and will grow. To reject the message of Yahweh, Ahaz has to close his eyes and stop his ears from seeing and hearing this child-sign, Immanuel. So a third child-sign of Isaiah will be given. Yet, despite the blindness and deafness of the Judean community, Isaiah and his prophetic community persist in prior- itizing the embodiment of their message. Isaiah’s ministry was reliant upon him being present (en carne) in the community to which he was called to speak—even when they rejected him and his message. The message of Isaiah was reliant upon him and the people that embodied his signs being visible in the community, even when their very presence was uncomfortable and their symbolic names reminded the people of what they did not want to hear. So what does this tell us about the values of the prophetic community? What did the prophetic community look like in Isaiah’s time?The second distinct feature of the prophetic community in Isaiah’s memoir is this: they were a community that emphasized their physical presence as imperative to the prophetic mes- sage.


The third child to be referred to as a “sign” by Isaiah occurs in chapter 8:1– 4.50There are three parts to this particular pericope: first the instruction from Yahweh, then the fulfilment of that instruction by the prophet, and finally the interpretation byYahweh.51Yet in each part, the focus of the prophetic drama is on the symbolic name and child: Maher-shalal-hash-baz, meaning something like “quick plunder, fast spoil.” According to de Jong, it is most likely an adoption of a military phrase or military language.52 This prophetic drama begins with the instruction by Yahweh to take a large papyrus and write on it in common




Isaiah 8:1–4 was read by Dr. Liza Esterhuizen from South Africa. As noted above, the reader was bodily present for the recipient community, but unfortunately not seen or heard by the reader.

David E. Aune,Prophecy in Early Christianity and the Ancient MediterraneanWorld(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 100.

de Jong, Isaiah among the Ancient Near Eastern Prophets, 67.

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characters the words Maher-shalal-hash-baz.53 This command requires that the prophet use everyday language that can be read by the literate population. The prophetic message must be relevant and accessible to the target audience, which in this case is the wider community of Jerusalem and not just the royal court that will see this billboard.54 Once given the instruction, Isaiah then acts it out. This is not just symbolic performance, but a physical enacting of the instruction. He physically writes a message on a tablet and displays the signage among the people. He finds reliable witnesses to attest to his writing and then goes to the woman-prophet knowing that in nine months the sign will be embodied in a son that will bear the name. The two witnesses may seem a little excessive to testify to an inscription that will be publicly exposed long before the birth of the son or the military campaign it is predicting; but a physical witness is needed. Williamson identifies these two named witnesses as being of the highest priestly class and well known in the royal court.55They were public figures. The need for the witnesses was to verify not only that the prophet wrote the tablet prior to the defeat of the northern kingdom, but that it was indeed Isaiah himself who wrote the inscription.

The witnesses also emphasize the public nature of this message—a witness verbally testifies to the event. So it is not just the literate community that will read the message, but the illiterate community will also hear the message spoken by the witnesses, or at least hear of it: all Jerusalemites will be included as recipients of this message through their own form of “social media” at that time. In the same way, it is important to Isaiah that the mother of the child is also a public figure: a known prophet herself.56 Because she is known as such publicly, it is likely that her pregnancy and the birth of her child would be well known in the community. The priest and male witnesses are not referred to as prophets, but the woman is.57The third part of this pericope is the explanation

53 54




It could also be translated as “belonging to Maher-shalal-hash-baz,” such as thenrsvhas. de Jong notes that 8:1–2 highlights the public role of the prophet. He also identifies the recipients of the tablet as most probably the people in Jerusalem. See de Jong, Isaiah among the Ancient Near Eastern Prophets, 208.

Williamson, “Prophetesses in the Hebrew Bible,” in John Day, ed.,Prophecy and the Proph- ets in Ancient Israel (London: Bloomsbury, 2014), 75.

Are the mothers of the three children the same woman? Gafney suggests that they may be, but she also questions why they are referred to differently (young woman and then prophetess). She discusses the range of views as to whether the same woman is mother to all three children. For example, she notes that Clements argues that all three children are Isaiah’s but are not necessarily born to the same woman. See Gafney,Daughters of Miriam, 107.

Williamson, “Prophetesses in the Hebrew Bible,” 75.

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or interpretation. The parents, Isaiah and the woman-prophet, are to call the child “Maher-shalal-hash-baz.” Like Shear-Jashub and Immanuel, this child has a symbolic name and embodies the prophetic message. Once again, the prophetic message is a sign—and once again, it is a sign that addresses a relevant situation. It is a message of hope for Judah: Damascus, the capital of Aram, and Samaria, the capital of Israel, will be captured and plundered.58 That is, their bullying neighbors and adversaries will be defeated. It will not even require military action by Judah; they are required not to act, but to wait expectantly as one does in pregnancy. As the woman will be, so they are to be: waiting in expectation for Yahweh to act. Then, by the time the child is conceived, born, and can speak—approximately a two-and-a-half to three-year time period—this crisis will be over.

What then is the significance of this woman being identified as a prophet? The woman in this passage took her title from her profession, not because she was Isaiah’s wife. She is identified as the woman-prophet (hanneviʾah).59 She most likely was Isaiah’s wife even though she is not explicitly identified as such.60 Interestingly, it is Isaiah who identifies her as a prophet and not according to her marital status or even by her relationship to him, either as her husband or, in the very least, a colleague from the prophetic community in Jerusalem. She is identified as a recognized prophet with her own ministry validated by Isaiah. It is on this professional basis that Isaiah introduced her. Unfortunately many scholars and commentators have dismissed this title of prophet when it refers to Isaiah’s wife as just an honorary title.61 It seems that they assume that when the title “prophet” is used of a male it clearly refers to his profession but when applied to Isaiah’s wife it is just an honorary title, partic- ularly since her role is specifically linked with child-bearing. As Lester Grabbe writes, “This was not Mrs. Isaiah, as so many commentators have asserted on no basis whatsoever.The Hebrew language is perfectly capable of saying ‘Isaiah

58 59



de Jong, Isaiah among the Ancient Near Eastern Prophets, 208–209.

It is interesting to note that the Isaiah scroll at Qumran uses the masculine title for the female prophet, suggesting it was understood by later translators as a professional title rather than an honorific.

Gafney makes a strong argument that they were married based on the use of the q-r-v, “to approach,” to describe their union. She notes that the same verb is used in Deuteronomy to describe sexually “approaching” one’s legal spouse. See Gafney, Daughters of Miriam, 103.

Gafney explores some of the literature discussing this title and notes that even feminist scholar Susan Ackerman dismisses this title as a matrimonial honorific. See Gafney, Daughters of Miriam, 12.

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had relations with his wife and she bore a son.’”62Interestingly, Isaiah does not refer to himself as a prophet as a self-designation; it is only the narrator that uses that title of him. Yet, in this narrative Isaiah calls her a prophet. So the title of hanneviʾah, the woman-prophet, cannot be reflective of Isaiah’s title because he did not use this title for himself.63Instead, as Blenkinsopp suggests, she was an officially recognized member of the prophetic guild.64It is now well attested in scholarship that this title refers to the woman being a prophet “in her own right.”65So by using her professional title, Isaiah promotes his colleague rather than himself.

The woman is identified as a prophet because she is also the agent of prophetic performance. She is, you could say, intimately engaged in producing this sign. From the prediction, to the conception, gestation, and delivery of Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz, this is a prophetic act that is a partnership between Isaiah and the woman-prophet.66 This was a sign that Isaiah physically was unable to perform alone—he could not birth a child by himself. He needed to reach out to another (not just in the sexual act but also in the prophetic act); he needed to engage with another to be able to present this sign to the community. The verse is overtly one of prophetic action: while Isaiah “gets some action” (so to speak), most of the “prophetic action” is hers.67 Yet, her role is not just to bear a child; she is not chosen just because she is fertile. She is not just a uterus, or a womb, or a passive vessel. She is a prophet, and so an agent in the prophetic drama. For example, neither of the women that bear children to Hosea or Ezekiel is called a prophet, even though those children are also





66 67

Lester L. Grabbe, “‘Her Outdoors’: An Anthropological Perspective on Female Prophets and Prophecy,” in Jonathan Stökl and Corrine L. Carvalho, eds.,Prophets Male and Female: Gender and Prophecy in the Hebrew Bible, the Eastern Mediterranean, and the Ancient Near East (Atlantaga:sbl, 2013), 24.

Gafney, Daughters of Miriam, 105. Gafney also suggests that Isaiah deliberately distances himself from the title as he condemns many who use the title, such as the leaders listed in Isa 3:1–5. She also notes, however, that the only person called a prophet who escapes his condemnation is this woman-prophet in Isa 8:3 (see Gafney, Daughters of Miriam, 4). Joseph Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 1–39: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries (New York,ny: Doubleday, 2000), 238. For Blenkinsopp, this account is considered an alternative account of the one sign act (being the same act of that of Immanuel). See 238–239.

Williamson, “Prophetesses in the Hebrew Bible,” 65. It is also important to note that there are numerous unnamed male prophets (e.g., 2Kings 23:18), yet we do not question their use of the title.

Gafney, Daughters of Miriam, 104.

Hamori, “Heavenly Bodies: Pregnancy and Birth Omens in Israel,” 492.

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identified as signs. Gomer (the adulterous wife of Hosea) does not participate as an agent in the prophetic drama of producing the sign-children. Instead, the woman of Isaiah 8isan agent in the prophetic drama and therefore is a prophet. There is also a sense of partnership and respect between Isaiah and the woman- prophet in this narrative. As Hamori writes, “both prophets participate in the sign-act. One prophetic parent carries and gives birth to the sign-child, and the other receives the words about what he symbolizes.”68 Their partnership and mutuality is also emphasized in the interpretation of the sign, which is given in verse 4. By the time the child is able to call out “my father, my mother,” the prophecy will be fulfilled. Both parents are vital to the production of the prophetic sign as both are vital in their roles as parents to the actual child born to them.

While the woman-prophet is an agent, some scholars still raise a question regarding her namelessness. This is a valid concern. There are many ways we can interpret her anonymity. For Fischer and Gafney, this actually points to her prominence. By the use of the definite article, she isthewoman-prophet; obvi- ously well-known and recognized as such by others in the community.69 She had a unique, valid, and authentic ministry as a prophet that was recognized and affirmed by her colleague and husband, Isaiah. While she may not speak verbally in the text, she still speaks prophetically through her role in delivering (literally) the oracle of the sign-child. She is not identified by her relationship to a man, or objectified. While some may protest that she is depersonalized because she is not named and not given a voice, she is honored by her profes- sional title. This is important, because when prophets speak they sometimes use words and sometimes do not. In the broader understanding of the role of the prophet, she is given a voice. She does speak—just not with words. She is a prophet that speaks by producing a sign. Hamori writes, “She embodies her message, in a rather significant commitment to the prophetic sign-act.”70This prophet speaks from the text of her life: her life in being. This may remind us of another person in the New Testament who was silent upon a cross—who did not need to speak to make an impact.71 So also this woman-prophet does not

68 69

70 71

Hamori, “Heavenly Bodies: Pregnancy and Birth Omens in Israel,” 492.

Both Gafney and Fischer highlight this use of the definite article ha- to suggest that “the woman was so well known that her name did not need to be spoken.” See Gafney, Daughters of Miriam, 16.

Hamori, “Heavenly Bodies: Pregnancy and Birth Omens in Israel,” 161.

The silence of this prophet also resonates with the later unidentified servant of Isaiah 52:13–53:12, who is described as silent in verse 7 as “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth.”

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need to speak verbally to make an impact. Her commitment to the prophetic word is to deliver and raise this child-sign. This commitment to public acts of prophetic significance is shared by her husband in a later section of Isaiah (separate to the memoir) which describes his three years of nakedness in chap- ter 20. In this prophetic drama, the pregnancy of the woman-prophet becomes a public sign, as is the birthing, naming, and raising of their son.

It is important to note the public location of this prophetic drama. This locates the woman-prophet in the public, political sphere. Her pregnancy is a matter of national significance and not just relegated to the private domain. Her pregnancy brings her femaleness into the public realm. Perhaps this is an act of subversion. It certainly emphasizes that it is not the unwillingness of the Spirit to speak to and through women that has resulted in the limiting of women prophets, but perhaps the unwillingness of the community to hear from women. In fact, it is the mark of a community that is “blind and deaf” not to hear the voice of Yahweh speaking through women, men, and children, albeit through their symbolic actions. Female prophets were quite common in other ancient communities of the Near East, yet comparatively few were recorded in the texts of ancient Israel.72 While the words of this woman- prophet have not been preserved in Isaiah’s memoir, however, her actions have spoken. Some may see her silence as evidence of the inferiority of women and consider her silence appropriate behavior becoming a woman. That would be a distortion of the prophetic tradition of women. Interestingly, Williamson makes a direct connection between this woman-prophet of Isaiah 8 and the later woman-prophet Huldah during the reign of Josiah, and considers this prophet as a predecessor to the ministry of Huldah.73 It may be that this woman-prophet in Isaiah pioneered a new openness to female prophets in Judah. Certainly by the time of Josiah there seems more willingness to consult a female prophetdirectly.In fact, Josiah’sadvisors deliberatelyseek the prophetic ministry of Huldah even though Jeremiah was known also to be ministering during this time. That they preferred Huldah over Jeremiah may, we surmise,



As de Jong notes, in the Mari and Assyrian context there are many references to female prophets. See de Jong, Isaiah among the Ancient Near Eastern Prophets, 335. Stökl notes that “the vast majority of named prophets in the Neo-Assyrian texts are female, and … female prophecy, often in the name of some form of Istar, was well established in the Neo- Assyrian empire. As far as the sources tell us, female prophets fulfilled all the prophetic functions fulfilled by their male colleagues” (Jonathan Stökl, “Female Prophets in the Ancient Near East,” in John Day, ed., Prophecy and the Prophets in Ancient Israel [London: Bloomsbury, 2014], 56).

Williamson, “Prophetesses in the Hebrew Bible,” 74.

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be a possible consequence of this elevation of the female prophet by Isaiah and his normalizing what was previously not normal for a female prophet to be consulted on political issues on behalf of the king.

What is also important to note is that she is part of the prophetic drama because a colleague included her and promoted her as an active participant. Her uniqueness and difference, that is, her difference as a woman, was valued and incorporated into the prophetic act. She did not need to become a man in order to be a prophet, nor did she need to deny her essential womanhood. This perhaps points toward a time when the Spirit would be democratized and poured out on all members of the confessing community. Both Isaiah and the woman-prophet functioned as part of a prophetic community, one that was grounded in relationship with others. As the narrative continues, it refers to the disciples of Isaiah who were instructed to write down his words (8:16). Others within the prophetic community are included and given a place. Isaiah could have written the words for himself, he is clearly literate as he has already written on the tablet, but instead he chooses to need others and include them in the prophetic drama. Engagement with others and inclusion of gifted others that are different or marginal to the broader culture is a significant feature of this prophetic community in Isaiah. Yet, if we keep reading Isaiah in 8:19, not every person that claimed a prophetic gift was included; those that consulted the dead were not included in this definition of Isaiah’s prophetic community. So while the community was inclusive, it was also a discerning community. So what does this tell us about the values of the prophetic community? What did the prophetic community look like in Isaiah’s time? The third feature of the prophetic community in Isaiah’s memoir is: this is a discerning community that emphasized inclusivity as imperative.


It is not my intention, in conclusion, to list all the ways we can apply these values to the pentecostal community; because unlike Judah, the pentecostal community is located in many different sociopolitical contexts and so will be applied differently in each location. Like Isaiah’s community, the pentecostal family identifies itself as a prophetic community. The pentecostal community that seeks to be a prophetic community in each location must seek, in their own embodied and embedded context, what these values look like: whether they be located in Ferguson, Missouri or Springfield, Missouri. These values— of relevancy, of being physically present to embody the message of hope, of being inclusive of the marginalized in their community and resisting the

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impulses of self-promotion—will look different for the pentecostal community in Birmingham, Alabama and the pentecostal community in Birmingham, England. That is the point of embodying the prophet message; it speaks to each location and context. I do invite you, however, to consider some implications for the Society for Pentecostal Theology (sps): to consider what these values of the prophetic community in Isaiah’s time might suggest for our community of scholars today. It has been my great privilege to serve as the President of spsfor the last year, and I thank you for the opportunity. I would also just like to note at this point that when I refer to the pentecostal community, this is an inclusive term to encompass not just classical pentecostal groups, but pentecostal and charismatic communities.

Let us consider first the imperative of relevancy. The narrative of Isaiah’s memoir reminds us that the prophetic word and prophetic activity are rele- vant and immediate. A prophetic community addresses real-world problems and offers solutions that promote the holistic well-being of people and creation in their context. The role of the Society for Pentecostal Theology is to describe and support the global pentecostal family in relevant ways. Members of sps are each located in various contexts around the world, which is reflected in both our sense of identity and our scholarship: as embodied beings we are each located in a time, place, and culture. For the majority of scholars and mem- bers of sps, their location is in North America so their embodied scholarship reflects the culture and geography of their location. This also means that many of their concerns and the real-world issues they address reflect their embod- ied presence in North America. This is a positive outworking of this same value reflected in Isaiah’s community as scholars provide vision and relevant reflec- tions from and for their specific contexts. It is the role, then, of all Society members to discern and assess these visions and reflections presented by one another. But cultural embeddedness can also lead to blindness when it does not reflect the prophetic vision but mirrors our own reflection and our own fears. When Isaiah first confronted Ahaz it was a situation of impending siege. He was tangled in a web of political alliances and disabled by fear. Isaiah placed his son in front of Ahaz as a sign, an embodiment of the message of hope— not to be overwhelmed by his own fears, but also as a warning of the potential distress if he made major policy decisions based on those fears.

Like the situation of Ahaz in the Syro-Ephraimite Crisis, there are some within our membership that fear the Society for Pentecostal Theology is under siege and also tangled in a web of political alliances. As the two northern kingdoms threatened Judah, some consider there are two kingdoms at war for the heart of this Society. One the one hand, some fear thatspsis besieged and attacked by the “left wing” and “socialists.” They fear that sps will become a

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den of liberals. On the other hand, some fear thatspsis besieged and attacked by the “right wing.” They fear that sps will become an ultrarighteous enclave enslaved to church mores. Both these fears, however, are based on the same vision of North American exceptionalism and nationalism, albeit at opposite ends of the spectrum.74 Others fear alliances with pentecostal groups and denominations in the United States that have historically been in conflict for theological and social reasons. There is a long history of mistrust among the intrapentecostal community in North America. This is also true in other contexts around the world. This means that when scholars of Pentecostalism and scholars from pentecostal institutions with a history of mistrust come together there is often suspicion. The challenge in this particular forum and for this Society, however, is that when scholars from within the context of the United States come together, often the theological and ethical issues raised for debate become framed in political rhetoric; issues are seen through the lens of a differing civil and political vision for the United States. The tendency is then also to frame the future of the Society for Pentecostal Theology in this same rhetoric and groupthink. For some that vision is framed in the language of holiness; for others that vision is framed in the language of justice. Either way, these differing visions for sps become framed through the language and political lens of the situation particular to the United States. The rhetoric of the future of sps becomes polarized to either the left or right of American politics. Schisms and political agendas that are unique to the United States and Pentecostalism in the United States threaten to become the fear and focus of the Society. These fears and focus threaten to alienate and detach the international members of this community.

This reminds us of the second imperative of Isaiah’s community: the value of presence. A prophetic community is committed to embodying their message— being a sign en carne that points to God en carne. Today three scholars from the international community have stood before you and read from Scripture.75 You have heard three different accents and voices from global Pentecostalism. I would like to offer them as a sign. As the three children in Isaiah’s memoir were presented as a sign, these three scholars are presented to the Society of Pentecostal Theology as an embodied message. They are an embodiment of the hope forsps: for this community to be an international community of scholars. They remind us that as each of us is embodied and located in our culture,



Steven Studebaker, Spirit of the Kingdoms, Citizens of the Cities (New York: Palgrave Mac- millan, 2016), 109, 136.

That is, the recipient community present saw and heard three scholars from the interna- tional community read the three Scripture passages.

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we need to see beyond our own culture and beyond the fears and politics of one location. They remind us that the future of this Society is one that is not dominated and disabled by the domestic, internal schisms particular to the United States. Of course the issues and schisms need to be addressed— as already noted, the prophetic community is relevant—but these fears and debates are particular, they are not global. These fears are a local issue and particular to this context of North America: they should not be viewed as global. Instead, if members of this Society view the future of this community only through the lens of internal American schisms and politics, then you turn sps into a national organization: a Society made in your own image. Again, I am not suggesting that issues relevant to the usa should not be explored, but that it must be recognized that how North American scholars think and frame their discussion reflects their own culture and unique situation. Pentecostal communities in other locations do not ask the same questions or approach these topics in the same way. The international pentecostal community does not necessarily share the same issues or outlook as the pentecostal community in North America. Similarly, those from other contexts are also embodied in their location and culture. The challenge is to be self-aware, and to identify our own lens of culture so that our vision for sps is one that supports the global family of Pentecostalism and not one location. Of course, as theen carnebody we are also part of a larger body, the body of Christ. This is a reminder of the continuing presence and embodiment of Jesus Christ in the world, now embodied in his church. As scholars and researchers, we share a responsibility for seeking unity and reconciliation within our pentecostal family locally and globally. Concurrently we also seek unity and understanding in dialogues with the broader confessing church.

Let us consider finally the imperative of inclusivity. Isaiah’s memoir provides a rich insight into the prophetic community seeking to impact and transform their community according to the word of Yahweh. It provides a testimony of a people with a shared vision for their society and a deep commitment to the prophetic word. Like Isaiah’s prophetic community, the Society of Pentecostal Theology has a shared vision and commitment. sps is committed to being gen- derinclusiveand multigenerationalin itsmembership.76Itisalso committedto being interdenominational and multiethnic. I hope that it is also committed to being global. Because if spsis truly to be an international community, it needs to be untethered from schisms and political agendas that are particular to the American context. If we are to be an inclusive community, then sps needs to



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embodiment and the prophetic message in isaiah’s memoir


make room for the international scholars. While the majority of scholars in this Society are from the United States and the annual meetings are mostly held in the United States, sps is not a vehicle of exclusively North American scholars or even American pentecostal denominations. While Pentecostalism has been exported from the United States to many locations around the world and Amer- ican culture has been influential in shaping Pentecostalism, it is not the only expression or place of origin.This is not to devalue the immeasurable influence of Azusa Street and the contribution of the global mission it generated. It is to maintain, however, that Pentecostalism is not exclusively a North American religion. Pentecostal historians in other global contexts, such as Australia and India, have identified their origins as indigenous and not imported from the usa.77 In fact, Mark Hutchinson notes that the experience of Australian Pen- tecostalism demonstrates how other “national expressions of Pentecostalism are fundamentally different to the Azusa Street model.”78 Yet, if the future of sps is viewed through the lens of American nationalism and decisions for the future based on the fears of political schisms unique to the usa, then we are no longer an international society. Instead, this community of scholars needs to look beyond its own sociopolitical situation to see that its particular loca- tion is not the kingdom of God. Unlike Judah at the time of Isaiah, the United States and American Pentecostalism cannot lay exclusive claim to be the king- dom of God. Neither can Australian Pentecostalism, nor any other local group. Not even global Pentecostalism can make this claim to be the sole expression of the kingdom of God. As Steven Studebaker writes, “God’s kingdom is global and eschatological, not national or cultural.”79 Instead, this Society is called to serve the kingdom of God, identifying how best to encourage Pentecostalism in each location, and where there is a majority of scholars from one location there will be a majority of interest in that particular location. And it is impera- tive to identify and address the theological and social issues of that location, but not to make that one location the sole lens through which we envision the future of Pentecostalism and the future for this Society. My concern is not that we are like Isaiah, but that we are like Ahaz: that we allow our fears, self-


78 79

See Mark Hutchinson, “From Corner Shop to Boutique Franchise: The Dilemmas of Aus- tralian Pentecostalism” (315–329) and Thomson K. Mathew, “Indian Pentecostalism in Kerala and the Diaspora: Living Locally Defined Holiness in a Globalized World” (43–63), in AmosYong andVinson Synan, eds.,GlobalRenewalChristianity:Spirit-EmpoweredMove- ments Past, Present, and Future, vol. 1: Asia and Oceania (Lake Mary, fl: Charisma House Publishers, 2015).

Mark Hutchinson, “From Corner Shop to Boutique Franchise,” 318.

Studebaker, A Pentecostal Political Theology for American Renewal, 217.

PNEUMA 39 (2017) 431–456




preservation, and political biases to cloud our vision for the future. As Isaiah’s community emphasized inclusivity as an imperative, my hope is that sps will also move beyond the internal North American schisms to include the interna- tional community—that we will be true to our vision as a Society that provides a forum for discussion for all theological disciplines as a spiritual service to the kingdom of God.

PNEUMA 39 (2017) 431–456


1 Comment

  • Reply November 14, 2023


    A history found in the archives of the Sam Jones United Memorial Methodist Church suggests that the 1884 outside revival likely inspired his idea for the success that an open – air tabernacle could offer. He saw opportunity for reaching greater numbers of people and supplementing his income by using the revival as a tool to meet his calling.

    Two years following the bush-arbor revival, Sam Jones proposed to the city of Cartersville to furnish him with ten acres of land on which he would build a tabernacle to preach the gospel. Records reflect that the city complied providing him with a property west of town where Sam Jones built the facility from his personal funds.

    A June 17, 1886 article entitled, The Tabernacle, appeared in the Courant American newspaper and reported that a number of citizens met in the Opera House (Grand Theater vicinity) to consider Rev. Sam Jones’ proposal to erect a tabernacle. Business leaders attending the meeting realized the great good that would bring to the community if such an institution were established. The motion was approved; board of trustees appointed and work on the tabernacle began soon after. The trustees consisted of: R. H. Jones, R. M. Pattillo, W. H. Howard, J. T. Owen, T. W. Akin, S. L. Vandivere and E. D. Graham.

    According to deed records the board assembled a tract of land in two separate purchases. The first was from Mr. Thomas W. Milner on September 16, 1886 in the amount of $500.00. A second purchase adjoining the first was made from Mr. William M. Graham on July 23, 1888 for $155.00. Interestingly, the trustees quickly conveyed a portion of Tabernacle land to the newly formed and incorporated Sam Jones Female College on November 4th, 1886.

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